Monday, September 24, 2007

Hillsdale Speech, 2000

"Never Give In"

Clarence Thomas
Associate Justice, U.S. Supreme Court
Remarks at the installation of Dr. Larry P. Arnn as the twelfth president of Hillsdale College
September 9, 2000

It is a great honor to be with you here today, and to join in the celebration surrounding the installation of your twelfth President and my dear friend, Larry Arnn. But for Hillsdale College, this event is more than a celebration. It is an opportunity for this venerable institution to rededicate itself to its founding principles of seven score and sixteen years ago. By choosing a man to lead it who understands those principles, who has studied and toiled for those principles his entire adult life, Hillsdale demonstrates its continuing commitment to true learning and freedom in a world all too hostile to both.

To a large degree, the principles of Hillsdale College are the principles of America. The founders of the college declared their gratitude "to God for the inestimable blessings resulting from the prevalence of civil and religious liberty" with which He has favored the people of this land, just as America's Founders called upon the protection of Divine Providence in their effort to secure for themselves and their countrymen the God-given, unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the founders of this great College opened its doors to "all persons, irrespective of nation, color, or sex," just as America's Founders committed our nation to the idea that all human beings are created equal.

To understand just how radical the founding of Hillsdale College was, we have to take ourselves back to 1844. * * *

* * *
This was the stage on which Hillsdale College was founded, and on which it announced its mission of furnishing a literary and scientific education to all persons, irrespective of race or sex. The founders of Hillsdale College did not adopt this position, like so many of our elite institutions in later years, under legal compulsion, or because it was the fashionable thing to do. They adopted it because it was right. But how did they know this? How, indeed, can we know it? How can we confidently assert that the principles of Hillsdale and America are right, and that opposing principles are wrong? That, it seems to me, is the other important side of Hillsdale College's mission. Its traditional liberal arts curriculum introduces its students to the greatest books of both ancient and modern times. By studying these books, students become confident of the existence of permanent standards of right and wrong, and are led to discover through their own thinking the same truths that formed the basis of our nation, the "laws of nature and of nature's God" that underlie our unalienable rights and our tradition of limited government.

This curriculum, the great books of the western tradition, and the ideas it upholds are under attack today, just as the principles of 1776 were besieged in 1844. The assault is a massive one, and Hillsdale College is a small place with very few allies. But the ideas that Hillsdale represents and defends are not small. They are great and they are timeless. They can withstand the temporary setbacks that result from our human imperfections. But their long-term practical success is by no means guaranteed. That success requires our constant vigilance, our constant study, our constant devotion. And in this world where many - even many we might count as friends - have repudiated America's ancient faith as obsolete or worse, we must defend that faith with statesmanlike intelligence. And in that light, I can think of no one better to lead Hillsdale College today than the man you have chosen, Larry Arnn, who has studied under the foremost authorities on the greatest statesmen of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill.

Larry Arnn earned his doctoral degree from the Claremont Graduate School. There he studied with Harry Jaffa, whose life work recovered for our time an appreciation of Lincoln's profound understanding of the Declaration of Independence and the moral conditions of limited, constitutional government. From Claremont, Larry traveled back to the land of our nation's origin, to England, where he studied at Oxford and became the director of research for Sir Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill. He helped Sir Martin tell the story of Churchill's tireless defense of freedom, in the face of overwhelming odds, against the specter of godless tyranny. Churchill's tremendous strength of soul enabled him almost single-handedly to lead his nation, and indeed the free world, from the brink of darkness to their finest hour.

From Lincoln and Churchill, Larry Arnn learned the lessons that will gird him for the task ahead. For make no mistake: there is more at risk here than the success or failure of a single, small college in the middle of the old Northwest Territory. You people of Hillsdale College -trustees, faculty and staff, and most of all you students - have a mission to fulfill. You are on the front lines of a battle of ideas that will determine whether Hillsdale's and America's time-honored principles will continue to guide our lives and keep us free. To lead you in this mission you will need, and fortunately you have, someone who has learned two important lessons from two great statesmen.

From Lincoln, Larry Arnn learned that equality - the God-given equality of rights and opportunity that has animated Hillsdale College from its earliest days - is the central moral principle of our nation, and the basis of individual freedom and limited government. And from his study of Churchill he learned that freedom requires unflagging devotion and unflappable courage. In fighting for freedom we must "never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never…never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."

So today I congratulate you upon your new President, who both understands and is equipped to fight for the principles of Hillsdale College and America, and to preserve and defend this great institution as a shining example of what a classical liberal arts education is all about.

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