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This address was delivered by CHARLES KOCH to the anti-gay Council for National Policy in Naples, Florida, in January, 1999.
Let me begin by saying how honored I am by this award. The Council, I believe, is recognized by supporters and detractors alike as a key leader in the heart and mind of this country.
Under Jim Miller’s leadership, I see this effectiveness only increasing. He’s certainly been a great contributor to freedom over the years, and he’s certainly been a great friend of ours over the years. We appreciate it, Jim.
Then, what particularly adds to this honor is that this is the Richard De Vos Award. Because, to me, Rich exemplifies, as much as anybody, both what I call principled entrepreneurship and dedication to the advancement of a free and civil society.
So, although I don’t claim to have matched, or come even close to matching Rich’s achievements, Jim and Rich have asked me to briefly describe some of the things that have guided my actions, for better or worse, whether you like them or not. Now you’ll hear some of the reasoning behind them, or what I finally call reasoning.
I’ll start with the observation that I became a student of liberty about 35 years ago. My motivation, as I look back on it, was an internal compulsion to understand reality and develop a unified philosophy of life.
I suppose that’s the engineer or the technocrat in me. But I’ve always been driven by a desire to make my views internally consistent.
As I became committed to liberty as the only form of social organization that brings morality, peace and social well being, the principles of liberty changed how I viewed life and the world in all arenas — that is, in my personal life, in business, in charitable giving, in government society and so on. So, in short, these principles have changed my life and guide everything I do.
Further in this period, it became apparent to me that certain core values were prerequisites to a free society. That long-term success for a society, for any society, depends on the general acceptance of a definite — a certain — moral code. An example which you’re all familiar with, during the 17th and 18th centuries, the British developed both the values and the doctrine of liberty. But when that doctrine spread to France in the 18th Century, the values weren’t transmitted with it. Without them, the French revolutionaries took the country away from, rather than toward, liberty.
Of course, a more recent example is Russia today.
Over the years, we found the same thing to be true in business. For over a decade now, we’ve been striving to apply the principles of a free society to running our business. We call this market-based management, which begins with a commitment to profiting only by the economic means, not by the political means. That is, profiting only by creating value in the economy, value in society, not from getting protection — government protection — from competition and government subsidies.
But beyond market concepts, we found that market-based management only works when our people hold certain core values. There’s quite a list, but among those values we found to be key are humility, integrity, tolerance and responsibility. Without these values, I don’t believe that any society can work, whether it’s a society we call a company or a society we call a country. It’s no news to this group that freedom without responsibility is an oxymoron.
We’ve also found that these values are just as important in non-profit groups. We can teach free enterprise and its core values, but unless we practice what we preach, we have no hope of being effective. Perhaps even more corrosive than faulty values are our leaders preaching values that they don’t practice.
To the best of our ability, these views guide our charitable contributions. I don’t have time here, and I’m sure you don’t want me to take the time to describe all the outstanding people and organizations we support and have supported based on these views, many of whom are here tonight. But I wanted to mention a few of these.
Just as with our business, whatever success we’ve had with philanthropy has been due to our efforts to consistently apply these core values and support those organizations that do likewise.
We’ve been a major supporter of George Mason University because, like the man it was named for, it’s been a premier source of ideas about liberty, ideas that can help us with critical social problems. But even great ideas are useless if they remain trapped in the ivory tower.
Theories must be applied, of course, in order to create value. Someone has to translate these general principles into specific policy proposals. To generate interest among political movers and shakers. To rally the troops and unite social and economic conservatives to make a difference.
By now, you probably realize I’m talking about groups like Citizens for a Sound Economy; like the Heritage Foundation, led by Ed Feulner.
We’ve also been working with Heritage’s other Ed, Ed Meese, on a project to help develop greater cooperation among groups litigating for liberty. I know something about litigation. If you need some help on this, Ed, give me a call.
The phrase, litigating for liberty, of course, brings me to the organization that all or virtually all right-thinking lawyers belong to, the Federalist Society, led by Gene Meyer. The Federalist Society, as many of you know, was recently described as an intellectual hothouse for a group of scholars and judges who’ve changed the terms of the constitutional debate so that the actual language of the Constitution and its historical context are now central concerns for not only conservative legal thinkers, but liberal legal thinkers as well. That is truly profound and truly putting ideas into action.
To me, believing in the ideas of liberty does not mean that every individual at all times must be totally self-reliant. Helping people become productive, teaching them to take advantage of market opportunities, enhancing their capabilities and their sense of responsibility, all this is critical to a free society.
I agree with the 12th century philosopher, Maimonides, who defined the highest form of charity as dispensing with charity all together, by enabling your fellow humans to have the wherewithal to earn their own living. Therefore, we support groups such as the Salvation Army and the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, with both money and time. The mission of both is to help people who are struggling become productive, fulfilled individuals. The Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship does it, by the way, by teaching at-risk youth to apply market principles to advance themselves. Very effective program.
Unfortunately, as we know, for most of human history, these principles have not been applied. For most of human history, life has been nasty, brutish and short, as Thomas Hobbes put it. For most people, other than rulers and the elite, prosperity has come only during those exceptional periods when a free society exists.
We Americans for the last two hundred years have been blessed to live in one of those exceptional periods.
Whatever my failings, and there are many, I’m dedicated to living by and advancing these principles and values. In that, I echo Martin Luther. Here I stand. I can do no other.