May 5, 2000. San Diego, California. The meeting I am attending at the Hotel del Coronado is important. I wouldn’t have flown all this way if it weren’t. The Board of Directors of the Claremont Institute, on which I sit, is meeting to make a decision, the kind they have not needed to make in fifteen years. They would select the next president of The Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy (and some people say there is nothing in a name!).
It was announced a month ago that Dr. Larry P. Arnn, the president of The Institute since 1986, would become president of Hillsdale College, and that he would take up his new position by June 1. The Hillsdale Trustees were looking to find an extraordinary academic who fully understood the vital quality of civilization and the principles of the American Founding, and had the kind of political savvy to make a fine institution excellent. For me, it is of serious import that they ended up at the doors of The Institute, an organization that my friends and I founded in 1979. I was president of The Institute from 1979 to 1986.
We were graduate students in the seventies. We studied hard. We played hard. We thought hard. We were charmed by the fine thinkers we studied and we were in awe of those political actors who were students of the same and could move in the world with conviction, purpose, and prudence. Our studies of the Founders and Lincoln and Churchill persuaded us that politics was a noble art, and could be practiced accordingly. Yet we looked around us, and saw a philosophical and political desert. We thought action was needed, action on behalf of ideas now only distant memories. The life of the nation had to be reminded of the laws of nature and nature’s God and why constitutional government is limited government.
We happy few, while still students, established The Claremont Institute. Its purpose was nothing less than the restoration of the principles of the American Founding to their rightful, preeminent authority in our national life. We had no money, no place, and no prospects. But we had the determination of youth. We thought the thing can and shall be done, and we would find the way. And so we did. The waves of the mighty ocean beat upon our ship in many storms, but our ship beat the threatening waves because it had a purpose.
In twenty years plus The Claremont Institute has become a significant voice in the public life of the nation. The Board of Directors wanted to make certain that its authority would continue. This Board, ably led by Bruce Sanborn of Minnesota, in thoughtful conversations during the day made their fateful decision. And it was a good decision.
It was decided that Dr. Thomas B. Silver would become the third president of The Institute. Silver was one of the original founders who (along with me, Arnn, and Christopher Flannery) has been deeply involved in the work of the think tank, even though for the last fifteen years he has served as chief deputy to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Silver’s political savvy is well known, as is his scholarship on Calvin Coolidge and the ill effect that the Progressive movement has had on the American mind. Also, Silver’s character is such that it was worthy of our entire trust.
It was a sound choice. Tom Silver quickly confirmed this with a powerful acceptance speech delivered to the Board. He made clear that the ship would continue the course, and that we would continue to be like-minded as the Founders. He knew that the extraordinarily able staff would remain and soldier on.
Larry Arnn was honored at dinner the following night. His friends and supporters made sure that he knew how proud they were of his accomplishments, that his herculean efforts were appreciated. Arnn, in turn, gave a surpassingly eloquent oration to the assembled hundreds, promising them that he would labor for the same cause, albeit in a different arena. He in turn asked them to renew their efforts on behalf of the things for which we will always stand. A better speech couldn’t have been asked for from this warrior-scholar.
The deed was done. Satisfaction ruled our hearts and minds. Pride showed in our steps as Chris Flannery and I boarded the old fashioned elevator, made of diagonal latticed metal, to leave for home. The cage like device had an attendant who would call out floors, greet the folks, as he let them in and out. We barely heard his whisper at first. Then it grew into a mumble as we strained to hear. It turned out that he was reciting the Gettysburg Address, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure . We froze and we listened. We heard out the words, in disbelief of our happy fortune. He finished it eloquently. We asked him where he was from. Originally from Manila, he said. We thanked him for his recitation and started to leave. He turned to us and said, No. I thank you.