(Editor's note: The following is the toast Mackinac Center President Joseph G. Lehman delivered Wednesday night, Nov. 9, 2011, at the 2011 Atlas Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner in New York City. The event, fittingly held on the 22nd anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, included among its honorees Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2010 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.)
It is good for us to gather in this place, in the grandest city of that nation called the foremost upholder of the idea of liberty. It is good to be in this city in whose harbor stands the world’s foremost symbol of liberty.
For we lead a great social movement for freedom across the globe. The economy of every social movement demands a certain division of labor, and we embrace both the duties and the delights of our leadership roles.
My friend John Tillman recently reminded me that we are time travelers. Some of us traveled 80 years or more to arrive here tonight, and others may travel at least another 80 years into the future.
Nowhere in those 160 years have we seen, nor will we see, the permanent victory for freedom. There has never been a time when free people did not have to defend themselves against deceivers and usurpers and thugs, and there never will be one on this side of Heaven.
I believe we have a providential God who calls earthly men and women to heavenly tasks. When we fight for freedom, we establish a bit of Heaven on earth because freedom is an antidote to man’s tragic natural states of poverty, war and slavery.
Political regimes may ratify freedom, but they do not create it. Freedom requires strong social movements to precede, and undergird, its political expression. That is why we are wise to focus on hearts and minds as well as laws. For if the people’s hearts and minds and wills insist, the law cannot forever resist.
Tonight we will honor a literary genius whose art touches those hearts and minds. In Mario Vargas Llosa’s work we see celebrations of the human spirit. But in it we also encounter the tyrannies and oppressions that degrade and frustrate human freedom. This too is a gift, because we see the sun’s glory as all the greater by appreciating the depths of our darkest nights.
The youngest person here tonight may send time-traveling progeny to destinations more than a century hence. What kind of literature will they read when they arrive? Will they read inspiring accounts of real freedom fighters?
Or will they read only tepid tales of impoverished souls who barely even know the myth, of the echo, of the memory, of the people who once loved, cherished and fought for their freedom? I believe we must work as if the answer depends on us.
I am deeply grateful to labor alongside all of you for liberty. Please let us now raise a toast to our noble calling, to the power of literature to move hearts and minds, and to God’s blessing of freedom.
Joseph G. Lehman is president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.