Tomorrow starts our summer Liberty & Entrepreneurship camp, an annual event that our foundation sponsors in which some of my most accomplished friends and I mentor young students from all over the world.
This year we have students from dozens of countries, places like Indonesia, Ecuador, Nigeria, Brazil, New Zealand, Ukraine, Canada, Estonia, China, Venezuela, Singapore, India, and the United States.
We’ll spend five days together at a beautiful lakeside resort here in Lithuania helping them build real skills in value creation, business development, investing, and more.
Before I sign off for the next few days, though, I wanted to pass along an impressive speech that was recently given by this year’s recipient of the Templeton Prize.
The Templeton Prize is named after legendary investor Sir John Templeton, who passed away in 2008.
In addition to being an enormously successful asset manager, Templeton was an unparalleled philanthropist.
He even renounced his US citizenship in 1964 during the Vietnam War, which saved him over $100 million in taxes that would have gone to fund a destructive war.
Instead, that money went to fund charitable efforts around the world.
This year’s recipient of the Templeton Prize is a British rabbi and philosopher named Jonathan Sacks.
His recent acceptance speech is a succinct and fantastic summation of WHY the West is in such decline.
This is not some message of doom and gloom by a tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist.
On the contrary, it’s an inspiring look at what made the West great to begin with. And, maybe, just maybe, how it might be once again.
I’ve provided some excerpts below:
This is a fateful moment in history. Wherever we look, politically, religiously, economically, environmentally, there is insecurity and instability.
It is not too much to say that the future of the West and the unique form of freedom it has pioneered for the past four centuries is altogether at risk. . .
To mention just a few [risks:]. . .
Artificially low interest rates that encourage borrowing and debt and discourage saving and investment.
Wildly inflated CEO pay.
The lowering of living standards, first of the working class, then of the middle class.
The insecurity of employment, even for graduates.
The inability of young families to afford a home. . .
The collapse of birthrates throughout Europe, leading to unprecedented levels of immigration that are now the only way the West can sustain its population, and the systemic failure to integrate some of these groups.
The loss of family, community and identity, that once gave us the strength to survive unstable times.
And there are others.
Why have they proved insoluble?
First, because they are global, and governments are only national.
Second, because they are long term while the market and liberal democratic politics are short term.
Third, because they depend on changing habits of behavior, which neither the market nor the liberal democratic state are mandated to do.
Above all, though, because they can’t be solved by the market and the state alone.
You can’t outsource conscience. You can’t delegate moral responsibility away.
When you do, you raise expectations that cannot be met.
And when, inevitably, they are not met, society becomes freighted with disappointment, anger, fear, resentment and blame.
People start to take refuge in magical thinking, which today takes one of four forms: the far right, the far left, religious extremism and aggressive secularism.
The far right seeks a return to a golden past that never was.
The far left seeks a utopian future that will never be.
Religious extremists believe you can bring salvation by terror.
Aggressive secularists believe that if you get rid of religion there will be peace.
These are all fantasies, and pursuing them will endanger the very foundations of freedom.
Yet we have seen, even in mainstream British and American politics, forms of ugliness and irrationality I never thought I would see in my lifetime.
We have seen on university campuses in Britain and America the abandonment of academic freedom in the name of the right not to be offended by being confronted by views with which I disagree.
Most societies, for most of history, have been either tradition-directed or inner-directed. People do what they do, either because that is how they have always been done, or because that’s what other people do.
Inner-directed types are different. They become the pioneers, the innovators and the survivors.
They have an internalized satellite navigation system, so they aren’t fazed by uncharted territory.
They have a strong sense of duty to others. . . . They take daring but carefully calculated risks. When they fail, they have rapid recovery times.
They have discipline. They enjoy tough challenges and hard work. They play it long.
They are more interested in sustainability than quick profits.
They know they have to be responsible to customers, employees and shareholders, as well as to the wider public, because only thus will they survive in the long run.
They don’t do foolish things like creative accounting, subprime mortgages, and falsified emissions data, because they know you can’t fake it forever.
They don’t consume the present at the cost of the future, because they have a sense of responsibility for the future. . .
Cultures like that stay young. They defeat the entropy, the loss of energy, that has spelled the decline and fall of every other empire and superpower in history.
But the West has, in the immortal words of Queen Elsa in Frozen, let it go.
It’s externalized what it once internalized. It has outsourced responsibility. It’s reduced ethics to economics and politics.
Which means we are dependent on the market and the state, forces we can do little to control.
And one day our descendants will look back and ask, How did the West lose what once made it great?
Every observer of the grand sweep of history, from the prophets of Israel to the Islamic sage ibn Khaldun, from Giambattista Vico to John Stuart Mill, and Bertrand Russell to Will Durant, has said essentially the same thing: that civilizations begin to die when they lose the moral passion that brought them into being in the first place.
It happened to Greece and Rome, and it can happen to the West.
The sure signs are these: a falling birthrate, moral decay, growing inequalities, a loss of trust in social institutions, self-indulgence on the part of the rich, hopelessness on the part of the poor, unintegrated minorities, a failure to make sacrifices in the present for the sake of the future, a loss of faith in old beliefs and no new vision to take their place.
These are the danger signals and they are flashing now. . .
We owe it to our children and grandchildren not to throw away what once made the West great, and not for the sake of some idealized past, but for the sake of a demanding and deeply challenging future.
If we do simply let it go, if we continue to forget that a free society is a moral achievement that depends on habits of responsibility and restraint, then what will come next – be it Russia, China, ISIS or Iran – will be neither liberal nor democratic, and it will certainly not be free. . .
[Editor’s note: You can read the full speech here.]