Have you ever walked the Liberty Walk? I don’t mean nodding to Margaret Thatcher and Thomas Jefferson on the way to Lane Hall; I mean all at once, checking each statue’s inscription and asking why. I didn’t until my senior year. The only statue missing from my pilgrimage was Ronald Reagan, who has been trapped behind two-by-four fences, and dowels since my sophomore year.
If you make the trek, the first thing you’ll notice is that the Liberty Walk is aptly named. Each statue represents someone who fought for the liberty of a people against oppression: George Washington for the colonists, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass for the slaves, and Winston Churchill for the British. The second thing you might notice is that everyone is from America or Great Britain.
This absence of other nationalities encourages us to think of the English-speaking peoples as unique in their concern for liberty, even though Hillsdale does not think about its heritage like that. The mission statement declares that Hillsdale is a “trustee of the Western philosophical and theological inheritance tracing to Athens and Jerusalem, a heritage finding its clearest expression in the American experiment of self-government.” We find in the chapel an expensive reminder of our debt to Jerusalem. Yet we have no such reminder of Athens, not even the library’s bust of Socrates — excluded from the Liberty Walk by Hillsdale’s 2017 press release calling Douglass the eighth statue on the walk. The Liberty Walk needs the Athenian Statesman Pericles.
Pericles was one of the main political leaders in Athens in the fifth century B.C. He gave a speech in praise of those soldiers who had died first in battle. This was essentially the Gettysburg Address of ancient Athens — or, rather, the Gettysburg Address was the “Pericles’ Funeral Oration” of the U.S., since Lincoln modeled his speech after this one. Pericles speaks throughout this oration of his commitment to liberty, self-government, and democracy. For example, he says that happiness “depends on being free, and freedom depends on being courageous,” as these soldiers were. They deserve honor because they protected the freedom cherished by Athens, where power belongs to the people, and where the law treats all equally. Pericles understands freedom and equality as essential to happiness.
More important, however, Pericles fills the gap in the college’s mission as expressed by the statues. He reminds us that the safeguards of liberty were not created at the founding. They were first begun in Athens. The Liberty Walk needs someone to remind us of this.
But why Pericles over other liberty-loving Athenians? Why not Aristotle — the man who loved his liberty so much he fled from Athens before it could be taken? Or why not Socrates, who showed his devotion to Athens by drinking the hemlock rather than fleeing? The simple answer is that they are philosophers. Philosophy is a great way to spend a life, but it is impossible to do philosophy without liberty, as both Socrates and Aristotle discovered when they were persecuted. Similarly, our work at Hillsdale is a gift that requires a stable political regime that protects our liberty. The Liberty Walk should remind us of that fact. As a leading statesman of Athens, Pericles provided for the flourishing of Athenian ideals. His speech demonstrates his devotion to Athens and to the higher things for which liberty exists — happiness and self-government. In other words, Pericles shows himself to be a statesman who would protect a place like Hillsdale.
For these reasons, we ought to add Pericles as the ninth statue on the Liberty Walk. Place him between Lane and Delp so that he may be a permanent reminder that what we do here is impossible without men like Pericles who have been protecting liberty for over two millennia. Let his inscription read:
“I declare that our city is an education to Greece, and I declare that in my opinion each single one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person, and do this, moreover, with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility.”
Let it also be an education to Hillsdale.
Gill West is a senior studying Philosophy and Mathematics.