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Per­icles | Wikipedia

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.