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Foreword to First Principles

By James A. Baker, III

            The collection of writings that has been compiled in this volume comes at a crucial time in the history of our relatively young country.  With the end of the Cold War, which left the United States as the only global superpower, we occupy a pre-eminent position in world affairs—militarily, politically, and economically.  At the same time, our country must confront the menace of terrorism.  Paradoxically, at a moment when America is strongest, she is perhaps also most vulnerable to terrorists who don’t value human life.

            This contradiction of American power provides us with a challenge that can only be met with the type of leadership that has been America ’s good fortune for more than two centuries. 

            The terrorist threat is global in scope and may last decades.  It will take a toll on our patience, our pocketbooks and, more importantly, our resolve.  There have been and will continue to be critics and doubters as we travel the many pathways to confront terrorist activities.  But as Winston Churchill observed in the dark hours at the outset of World War II, “without victory, there will be no survival.”

            Make no mistake, history will judge this country by the quality of its leadership as it resists the menace of stateless anarchists.  But, it is not just the leadership of our elected officials, because in the United States the measure of leadership does not start at the top.  It is imperative that each of us understand that leadership comes from the ground up.  That is where our strength lies.  This is something that our adversaries have not been able to grasp and that at times we take for granted.

I refer to leadership in daily life—in doing what is best for our families, our places of worship, our businesses, and, of course, our communities and our nation.  Some say that leadership is a rare thing, found only in the dusty books, the private preserve of extraordinarily talented individuals and out of the reach of ordinary men and women.  But I don’t believe that.  Don’t tell that to the police officers and fire fighters who rushed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.  Don’t tell that to the passengers who rushed the highjackers on United Flight 


93 that same fateful day.  And, don’t tell that to the allied troops, who, throughout our history have liberated oppressed peoples; in Europe in 1918, and again in 1945, while they also freed people smothered by the Japanese everywhere in the Pacific and on the Asian mainland, and, most recently, in releasing Afghanistan and Iraq from the grasp of murderous regimes.

            We must never forget that in order for our country to function as our forefathers intended, our citizens, each of us, must perform the duties of leadership for which we are destined.  We cannot surrender to pessimism, especially the fashionable kind that expresses itself in a cynical or sarcastic spirit. 

            Instead, we must focus on our possibilities, not our limitations.  

            Each of us can realize our full potential only when we are committed to something larger than ourselves.  The historian James MacGregor Burns called it “a commitment to values” and to “the perseverance to fight for those values.”

            Leadership is not a complicated concept. It’s simply knowing what to do, and then doing it.  This is what President Theodore Roosevelt meant when he said, “The first requisite of a citizen in this Republic of ours is that he shall be able to pull his weight.”

What is offered in First Principles are the tools with which every American can make his or her civic participation useful, and meaningful.  This book is a blueprint for understanding freedom and democracy, and then implementing them.  Reading this volume will not only help each citizen understand how their country operates, but how to re-focus their own lives.  Each of us can make a difference, we only need to make an effort.

            This volume provides a unique survey of writers who understand that personal responsibility and leadership are the pillars of both democracy and the freedom on which it depends.  Our country’s survival hinges on citizens who grasp that concept.  As Friedrich August von Hayek observed in The Constitution of Liberty,

Liberty not only means that the individual has both the opportunity and burden of choice.  It also means that he must bear the responsibility of his actions.  Liberty and responsibility are inseparable.  


            Our never-ending struggle against tyranny—whether disguised as Nazis or as Stalinists or as Islamic terrorists—will be won only if Americans continue to realize that liberty and responsibility, indeed, are inseparable.

James A. Baker        

James A. Baker, III was the 61st Secretary of State, 1989-1992, and the 67th Secretary of the Treasury, 1985-1988.


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