Anna Smith Lacey

2019 Lincoln Fellow

What is your current position?
I’m executive director of a DC-based cultural and educational grant-making organization called the Hungary Initiatives Foundation. I’m also Vice President of Common Sense Society Budapest. 

What are you currently working on?
Feeding our toddler daughter’s endless curiosity. It’s my biggest daily challenge. Professionally, I’m working on developing our new initiative at HIF, the Liberty Bridge Program, which will provide fellowship opportunities for Hungarians and Americans to research in the US and Hungary respectively. Our goal is to foster a steadily-expanding core group of Hungarian and American scholars and leaders who have a thorough understanding of and appreciation for American and Central European history, culture and politics, and have an extensive professional and personal network to build on. I’ve always loved sharing the best of both countries with talented, good people and building bridges – our new program will take things up a notch. 

How did you hear about the Claremont Institute?
First from my husband, Marion who was a Publius Fellow several years ago, and then from lots of friends more recently.

What is your fondest memory of the Claremont Institute?
Watching Angelo Codevilla holding hands with his wife Ann sitting in on our lectures — that was truly touching. And then debating Russian interventions and NATO with him. That was a real combat experience.  

There are all sorts of educational programs out there for current and rising conservative professionals.  What do you think makes the Claremont Institute’s Fellowships unique?
The intellectual rigor, the quality of people involved, and the long history of doing this program consistently for decades. It really pays off for Claremont to have been fighting in the trenches intellectually for so long, there is an authenticity and integrity to the organization that is hard to maintain. 

Who would you hope the individual would be, if you could sit down and enjoy a meal with an American Founder or any great thinker?  What would you discuss?  Where would you like to meet? 
I’d love to meet Abigail Adams in the flower garden of their farm in Quincy. I sort of consider her a founder by proxy. I’d love to know how she could handle someone like John Adams and raise someone like JQA. 

What would the artifact be, if you could hold one piece of history from the early founding of our country?  Why?
The letter of Mihály Kováts, a Hungarian Captain of the Hussars, written in 1777 to then American envoy to France Benjamin Franklin in which Kováts volunteered to fight for the American Revolution to serve and die with the “pioneers of freedom”. It’s a really powerful symbol of the ideas that lie at the heart of the Hungarian – American friendship and of Paine’s, momentarily correct, observation that the cause of America is the cause of all mankind. 

In which one of the original 13 colonies, looking back on history, would you have wanted to live?  Why?
Virginia. Because to be a Virginian “is an introduction to any state in the Union, a passport to any foreign country and a benediction from Almighty God”. And because half of the people you bumped into became presidents or justices. 

What is the greatest challenge facing the United States today?
Complacency, licentiousness, and poor education.

What are the defining differences, as you see them, between the United States and Europe?
Excessive use of air-conditioning and ice, coffee to go and drive-through pharmacies.
Philosophically, the heritage of limited government.

What are the defining similarities, as you see them, between the United States and Europe?
Common Sense, our Judeo-Christian roots, the Western heritage of the rule of law, individual freedom, and our special relationship with the Brits. 

What does the United States look like to you politically in ten years?
Hopefully less enamored by the false hope of socialism. 

What qualities will make outstanding statesmen/women in this century?
Accountability to Christ, courage and integrity and an intellectual grounding in Western civilization. 

What do you think has been the major contributor to the demise of political civility?
The demise of civility in private life. 

What do you think has been the major contributor to the redefinition of our culture in the 21st century?
The breakdown of the family. Everything else stems from it. 

What books are you currently reading?
The Genius of Birds by Jennifer Ackerman. Birdwatching – if the squirrels allow – is huge in our family these days. I find it fascinating how birds have the intelligence to forecast the arrival of a storm or find their way to a place where they’ve never been thousands of miles away.
Also The Age of Entitlement by Chris Caldwell, which, looking from a European welfare state point of view is a very alarming depiction of where the incentive system of American politics is heading. 

What book, film, or speech has left a lasting impression with you and why?
Most recently, Michael Pack’s documentary “Created Equal” on Justice Thomas’ life. It’s the most inspiring and authentic tribute to America I’ve seen the last few years. 

Do you have a favorite quote and if so would you share?
“Truth, which is important to a scholar, has got to be concrete. And there is nothing more concrete than dealing with babies, burps and bottles, frogs and mud.” – Jeane Kirkpatrick 

What is the most distinctive attribute/character of the people in the country where you grew up that you genuinely admire?
That Hungarians are tremendously family-oriented, hospitable and entrepreneurial. 

What is your favorite cultural/recreational pastime (or hobby) and why?
Gardening on an everyday basis. It’s taught me resilience and patience. I had to completely relearn everything I knew because the climate here on the East Coast is different from the climate of Hungary. I’ve learned to appreciate the beauty of plants native to Virginia and I have grown to love experimenting with them, slowly creating a happy little habitat for flora and fauna alike. On special occasions, watching classical ballet always reminds me of how disciplined human beings can be and how undisciplined I am no matter how hard I try. Balanchine is a favorite, one of the great immigrant artists of this country who had a way of paying tribute to America through the arts like no one else in his profession. I wish America would use great, patriotic artists like Balanchine as a tool of public diplomacy today the same way America did in the Cold War.