The Hedgehog Concept

Published 10:01 am Wednesday, September 2, 2015

by Randy Forbes

Many business leaders are familiar with a famous parable where the fox, in all of his cunning and craftiness, tries repeatedly to outsmart the hedgehog. The fox changes strategy daily, coming up with new tactics and schemes. He is unsuccessful, of course, because the hedgehog knows what he will do each time: roll up into a ball. No matter how complex the challenge, the hedgehog reduces it down to one simple idea. This is in contrast to the fox, who becomes scattered and diffused relying on changing strategies.

Great companies, or so the fable goes, are led by people who are able to identify a hedgehog concept — a basic principle that guides and unifies all decisions.

Our nation has a hedgehog concept, something our founders identified a long time ago. It is a principle that guides all facets of our nation, from our sovereignty, to our economic power, to our peaceful transitions of power, to our system of checks and balances. From it, our government has a guiding force for all decisions.

Our hedgehog concept is the rule of law.

At its core, the rule of law is about protecting a set of immutable rights that are anchored in our Constitution and birthed by concepts in the Declaration of Independence. It’s one of the most important issues facing our nation. But you probably won’t see the rule of law as a central debate topic in the presidential campaign cycle. Nor will it get headlines or a trending hashtag on Twitter.

That’s in part because we expect the rule of law to be there, working steadily in the background. The rights we take for granted each day exist because of the rule of law. We are able to debate economic policy because the rule of law provides certainty in our economic relationships and it creates economic freedom. We are able to run businesses and own homes because the rule of law protects those rights and adds structure. We are able to petition our government because the rule of law ensures the government itself is held accountable to the law.

I once heard a president of a major national corporation share about a time when he flipped open a National Geographic magazine and noticed the extreme poverty captured in a photo spread. He wanted badly to help, and he spent years trying to decide what he could do. He ultimately realized that he should fight for the principles that drive liberty and freedom, like the rule of law. For it is principles like the rule of law that keeps our sea lanes open, allowing military and humanitarian aid ships to get supplies where they were needed most. The rule of law is bigger than our nation. The world relies on it.

That’s why it’s so important that the rule of law isn’t dependent upon the personality and politics of someone in a judge’s robe. When the rule of law has been ignored on a political whim, we feel it reverberate in ways that seem to shake us to the core. Misappropriated power thrives where rule of law ends.

So what can we do to sustain the rule of law? How can we protect this “hedgehog concept?”

We start by enforcing our current laws. It seems simple enough, but when we brush our laws aside (like our immigration laws), we turn our backs on the rule of law. This sets a dangerous precedent for situational constitutionalism. We have to draw a line in the sand.

We enforce the constitutional limits on government by stopping the overreach of government into the lives of Americans. We get rid of wasteful, duplicative programs and rein in the spending that is driving the government deeper into the lives of Americans and our nation even deeper into debt.

We restore the courts to their constitutional role — protecting individual liberty, property rights and free enterprise.

In order to accomplish these things, as a nation, we must choose leaders who commit to putting the Constitution first. It starts by putting a leader in the Oval Office who will refuse to participate in the unilateral rewriting of democratically passed laws. Selective enforcement of the law is unacceptable, and it is the responsibility of Congress to hold the executive branch accountable for its actions — so it is also critical to have Members of Congress who are unswervingly committed to the rule of law. This system of checks and balances is worth fighting for because it assumes no one branch has the upper-hand except the Constitution itself.

There probably wasn’t a thoughtful discussion of foxes and hedgehogs as our founders established the core guiding principles that would drive our nation. Nonetheless, their commitment to the idea of building a quiet and powerful machinery to sustain our nation was brilliant. Let us channel that fervency today as we carry the torch of the American experiment.

RANDY FORBES represents Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives. For contact information, see