March 14, 2003


Solzhenitsyn, Again: The great Russian thinker foresaw the situation which now faces George W. Bush. (Hugh Hewitt, 03/12/2003, Weekly Standard)
THE HARVARD COLLEGE CLASS OF 1978 meets in Cambridge in three months to celebrate its 25th reunion. Among the events, lunches, panels, and dances, I hope time has been allocated to remember the most significant event of the 1978 ceremonies: a commencement address by Nobel Laureate Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn.

Solzhenitsyn delivered his remarks in Russian. There was an intermittent drizzle, and the odd dual delivery of speaker and translator made an overcast day even more gloomy. The speech the Russian gave did little to lift spirits. A day earlier Rodney Dangerfield had keynoted the Class Day festivities. We knew immediately that this speech would be different when, in his third sentence, Solzhenitsyn explained that "Harvard's motto is 'veritas.' Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us as soon as our concentration begins to flag, all the while leaving the illusion that we are continuing to pursue it. This is the source of much discord. Also, truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter. A measure of truth is included in my speech today, but I offer it as a friend, not as an adversary."

He titled his address "A World Split Apart," and put out as his premise that the then-dominant split between the West and the USSR masked even deeper divides: "The truth is that the split is both more profound and more alienating, that the rifts are more numerous than one can see at first glance. These deep manifold splits bear the danger of equally manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a kingdom--in this case, our Earth--divided against itself cannot stand."

Mr. Solzhenitsyn's speech that day remains the most glorious/notorious statement of the crisis at the heart of the West and, therefore, the most important speech of the Twentieth Century:
A Decline in Courage [. . .]

may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by
occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?


When the modern Western States were created, the following principle was proclaimed: governments are meant to serve man, and man lives to be free to pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration). Now at last during past decades technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state. Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee in theory the achievement of happiness, in the morally inferior sense which has come into being during those same decades. In the process, however, one psychological detail has been overlooked: the constant desire to have still more things and a still better life and the struggle to obtain them imprints many Western faces with worry and even depression, though it is customary to conceal such feelings. Active and tense
competition permeates all human thoughts without opening a way to free spiritual development. The individual's independence from many types of state pressure has been guaranteed; the majority of people have been granted well-being to an extent their fathers and grandfathers could not even dream about; it has become possible to raise young people according to these ideals, leading them to physical splendor, happiness, possession of material goods, money and leisure, to an almost unlimited freedom of enjoyment. So who should now renounce all this, why and for what should one risk one's precious life in defense of common values, and particularly in such nebulous cases when the security of one's nation must be defended in a distant country?

This is the question that plagues us, one that a prescient Albert Jay Nock raised some thirty years earlier:
Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase. 'For us to love our country,' he said, 'our country ought to be lovely. I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the irresistible attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.

This would certainly appear to be the stage that Old Europe has reached, a complacent moral exhaustion that has left it with despicable, oleaginous leaders, made heroes by their willingness to sacrifice national and global security in order to avoid tough decisions, guard against the ill will of potential enemies, and not threaten further already teetering welfare systems by spending limited resources on military matters. To that extent, the craven refusal to help finish a war that they were only to happy to help wage when it was popular and paid for by others is easily explained away by mere selfishness.

But there's another factor at work here, one that, sad to say, we Americans are only too familiar with: loss of confidence. It's tempting but dangerous to forget that just twenty-five years ago--in the wake of Vietnam, Watergate, oil embargoes, and a string of truly awful presidencies--we too had lost our way. Things reached such a nadir that Jimmy Carter came before the American people to explore the national sense of decline, Malaise Speech (Jimmy Carter, 7/15/79):

I know, of course, being President, that government actions and legislation can be very important. That's why I've worked hard to put my campaign promises into law -- and I have to admit, with just mixed success. But after listening to the American people I have been reminded again that all the legislation in the world can't fix what's wrong with America. So, I want to speak to you first tonight about a subject even more serious than energy or inflation. I want to talk to you right now about a fundamental threat to American democracy.

I do not mean our political and civil liberties. They will endure. And I do not refer to the outward strength of America, a nation that is at peace tonight everywhere in the world, with unmatched economic power and military might.

The threat is nearly invisible in ordinary ways. It is a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our Nation.

The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.

The confidence that we have always had as a people is not simply some romantic dream or a proverb in a dusty book that we read just on the Fourth of July. It is the idea which founded our Nation and has guided our development as a people. Confidence in the future has supported everything else -- public institutions and private enterprise, our own families, and the very Constitution of the United States. Confidence has defined our course and has served as a link between generations. We've always believed in something called progress. We've always had a faith that the days of our children would be better than our own.

Our people are losing that faith, not only in government itself but in the ability as citizens to serve as the ultimate rulers and shapers of our democracy. As a people we know our past and we are proud of it. Our progress has been part of the living history of America, even the world. We always believed that we were part of a great movement of humanity itself called democracy, involved in the search for freedom, and that belief has always strengthened us in our purpose. But just as we are losing our confidence in the future, we are also beginning to close the door on our past.

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we've discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We've learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next 5 years will be worse than the past 5 years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote. The productivity of American workers is actually dropping, and the willingness of Americans to save for the future has fallen below that of all other people in the Western world.

As you know, there is a growing disrespect for government and for churches and for schools, the news media, and other institutions. This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning.

These changes did not happen overnight. They've come upon us gradually over the last generation, years that were filled with shocks and tragedy.

We were sure that ours was a nation of the ballot, not the bullet, until the murders of John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. We were taught that our armies were always invincible and our causes were always just, only to suffer the agony of Vietnam. We respected the Presidency as a place of honor until the shock of Water gate.

We remember when the phrase "sound as a dollar" was an expression of absolute dependability, until 10 years of inflation began to shrink our dollar and our savings. We believed that our Nation's re sources were limitless until 1973, when we had to face a growing dependence on foreign oil.

These wounds are still very deep. They have never been healed.

Looking for a way out of this crisis, our people have turned to the Federal Government and found it isolated from the mainstream of our Nation's life. Washington, D.C., has become an island. The gap between our citizens and our Government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual.

What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends.

Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don't like, and neither do I. What can we do?

He was, of course, excoriated for this talk, but not because he was wrong, rather because a worthwhile leader doesn't ask why a situation like this exists; he shows the way out.

And that's where Ronald Reagan came in. Compare the seeming helplessness and genuine uncertainty of Mr. Carter to the bold, confident, sense of mission and of righteousness that Mr. Reagan exuded in his best-remembered speech, Evil Empire Speech (Ronald Reagan, June 8, 1982, Speech to the House of Commons):

We're approaching the end of a bloody century plagued by a terrible political invention -- totalitarianism. Optimism comes less easily today, not because democracy is less vigorous, but because democracy's enemies have refined their instruments of repression. Yet optimism is in order because day by day democracy is proving itself to be a not at all fragile flower. From Stettin on the Baltic to Varna on the Black Sea, the regimes planted by totalitarianism have had more than thirty years to establish their legitimacy. But none -- not one regime -- has yet been able to risk free elections. Regimes planted by bayonets do not take root.

The strength of the Solidarity movement in Poland demonstrates the truth told in an underground joke in the Soviet Union. It is that the Soviet Union would remain a one-party nation even if an opposition party were permitted because everyone would join the opposition party....

Historians looking back at our time will note the consistent restraint and peaceful intentions of the West. They will note that it was the democracies who refused to use the threat of their nuclear monopoly in the forties and early fifties for territorial or imperial gain. Had that nuclear monopoly been in the hands of the Communist world, the map of Europe--indeed, the world--would look very different today. And certainly they will note it was not the democracies that invaded Afghanistan or suppressed Polish Solidarity or used chemical and toxin warfare in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia.

If history teaches anything, it teaches self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly. We see around us today the marks of our terrible dilemma--predictions of doomsday, antinuclear demonstrations, an arms race in which the West must, for its own protection, be an unwilling participant. At the same time we see totalitarian forces in the world who seek subversion and conflict around the globe to further their barbarous assault on the human spirit. What, then, is our course? Must civilization perish in a hail of fiery atoms? Must freedom wither in a quiet, deadening accommodation with totalitarian evil?

Sir Winston Churchill refused to accept the inevitability of war or even that it was imminent. He said, "I do not believe that Soviet Russia desires war. What they desire is the fruits of war and the indefinite expansion of their power and doctrines. But what we have to consider here today while time remains is the permanent prevention of war and the establishment of conditions of freedom and democracy as rapidly as possible in all countries."

Well, this is precisely our mission today: to preserve freedom as well as peace. It may not be easy to see; but I believe we live now at a turning point. [...]

It is time that we committed ourselves as a nation -- in both the public and private sectors -- to assisting democratic development....

What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term -- the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people. And that's why we must continue our efforts to strengthen NATO even as we move forward with our zero-option initiative in the negotiations on intermediate-range forces and our proposal for a one-third reduction in strategic ballistic missile warheads.

Our military strength is a prerequisite to peace, but let it be clear we maintain this strength in the hope it will never be used, for the ultimate determinant in the struggle that's now going on in the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas, a trial of spiritual resolve, the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish, the ideals to which we are dedicated.

The restoration he performed on the national soul sufficed to carry us through to the end of the Cold War and even on through a few minor adventures--Iraq I, Panama, etc.--but where the job looked too big--China--or too complex--al Qaeda--or too dangerous--Somalia--we were more than willing to take a pass. And with the economy booming by the end of the '90s, as we cashed in our peace dividend, no one had the time or the inclination to tend to problems like the wave of terrorist acts that struck American targets. The best we could muster was a desultory cruise missile attack, and, while it would be convenient to blame Bill Clinton entirely, who among us was seriously concerned and willing to pay the price to do more? Sure, a nagging doubt might have tugged at us on occassion, but so long as the markets kept going up, we couldn't even rally enough determination and fortitude to see through something as basic as a Somalia, a failure for which Republicans were just as responsible as Bill Clinton.

9-11 changed all that though, at least for Republicans--who tend to believe more fiercely in the near-theological rhetoric of Americanism than does the Left and therefore tend to be easier to rally to the cause, despite their enduring reservations about involvement in the world. And so, President Bush was able to frame the current war on terror in terms that tapped in to the long fight against Nazism/Communism and that really make it seem just the latest battle in our long war against evil, but that also make it seem a war that America is uniquely responsible for and suited to fight, The President's State of the Union Address (George W. Bush, 1/29/02):

Our cause is just, and it continues.  Our discoveries in Afghanistan confirmed our worst fears, and showed us the true scope of the task ahead.  We have seen the depth of our enemies' hatred in videos, where they laugh about the loss of innocent life.  And the depth of their hatred is equaled by the madness of the destruction they design.  We have found diagrams of American nuclear power plants and public water facilities, detailed instructions for making chemical weapons, surveillance maps of American cities, and thorough descriptions of landmarks in America and throughout the world.

What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that, far from ending there, our war against terror is only beginning.  Most of the 19 men who hijacked planes on September the 11th were trained in Afghanistan's camps, and so were tens of thousands of others.   Thousands of dangerous killers, schooled in the methods of murder, often supported by outlaw regimes, are now spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs, set to go off without warning.

Thanks to the work of our law enforcement officials and coalition partners, hundreds of terrorists have been arrested.  Yet, tens of thousands of trained terrorists are still at large.  These enemies view the entire world as a battlefield, and we must pursue them wherever they are. So long as training camps operate, so long as nations harbor terrorists, freedom is at risk.  And America and our allies must not, and will not, allow it.

Our nation will continue to be steadfast and patient and persistent in the pursuit of two great objectives.  First, we will shut down terrorist camps, disrupt terrorist plans, and bring terrorists to justice.  And, second, we must prevent the terrorists and regimes who seek chemical, biological or nuclear weapons from threatening the United States and the world.

Our military has put the terror training camps of Afghanistan out of business, yet camps still exist in at least a dozen countries.  A terrorist underworld -- including groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Jaish-i-Mohammed -- operates in remote jungles and deserts, and hides in the centers of large cities.

While the most visible military action is in Afghanistan, America is acting elsewhere.  We now have troops in the Philippines, helping to train that country's armed forces to go after terrorist cells that have executed an American, and still hold hostages.  Our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy.  Our Navy is patrolling the coast of Africa to block the shipment of weapons and the establishment of terrorist camps in Somalia.

My hope is that all nations will heed our call, and eliminate the terrorist parasites who threaten their countries and our own.  Many nations are acting forcefully.  Pakistan is now cracking down on terror, and I admire the strong leadership of President Musharraf.

But some governments will be timid in the face of terror.  And make no mistake about it:  If they do not act, America will.

Our second goal is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with weapons of mass destruction.  Some of these regimes have been pretty quiet since September the 11th.  But we know their true nature.  North Korea is a regime arming with missiles and weapons of mass destruction, while starving its citizens.

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.

Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror.  The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax, and nerve gas, and nuclear weapons for over a decade.  This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens -- leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children.  This is a regime that agreed to international inspections -- then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.  By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger.  They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States.  In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

We will work closely with our coalition to deny terrorists and their state sponsors the materials, technology, and expertise to make and deliver weapons of mass destruction.  We will develop and deploy effective missile defenses to protect America and our allies from sudden attack. And all nations should know:  America will do what is necessary to ensure our nation's security.

We'll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side.  I will not wait on events, while dangers gather.  I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer.  The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.

Our war on terror is well begun, but it is only begun.  This campaign may not be finished on our watch -- yet it must be and it will be waged on our watch.

What other nation's leaders speak, as both Ronald Reagan and George Bush have, of serving watches? This military metaphor expresses the sense that America is in some way responsible for the endurance and extension of freedom on Earth. Here again Ronald Reagan, from his Farewell:
The past few days when I've been at that window upstairs, I've thought a bit of the 'shining city upon a hill.' The phrase comes from John Winthrop, who wrote it to describe the America he imagined. What he imagined was important because he was an early Pilgrim, an early freedom man. He journeyed here on what today we'd call a little wooden boat; and like the other Pilgrims, he was looking for a home that would be free. I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.

And how stands the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was 8 years ago. But more than that: After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she's still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

The world remains divided, just as divided as it was in 1978, though along different fault lines. But surely many Americans still see that shining city, are still willing to defend it and still think it is the home towards which the rest of the world's pilgrims are hurtling. But look at a "peace rally" or at Jacques Chirac or Ted Kennedy or whoever and you can see that there are many more in the West and even in America, maybe even a majority, who no longer share that vision and who really haven't since some time in the 60s or 70s. And so Mr. Solzhenitsyn's speech is as germane today as it was in the seemingly bleaker time when he gave it.

The House remains divided: will it stand?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 14, 2003 10:05 AM

Newswire reports today quote Bill Clinton as saying in a recent speech that (I am paraphrasing) "the U.S. should attempt to create a world in which we will no longer be the dominant power." Given that Americans usually succeed at what we attempt, with which proposition I'm sure even Bill Clinton agrees, why in the world would we deliberately set a course to make ourselves second-rate? I for one want to live with Ronald Reagan's "first-rate" City on a Hill vision, not the deliberate defeatism of Clinton and Carter.

F.A. Jacobsen

San Francisco

Posted by: F.A. Jacobsen at March 14, 2003 02:38 PM

The division has developed along ideological lines. Statist vs. small "R" republicans. Classical liberalism understands the dangers of expanding central power, statists worship such power as a solution to all human frailities. Socialism, keynesianism, racialism, environmentalism, "living-constitutionalism", to name only a few, are some of the components which are used as justification for an ever expanding state at the cost of eroding our freedoms and personal choices. The stage is set for the ultimate abuse of power. Our defense has been sapped. The rights of law abiding,community and family oriented individuals are almost meaningless within a hierarchy of protected classes. Obediance to the administrative state is demanded while the deterioration of morality and community standards are subsidized through our very own resources. To stand by, silently, and watch this occur without voicing dissent for fear of being labeled with some evil but nebulous attribute, i.e. intolerant, racist, sexist, or whatever is to be intimidated by stupidity.

The statists of the past have nothing over those of the present in terms of intimidation or virulence. Those of the past did lack the subtlety and patience.

How can the house stand as its foundations and integrity are broken apart?

Posted by: Tom C. at March 14, 2003 03:39 PM

Anyone whose answer is "Russian Orthodox Church" isn't dealing with a full deck.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at March 14, 2003 07:19 PM


the current scene may tempt us to despair as when we view the peace marches, but I do observe positive portents. As a youth, I sympathized with the antiwar crowd in their opposition to the war crafted by the liberal democrats of the Johnson administration. With the advent of the Clinton administration, however, I said to myself (in imitation of Alec Guiness in River Kwai) "Oh my God, what have I done?" Hence my current sympathies with more conservative positions. While it took me years to appreciate the wisdom of Reagan and Thatcher, it seems to me that many young people are today getting the message at a younger age.

This past week I have never been more proud as when my 25 year old daughter requested to go with me to town meeting to stand up with me to oppose the attempt of the pacifists in our town to ram through an article to send a statement to George Bush and the congressional delegation opposing the war with Iraq. We carried the day here in Sandwich, NH.

It is obvious to me that many in America are stuck in the sixties and have failed to realistically evaluate the events of the past decades. Some are hippies who have apparently never grown up, and some are young people who are bitter that they weren't around back then to "stick it to the man." There are certainly protests in the streets these days, but there is seldom any coherence in their positions. While the news media are happy to report three people gathered to protest Bush, they will never report ten thousand gathered in Ohio to support him. Americans are getting wise to this stuff and I think the tide may be turning.

Solzhenitsyn may be out of fashion these days at Harvard, but I think more and more Americans are (perhaps unconsciously) sympathetic to his message. Perhaps my evidence is anecdotal. Nevertheless, I see young people who are aware of the positive good America stands for. Some of them even listen to an old dinosaur like me now and then who will attempt to pass on ideas assisted as always by the incredibly helpful bloggers who publish the words of Solzhenitsyn, Reagan, and Thatcher to remind me what to tell them. I hope you will archive these speeches for my future reference. Thanks. Jerry

Posted by: jerry dodge at March 14, 2003 08:25 PM

Mr. dodge:

We've got voluminous links to more by and about all three (four if you include W) at our book review site:

Posted by: oj at March 15, 2003 05:41 AM