Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn RIP, 1918-2008

The privilege of knowing those who forged our age is often the consequence of an accidental crossing of the paths. In my case, undeserved luck allowed me to encounter Alexandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (AIS). Already then, the event registered in my consciousness as having a greater significance than what could be guessed at that moment.

My contact with AIS came about by accident. During his exile that began in Zürich – a fate he shared with Lenin – the education of his son Dimitri had to be arranged. I remembered how much the monk Accasius had done for me when, as a “class alien” I had no right to go beyond the 8th grade or to be a straight “A”. To repay the monk I volunteered. As I put it, the task was to bridge the gap between local values and the obligations arising from a Russian background. Nataliya Solzjenitsyn wrote back “she does not find the words,” and accepted the offer. Therefore, briefly, Dimiri became our “nomer tri” – we had two children of our own. Through the boy, I was admitted into the cautiously buttoned up household that knew its KGB. By the way, I considered their physical security to be wanting. Therefore, I suggested that they resettle in the USA. Still, it was not my input that had to do with the move to Vermont where the Solzhenitsyns stayed until they could return to Russia. Early on, with the help of a Czech woman, the KGB infiltrated the household. Clever rumors that his children might be kidnapped were circulated. The Swiss did little to protect the writer besides advising him that in anticipation of arson, he should have buckets of water handy. In the end, the Solzhenitsyns flew out under an assumed name. So as not to alert the KGB, their belongings were left behind in the Stampferstrasse.

The physical death of AIS nudges one to pen something as laudatory as our conventions demand. Yet, the truly great deserve more than homilies: by definition, their stature rests on a firm fundament. That pedestal will withstand all aspects of the truth and its contradictions. Solzhenitsyn was a great man. However, as a man, he cannot be expected to have been free of fault. Obituaries prompt those who remember publicly to lie piously. AIS is culturally and politically too significant to require cheap homage. In view of his achievements, he deserves more than a ceremonial laudation painted in colors made more vivid than those of the reality he had shaped do.

This is the juncture where standard remembrances provide the reader with a summary of the departed’s writings. This effort is skipped because a short version of the “Gulag”, Ivan Denisovich, The First Circle, Cancer Ward, his short stories, the letter to “Soviet Leaders” and his series about Russia are superfluous. Either one knows these or it is too late to fill the void now.

However, one aspect of AIS’ work must be elaborated upon here. The more so since this piece is a political and not a literary homage.

An interrelationship can exist between literature and politics. In free societies, these are separate realms. The more tyrannical a system is, the greater the likelihood that whatever could be openly expressed under liberty, will need to divert into areas that are overlooked by the agencies of repression. One of these is that of sports. Clubs have a record to serve as covers for proscribed political associations. Modern totalitarians, intent to atomize society in order to subjugate it, have dissolved traditional teams. Like in the case of Unions, authentic organizations were replaced by Party-controlled entities. As a young Pentathlon-man, the writer remembers whispered instructions to cheer competitors except the unfortunates forced to start for State Security.

The case of literature parallels that of sport. In the free societies of the likely reader, literature is art – and always an art. Some modern dictatorships recognize literature as a surrogate of liberty. While it might appear to be an apolitical area, literature can carry the views of the lurking “enemy.” Therefore, right and left totalitarians gave literature (also film and music) their attention. The Communist had done more than just to silence writers. As “engineers of the soul”, the literati were pressured to write. Those who would not produce the hackwork commanded were more than silenced: they were destroyed.

In Russia – already an exemplary system of oppression before the Bolsheviks – the green grass of liberty under the snow of censorship had a long tradition. The Communist learned from the opposition against the Czars: they were determined not to let their antagonists enjoy the advantages the Romanovs had allotted to their subversives.

Solzhenitsyn fits into the tradition that amalgamates literature and politics. Note that several post-Communist countries had presidents rising to fame in literature and not in politics. Havel (Czech Republic), Göncz (Hungary) have, as Walesa  - and not unlike Solzhenitsyn – also served jail sentences. A little incident underlines the point. When, violating the promise of free conduct the Soviets arrested the leaders of Hungary’s 1956 revolution, the captives were asked to “surrender their weapons.” Tellingly, the president of the Writer’s Association placed his fountain pen on the table. AIS’ road to become a man of letters began in earnest when he wrote a note that censorship found to be an insult to the “whiskered” Stalin. The GULAG – the global recognition of the term is his achievement – provided the experience that served as the background of many publications. Furthermore, it was there that Solzhenitsyn’s interest for literature blossomed to maturity. He has brought others, including at least one foreigner who became a writer, into the art form whose clay is the word.

Mainly the machinations of the KGB and the West’s embarrassed Left, made “the divisive” Solzhenitsyn “controversial“. To deal with this, let me relate my encounters with IAS: it gives the reader an impression of the man that transcends his accepted image.

There is a cabal that denigrates anything that runs counter to its worldview that held quite independently of the facts. Anyone who deviates from this norm is a Fascist, a racist and a reactionary “cold-warrior” endangering “world peace.” Today such a person is also said to be unappreciative of intercultural hugs, the Third World and all that. Small wonder that, unmasking the USSR made AIS “public enemy No. 1.” In the initial moment of his exile, a leftist student of mine – the son of a professor who was paid for being red – opined, “Solzhenitsyn can not write.” Given the source, no higher praise is possible: the obituary could end here.

The formal charge against Solzhenitsyn is not identical with what is unsaid. Due to “easy access“, most of the millions murdered by the Soviets are Russians. This made AIS see Communism as a conspiracy that exploited Russia as its tool. Consequently, one of his arguments against Communism that had indeed interrupted Russia’s development was a Russian-national one. Does this – to the writer tenuous view that foreshadows AIS’ later attitude toward Putinism – necessarily equal “Fascism” or chauvinism? Admittedly, his literary skills and commitment to traditional Russian folkways embeds Solzhenitsyn in that community. Therefore, he is legitimately called “national.” Nationalism, however, does not equal chauvinism – which, in turn, must not necessarily imply ethnic cleansing as the preferred tool of problem solving. One can hold high the values of a people without denigrating others. The love of a community does not demand the hatred of others. Therefore, a person can be committed to Russia and remain a decent human being. I also hold that if you cannot qualify as a decent man because you think that your ethnicity demands the denial of the values of humanism, then, well, you fail to be of value to the community you claim to love, too.

I can attest to it that AIS viewed other ethnic cultures not only tolerantly but also appreciatively: for Russia “to live”, others did not need to perish. A case in point is that AIS is being accused of being Slavophil. (Admittedly, in its extreme form this creed connects to the roots of modern totalitarianism.) I have mentioned, in passim, Slavophilism to the Solzhenitsyns. The reaction: the movement has thought provoking points to make. This non-Slav can agree.

Before my first encounter with AIS, I realized that I am to meet the greatest contemporary I will ever encounter. My certitude of living a moment destined to attain documentary significance took hold of me. My mother made me feel this. Her generation hated “Russians” like Rabbis the SS. Yet now she regretted not knowing Russian. AIS, with his beard and long hair looked like a prophet on the ceiling of my village‘s church in Hungary where, fighting boredom as a child, I counted the locks. Even after decades, the analogy does not end with the appearance. AIS wasted no time on bourgeois formalities. There was no “how are you?” only a finger pointing at my face. In a tone that echoed the background noise heard when Moses was given the stone tablets, a “what are you doing to justify your existence” came at me. That convinced me that I, a wretch, am not doing enough. I am unworthy of the second life given to me by Stalin‘s death and Hitler’s defeat. My demerits shrunk me by a foot. I felt inadequate but also deputized, in Reaganesque terms, to combat the “evil” as in “evil empire” and to do more to “tear it down“.

AIS was completely dedicated to his work. He put in hours that would have embarrassed a start-up at Boston Consulting. With the total support of the family, everything was subordinated to the cause. Still, no one felt constrained because individuality can unfurl by submitting to a Cause. Even their living space reflected their priorities. What caught my eye was a large canvas, obviously Russian and somber. Topic: a camp of annihilation. Although they had money, the furniture was ramshackle with a comfort level pegged around a Soviet “kommunalka’s.” (Dwelling shared by several families, each assigned to a room.) No one looked at the ground: their eyes were fixed at the comet of Russia’s resurrection. That was an event that I could soberly not believe in. AIS’ feverish activity disregarded personal needs. That was easily done as he had the certitude of being called upon to serve not him but a cause that towered above men. There was a reason for the haste. AIS assumed that his life might soon end - not necessarily due to natural causes. He was less determined to live for life’s sake than he was resolved to finish his work as a politically committed author. Neither he nor his family seemed to fear death for the usual reasons. Due to cancer and mainly because of the years in the GULAG, his life had been returned to him as a gift. AIS’ schedule reflected a sense of obligation to repay this grant and to serve as their witness the perished millions.

It is a ritual exercise to set up straw-man renditions of Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov as contrasts. While the USSR existed, AIS was cast into the mold of the “wrong right” for opposing Communism while the less visible (because internally exiled), Sakharov held the status of opposing a régime. If one accepts the thesis of the “two cultures”, then the Scientist and the Writer (oddly, in his “first life” AIS was a mathematician) stand for cultural opposites. Additionally, AIS is Russian-national and Orthodox, Sakharov a cosmopolitan and a “Westernizer” in his values. These images entail real and significant contradictions. However, they do not imply an irrepressible conflict. This claim demands that a revealing tidbit be added about these two men who jointly dug the grave of an empire. Personally, Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov were not opponents but clandestine cooperators. It is not only that each family celebrated the Nobel Prize of the other. AIS and Sakharov exchanged messages. For safety’s sake, Dimitri served as the messenger. Dimiti was a decent, street-wise slippery little crook and as such well suited to convey confidentialities.

Let this be ended with a few lines about AIS and the West. His judgment of Stalinism (with or without Stalin) had been part of his ethical backbone. In some ways, comprehending the nature of the West has been AIS’ weakness. Correspondingly, his role regarding it is inferior to the one he played in his own culture. It would be wrong to say that AIS completely misunderstood the West. Solzhenitsyn had an accurate, well expressed, and therefore resented assessment of the West’s weaknesses. His famous, devastating and therefore unloved 1978 commencement address at Harvard testifies to that. What he could not quite fathom were the strengths and virtues of Western civilization. In 1994, upon his return to Russia after the collapse of the USSR, initially AIS did not find popular success at home as the host of a TV program. Perhaps reflecting the confusion of many of his compatriots by the modern world, he also seems to have positioned himself against the new and the only future any developing society can have. This he did in a way that can said to be tainted by the (wrong) colors taken from the pallet of nativism.

During the concluding years of his career, AIS drifted toward a national position. In doing so, he is not alone among the talented. Take the case of the recently deceased (June 10, 2008) Kirghiz Genghis Aitmatov. He began as a Party favored author. Prizes were given. Then came the critique of the declining USSR. An ambassadorship followed the collapse of the SU. His career ended in his discovery or conversion to some Euro-Asian ideology. It was to create under Russian leadership a way that was to be distant from Western liberalism and capitalism and also removed from the East’s systems. In wishing for a comparable role, Solzhenitsyn, who wanted Russia to be strong, wrote against the oligarchs and the confusion-fed Communist nostalgia. His position reflects a community’s search for an anchor for a disoriented society that ails from missed development and directionally false advancement. Additionally, Russia also suffers from a bewilderment caused by the exposure to a baffling world that progressed quantitatively and qualitatively to a state with which Russia, after 74 years of isolation, was out of touch. In part Solzhenitsyn is – regardless of his principled and courageous opposition to it- a product of Soviet rule. He had to spend his years in the West in isolation in order to remain a Russian writer and to avoid the KGB’s revenge. As already noted, his circumstances afforded only limited personal access to modern societies.

His latest pamphlet, reflecting thoughts formulated in the ninth decade of his life, comments the 90th anniversary of the “February Revolution“ of 1917. “Revolution” is a misnomer as it pinnacled in the meek resignation of the Czar. Thus, power was chucked to the progressive monarchists and mainly to the multi-faceted democratic-republican opposition. This turnover came about as a reaction to Russia’s defeat in WWI and the crisis caused by her failure to run a backward system involved in a modern war. The “October Revolution”, actually a local coup d’état by Lenin, did not remove the Romanovs: it overthrew the democrats. This gave the world a preview of the Weimar Republic’s replacement by the Nazis. There, too, democrats operated in the context of defeat and were hamstrung by their democratic prejudices. In the context of the unripe society they had inherited from history, the democrats were unable to consolidate their power and defend budding liberty from its totalitarian challengers of the Right and the Left.

Surprisingly, the pamphlet makes the Provisional Government responsible for Communism and the millions it murdered. It is a bad omen for Russia’s democratic future that AIS condemns Nicholas for being weak and Kerensky for his hesitation. No credit is given for the modernization in one gulp, such as the rights of minorities and women, religious freedom, the eight-hour-day, the release of political prisoners, the independence of the Balts, Fins, Poles and Ukrainians. Kerensky and his crew are depicted as God’s punishment for the headway the secular spirit made before the war. The implied message is that Russia needs and deserves a strong leader. With this, the past mutes smoothly into the present. The man who had spent eight years in the Gulag run by the KGB detects in Putin, who is still proud of his outfit, the needed strong leader. Accordingly, Putin is the protector who shields the land from “Western encroachment”, one who assumes the burden of keeping Russia powerful in the world and in order at home. Appropriately, in 2007, celebrating the Day of Russia, the Putin-system formally expressed its gratitude for the endorsement to Solzhenitsyn by awarding him the highest civilian decoration Russia has.

For Putin’s Russia, the honor makes sense even if Solzhenitsyn undermined the foundations that the current leadership had willingly served in its formative years. What made a man of AIS’ merits change his tune so as to make him, not only acceptable but also commendable, to a system such as the one that is now enthroned?

Solzhenitsyn’s war against the USSR was largely – but not singularly – caused by that component of applied Marxism that made it an alien force in Russia. Therefore, Solzhenitsyn was not primarily a foe of the Empire but rather an opponent of a usurping gang. Although Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, the Writer and the current system found common ground in a shared love of the nation. Solzhenitsyn himself explains his turn against the West as a response to the “brutal Nato-bombardment of Serbia“. Right or wrong – mostly wrong, but in the name of “Slavic Solidarity” that is rejected by many Slavs – Russia committed to Serbia. (She went to war in 1914 to protect Serbia. That country was involved in an act of terrorism involving regicide that the Czar – murdered in 1918 – would not have welcome on his own turf.) In his old age, Solzhenitsyn seems to have come to share Einstein’s political acumen. Therefore, he became disturbed by the re-absorption of the disintegrating USSR’s western spheres into their traditional occidental milieu. This ingratitude of western Slavs and the eastward expansion of NATO – perceived as an anti-Russian measure – hurt the national pride of the patriot just as much as it provoked Putin‘s imperial instincts. Additionally, as the Writer put it when returning to Russia, Communism had created a moral void there. Development must be integrally connected to the cultural roots of a community. These roots were weakened by the Communists. Therefore, the worst and most decadent products of the West could flow into Russia unfiltered. The dictate of self-preservation speaks for a halt to the process.

Signaling potential problems, many Russians fail to have an appreciation for the cause of their image abroad. Special incomprehension exists concerning their victims’ point of view. This makes the motives misunderstood of those who transferred in Estonia a monument that celebrates to Russia her glory but to the natives their occupation, to a normal cemetery. The Russian leader who is enlightened, self-assured and great enough to be able to duplicate Chancellor Brandt’s knee fall in Warsaw, has yet to appear. This is detrimental to Russia because it continues to pursue old mirages. This is also a burden for her neighbors who are made to feel that they must fight off a rising ghost from the past. Providing for a new beginning in this area could have been Solzhenitsyn’s crowning deed. Not having risen to the occasion that was within his reach is not only a missed opportunity but also his greatest failure.

Under examination, most of us show contradictions that resist their entirely rational explanation. In AIS’ case, it must be admitted that aptitude and much merit earned in a great role do no exclude great errors. Even so, in the ultimate analysis, Solzhenitsyn is a great man of talent with admirable courage matching a strong moral commitment. AIS had used his abilities to serve consistently what he thought to be right and he did so undaunted by the peril involved. This he did to further the right cause as long as the enemy was clear. It is to his credit that the same claim cannot be made about most intellectuals of the free world. What AIS did he did with effect, courage and at the price of much sacrifice for something, he rightly believed in. Many contemporaries who also had talent proved to be daunted by what was initially unpopular and so they have done too little when the times called upon them to serve by leading. Due to the writings of AIS that unmasked the Crimson Empire, we were made more fortunate than we might have deserved. Therefore the world should miss him, because, whether conscious of this or not, it is left behind poorer. Let us hope that the void will be filled because our civilization is newly in danger. Sorely needed are those who can asses the threat and who possess the talent, the vision and especially the will to be unpopular as they rise to the challenge.

classical liberalism and traditionalism # 4

@ KO

1) I read your first paragraph as a passionate plea for a very restrictive immigration policy.  In the current state of the culture(s ), both in the US and in most of Europe as well, I would definitely support such a position, because the absorptive capacity (in terms of safeguarding the culture) has clearly far been exceeded for quite some time now.  But, that is a pragmatic sort of judgement, not a quasi-religious one that you seem to be advocating.  It could be interesting to hear you explain further what you mean by "scriptural valorization of nationhood" argument in the last sentence of the first paragraph.  On its face, there seems to be a contradiction between (A) any purported "Hebrew model" and/or Judeo-christian traditions and values, and (B) "retaining the character of the nation" under whatever minorities/majorities of whatever color.  We are indeed not talking about "robots", but about human beings. 

The people of a nation - any nation - do change over time,  both in a physical and in a cultural (behavioral) sense.  The important question is not how they change in a physical sense (except of course in terms of health factors), but rather in terms of the direction of change in the cultural values of successive generations.   I am pretty sure (or I am aware of sociological/demographic studies to that effect) that a century ago the great majority of 'white' Americans were NOT (or no longer) "descended from the colonial and revolutionary generations", nor did they "fully identify with "British aspirations".  But, they did then overwhelmingly identify with the American Constitution and the values it embodies, i.e. with the American 'civic creed'.    I certainly recognise the enormous debt of the revolutionary generations in the US to British cultural traditions, but at the same time it could be said that the American creed was also a rejection of (or rather a 'break' with) a number of British traditions.  

2) I do agree with you that the 1965 Immigration Act has had many disastrous consequences, not because of changes in the demographic composition, but because of growing signs of cultural balkanisation and because of changing cultural values.  Of course the 1960s and 1970's represented the peak of American naive-left 'liberalism' (of which the Act itself was a major manifestation) and immigration was only one (though major) cause of changing values.   So yes, as a practical matter, the classical liberal and the traditionalist may end up at the same place, at least on matters of immigration policy in current circumstances. 

3) I fully agree with you on the need for "individual acts of commitment", and for the need for "mutual trust" in society.  But, I want you to consider the folllowing.  The fact that we can no longer trust our major media today, concerning objective and fair or unbiased reporting, has little to do with "demographics".  It has, however, a lot to do with the decline in moral standards (or traditional 'values' of honesty and of self-reliance, for instance).  


classicial liberalism and traditionalism # 2

@ KA

1) It is uncommon to find here a lengthy reasoned exposition on a particular subject, instead of a series of unrelated or irrelevant (to a given subject) assertions or instead of unproven and unprovable assertions.  So, your latest contribution was a 'breath of fresh air' in the midst of the ongoing 'noice' regarding the current Georgian/Russian conflict.

2) I agree with you that classical liberalism should be seen as the "culmination" of traditionalism in Western civilisation, and also as a "corrective" to the negative effects of a traditionalist society.  Perhaps another way of putting that would be to say that traditional values - that have stood the test of time - must be maintained, not abandoned, but also constantly re-interpreted  or better understood to adjust to new or different circumstances, in order to achieve a better result in terms of genuine human (individual) responsible freedom.  

3) I also agree with you that the quality of the nation's human capital must be maintained (or improved) in order to preserve  "freedom".  But that is really the same as saying that certain essential features of the nation's CULTURE  (that made a high degree of individual freedom possible) need to be preserved.  In my view that is fundamentally a matter of 'education' (not in a narrow sense) and of preserving adherence or fidelity to certain 'values' that make democratic politics possible.  I do not think that it is fundamentally a question of "demographics".  What matters is the cultural values that ensure individual freedom, not the race (nor gender, nor age, etc...) of those 'free' people.

4) As a practical matter I think that the factor "demographics" is an important one in the short to medium term, because culture is inevitably tied up with existing people, or if you will it is embodied  in existing people and gets perpetuated by existing or living people (in different places).  So, I would agree with you (as you well know), that the nation - any nation - needs to enforce its borders, and to strictly limit its immigration.  But, it needs to do that in order to preserve its cultural values, NOT to maintain a particular "demographics".  Indiscriminate and rapid/massive immigration is a sure way of losing one's cultural values and identity, and thus in 'free nations' it can be a sure way of losing individual freedom over time.   The 'open borders' position of "left-liberalism" (as opposed to 'classical liberalism') and of certain selfish-capitalists (or rightists) is obviously self-destructive for any nation.  The left-liberals deny the manifest link between specific cultural values and freedom (which means they refuse to see the cultural/political reality in much of the outside world) and the selfish capitalists (think big business and the Wall Street Journal's current editorial board) refuse to see the long-term link between culture and economic performance (i.e. they have a short-term attention span and a narrow selfish view or definition of 'profits').   So, I think the real debate should NOT be about strict law enforcement of the nation's laws (including immigration laws) - that should be a 'given' or a common sense position - but, rather, it should be about devising practical criteria for an immigration policy that would explicitly aim at (1) preserving essential features of the nation's freedom-loving culture, and at (2) ensuring that the culture does not become totally insular but maintains a certain minimum opennes to 'quality' from abroad.   

Classical liberalism and traditionalism #3

With respect to Mr. Marcfrans's 4th point, I think classical liberalism should yield to traditionalism on the idea that the government should preserve demographics and not only culture. If you could program American culture into a race of self-reproducing robots, would you have preserved American culture? By no means! Culture is valuable as a feature of the people, not vice-versa. A white-minority United States, no matter how assimilated to American culture, is unlikely to retain the character of the nation because it would not be descended from and fully identify with the colonial and revolutionary generations or the primarily British aspirations our culture and laws embody. A nation is its people, not its culture. Its people have a culture, but if they lose it they cease to be that nation. If the culture loses its people, it ceases to be the culture of the nation. I would appeal here to the Incarnation as the sanctification of human existence in the body, in the family, and in the nation. Also to my argument for the Scriptural valorization of nationhood in accordance with the Hebrew model on which our culture, even our post-Roman civilization, is founded. (O, the perversity and waywardness of the EU!)

As a practical matter, however, the classical liberal and the traditionalist may end up at the same place. Under the 1925 Immigration Act, immigration was limited to relatively small overall numbers and to regional quotas based on the composition of the U.S. at that time. Thus new people, advantageous to the nation, could be brought in, in small enough numbers and similar enough in background to the natives for the immigrants and natives to mutually accept each other. Thus the culture could be preserved, and enriched by minuscule additions of outside influences. At the same time, the small numbers would maintain the demographic composition, which means nothing other than that the country in one generation belongs to the same people it belonged to in an earlier generation, instead of being transferred to other people. (That all ended with the 1965 Immigration Act, which unleashed a flood into the U.S. of immigrants from the world at large, a flood that was augmented by a growing stream of illegal immigrants, mainly from Mexico.)

Peoples are formed by blood and by federation. As to blood, each generation sees its individuals intermarry and hand the nation on to the next generation of the same people. As to federation, in a terrible crisis, two peoples may be forced together and may join together en masse, by a sort of sacred contract. In the bureaucratized life we know, however, federation can only proceed by individual acts of commitment on the part of newcomers. That can only happen at the very moderate pace we had under the 1925 Immigration Act. It is not happening now, when the numbers and behavior of immigrants, legal and illegal, cause the native population to entertain doubt as to the good-faith commitment of newcomers to preserve the identity of the nation.

Social scientists are realizing that diversity diminishes the amount of mutual trust in a society and erodes social capital. The entire system of a free society depends on mutual trust--as to keeping contracts and the mutual protection of persons and property, as well as the preservation of the economic and political system. It takes centuries to create, but can be squandered in a single generation by admitting large numbers of people with whom the existing people do not identify and whom they do not believe they can trust.

There is probably no place at all for Moslem immigration to the West. When I first visited France in the 1970's, I thought the French were insane to admit so many North and Sub-Saharan Africans. The downside was obvious, the upside highly debatable. Nothing since has caused me to change that view. However, I now see in French (and British) immigration policy the arrogance of liberalism in general, that believes its superior wisdom (a form of gnosticism--see Voegelin) immunizes it from common sense, natural law, and history. Of course, hypocrisy is probably the more economical explanation, since the groups that profited from such policies palmed off the costs on other sections of the population. Oddly, it was only much later that I realized that we in the U.S. had gone down exactly the same insane liberal path.

Mutual Backscratching

@ KA

Thank you for your 'double' compliment, which I probably do not deserve.  I thought that your lengthy description/explanation of "neocons" was a very good one, and I broadly agree with your description of the phenomenon. I say "broadly", because you touched on so many aspects of it, that time and space here are too limited to go into minor differences.  

You stated: "the classical liberal perspective that is OPEN to the development of the traditionalist (cultural) foundation".   I would like to make a brief comment on that, because the word "open" might suggest that the classical liberal perspective (A) perhaps typically comes before the traditionalist cultural foundation(B).  In my personal case, B definitely came before A.  In other words, looking backwards in time, I think that I became aware that historically individual freedom became only possible in certain cultural contexts (and not in others), before I 'learned' that adherence to classical liberal values is essential for society to be able to maintain individual freedom.   

Perhaps, another way of looking at it is as follows. A traditional cultural foundation seems necessary to keep 'chaos' at bay, but adherence to classical liberal values is necessary to achieve individual freedom.  As moral human beings, we want more than just 'order' (in whatever polity), we want to achieve and preserve genuine (i.e. responsible) individual freedom or self-determination.   

P.S. Let's give Armor a strong hint: neither you nor I are "necons". And "classical" liberalism should not be confused with contemporary American 'liberalism' (which is almost the opposite, because of its denial of individual self-responsibility).

Classical liberalism and traditionalism

Thanks to Mr. Marcfrans for his kind comments. I was not fishing for compliments, though I was hoping for a response on the relationship between classical liberalism and traditionalism. His response reflects something of the different cultural environments of Europe and the U.S. The traditionalists I know (here in the U.S.) have come to that position when they realized that classical liberalism, which is the "official" political-economic philosophy of our Founding Fathers, is incapable of protecting itself without a traditionalist orientation towards preserving the culture (including religion), morality, and demographics of the nation. That is, if a nation aspires to remain classically liberal--i.e., enjoying self-government and responsibility in political and economic affairs, it must maintain the traditional culture, religion, demographics, and morality that make such a system possible. Thus, for us, the starting point is classical liberalism, but then we identify various threats posed to our historical, traditionally classical liberal nation by adverse trends and hostile elements that cannot be opposed from within the classical liberal framework, but only by articulating a traditionalist framework. Demographics, for example, are the assumed underpinning for the Founding Fathers and for Theodore Roosevelt, but the classical liberal philosophy does not tell them how to maintain a nation's demographic character or even that they should do so, though it was obvious to them that they should. As you describe your development, it is that of a traditionalist who realizes that the traditions of the West need to be oriented towards liberty, and that classical liberalism focuses our traditions on that high purpose. In Europe, there may still be a traditionalist right that can benefit by being open to classical liberalism, but in general traditionalism needs to assert itself.

In the current crisis of the West, I think it is critical to understand that traditionalist views are the necessary underpinning for classical liberalism and that classical liberalism should be seen as the culmination and fulfilment, not the successor, of traditionalism. Thus we cannot maintain classical liberal societies if we import foreign populations, allow socialism and multiculturalism to be voted into power, make illegitimacy penalty-free, or permit abortion to be used as a birth-control technique. Classical liberalism is best seen as a corrective to the negative effects of a traditionalist society, codifying a set of compromises that allow people generally well-disposed towards each other to cohabit and cooperate on equal terms, and to flourish. The right to vote on certain questions, equality before the law, freedom of speech, the sanctity of contract, and the right to bear arms all represent compromises that were viable for a specific historical population, and are not necessarily viable for other populations. Left-liberalism rears its very ugly head when liberal "equality" is permitted to erode the culture, demographics, and morality that make freedom possible.

Traditionalism seeks to maintain the quality of a nation's human capital. Without that quality, freedom is impossible. The nation is ruled in relation to the lowest common denominator. If the mass is capable only of being governed "with whips and chains," as the Chinese Legalists say, then whips and chains it will be.

I agree neither of us are neocons, despite, at least in my case, valuing Israel and respecting legitimate Israeli and Jewish patriotism. I used to subscribe to the two major neocon publications, Commentary and the Weekly Standard, but their contempt for those many Americans who believe in maintaining the nation by enforcing our own borders and limiting immigration convinced me that they were absolutely wrong about what America needs.

re: Acronyms

Quote from "Good Morning Vietnam".


"Excuse me,sir. Seeing as how the V.P. is such a V.I.P., shouldn't we keep the P.C. on the Q.T.? 'Cause if it leaks to the V.C. he could end up M.I.A., and then we'd all be put out in K.P.".


I.M.H.O, W.T.F. is so difficult to understand here?





A note, especially to Americans: get rid of your obsession with acronyms. Spell out the words or use a shorter, comprehensible word.

Especially I find it very rude to refer to a person with an acronym.



-- Raymond

S,GROTDA,SW? - So, get rid of the damn acronyms, shall we?

The West is being Sovietized

traveller: "I repeat NO Russian cares about Khodorkovsky, except some individuals in his circle and some human rights people. Of course it is a sample of their bad judicial system, but the Russians are not bothered by Khodorkovsky, they are only bothered by the system when it's attacking them personally."

It is the same in the West. I believe only a couple of Western countries (the US, Denmark) have freedom of speech guarantees.

In the US thousands of men have their property confiscated and are even imprisoned by family courts (ie. feminist enforcement agencies) based entirely on the word of a bitter spouse.

Are there protests about that in the USA or Europe about others being persecuted by the state? Very few.

The Western media ignores almost every important matter to our future. You can read and watch our 'free press' in the West for years without ever hearing about some of the worst outrages committed by governments, bureaucrat, immigrants, and others. During the 90s I read of dozens of horrifying events in the US alone that involved people being hounded, imprisoned on ridiculous charges, and even, in a couple of cases, killed by the state essentially for being politically incorrect. (Few of these cases ever got covered by the MSM so only an infinitesimally small percentage of the electorate ever heard about them).

BTW how come AIS's 'Two Hundred Years' hasn't been published in English? Thank God for the Western freedom and democracy that protects from heretics!!! We may have more press freedom in the West but the vast majority of our people are spoonfed leftist propaganda by the corporate media. So it is almost impossible to use the democratic freedoms we have to change the direction the West is going in.

Russia strikes me as being a healthier society than the deconstructed culturally Marxist West. Capitalists are doing so much to promote this cultural Marxism I think we have to conclude that they favour it.


"Capitalists are doing so much to promote this cultural Marxism I think we have to conclude that they favour it".

Define "cultural marxism" and who is behind it (Liberals, Conservatives or both), so we can better understand your statement.


The Democracy God

Solzhenitsyn thought there was more to life than the democracy God Americans (and their provincial satellites in the West) seem to care so much about.

onecent says "[h]e was never an true democrat, a believer in capitalism or a free press."

Apparently that is damning to the Americanists of the 21st century. Imagine patriotism and Christianity being more important than capitalism and the corporate American MSM.

onecent: "If you are, I'll repeat that you suffer from a bigotry of low expectations towards Russians just like AIS did."

And there we have it. The deep thoughts of Condoleeza Rice!

pygmies #2

I actually made the effort to read Armor's suggested reading, an article by a certain 'Tom Piatak'.  This person claims that the necon worldview (he mentions specifically C.Hitchens and Hanson) is as follows:

"...orhodox christianity is bad, as is any suggestion that materialism is not the answer..."

Apart from the implicit parroting of the naive-left empty slogan ("war is not the answer" - to what one might ask?), it is ludicrous to claim that writers like Hitchens or Hanson would be advocates of mindless "materialism".   What utter nonsense!  If anything they would broadly agree with Solzhenitsyn on "materialism". Their criticism of Solzhenitsyn has nothing to do with materialism, it had to do with different VALUES, or if you will his substitution of Russian nationalism for genuine freedom. 

No wonder Armor is so confused about "neocons"!  He is reading nonsensical (in the sense of false) articles.



What we have in the West is not democracy but a kind of soft, genocidal dictatorship. So, it is absurd to ask Russia to be more democratic and more like us. In order to give meaning to our lives, we need to feel part of a nation. But the neocons are dedicated to the destruction of every western nation. Basically, we are asked to stop worrying about politics and the meaning of life, and to spend our energy on earning more money. The neocons will tend to say that immigration is good if it makes us richer. (Unfortunately for them, third-world immigration makes us poorer).

@ Armor

Wow, where to start!

“What we have in the West is not democracy but a kind of soft, genocidal dictatorship.

Please explain how you come to such a conclusion. Who is the genocide being perpetrated against (specifically), what is the signature of that genocide and who is behind it (specifically)?

If the West has dictators (LOL), then what does the rest of the world have?

“In order to give meaning to our lives, we need to feel part of a nation”.

I’m not sure about most on this site but I certainly look to Jesus, the Bible and my family to give meaning to my life, not whether I feel apart of a nation. Unless of course you consider the Body of Christ a nation.

“But the neocons are dedicated to the destruction of every western nation.”

HUH? Please describe a “neocon” so that we can understand what group of people you are referring to. Be very specific in your description.

Last time I checked, it IS the Liberals of the West and their self-loathing guilt who are bent on the destruction of western nations. Then they can recreat them in their image.

Just curious, where do you live? What schools did you attend? How have you reached your conclusions?

To Mr Cephran

- Me: “What we have in the West is not democracy but a kind of soft, genocidal dictatorship."

- Cephran: "Please explain how you come to such a conclusion. Who is the genocide being perpetrated against (specifically), what is the signature of that genocide and who is behind it (specifically)?"

(genocide definition)

It depends how you define genocide. If it means killing people, then we do not have genocide (although non-white immigrants kill thousands of white people, and we may also have civil war in the near future). If genocide means killing nations, then that's what we have. It is carried out against white peoples, mainly through the criminal mass immigration policy: the whites are about to become a minority in the USA, and Europe is following in the same path. And our numbers will not stop shrinking after we have become a minority. We are governed by people who think that every European nation should be transformed into a global supermarket where the whites are a minority, until they disappear completely. It is dictatorship, as most people do not agree at all with this policy. But it is only soft dictatorship, as anti-immigration activists are not sent to jail. What I find extraordinary is that the same systematic immigration policy is enforced in every white nation on the earth.

Nothing really matters next to the immigration disaster, but it isn't just immigration. Western government policies are usually at odds with popular culture. For example, they will subdidize things like contemporary or postmodern art...

"who is behind it (specifically)?"

I cannot be very specific, because I don't know the exact answer.
I would cite: The mass media, the extreme left, the state bureaucracy...
If you would like me to mention the Jews, please read the comments about this in other threads.

"If the West has dictators (LOL), then what does the rest of the world have?"

Dictators like Gaddafi and Castro will have any one they dislike executed or sent to prison, but at least, they are not massively replacing their own people. I'd rather have a Castro than a Bush or a Sarko.
Besides, you should not expect third-world leaders to be anything but dictators, but some European nations have been democracies in the past.

- Me: “In order to give meaning to our lives, we need to feel part of a nation”."

- Cephran: "I’m not sure about most on this site but I certainly look to Jesus, the Bible and my family to give meaning to my life, not whether I feel apart of a nation."

I will rephrase my sentence: in order to give meaning to our lives, it helps to feel part of a nation, and to be part of a family. Just read Robert Putnam.
Belonging to a nation may not be enough to give meaning to your life, but what if you witness the destruction of your own nation and are told that it is really cool and a positive development?
Mass immigration tends to call into question the value of everything we used to hold dear. (Are you going to ask me for a list of examples?)

Cephran: "Please describe a “neocon”

Neocons are con men who call themselves conservative but support the racial replacement of white people. Whereas most leftists are both malicious and incredibly stupid, neocons are mainly malicious.

@ Armor

I was not familiar with the writings of Christopher Hitchens and took the drivel of Piatak at face value.
Today I read the article by Hitchens, because of the comment by marcfrans.
Armor I will never believe anything you are writing anymore. You are finished as far as I am concerned. Such lies and distortions are unacceptable in civil company.


"Neoconservatives" in the U.S. are essentially Cold War-era liberals (generally positioned between right-liberals and left-liberals on a simplified political spectrum) who found no place for themselves in the leftward-careening Democratic party after 1968 and joined the Republicans, with the aim of making a place for themselves in the Republican party. In general, they accept a large welfare state, while wanting to maintain it in some kind of viable relationship with the private economy; they favor a powerful central government, again wanting to maintain some self-determining role for the states, localities, and individuals; they favor broadly permissive immigration policies, because they tend to conceive of America more as a set of universal political principles than as a predominantly British-American Christian nation successfully detached from the mother country; they favor an expansive international role for the U.S. as a way of converting the world to liberal democracy, instead of merely protecting Americans and their allies; they are reconciled in varying degrees to policies that scandalize traditionalists, such as abortion rights, acceptance of illegitimacy, exclusion of religion from public life, and restriction of firearms. Basically, they are not conservatives, but liberals clinging to the remains of common sense. Even so, they have been important allies of conservatives in mitigating the destructive tendencies of the far left.

From the traditionalist point of view, they are ultimately defenseless, and offer no permanent defense, against the progressive socialization of society and destruction of traditional culture sought by leftists, because they agree with leftists that equality and non-discrimination are the ultimate political values. They do not agree with traditionalists that equality and non-discrimination are only two values among many and must not be permitted to destroy the very substance of a people's existence.

Like right-liberals and left-liberals, neoconservatives place universal principles over the particulars of real existence of real people in real times and places, and thus fail to preserve and protect real people from being devoured by those universal principles.

This is relevant to the discussion below because Solzhenitsyn has been criticized as failing to appreciate classical liberal, right-liberal, and neoconservative principles. Indeed, he rejected them as being unsuitable for Russia and questioned how beneficial they are to America. Traditionalism incorporates classical liberalism, but keeps it in its place. The life of the people is not dominated by liberal principles, but the people employ liberal principles to have a better life. When something harmful to people is advanced on the basis of liberal principles, they reject it. (E.g., busing children to force racial integration.) Mr. Canuck seems to be something of a traditionalist, Messrs. Onecent, Traveller, and Marcfrans to be classical liberals. Atlanticist distributed P. Hitchens' essay on freedom of the press warning of the danger of softening on the classical liberal principle of free speech. Classical liberalism embodies the noblest principles known to man, but they are only efficacious in a suitable human setting. They work for highly developed people, not for people who have not cultivated self-reliance, negotiation, restraint, and the other "republican" virtues for many centuries, and perhaps most important, people who know each other and are deeply interested in cooperating with each other in maintaining a common national existence. Traditionalism pays attention to the foundations of where peoples come from and what enables them to survive and thrive, and sees classical liberalism as the flower of 3,000 years of struggle and development to create Western civilization, not as a roadmap to Western civilization, and certainly not as a handbook to be dropped out of an airplane over Iraq or tossed to Mexican immigrants as they cross the Texas border.

@ XO

Thanks for your description of "neocons". I'm not sure I agree with all your assertions, but they're well received.

I was hoping Amor would answer the question since it was addressed to him and perhaps he still will. After reading Travellers rebuke of Amor, perhaps I really don't want to know his description.

I will say that your observations about Traveller (at least from my perspective) are a bit off base. He is a solid Conservative who happens to be very worldly and understands the geopolitics and histories of many nations. A life of global entrepreneurial business activities will do that to a person.

I would not use Liberal and Traveller in the same sentence except if Traveller was crushing a Liberals larynx with his boot. LOL!

I just happen to know him personally and he is very Conservative without any of the "liberal" tendencies defined by American Liberalism.

BTW, in many US Liberal circles, the term "neocon" is used to describe Jewish Conservative hawks like Paul Wolfowitz and people like that.


Thanks for your comment. I should ask everyone's pardon for classifying participants, especially if done inaccurately--so rude and untraditionalist!--but I think it helps orient discussion. Classical liberals place ordered liberty at the apex of political values, but they assume that a societal infrastructure capable of supporting such liberty will be maintained. Without the traditionalist underpinnings of men such as our mostly Christian Founding Fathers, however, classical liberalism can become unmoored and focus primarily on maintaining the economic system (like Mises or Hayek) without fully appreciating the necessity of the traditional cultural foundation to the survival of the classical liberal order. What I enjoy on this website, exemplified most clearly by Mr. Belien and Mr. Marcfrans, is the classical liberal perspective that is open to the development of the traditionalist foundation for classical liberalism. Attachment to one's nation, for example, is a traditionalist value (see Burke) for which classical liberalism has no adequate explanation and of which it makes no adequate use. Yet here we have classical liberals defending their nations from the "efficiencies" and "harmonies" of integration.

Positive and normative

There is no fundamental disagreement between 'our' two commentators, 'traveller' and 'one cent'.  The first emphasises a POSITIVE perspective, and the second reasons from a NORMATIVE viewpoint.  I fear that this difference derives in part from 'traveller' being a European and 'one cent' being an American.  In a way they mirror their own continents somewhat, although let it be said that traveller is a 'man of the world', but not in the sense that Obama would use that expression.

Thus, traveller describes and explains the way Russians (in general) actually are, feel, and behave.  He explains what IS, or the way things ARE, in Russia.  'One cent', on the other hand, explains how the Russians ought to be.  His concern is about what SHOULD be, not what is.   

For example, traveller may be right that the average Russian could not care less about the way Khodorkovsky got put away (indefinitely?) in Siberia. But, surely, one cent is also right in arguing that the average Russian ought to be concerned about the lack of genuine independance of the Russian judicial system from the Kremlin.  And if that Russian is not concerned about it, he/she would be short-sighted in not learning from history.

So, yes, Solzhenitsyn was a 'great man', a great Russian nationalist who helped expose the depredations of communism in his country.   At the same time, he was not a genuine democrat.  As the author points out, he showed "contradictions" that did not preclude "great errors".   But, on that score, who among us is in a position to cast the first stone......?

Two further points:

-- I am glad the author noted that (1) Solzhenitsyn fought for "the right cause as long as the enemy was clear", and that (2) the same claim cannot be made for many (most?) intellectuals of the free world.   Freedom is a great 'gift', but it imposes also great responsibilities.  In that sense, it could be said that - given his incredibly difficult circumstances - Solzhenitsyn passed his moral test with flying colors, whereas many western intellectuals did not (and still do not).

-- An important question is whether Russians (and Chinese!) "will grow slowly towards democracy"?.  Traveller raised that question indirectly, and seems to believe that the answer is yes (at least in the case of the Russians), although he suitably hedged his belief somewhat.   As a pessimist, I tend to think otherwise, and that is why I believe that the 'normative' voice of 'one cent' should be listened to.      

@ marcfrans

I agree and I saw the difference in approach but the "should be" in Russia is too far away from the daily reality.
This was very clear under Yeltsin when the Russian "democracy" could have taken roots but the intellectuals were too busy scraping bread and butter together and didn't have time for "lofty ideals". A real pity but it happened.
As far as the future is concerned, again it will take a leader, this time not from the FSB "elite" but from the people. A man with charisma and leadership. I don't see who it can be.
The difference between the FSB and other agencies is their real brains at the top, unbelievable.

By the way, thinking about it, they need a new youthful Yeltsin with less alcohol, very difficult for such a figure, and more day to day accurate leadership, which in Yeltsin's case failed probably due to ill health(booze)

AIS isn't so simple.......

Sorry, but, as the West fawns over Solzhenitsyn with little criticism of him, and I admit he served humanity well by exposing the true nature of Communism, but, sadly he degraded his moral authority in his old age. He was never an true democrat, a believer in capitalism or a free press. He believed that a benign autocrat was a good thing for Russia.  His endorsment of Putin of KGB roots no less betrayed this younger generation of Russians. 

Grigory Pasko, a politcal prisoner himself, makes some observations and poses some rlevent questions:

@ onecent

If you read Pasko carefully, AIS gave the answers himself.
Russia could have had its greatest hour under Yeltsin, but when the oligarchs got free rein to steal and murder the country was in total shambles and the common people were suffering, more than in Soviet times. When Putin came on the scene and reestablished order 90% of the Russians agreed and applauded, inclusive AIS.
The reestablishment of the country as a country became primordial even in the eyes of AIS.
He was hoping and praying that after the country was back on its feet the morality thinking could kick in. Perhaps flawed moral thinking but very realistic.


"He was hoping and praying that after the country was back on its feet the morality thinking could kick in."

That's pure speculation on your part. Please.

AIS clearly understood Putin's KGB background. He witnessed the media being systemically censored and 19 journalists dead before his death. He watched the
hideous Stalinesque show trials of M. Khordorkovsky and lessor Yukos managers, capriciously singled out by Putin's greed and for funding the opposition. It's Putin's cronies who now milk the profits from Gazprom. AIS was alive to see Kasparov refused a public platform and a muzzled press in what was alleged a free election. What do you expect of election results when people are forbidden to hear the opposition? Get real.

AIS was never a believer in a one man, one vote democracy. He wrote that a benign autocracy was what Russia needed. Do not presume that most Russians agree. It's the soft bigotry of low expectations and it's arrogant. He criticized the free press in the US for being too free. He had no tolerance for capitalism and had a poor understanding of it. Many Russians were very disappointed in him because he had the moral authority from HIS time and place that could have made a difference. Too bad he refused to confer that on this generation of Russians.

@ onecent

This is exactly the kind of hopeless discussions I had with Russian intellectuals during and after communism.
During communism they wanted ABSOLUTE democracy which they found in libertarian western books, they are after all the biggest consumers of literature in the world.
After communism fell and they saw the Yeltsin "democracy" crumble they wanted an authoritarian figure to "reconstruct" Great Russia. I am speaking about 90% of the population AND the intellectuals.
You actually say it yourself: "He didn't understand...", which is true for most Russian intellectuals.
The Khodorkovsky trials don't touch ANY Russian, they always considered Khodorkovsky as a thief and cheat who stole state property from the Russian people. Here play dual feelings of justice and jealousy.
Don't forget that the large majority of the oligarchs were jews and the Russians don't love jews, full stop.
Russia has to come to grips with freedom and liberty, they have no idea how to run a free democracy, they feel lost. They are ferocious nationalists, like AIS was, and this nationalism saved Russia in its whole history from many calamities. They are the warmest, most generous individuals in the world. Nothing is more charming than a simple datcha week-end with booze and food during 2 days in company of Russian intellectuals. They will build verbal utopia during the whole week-end and monday morning they will vote Putin "en masse", because they feel safe with him. They called the czar "father" notwithstanding the bloody repressions every year or so, because he made them feel safe and protected. The day the Russian army surrendered in Brest-Litovsk to Germany was the end of the czar, only for that reason. The feeling of security was gone.


"The Khodorkovsky trials don't touch ANY Russian"....that's hardly true, it's representative of their corrupted judicial system which effects all citizens rich and poor. The old Stalin days of show trials and forced pysch hospitalizations are back. Are you suggesting that a lawless society where justice is abused by the state is ok with Russians?

If you are, I'll repeat that you suffer from a bigotry of low expectations towards Russians just like AIS did. And, that was one of my points about him, the man was not a democrat, he endorsed Putin and lost his moral authority for this generation of Russians in my opinion.

@ onecent

Please stop thinking like a westerner, living in a western democracy since ages, when you talk about Russians.
I repeat NO Russian cares about Khodorkovsky, except some individuals in his circle and some human rights people. Of course it is a sample of their bad judicial system, but the Russians are not bothered by Khodorkovsky, they are only bothered by the system when it's attacking them personally.
Take for instance the Russian tax laws: 48.000 rules, and many of them contradictory, which are used to beat Khodorkovsky and BP more recently.
Did you see any protests about that by anybody? And it is touching every Russian if the authorities want to take action against somebody.
Russia and the Russians will grow slowly towards democracy but don't hold your breath.
AIS was through and through Russian and had the same attitude while he had a better life after his exile. Was it correct and just from our perspective? No. But it was Russian.

@ George Handlery

Sir, I have never, ever read a more accurate essay about AIS, and about the Russian spirit in those last hundred years.

Wow, congratulations.

You remind me of hours and hours of discussions with Russian intellectuals about AIS, discussions during and after communism.

The many ideas and controversies in Russia about AIS are brilliantly reflected in your essay and your image of the real AIS should be taught in all literature faculties.


Thank you very much.