You searched for solzhenitsyn - Page 4 of 5 | Acton PowerBlog

The miraculous post-Soviet revival of the Russian Orthodox Church, all but destroyed by the end of the Stalinist purges in the 1930s, is one of the great stories of 21st Century Christianity. This revival is now focused on the restoration of church life that saw its great institutions and spiritual treasures — churches, monasteries, seminaries, libraries — more or less obliterated by an aggressively atheist regime. Many of the Church’s best and brightest monks, clergy and theologians were martyred, imprisoned or forced into exile. Yet, plans are now underway to build 200 churches in the Moscow area alone.

The Church’s renewal is set against Russia’s steep population decline and grave social ills including alcoholism, the disintegration of the family, what amounts to an open season on journalists, and an immense and growing corruption problem at all levels of government and society. Building new churches is one thing; getting believers to fill them and then effect a social transformation by following the Great Commandment will be a more difficult climb. “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved” — St. Seraphim of Sarov.

It is perhaps impossible to comprehend, without having lived through it, the depths of destruction and despair that Russia had sunk to under the Soviets. Read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1974 essay “Live Not By Lies” and you begin to comprehend, albeit at a great distance, something about a system that destroyed tens of millions of people:

Things have almost reached rock bottom. A universal spiritual death has already touched us all, and physical death will soon flare up and consume us both and our children — but as before we still smile in a cowardly way and mumble without tongues tied. But what can we do to stop it? We haven’t the strength.

Hilarion

The public face of the Russian church is lately, for much of the global media, an Oxford-educated bishop who is also a composer of music, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk. His web site is here. As the director of external relations for the Moscow Patriarchate, he is a much traveled spokesman for the largest and most influential Orthodox Church in the world with more than 150 million members. Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg included Hilarion in what he referred to as Pope Benedict’s “creative minority.”

Christianity Today deputy managing editor Timothy C. Morgan interviewed Hilarion on the bishop’s recent trip to Washington. Here’s an excerpt and, following that, some recent links to interviews where Hilarion talks about a unified Christian witness on social problems. Finally, a link to his condemnation of Stalin as a “monster.”

CT: What role can the Russian Orthodox Church play in world evangelization?

Hilarion: Christ created his church not just for private use but also for missionary purposes, and the church has a missionary imperative that must be embodied in the concrete forms of preaching and evangelizing.

Some say you can be a practicing Christian in your home and your family, but you should in no way exhibit your Christian commitments in your public life, especially if you are a politician. I believe that a Christian should be a Christian everywhere. And if he is a Christian and a politician at the same time, then his political agenda should be motivated by Christian values.

In our country, some people say the church exists in order to provide certain services to people when they need them: to baptize children, to marry couples, to organize funerals, and to do services in the church.

I believe that the role of the church is much more inclusive. For example, very often nowadays our church will publicly express positions on what’s happening in the country.

Some people ask, “Why does the church interfere? It’s not their business.” We believe that the church can express its opinion on all aspects of human life. We do not impose our opinions on the people, but we should be free to express them. And people will have to choose whether to follow or not to follow, whether to listen to what we say or to ignore it.

CT: Church leaders worldwide are challenged by secularism and Islam. Which do you see as a greater threat to global Christianity?

Hilarion: Secularism.

If we speak about Islam (and of course if we mean moderate Islam), then I believe there is the possibility of peaceful coexistence between Islam and Christianity. This is what we have had in Russia for centuries, because Russian Islam has a very long tradition. But we never had religious wars. Nowadays we have a good system of collaboration between Christian denominations and Islam.

The picture is different in many other countries, and recently, even the European Parliament publicly recognized that Christians are persecuted and discriminated against in many countries, including in Islamic countries. This is a problem we have to address. Yet I believe that on many essential points, especially in many aspects of moral teaching, Christianity and Islam are allies, and we can cooperate in those fields.

Secularism is dangerous because it destroys human life. It destroys essential notions related to human life, such as the family. One can argue about the role of the church. One can even argue about the existence of God; we cannot prove that God exists to those who don’t want to believe that God exists. But when the difference in the world outlook touches very basic notions such as family, it no longer has to do with theological truths; it has to do with anthropological issues. And our debate with secularism is not about theology; it’s about anthropology. It’s about the present and the future of the human race. And here we disagree with atheist secularism in some areas very strongly, and we believe that it destroys something very essential about human life.

Further reading:

An alliance of faith
Moscow Patriarchate calls for strategic alliance with Catholic Church
Interview with Russia Today

Archbishop Hilarion on Christian Unity
‘We should not pretend we are close to solving this problem’
Interview with National Catholic Register

Metropolitan Hilarion thanks Catholics for their active assistance rendered to Orthodox believers abroad
Interview with Interfax

Address by Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations to the Annual Nicean Club Dinner (Lambeth Palace, 9 September 2010)
Web site of the Dept. of External Relations, Russian Orthodox Church

Russian archbishop’s censure of Stalin as “a monster” makes waves
By Sophia Kishkovsky, ENI

In a special report, the American Spectator has published Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg’s new article on the “civilizational agenda” of Pope Benedict XVI. Special thanks also to RealClearReligion for linking the Gregg article.

Benedict XVI: In No One’s Shadow

By Samuel Gregg

It was inevitable. In the lead-up to John Paul II’s beatification, a number of publications decided it was time to opine about the direction of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. The Economist, for example, portrayed a pontificate adrift, “accident-prone,” and with a “less than stellar record” compared to Benedict’s dynamic predecessor (who, incidentally, didn’t meet with the Economist‘s approval either).

It need hardly be said that, like most British publications, the Economist‘s own record when it comes to informed commentary on Catholicism and religion more generally is itself less than stellar. And the problems remain the same as they have always been: an unwillingness to do the hard work of trying to understand a religion on its own terms, and a stubborn insistence upon shoving theological positions into secular political categories.

Have mistakes occurred under Benedict’s watch? Yes. Some sub-optimal appointments? Of course. That would be true of any leader of such a massive organization.

But the real difficulty with so much commentary on this papacy is the sheer narrowness of the perspective brought to the subject. If observers were willing to broaden their horizons, they might notice just how big are the stakes being pursued by Benedict.
This pope’s program, they may discover, goes beyond mere institutional politics. He’s pursuing a civilizational agenda.

And that program begins with the Catholic Church itself. Even its harshest critics find it difficult to deny Catholicism’s decisive influence on Western civilization’s development. It follows that a faltering in the Church’s confidence about its purpose has implications for the wider culture.

That’s one reason Benedict has been so proactive in rescuing Catholic liturgy from the banality into which it collapsed throughout much of the world (especially the English-speaking world) after Vatican II. Benedict’s objective here is not a reactionary “return to the past.” Rather, it’s about underscoring the need for liturgy to accurately reflect what the Church has always believed — lex orandi, lex credendi — rather than the predilections of an aging progressivist generation that reduced prayer to endless self-affirmation.

This attention to liturgy is, I suspect, one reason why another aspect of Benedict’s pontificate — his outreach to the Orthodox Christian churches — has been remarkably successful. As anyone who’s attended Orthodox services knows, the Orthodox truly understand liturgy. Certainly Benedict’s path here was paved by Vatican II, Paul VI, and John Paul II. Yet few doubt that Catholic-Orthodox relations have taken off since 2005.

That doesn’t mean the relationship is uncomplicated by unhappy historical memories, secular political influences, and important theological differences. Yet it’s striking how positively Orthodox churches have responded to the German pope’s overtures. They’ve also become increasingly vocal in echoing Benedict’s concerns about Western culture’s present trajectory.

But above all, Benedict has — from his pontificate’s very beginning — gone to the heart of the rot within the West, a disease which may be described as pathologies of faith and reason.

In this regard, Benedict’s famous 2006 Regensburg address may go down as one of the 21st century’s most important speeches, comparable to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Address in terms of its accuracy in identifying some of the West’s inner demons.

Most people think about the Regensburg lecture in terms of some Muslims’ reaction to Benedict’s citation of a 14th century Byzantine emperor. That, however, is to miss Regensburg’s essence. It was really about the West.

Christianity, Benedict argued at Regensburg, integrated Biblical faith, Greek philosophy, and Roman law, thereby creating the “foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.” This suggests that any weakening of this integration of faith and reason would mean the West would start losing its distinctive identity. In short, a West without a Christianity that integrates faith and reason is no longer the West.

Today, Benedict added, we see what happens when faith and reason are torn asunder. Reason is reduced to scientism and ideologies of progress, thereby rending reasoned discussion of anything beyond the empirical impossible. Faith dissolves into sentimental humanitarianism, an equally inadequate basis for rational reflection. Neither of these emaciated facsimiles of their originals can provide any coherent response to the great questions pondered by every human being: “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?”
“Where am I going?”

So what’s the way back? To Benedict’s mind, it involves affirming that what he recently called creative reason lies at the origin of everything.

As Benedict explained one week before he beatified his predecessor: “We are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis.”

It’s almost impossible to count the positions Benedict is politely assailing here. On the one hand, he’s taking on philosophical materialists and emotivists (i.e., most contemporary scholars). But it’s also a critique of those who diminish God to either a Divine Watchmaker or a being of Pure Will.

Of course none of this fits into sound-bites. “Pope Attacks Pathologies of Faith and Reason!” is unlikely to be a newspaper headline anytime soon. That, however, doesn’t nullify the accuracy of Benedict’s analysis. It just makes communicating it difficult in a world of diminished attention-spans and inclined to believe it has nothing to learn from history.

So while the Economist and others might gossip about the competence of various Vatican officials, they are, to their own detriment, largely missing the main game. Quietly but firmly Benedict is making his own distinct contribution to the battle of ideas upon which the fate of civilizations hang. His critics’ inability to engage his thought doesn’t just illustrate their ignorance. It also betrays a profound lack of imagination.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, banned in the Soviet Union until 1989, has been published in a new shorter, Russian-language edition aimed at schools. The book was included in the list of compulsory books in Russian schools only last year, according to a report in RIA Novosti.

The widow of Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn presented on Thursday an abridged edition of The Gulag Archipelago that publishers hope will eventually be read by every Russian student. “It is necessary that people know what has happened in our country when they finish school,” 71-year-old Natalya Solzhenitsyna told journalists at the presentation of the book in Moscow.

The Gulag Archipelago vividly describes the mass arrests of innocent people and their deportation to labor camps during the Soviet era and Solzhenitsyna said people should know that they “were not just individual episodes, but a round-the-clock mowing down of people.”

The new edition gets an endorsement from the top:

At a meeting with Solzhenitsyna on Tuesday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin – a former KGB agent – said the book was essential reading for students to have a full understanding of Russia.

In the current Religion & Liberty, we interviewed scholar Edward E. Ericson Jr. about the publication of the “restored” edition of the Solzhenitsyn novel, In the First Circle. Because of space limitations, we had to cut a section of the interview, published as “Literature and the Realm of Moral Values,” that dealt with the almost total ignorance of American students about the Cold War period. Maybe the Gulag Archipelago should be mandatory reading in U.S. schools today. Here’s the Ericson “outtake” from the R&L interview published for the first time:

How do American students today understand Solzhenitsyn and the history of the Soviet Gulag?

I’ll tell you how they react when they read The Gulag Archipelago. Incidentally, we have 100 pages of it as an abridgment in The Solzhenitsyn Reader (ISI Books, 2006). I have taught selections from Gulag many times. In short January-term classes where students keep journals, the same refrain about Gulag will come from them over and over. “Why didn’t they tell us this in school? I never heard this from my teachers. I thought I was getting a good high school education. We studied history. We studied World War II and the Holocaust. We studied the Cold War. I never heard about the Gulag.”

How do you study the Cold War and miss the Gulag?

Good question. I don’t know. And that’s what these students wanted to know. I used to ask students, when the subject of the Holocaust came up, does a number of those who died in the Holocaust come to your mind? This is isn’t a trick question, I tell them. For many of you, I say, I think a number has come to your mind. Never mind if it’s a right number or a wrong number. And someone will finally say, “Six million?” And heads will start nodding; yeah, that the number. When I ask if anyone else has heard that number, the hands go up all over. After they have found out what the Gulag is, I ask, “Does any number come to your mind?” No. “What would you say if I said 66 million?” The looks say, “Really?” And then you have to explain. Well, it’s over a longer period, and as for efficiency on a per-day basis, the Germans had better technology for eliminating humans. All the Soviets had were guns and big trenches and they’d line up the people, let the shot bodies topple over into the trenches, and throw dirt over them. And the number Solzhenitsyn learned and used is probably too high, but it’s a number calculated by a demographer who did statistical analysis of birth and death records and the like, and he came up with 66 million. Maybe that’s double what it should be. Since we’ll never know, let’s just agree to say so. But still …

His Eminence George Cardinal Pell, the Archbishop of Sydney, who delivered the keynote address at Acton’s 2004 annual dinner (full text here), has recently produced two notable commentaries: the first on global warming, the second on the Christian foundations of modern Western Civilization.

George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia

First, the Cardinal responds to critics of his view that the frenzy over the magnitude of man-made climate change is overblown:

Vanishing Challenge

By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney
18 July 2010

Humanly induced climate change was once “the greatest moral challenge of our age”.  No longer.  The hullaballoo is much less.

A politician referred my February article on global warming to the Bureau of Meteorology for comment. In a roundabout way they conceded the truth of most of my factual statements, but ducked the issue of Roman warming and claimed that “all available hemispheric to global scale analyses” suggest recent decades have been warmer than in the Middle Ages.  This is misleading.

Professor Ian Plimer, in Heaven and Earth: Global Warming the Missing Science (Connorcourt, 2009) cites the scientific evidence from pollen studies, drill cores and lake sediments to show that temperatures were 2 to 6°C warmer around the world in the period from 250BC to 450AD (the Roman Warming). Records from the time report citrus trees and grapes being grown in England as far north as Hadrian’s Wall, and olive groves on the Rhine. It was wetter and warmer, but sea levels were also lower. Areas which are now either forests (because it is cooler) or deserts (because it is drier – for example, the Roman provinces of North Africa) were growing crops.

Professor Plimer also cites scientific evidence from the Middle Ages.  Tree rings, boreholes, sediment cores from oceans and flood plains, pollen studies, peat bogs, ice cores, fossils and carbon chemistry show that temperatures were warmer throughout the world during 900-1300AD than they are now, by 1-2.5°C in different places. The amount of land used for agriculture increased. In Greenland, cattle and sheep were run and crops like barley were grown. Grapevines were grown in Newfoundland, and vineyards in Germany were grown 220 metres higher than the maximum altitude today. Roots and stumps in the Polar Urals suggesting the tree line there was 30 metres higher in 1000AD. The North Atlantic was free of ice, allowing the Vikings to travel to North America.

Warmer temperatures and higher rainfall during the Medieval Warming enabled societies and economic life to flourish. In Europe it saw the growth of cities, the establishment of universities, and a boom in cathedral building. China’s population doubled in the course of a century and records from China and Japan also indicate that they experienced warmer temperatures. The Medieval Warming also brought higher levels of water in lakes and rivers.

There was no industry in Roman or Medieval times.

Why were the temperatures higher?  What were the causes then and now?

Next are remarks delivered at a recent program of the Institute of Public Affairs, a prominent Australian think tank. Here, Cardinal Pell reminds us that the heritage of Western Civilization comes from its uniquely Christian character:

The Heritage of Western Civilization

Remarks at the launch of the Institute of Public Affairs’
Foundations of Western Civilisation Program
Stonington Mansion, Melbourne

By + Cardinal George Pell
Archbishop of Sydney

It is a privilege to speak at the launch of the IPA’s Foundations of Western Civilisation Program tonight, and I propose to begin my few words on “The Heritage of Western Civilization” by speaking about China. This is not because I believe that China must achieve economic supremacy (twenty years ago we were ascribing that honour to Japan) but because China is a radically different culture, nourished for two thousand years by the teachings of Buddha and Confucius before the destructive barbarism of Mao and the Red Guards; a nation which is now searching for the secrets of Western vitality and for a code or codes to provide decency and social cohesion that is compatible with economic development.

Let me give two examples, admittedly only two straws in an vast cyclone. (more…)


Lee Edwards calls William F. Buckley Jr. “The St. Paul of the conservative movement.” No other 20th century figure made such a vast contribution to the intellectual force of political conservatism. He paved the way for the likes of Ronald Reagan and all of those political children of Reagan who credit the former president for bringing them into politics. He achieved what no other had done and that was his ability to bring traditional conservatives, libertarians, and anti-communists together under the same umbrella. Late in life, when asked why he continued working so hard despite fame and wealth, a surprised Buckley said, “My Father taught me that I owe it to my country. It’s how I pay my debt.”

Lee Edwards offers an excellent story of Buckley’s founding and overseeing of the modern conservative crusade in William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement. Edwards traces the roots of those who influenced Buckley, from libertarian author Albert Jay Nock, conservative political scientist Willmoore Kendall, the anti-communist Whittaker Chambers, and political theorist James Burnham. Buckley fused together these right of center factions that were often feuding with each other more than with their common foes, the statists. Kendall, Burnham, and Chambers were all closely associated with National Review, launched by Buckley in 1955. Russell Kirk was also an essential conservative voice in the mix who agreed to become a contributor to the magazine. Buckley purged Ayn Rand and her anti-Christian and morally bankrupt philosophy of Objectivism from mainstream conservatism. He dismissed anti-semitism from the movement by dismissing it from his publication. The conservative historian George Nash simply said, “Much of the history of American conservatism after 1955 is the history of the individuals associated with the magazine William F. Buckley Jr. founded.”

A significant aspect of this book, and one that has received more attention since the death of Buckley, was his magnanimous personality and financial generosity. It is estimated that since he was paid a nominal salary by National Review, he diverted $10 million to the magazine because he forwarded speaking fees, lecture fees and other fees to National Review’s coffers. He waived his speaking fee for the Acton Institute in 1992 because according to Edwards, “He was taken with the idea of an organization dedicated to explaining the relationship between-free market capitalism and Christian morality.” Edwards offers other points of generosity:

He once visited a young man in a Texas hospital recovering from wounds in Vietnam. The soldier’s doctors had told him he would never see again. Buckley paid for his flight to New York City, where after an eye examination by one of the world’s leading eye surgeons and three operations, the young veteran’s eyesight was restored.

Buckley’s wit, sunny personality, and charm was infectious. Edwards tells a story about how Buckley was wildly cheered by Harvard students at a debate because of his biting wit and intellectual prowess. It became apparent that Buckley was cut from a far different mold than the stereotypical angry or dour faced conservative.

The weight of his commitments to National Review, Firing Line, his column and book writing, lecture schedule, and assisting other conservative organizations was staggering. He even found time to run for mayor of New York City in 1965. Buckley wanted to raise national awareness of conservative and libertarian ideas and when asked what he would do if he won he famously quipped, “Demand a recount.” He called for welfare reform in the campaign, saying recipients should work for assistance, outlining the ideas future Republican lawmakers would embrace in their own calls for reform. He supported free enterprise zones in ethnic minority neighborhoods long before Jack Kemp would popularize the idea. Buckley shocked many pundits with a respectable showing in the race, garnering support from many ethnic, Catholic Democrats and middle class Republicans. These, of course, were the same groups Ronald Reagan would later tap into in his presidential campaigns.

Buckley’s Roman Catholic faith was intricately tied to his conservative views. He believed in human liberty but understood that liberty itself could not lead to an earthly utopia. He penned a meditative account of his Catholic faith in Nearer, My God. Edwards reminds us his anti-communist views stemmed “not just because it was tyranny but also because it was heresy.” When he was asked by Playboy Magazine what he wanted as an epitaph, he replied, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”

Buckley’s friendship with Ronald Reagan was deep and abiding, even among the occasional political disagreements. Both men shared a passion for not merely containing communism but defeating it. Buckley called Lech Walesa, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, and Andrei Sakharov the great heroes of the 1980s and they had earned their place in “freedom’s House of Lords.” But the political leader was Ronald Reagan, with his strategic vision. Reagan too praised Buckley saying at the 30th anniversary celebration of National Review:

You and I remember a time of the forest primeval, a time when nightmare and danger reigned and only the knights of darkness prevailed; when conservatives seemed without a champion in the critical battle of style and content. And then, suddenly riding up through the mists, came our clipboard-bearing Galahad: ready to take on any challengers in the critical battle of point and counterpoint. And, with grace and humor and passion, to raise a standard to which patriots and lovers of freedom could repair.

No less praising is the truth Edwards articulates when he says Buckley, who was born into wealth, could have simply been a playboy of the Western world. But Buckley ferociously served and sacrificed in order to raise up the conservative cause and place it into the mainstream of American politics. He uplifted the intellectual debate of conservatives and the country, and always asked probing questions of the direction of the movement, most recently questioning the continued conflict in Iraq before his death. But never a quitter his last public comment on the war was “stick it out,” despite his skepticism of nation building in the Middle East, which he called “Wilsonian.”

William F. Buckley Jr. was a conservative icon. Generations of young conservatives grew up learning from him and tried to emulate his ideas and values. One of the greatest losses to conservatism with his death is the power of his ideas in times such as these. Many conservatives are reminded of this when we hear or read the anti-intellectualism and lack of critical thinking echoing from talk radio or the blogosphere. Buckley was the one who not only made conservatism respectable and mainstream, but reminded us too that it could tower over the liberals of the academy.

Open the books

Having recently finished reading Jean-François Revel’s Last Exit to Utopia – in which he excoriates leftist intellectuals for ignoring the crimes of communist totalitarianism and their efforts to resurrect the deadly ideology – and having just read a few more chapters of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago over lunch, it seems providential that I would stumble across this article at City Journal on the failure of researchers to seriously dig into the now-available archives of the Soviet Union:
Pavel Stroilov, a Russian exile in London, has on his computer 50,000 unpublished, untranslated, top-secret Kremlin documents, mostly dating from the close of the Cold War. He stole them in 2003 and fled Russia. Within living memory, they would have been worth millions to the CIA; they surely tell a story about Communism and its collapse that the world needs to know. Yet he can’t get anyone to house them in a reputable library, publish them, or fund their translation. In fact, he can’t get anyone to take much interest in them at all.

Then there’s Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, who once spent 12 years in the USSR’s prisons, labor camps, and psikhushkas—political psychiatric hospitals—after being convicted of copying anti-Soviet literature. He, too, possesses a massive collection of stolen and smuggled papers from the archives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, which, as he writes, “contain the beginnings and the ends of all the tragedies of our bloodstained century.” These documents are available online at bukovsky-archives.net, but most are not translated. They are unorganized; there are no summaries; there is no search or index function. “I offer them free of charge to the most influential newspapers and journals in the world, but nobody wants to print them,” Bukovsky writes. “Editors shrug indifferently: So what? Who cares?”

If we have a duty to remember the victims of Naziism and to ensure that the hateful and vicious ideology of Hitler never rises again – and we do – do we not also have the same duty when it comes to the millions who were starved and worked to death in the communist Gulag? This material needs to be properly studied, translated, and released soon. The fact that it hasn’t been already is a shame, and an insult to the victims of communist tyranny.

denton“We can add our testimony to that of great heroes like Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, who have vividly related what Communism is really about.” – Admiral Jeremiah A. Denton, Jr.

World Net Daily Books has republished the classic When Hell Was in Session, the chilling account of Admiral Jeremiah Denton’s almost eight years as a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese (1965-1973). The book, cowritten with Ed Brandt, was reissued in November 2009 with a new epilogue. A naval aviator, Denton and his navigator Bill Tschudy were shot down over North Vietnam in 1965.

One of America’s greatest heroes, Denton became the face of the prisoners because of two events: he spelled out the word torture in morse code through eye blinks in a North Vietnamese propaganda film; He was also the first POW off the first plane upon their 1973 release. As he stepped off the plane at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, he spoke for all the former prisoners:

We are honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances. We are profoundly grateful to our Commander-in-Chief and to our nation for this day. God bless America.

“Under difficult circumstances” was an understatement. Denton and his fellow military captives faced extreme torture and brutal beatings because of their insistence on following the military code of conduct and not giving in to their captors. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his hard line defiance against the North Vietnamese propaganda machine and his courageous leadership despite prolonged physical and mental agony.

Denton’s account is more than a record of his imprisonment and torture, it is a deeply spiritual chronicle about his unshakable commitment to America and its ideals. He wonderfully contrasts this with the evils of atheistic communism. It is also a window into his own heart, as he depicts his faith in God despite extreme suffering. Denton spent over four years of his captivity in solitary confinement, with his hands and feet in chains during much of that time. During one heinous torture session Denton declared:

I was nearing despair. I offered myself to God with an admission that I could take no more on my own. Tears ran down my face as I repeated my vow to surrender to Him. Strangely, as soon as I made the vow, a deep feeling of peace settled into my tortured mind and pain-wracked body, and the suffering left me completely. It was the most profound and deeply inspiring moment of my life.

Denton talks about how many of the prisoners embraced their faith and it was what sustained them in their captivity. It has been chronicled on the PowerBlog before in a review of General Robinson Risner’s The Passing of the Night.

The obvious reason that makes this account such a tremendous defense of freedom is because of the extreme price that was paid for defending it. But with words, Denton too is skilled in discussing the rarity of freedom and the significance of the American experiment. The updated epilogue discusses his work with President Ronald Reagan as a United States Senator from Alabama in defeating Marxist dictatorships in Latin America. In 1980 Denton was the first Republican elected to the Senate from Alabama since reconstruction and also the first Roman Catholic. In the new epilogue Denton offers a defense of the founding principles of the nation and laments the moral decay and secularization of America. He calls these factors a situation that is making America’s survival “extremely perilous.”

In his book there is another contrast that depicts his shock about the moral and cultural decline of America. After he left the Navy much of his work has focused on defending religious liberty and working to deliver global humanitarian aid through the Admiral Jeremiah Denton Foundation. 85 years old now, Denton spoke at The National United States Marine Corps Museum in February of this year, where he quoted the Marine mottoSemper Fidelis,” in telling the assembled to stay faithful in the fight for the future of this country.

shirley-reaganPresident Ronald Reagan was far from the common Republican. If anything he was the exception to the rule in a party dominated by moderates and pragmatists. It’s one of the overarching themes of Craig Shirley’s new and epic account Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America. The book follows Shirley’s masterpiece Reagan’s Revolution, a study of Reagan’s 1976 insurgent candidacy against President Gerald Ford.

Shirley is exceptional at taking the reader back into the time period rather than reading back into the history from today’s vantage point. The account chronicles Reagan’s run against the Republican primary field and President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Today many think Reagan’s victory over the Republican field and his general election landslide over Carter were inevitable and Shirley is superb at recalling all the forces lined up against Reagan during this time. Since Carter could hardly run on a positive record his campaign strategy was to “scare the hell out of them with Ronald Reagan.”

Echoing a topic addressed by Hunter Baker in the pages of Religion & Liberty, Shirley discusses Reagan’s broader appeal:

He proposed a fusion between those mercantile and economic interests long associated with the GOP, who were mostly concerned with government regulations, and social conservatives, who believed the fabric of society was also threatened by big, intrusive government.

One of the areas where Reagan was transcending politics was his appeal among Democrats. In many open primaries he had strong crossover support from Democrats that helped him carry states. “As for Reagan, the [Washington] Post discovered an astonishing fact: the Gipper’s commercials were more popular with Democrats than they were with Republicans,” Shirley writes. The book also notes how many in the new right and followers of Reagan were making a visible break with big business. “Big business has become the handmaiden of big government,” said Congressman Jack Kemp. Shirley elaborates further on his appeal:

Reagan spoke to these urban, ethnic Democrats in a way no other politician had since JFK. He talked about community, responsibility, privacy, patriotism, the evils of Communism, and their children’s future. Although Reagan was Protestant, his father had been Roman Catholic and he had inculcated in his young son a parish perspective. As an adult campaigner, the Gipper still preferred the pronouns ‘us’ and ‘we’ over ‘me’ and ‘I,’ and these voters loved him for it. He made them feel good about themselves and, by extension, America. ‘Reagan has a personal following all his own,’ noted Time magazine.

Of course one of the biggest jabs against Reagan was that he wasn’t intellectual and was often referred to as a “simpleton” or merely a performer. Clark Clifford famously called him an “amiable dunce.” Shirley recalls many of the attacks on his intellectualism from the media and opponents. He also delves into the manner in which Reagan was so successful at popularizing conservative principles. The author captures the great wit and lines of Reagan from the campaign trail as well as some embarrassing gaffes.

Some who lived in this period may not remember just how hard George H.W. Bush fought Reagan for the nomination. He ended up lasting through many of the primaries and had many supporters in the party who were terrified of Reagan, but loved Bush too. Bush had a lot of support from GOP moderates. He capitalized on some of Reagan’s early mistakes and the author discusses how Bush and other candidates used the age issue against Reagan. Bush of course famously attacked Reagan’s tax plan dubbing it “vodoo economics.” The two absolutely did not like each other, and privately Reagan called Bush “a wimp.” Tough words from a man who was known for his graciousness. Of course after Bush was chosen as Reagan’s running mate a lifelong and genuine friendship would emerge, so much so that the 41st president would eulogize his former boss saying with a cracking voice, “As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life. I learned kindness; we all did. I also learned courage; the nation did.”

In the general election campaign of 1980 Reagan hit Carter hard on the economy. He delivered this memorable line in front of the Statue of Liberty:

Let it show on the record that when the American people cried out for economic help, Jimmy Carter took refuge behind a dictionary. Well, if it’s a definition he wants, I’ll give him one. A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his!

The crowd was largely an ethnic blue collar constituency and at the end of his speech when Reagan embraced Stanislaw Walesa, the father of Polish labor leader Lech Walesa, the crowd went wild.

Another focus of Shirley’s is just how nasty the Carter campaign was at attacking Reagan. Carter said Reagan would bring about the “alienation of black from white, Christian from Jew, rich from poor, and North from South.” He continually predicted that a Reagan presidency would bring the country to a nuclear precipice. The author also notes that Carter’s campaign approached Ted Kennedy after he defeated him in the primaries, asking Kennedy to attack Reagan as anti-Catholic. Kennedy refused the request.

There are some very moving quotes by Reagan in Shirley’s book about the connection between God and the free society in America. Reagan said world peace was “jeopardized by those who view man not as a noble being, but as an accident of nature, without soul, and important only to the extent he can serve an all powerful state.” He brought to the forefront the importance of America’s spiritual commitment and made deep moral contrasts with Soviet totalitarianism.

This is a lengthy book that is well over 600 pages. It is wonderfully researched and is a treasure trove of information from the 1980 campaign. It is incredibly moving too. However Shirley is also responsible by covering many of Reagan’s weaknesses and how at times it almost cost him the presidency. There are numerous new books about Ronald Reagan, and while many don’t offer a lot of new information, this one does.

The epilogue is very emotional in that the author discusses the Reagan legacy and examines all the political forces who try to claim the Reagan mantle. Inspiring words about Reagan from Alexander Solzhenitsyn can be found in the pages of the epilogue. A friend of the Acton Institute, former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar said simply, “Without this man, I would be somewhere in Siberia in chains.” Included also is a gracious quote from Reagan’s most ardent opponent in the Senate not just on domestic policy, but foreign policy as well. Ted Kennedy called Reagan at his death, “the president who won the Cold War,” and added, “His deepest convictions were matters of heart and mind and spirit – and on them, he was no actor at all.”

The Economist marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall by observing that there was “so much gained, so much to lose.” As the world celebrates the collapse of communism, who would have imagined that in less than one generation we would witness a resurgence of socialism throughout Latin America and even hear the word socialist being used to describe policies of the United States?

We relegated socialism to the “dustbin of history,” but socialism never actually died and in many ways it has actually gained influence. This may sound reactionary, even McCarthyist—but only until we understand socialism the way socialists understand it.

Yes, socialist economic ideas went out of fashion, but socialism has always been more than just economics. We tend to equate socialism with communism, Marxist revolutionaries, and state ownership of industry. But socialism is a much broader vision of the person, society, equality, and what it means to be free.

Karl Marx’s collaborator, Friedrich Engels, saw three major obstacles to the socialist vision: private property, religion, and “this present form of marriage.” Also central to socialist thought is a secular and materialist vision of the world that espouses relativism, sees everything politically, and locates genuine community in the state and not in families, churches or voluntary organizations.

The fall of communism and two decades of globalization did not extinguish socialist hopes. The tactics changed, but the goals remained. Proponents of socialism traded in revolution for the gradualism of the Fabian socialists who encouraged use of democratic institutions to achieve socialist goals. They replaced political radicals like Lenin and Castro with the cultural Marxism of Theodor Adorno or Antonio Gramsci, who called for a “long march through the institutions” of Western culture.

This is the pedigree of Saul Alinsky, Bill Ayers, and the various sixties revolutionaries who now inhabit positions of cultural influence throughout the West. We are seeing the fruit of their efforts: socialist visions of family, religion, art, community, commerce, and politics pervade the culture.

I am not suggesting that Americans or Europeans live in socialist states. That would trivialize the suffering of those who lived behind the Iron Curtain. Rather, I am suggesting that socialist ideas have transformed the way many of us think about a host of important things. Ideas considered radical only 75 years ago are now considered quite normal and even respectable.

Look, for instance, at co-habitation rates and the number of people who do not believe in marriage or view it as a “bourgeois” institution. Directly or indirectly, they got these ideas from people like Engels and Adorno, who argued that “the institution of marriage is raised… [on] barbaric sexual oppression, which tendentially compels the man to take lifelong responsibility for someone with whom he once took pleasure in sleeping with….” The same-sex marriage movement and hostility to the traditional family follow Engels goal to destroy “this present form of marriage.”

In other realms, we see increasing secularization, religion being equated with intolerance and decreasing religious practice. Look at the common acceptance of ethical and cultural relativism and the fear of making truth claims lest one be labeled an extremist. Look at the unquestioned supremacy of materialist and Darwinist thought that dominates the scientific community, or the political correctness that pervades language. Look at our public school system, increasingly focused on indoctrination rather than education. We joke that the universities are the last bastion of Marxism. But who do we think writes the textbooks that teach primary and high school students? The “long march through the institutions” has been more successful than its early advocates could have dreamed.

Of course it would be simplistic to blame socialism for all that ails the West. But socialism has been the principal vehicle of many of these ideas, carrying them into the mainstream.

So how is it that, after such dramatic failures, socialism continues to allure? Perhaps because, as future pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, wrote, the Marxist dream of radical liberation still captures the modern imagination.

It’s a dream that will always betray, because sustained liberty requires a certain moral culture: one that respects truth and conforms to it; one that recognizes the inherent dignity and spiritual nature of the person; one that respects the role of the family and encourages a rich and varied civil society; one that acknowledges that culture and religion are more important than politics; one that respects rule of law over the arbitrary rule of men and rejects utopian delusions; one that recognizes that the difference between right and wrong is not determined by majority, consensus or fashion; and, finally, one that recognizes that the ultimate source of liberty is God and not the state.

The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe was one of the great victories for human freedom. But while the East suffered untold misery, perhaps it was too easy a victory for us in the West. We were lulled into thinking that socialism had been discredited, had lost its allure—that capitalist economies and abundant goods were sufficient to satisfy human desires. Perhaps we should have listened more closely to those like John Paul II or Alexander Solzhenitsyn who warned us about an empty materialism, an insidious relativism, and a vitiated culture.

The challenges of socialist thought are real. But there is hope. There is hope in the resurgent resistance to the unprecedented growth of government. There is hope in the millions of families who work hard and in the thousands who make sacrifices for freedom every day. This week we celebrate the victory of freedom and the collapse of applied socialism. Let us not come to a point where we look back with regret that we forfeited such a precious gift.

Excerpts from remarks delivered at the Acton Institute annual dinner in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Oct. 29, 2009:

Twenty years ago today, a growing tide of men and women in Eastern Europe and northern Asia were shaking off the miasma that had led so many to imagine that central economic planning could work. The socialist regimes of Eastern and Central Europe—accepted as ontological realities whose existence could not be questioned—were, well, being questioned.

On November 4th, 1989, a million anti-Communist demonstrators took to the street in East Berlin. Three days later the entire East German Politburo resigned. In short order — the sort of event that television journalists live for — a hole appeared in the Berlin Wall, a hole big enough for hope to pour through. The East German borders opened and by Christmas, thousands were dancing atop the dead body of the Leviathan wall, that hideous symbol, tearing at it with bare hands, champagne bottles, hammer and sickles—anything that was available.

How could we in the West have tolerated that Wall in Germany for so long? From our perspective today it is obvious that the wall would eventually fall, but remember that in 1987 when Ronald Reagan called upon Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall,” the international media either ignored his words or criticized them as the simplistic bravado of a Hollywood cowboy. The President’s own advisors were divided, with his National Security Adviser, Colin Powell, objecting to what Reagan planned to say.

It was only after 1989 that President Reagan’s words became iconic. Reagan understood something that many of the Beltway experts had somehow forgotten or never learned — there is, in the human heart, an innate thirst for liberty. I suppose this is so because it is so closely tied to our very nature as creatures fashioned in the image of a free, rational and creative God: We thirst for freedom because we are created for, and called to, freedom and its complement, personal responsibility.

The fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of Soviet Communism, was a great triumph, but the danger has been and remains that this grand victory some 20 years ago will render complacent the free peoples of the West. The threat today is not a physical wall through the heart of Berlin but walls no mason ever dreamed about or touched.

The American founders understood this: They warned that freedom cannot long endure without virtue, without vigilance. Because our choices are those to be made by intelligent beings who were designed by Intelligence, these choices are not the result of mere instincts like those of animals. They are choices, furthermore, that should be appropriate to creatures whose beginning is purposeful and not random, oriented to the truth of all things.

And that is the scandal of the Berlin Wall — and every barrier like it against liberty. Some are great and others are small, some obvious and others discreet — yet all of them seek to wall us off from our own humanity, to alienate us from the very part of ourselves that cannot be slotted into some planner’s tidy equations, or reduced to the arithmetic of animal appetite.

We are blessed not to live behind walls that would force us to swim shark infested waters, or race through border guard crossings to the sound of bullets striking all around us. And yet the planners, those builders of walls, haven’t given up planning, haven’t given up laying brick upon brick upon brick.

I’m not talking about some secret conspiracy. I’m talking about more mundane things — mundane because they have so long been with us, mundane because—at least until recently — they grew so very gradually, the brick upon brick, the little and now not so little walls rising all around us, innocuously labeled “the mixed economy.”

These walls come in the guise of stimulus packages that distort our markets and our knowledge, that steal away a bit of your future and that of your children by inflationary polices and transgenerational tax liabilities; walls that discourage our charitable impulse and restrict entrepreneurial courage, that encourage fiscal irresponsibility and punish thrift; that encourage vice and envy, that sacrifice liberty for security and, in the devil’s bargain, lose them both.

Last year I noted the frustration and bewilderment that many were experiencing, especially those who believe in and have fought to build the free and virtuous society, a frustration and bewilderment at what we were seeing around us. That was a short time before a whole new political atmosphere took hold. Since then we have seen this breathtaking lurch toward greater centralized planning and redistribution turn into what to many of us feels like a runaway locomotive: Government banks, government mortgage companies, government automobile companies, government healthcare, government religious charities. And all of this is just a warm up for an appropriation of the entire energy sector—cap and trade. Cap and smother would come closer to the truth.

We are compelled to confront the danger of the political-economic scales tipping from productivity to dependency, from business to bureaucracy, from energy to envy, from trade to tariffs, and from creativity and courage to corporate-government collusion, collectivism and cowardice—where more people in society live, not off the noble work of their own hands, but out of the largess of the statist trough.

We might be weary of the struggle, fatigued and discouraged—amazed that people around us just don’t seem to “get it.”

And we would have cause for such pessimism.

Then I remember the years leading up to 1989. The people who brought that victory about were not defeatist or compliant.

A former Hollywood actor, undaunted by ridicule and the compromising lethargy of his own party; a Soviet prisoner, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, reaching from the frozen tundra of the Gulags of the Soviet Empire and wounding the omnivorous bear with a simple pen; an iron lady in England, Margaret Thatcher, who didn’t get the memo about the demise of capitalism and the rise of the Marxist dialectic; a rough and crude Polish shipyard worker, Lech Walesa, who led a workers’ revolt against the Worker’s Paradise, encouraged by another Pole, John Paul II, who on his appearance on the world stage bade the world to throw open the doors to Christ and who, without tanks or military resources, stood face to face with Soviet puppets who literally trembled at his calm articulation of the Truth.

It is a remarkable testament to the human thirst for freedom under such hardship and against such odds—in the midst of deprivation and with guns pointed at them—all they were able to achieve, these mothers and fathers of freedom. Their example calls us not to acquiesce to the softer, more insidious and seductive tyranny of our own time, but to redouble our efforts.

Their example also calls us to remember what too many of us today have forgotten: We are beings with a destiny both in and beyond this world—a destiny which can only be worked out in human freedom.