It is difficult for those of us who lived through a good part of the Cold War, where Communist hegemony over half of Europe (and many other places in the world) seemed more or less permanent, to fully appreciate that thirty years have passed since the annus mirabilis that was 1989. It was in that golden year that the peoples of East-Central Europe freed themselves from Communist bondage and began to reassert themselves as proud and independent nations. Communism was teetering in the Soviet Union, too, with Russians discovering that they were ill-served by an ideological regime that put foreign adventures—and utopian abstractions—above the well-being of the nation. That was the message that Solzhenitsyn had boldly articulated in his Letter to the Soviet Leaders as far back as 1974, a message that is crucial to understanding the fall of Communism.
Poland was the first to go, with the “round-table” agreements that peacefully turned over the governance of the country to a political opposition inspired by the Polish pope and the struggles of the underground Solidarnosc movement. Next, the Hungarians reburied Premier Imre Nagy in June of 1989, one of the heroes of the great anti-totalitarian revolution of 1956, with hundreds of thousands of people demanding political freedom and authentic nationhood. Even the relatively soft goulash Communism of Jânos Kádár was finished. East Germans began fleeing their prison-state in the summer and fall of 1989, making their way to Hungary and then Austria and West Germany. Massive demonstrations followed in Leipzig and other major cities. Soon the repulsive Honecker, the last of the East German hardliners, was summarily dismissed by the East German Politburo.
The regime of the Stasi was paralyzed when confronted by a civil society demanding liberation from enforced lies. The Berlin Wall was breached on November 9, 1989 after a mid-level East German official inadvertently declared it open. By June of 1990, Germany was whole and free. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev may have had false hopes in a “Leninism with a human face” but his refusal to use force to crush the revolutions of 1989 was surely a force for the good, and a precondition for everything that followed. And “perestroika” unintentionally took aim at the ideological lie: in 1987 Orwell was published in the Soviet Union, followed by Koestler in 1988, and then the unthinkable, excerpts from Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago in the fall of 1989. The end was surely near.
A passive and demoralized Czech people found their civic spirit and appeared en masse in the streets of Prague in 1988 and particularly in the fall of 1989. The dramatist, dissident, and repeated prisoner of the Communist regime Václáv Havel orchestrated a peaceful revolution from his ‘base’ in the Magic Lantern theatre in Prague. And the impossible happened on January 1, 1990 when Havel was sworn in as the president of a free Czechoslovakian state, promising not to lie, as previous governments had lied, to the Czech and Slovak peoples. In Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania, the old guard remained in power while declaring themselves anti-Communists and patriots, declarations that were difficult to take at face value.
Still, by the beginning of 1990, Communism had clearly lost its legitimacy and could no longer serve as a plausible basis of political or national life anywhere in the east of Europe. It unequivocally stood for violence, mendacity, shortages, corruption, and national humiliation. I would go further: the events of 1989 were the end of a two hundred year cycle of “total revolution” inaugurated by the French Revolution and ‘perfected’ by Bolshevism and its offspring (Maoism, Castroism, Pol Potism) in the twentieth century. The revolution of 1989 was a decisive repudiation of the ideological poisons that had deformed modernity. It is a decisive repudiation that many on the militant Left would like to erase today. There is no reason today for “socialism,” and even Communism, to have the prestige it has with many young Americans. Crucial lessons about the twentieth century have sadly not been passed on to young people in any serious or significant way.
The ‘ideological lie’ had been exposed as the chimera it had always been, and the peoples behind the Iron Curtain cried out for a ‘normal’ existence, freed from violence, lawlessness, and systematic mendacity. The economic motives and concerns were real but secondary. People can tolerate poverty, at least to some extent, but not the spiritual poverty of a regime built on force and deception. The soul revolts against efforts to suffocate it. The world was witnessing a new kind of revolution, one that vindicated human nature and the traditional moral contents of life, one that freely and proudly spoke the language of good and evil and truth and falsehood. The spirit of 1989 was far from the soft nihilism of fashionable and always ‘ironic’ postmodernism, which “deconstructed” all the old verities that resurfaced during the revolution of 1989. When Havel, Lech Walesa, John Paul II, and Solzhenitsyn evoked the imperative of truth against the ideological lie, they were by no means being ‘ironic’ or even ‘mystical’ or ‘poetic.’ They evoked the soul as an empirical reality of the first order and saw their own struggles as a victory of reality over the deadly fictions that had been so tyrannically imposed on the Soviet peoples since 1917 and the people of East-Central Europe since 1945.
When Richard Rorty reviewed two volumes of the writings of the great Czech phenomenologist and philosopher Jan Patočka in the New Republic in 1991, he expressed some embarrassment (Patočka, a founding spokesman for Charter 77, had died under Security Service interrogation in 1977) that Patočka and Havel seemed to really mean it when they appealed to the permanent imperative of “living in truth.” Rorty clearly admired the two men but regretted that they were so naïve to believe that good and evil, truth and falsehood, had roots in the very structure of reality and the permanent nature and needs of the human soul. Two incommensurable worlds met, and Rorty revealed, once more, the shallowness of his mind and soul. For him—everything, life, death, language, love, truth and falsehood—were “contingent all the way down.” He inhabited a world of linguistic constructions and “deconstructions”—and hence of a potential linguistic tyranny.
Rorty, a humane man in many ways, was not alone. In his famous essay “The End of History?,” published in The National Interest in 1989, Francis Fukuyama, then an obscure analyst for the Rand Corporation, interpreted 1989 in a dramatically Hegelio-Marxist, and thus reductive, way. 1989 was not a salutary and liberating return of the “Real,” of human nature in all its grandeur and misery, but the final moment in the ideological human drama. ‘History’ itself was over, and with the defeat of European Communism, humans had arrived, at least in principle, at “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of government.” There was, of course, some cleaning up that needed to be done. Pockets of nationalist passion and religious belief would persist, at least for a while until the time they were domesticated by private life and shorn of all real genuine seriousness. But the “universal homogenous state” announced by Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-born Hegelio-Marxist philosopher and EU bureaucrat (and some-time Soviet spy), had indeed arrived in principle. It had “found real-life embodiment” in the countries of postwar Western Europe which Fukuyama freely admitted were “flabby, prosperous, self-satisfied, inward looking” and “weak-willed states,” to boot.
A few years before, the French political thinker Raymond Aron had called the rump of free Europe “decadent” and wondered if it had the civic and martial virtues to weather the challenges of the future. Aron had concluded that West Europeans saw themselves as the avant-garde of humanity, decisively leaving behind History “whose letters are written in blood.” But Aron was quite sure that there was no “end of History” and that the depoliticization of Western Europe was more of a pathology than a virtue. Aron died in November of 1983 but surely he would have seen in the revolution of 1989 a liberating moment that appealed to love of liberty and truth in their deepest manifestations.
In that sense, the men of 1989 were a challenge to a West that mistakenly thought history had come to an end. One mark of the intellectual poverty of Kojeve’s and Fukuyama’s approach is that the denizens of the ‘end of History’ could see the “universal homogenous state” embodied at various times in Bonapartist despotism (the World-Spirit on a horse, as Hegel described him at the Battle of Jena in 1806), in the full-scale murderous totalitarianism of Stalin’s quasi-personalized Bolshevism, and in the flabby, economistic, post-political European Community of the 1950s and 1960s. There is simply too much flexibility here, since the “end of History” can accommodate both the victory of liberal democracy and the murderous ravages of Communist totalitarianism.
Why this contempt for the human spirit, for the view that the cardinal virtues—courage, justice, prudence, and temperance—will always speak to the human soul and be a permanent requirement of individual and collective life? Why this seeming complacency about the human spirit—and all the virtues—literally becoming obsolete? Of course, Fukuyama conceded that the end of history would make some, such as himself, sad. And in the book version of his article, The End of History and the Last Man (published in 1992), he went further in suggesting that “boredom,” and the absence of a viable field for spiritedness and high human endeavor, might reignite History after all. But it is fair to say that Fukuyama got the revolution of 1989 wrong, woefully wrong, by interpreting it in light of an inhuman and undesirable “universal homogenous state.” Such an inverted perspective—judging the high from the perspective of the low—is a crucial barrier to moral and political understanding, as Leo Strauss once suggested.
The Resurgence of the Real
Let us return to the notion of an anti-totalitarian or anti-ideological revolution. We have two great examples, Hungary in 1956, and the whole of East-Central Europe in 1989. Even before Havel, Solzhenitsyn had seen that Communism ideology was decayed and antiquated, and yet, paradoxically, the key to the entire “Soviet tragedy” as Martin Malia so suggestively called it. Marxism was wrong in all decisive respects, the Russian Nobel Laureate noted in his 1974 letter. It was, at best, “a primitive economic theory,” it ignored and dismissed the power of national feeling and loyalty, its nationalizations of property and industry, and the accompanying cruel and murderous collectivization of agriculture, had ground down its people and led to woefully distorted economic development (with mendacious economic statistics and growth rates) to accompany this pseudo-economy. Western academics, social scientists and economists, understood little of this fictive world, and believed entirely too many of its fantasies.
Solzhenitsyn told the cynical Soviet leaders—who were themselves prisoners of ideological categories and clichés, revealed in their using the wooden language of ideology in private—that the persecution of religious believers was beyond irrational. No self-respecting state or pragmatic political class sets “useless good-for nothings” to harass and persecute its best citizens—those who work hard, don’t cheat, and live decently and honestly in their relations with others. Ideology had given rise to lies, great and small, that had suffocated ordinary people, and the most talented, energetic, and morally serious thinkers, artists, and workers, even as it sowed distrust and cynicism in society at large. “Nothing constructive rests upon it” and “everybody knows it,” Solzhenitsyn wrote.
This ideology was soaked with the blood of millions (in the Soviet case) and made tens of millions of ordinary people complicit in its lies, distortions, and phantasmagorical deceits. Ideological mendacity was even worse than state-imposed violence because it asked human beings to sacrifice their self-respect, and their innate appreciation of the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood. It asked them to sacrifice their consciences, their very souls. Solzhenitsyn appealed to the Soviet leaders to deprive this antiquated ideology of state support (he knew they would not give up power, at least not when he wrote his unwelcome letter to them in the fall of 1973). In and of itself, such a repudiation would lead to a recovery of a more normal life where “breathing and consciousness would return,” as Solzhenitsyn put it in an essay written at roughly the same time. Leaving totalitarianism behind would permit the gradual introduction of a lawful, democratic state. Authoritarianism as such was not the worst evil, especially as a transition point towards a truly lawful society. The crucial distinction between ideological totalitarianism and run-of-the mill authoritarianism should not be forgotten. Totalitarianism, not “dictatorship” per se, was the great evil of the twentieth century.
Writing in a less literary way, and without Solzhenityn’s prophetic insight, the British journalist Timothy Garton Ash noted in The Magic Lantern, a gripping account of the revolution of 1989 by an outside observer who seemed to be in the right place at the right time during those dramatic events of 1989, that “the residual veil of ideology” was still very important, far more important than scholars and politicians in the West recognized. Few rulers can justify their commands simply by brandishing a gun, Ash wisely observed. In 1989 in East-Central Europe, and even more so in the Soviet Union, ideology provided a residual, decaying, but still potent form of legitimation. As Solzhenitsyn and Havel had earlier noticed, ideology allowed what Ash helpfully calls “the semantic occupation of the public sphere.” It justified and structured colossal and seemingly invulnerable mechanisms of “organized lying.” In doing so, seventy years after the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, and over forty years after the imposition of the Iron Curtain, a discredited and even risible ideology “still prevent(ed) the public articulation of shared aspirations and common truths.” It poisoned the soul and destroyed an authentic body politic at one and the same time. The defeat of Communism was a spiritual as well as a political imperative of the first order.
Those who showed most clarity about the ideological lie knew that political, religious, and national freedom could not be attained by a revolution in the conventional sense of the term. The lie needed to be challenged, openly, truthfully, in the spirit of the indomitable St. George slaying the dragons of old. Pope John Paul II did this when he evoked eternal and temporal truths denied by the ideological regime and that were so central to the restoration of political, intellectual, religious, and national freedom. In 1983, speaking to young Poles at the sacred site of Jasna Gora, he beckoned them to reject fear, and “to be a person of conscience.” No Rortyan moral relativism there.
The Poles, the pope insisted, must learn once again to call good and evil by their names and to never confuse one for the other. They must have the courage to recover the “common inheritance whose name is Poland.” Here, and in his great 1993 book Memory and Identity (1993), John Paul II spoke as a proud and principled Polish patriot, one who recognized the nation as a “natural human association.” He knew that a patriotism worthy of the name would have a significant “historical price.” Poles are not “so easily free”: they must fight for it over and over again if need be. This was their fate, and their great privilege. This is far from the spirit of Kojève’s last man at the end of History, content with personal enjoyments and a post-historical descent into hedonism, softness, and self-indulgence. John Paul II called on Poles to be neither hard (aggressive and cruel) nor soft (passive and morally indifferent). Instead, he called on them to be both Christians and patriots (a call unthinkable under this Franciscan pontificate).
Moreover, in a manner that reminds one of Solzhenitsyn’s own “warnings to the West” in the 1970s, Pope John Paul II called on Poles and East Europeans more generally not to slavishly follow the flabbiness and soft relativism that was too often confused with liberty by many in the Western world. He hoped that the people of Eastern Europe had undergone such a “process of spiritual maturation” that they could still see, and vigorously affirm, “that God is the supreme guarantor of human dignity and human rights.” In doing so, they would surely reject “anthropocentric humanism,” or “anthropocentricity,” as Solzhenitsyn called it, and reaffirm the spiritual and moral foundations of democracy, rightly understood. This would demand civic courage and the ability to distinguish “liberty under God and the laws,” as Tocqueville once eloquently called it, from “negative cultural models, so widespread in the West,” that confuse the moral term liberty with a life of untrammeled autonomy and a reckless, groundless relativism.
Havel expressed similar thoughts, although in a somewhat more secular and even “New Age” idiom. Against the sophists, calculators, and economists whom Edmund Burke so famously lamented in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, the Czech statesman declared that “Communism was overthrown by life, by thought, by human dignity.” He believed, and he repeated this endlessly in all his dissident and presidential writings, that genuine politics is unthinkable without a responsibility rooted in what he called the “Memory of Being,” a transcendental ground for genuine conscience and genuine responsibility.
Like John Paul II, and yes, even like Solzhenitsyn, Havel supported the full range of public and private liberties that inform a rule-of-law society. He placed constant stress on “moral deliberation and moral judgment,” and thought relativism, thoughtless scientism, and reductionism ate away at “spirit,” “feeling,” and “conscience,” the crucial prerequisites of human dignity and a free and decent society. He was more of a cosmopolitan (and less of a partisan of the nation) than Solzhenitsyn or John Paul II. But he, too, feared that “Europe” in its dominant, technocratic form, corroded self-government and the things of the spirit. Europe, he once commented, could not be reduced to the regulation of carrots.
Leaving Utopia Behind?
For all their differences, and they were often significant, it might be said that Havel, John Paul II, and Solzhenitsyn all succumbed to a (very qualified) “utopia” of their own. They dreamed of a new kind of society, where freedom was accompanied by “repentance and self-limitation” (Solzhenitsyn); where the Catholic spirit informed a Polish democracy that valued persons as persons (John Paul II), and defended an understanding of free politics rooted in moral judgment and a civility that went much deeper than good manners (Havel). Solzhenitsyn knew that evil could never be expunged from the soul and the world and fully appreciated that all ideological revolutions (which he also called “bloody, physical ones”) only lead to tyranny, coercion, unprecedented mendacity, and a cruelty and fanaticism that ignored the inescapable drama of good and evil in the human soul.
But Solzhenitsyn hoped that democratic man might learn to pay more attention to his soul and overcome, at least in part, “the excessive engrossment in everyday life” in modern, democratic societies that he lamented in the Harvard Address of 1978. Havel speaks for all of our heroes when he wrote in his chapter “Politics, Morality, and Civility” from 1992’s Summer Meditations that a call for a conception of liberty and human dignity that does not ignore the concerns of the soul has nothing to do with some naïve hope that the internal struggle in each human soul between good and evil may one day come to an end. There will never be a heaven on earth, Havel insisted: such projects, always ideological in character, have been forever shattered and exposed by the evil, utopian enterprises of the twentieth century: “The world has had the worst experiences with utopian thinkers who promised all that.” And as Solzhenitsyn wrote in 1993, fraternity can never be imposed politically, through soul-crushing despotism. We need to return to the great anti-totalitarian wisdom of the twentieth century so that we don’t lose sight of these essential truths. Human nature can never be fundamentally changed, all three would agree. But while firmly and unequivocally castigating utopian and ideological “bloody and physical revolutions,” and their accompanying “socialist projects” that led to violence and lies on an unprecedented level, Solzhenitsyn holds out hope for a “moral revolution” over the historical horizon, that might elevate our souls while adding moral content to our precious political and civil liberties. But he concedes that this is a “new phenomenon which we have yet to discover, discern, and bring to life.” One might speak of the bon usage of utopia that at the same time acknowledges that theocracy and despotism do nothing to protect and promote the things of the spirit. Solzhenitsyn always insisted that there could be a despotism in the name of the soul just as an inordinate attention to material concerns could distort human freedom and well-being. He was a partisan of mesure or moderation, an equitable balancing of material and spiritual concerns. This is, of course, faithful to the best classical and Christian wisdom. And it has nothing to do with religious fanaticism.
A Past That Isn’t Even Past
These efforts to think beyond the limits of our shapeless, decaying, postmodern, and relativistic democracies are useful and necessary. But they quickly come across their own limits. Russia has freed itself from the worst evils of ideological despotism even as it lives with its powerful residues and unacceptable levels of private and public corruption. Yet the Church is coming to life again and regularly pays tribute to the thousands of new martyrs who perished under Communism. One can read and speak freely on almost all subjects, although criticizing the highest authorities is not without risk, books are available from every point of view, and no state-imposed lies are obligatory as in the Soviet days. Moreover, Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, the greatest anti-totalitarian work of all time, is required reading in Russian high schools. Russia has come a long way but it still has a long way to go.
For its part, East-Central Europe faces a kulturkampf of great significance. The old apparatchiks oppose a truthful confrontation with the ideological past and benefit from corruption because they, above all, know how things work, or used to work. The genuine dissidents are content that totalitarianism is a thing of the past but wonder how the high moral aspirations at the heart of 1989’s great anti-totalitarian revolution have been forgotten so quickly. They fear that Ireland is their future, where gay marriage is celebrated and imposed on dissenting persons and groups, where Catholic nurses and doctors are required to perform abortions, and where Christianity is mocked by nearly the entire political and intellectual class. These were surely not the aspirations of Solidarnosc and the freedom-loving Polish pope.
It is hard to quarrel with Ryszard Legutko’s claim in The Demon in Democracy that “liberal democracy” no longer means what it used to mean only a decade or two ago. It is more openly relativistic and aggressively hostile to robust affirmations of the Good. Universities increasingly have no place for conservatives, traditional Jews, orthodox Christians, or other defenders of age-old marriage rooted in the natural complementarity of men and women. With the aggressive linguistic tyranny of gender theory and its 72 categories (and counting), human nature is denied in any recognizable, common-sense understanding of the term.
A new ideological “wooden language” is increasingly imposed on all. It might not be too early to call it a creeping totalitarianism. Legutko speaks boldly but with no real hyperbole when he writes: “Both sides,” Communists and our newly radicalized defenders of post-modern liberal democracy, “share their dislike, sometimes bordering on hatred, toward the same enemies, the Church and religion, the nation, classical metaphysics, moral conservatism, and the family.” In the midst of “the dictatorship of relativism” emerging around us, a rearguard action, largely defensive in action appears required to prevent the worst. But when the Law and Justice Party in Poland opposes LGBT ideology, they are fiercely denounced in the Western press as fascists, homophobes, and theocrats. And the absurd claim is made that the Polish (moral) conservatives threaten fundamental public liberties.
In Hungary, a talented statesman of impeccable anti-totalitarian credentials, Viktor Orbán, is dismissed as a hater and tyrant for refusing to open Hungary to limitless Islamic immigration (and this in a small, vulnerable nation of just under ten million people). By openly and unapologetically defending the Christian mark of Europe, he is anathema throughout Western quarters. And he is denounced as an anti-Semite for vigorously opposing George Soros’s vision of an open, i.e. borderless and relativistic, society. Soros, to be sure, is a non-religious Jew, one who has little or nothing good to say about Israel. But the same Orbán respects public liberties, wins free elections, and has repudiated the racist and anti-Semitic Jabbok party. As Christopher Caldwell recently noted in the Claremont Review of Books, Orbán’s Hungary has passed a law against Holocaust denial, reopened major Jewish cultural sites, and established excellent bilateral relations with Israel. Jews are undoubtedly much safer in Budapest than in Paris or Marseilles today. Indeed, can Orbán really be driven out of the human race for holding positions that were widely shared in the West until quite recently and are still held by many decent citizens? Europe’s establishment hates Christian conservatives and traditional patriots much more than it rejects or opposes former Communists. Legutko’s remarks do much to explain this strange and ominous inversion.
So let us return to the enduring wisdom to be discerned from the great anti-totalitarians who inspired the revolution of 1989 and the accompanying, and slightly later, collapse of Communist totalitarianism in the USSR. As the distinguished French political theorist Philippe Bénéton has summarized this tragic (but by no means hopeless) wisdom, “the worst is always possible.” This qualified pessimism was shared by all the great anti-totalitarians of the twentieth century, secular or religious. Bénéton adds that we learn from the great dissidents that “living in truth is a requirement of the natural law.” One can add that the totalitarian negation of the distinction between truth and falsehood, good and evil, provided powerful verification—existential verification—for the law in the heart of men that St. Paul appeals to in the Epistle to the Romans (2:15).
The experience of ideological revolution teaches us that all forms of Manicheanism that claim to know with certitude who is a victim and who is a victimizer, lack self-knowledge, political prudence, and spiritual wisdom. This insight is best conveyed by Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago. In a memorable passage he writes that
the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates within the years… It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to contract it within each person.
Words of wisdom for the ages, and very relevant as an angry politically correct moralism (paradoxically rooted in dogmatic relativism) takes hold in the Western world. We in the West need to draw on the best anti-totalitarian wisdom, as never before.
Between utopian mendacity and postmodern moral indifference, lies this path of spiritual and political elevation that aims to bring together, slowly but surely, politics and conscience, freedom and moral self-limitation with a healthy respect for human limits and imperfections. It is an arduous path that has nothing to do with false hopes and utopian illusions. Such wisdom is at the heart of the spirit of 1989, rightly understood.
My narrative of the events of 1989 in East-Central Europe is indebted to Duncan White, Cold Warriors: Writers Who Waged the Literary Cold War (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2019).
Francis Fukuyama’s essay “The End of History?” first appeared in The National Interest (Summer 1989). It was translated into over a dozen languages.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s seminal, and widely misunderstood Letter to the Soviet Leaders can be found in Solzhenitsyn, East and West (New York: Harper & Row Perennial Library, 1980), pp. 73-142. I have drawn on the crucial section entitled “Ideology,” pp. 120-129.
For my discussion of Havel I have drawn on his seminal dissident essays such as “The Power of the Powerless,” as well as his chapter “Politics, Morality and Civility” from Havel, Summer Meditations (New York, Knopf, 1992). This luminous chapter is a defining expression of his moral and political philosophy. Duncan White’s lucid summary of Havel’s thought and action was also quite helpful.
Pope John Paul II’s profound and powerful sermon and address at Jasna Gorna (June 18, 1983) is readily available on the internet.
John Paul II’s fullest account of the nation and its natural and Christian roots can be found in Pope John Paul II, Memory and Identity: Conversations at the Dawn of a Millennium (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), especially pp. 57-87. The memorable quotation about the dangers of slavishly following the culture of the contemporary West can be found on pp. 143-144.
For an insightful discussion of the crucial role of ideology in the legitimation of Communism right to the bitter end, see Timothy Garton Ash, The Magic Lantern (New York: Random House, 1990), p. 137.
The remarkable comparison between decayed liberal democracy and Communist totalitarianism can be found in Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in a Free Society (New York: Encounter Books, 2018), pp. 138-139. Legutko’s book is both prescient and discerning, and thus bound to be controversial.
On the relentless assaults on Orban’s Hungary, see Kevin J. McNamara, “How America’s European Allies Got Stuck in a Foreign Policy Triangle,” The National Interest (August, 16, 2019) and Christopher Caldwell, “Hungary and the Future of Europe,” The Claremont Review of Books (Spring 2019), pp. 57-63.
I have drawn freely on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “An Orbital Journey,” a profound speech delivered in Zurich on May 31, 1974 on the occasion of receiving the Golden Matrix Prize of the Italian Catholic Press Union. It appeared in English for the first time at National Review on-line, January 7, 2019, with a “Preface” by Daniel J. Mahoney. It is Solzhenitsyn’s most philosophical and suggestive discussion of modernity and its discontents.
The luminous passage from Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago at the end of this essay can be found in the chapter, “The Ascent,” in The Gulag Archipelago, with a “Foreword” by Jordan B. Peterson (London, Vintage, 2018), p. 312. Peterson’s lucid and penetrating “Foreword,” an eloquent and forceful warning against ideological Manicheanism in all its forms, is highly recommended. Peterson makes clear that the ideological virus is taking on new and dangerously virulent forms throughout the Western world. History, most assuredly, has not come to an end.
At the end of this essay, I have drawn on a private correspondence with Philippe Bénéton with his kind permission.
Because coercion could only work to a certain point, the default communist policy was deceit, even when everyone knew the regime’s positions were a lie.
If the current regimes in places like Hungary and Poland do indeed represent the “Spirit of 1989,” this is only true in a very partial way.
As we remember the anti-totalitarian spirit of 1989, let us also recall that the spirit of Lenin is alive and well in China.
Chances are the ideological Lie will continue to haunt a modern adventure that has lost its true sense of purpose.