Autopsy of an Evil Empire
Let us be done with muddling explanations for the collapse of socialism and admit that it fell because the poetry of personal liberty makes a sweeter, truer song.
It is, indeed, spirit and not only bread that counts in the long run, and thus the future of socialism fades away into deserved oblivion. Better poetry wins the hearts of men, always did, always will. In other words, Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn have been proved right–or, at least half-right.
I leave it to others to recount details of the merely social, economic, military, and political dimensions of the collapse and what it portends. Allow me to reflect on the human essentials for a few pages.
The “Experts” were Surprised
[The] political economy of Marx-Lenin was wrong from the start, so why be surprised that it did not and does not work? With a focus on the USSR, the secular prospects appeared this way to the experts in the summer of 1989:
The central, most fateful aspect of Soviet political life today is a desperate race between two parallel developments: the disintegration of the Soviet economy (and the concomitant delegitimation and demise of the current political regime) on the one hand and the emergence of new political structures enjoying popular support and consent on the other. If the former trend outpaces the latter,...this giant land...is likely to plunge into violent political chaos, a Lebanon-like war of all against all.
In October 1990, another Sovietologist assessed the situation in equally dire accents. Dimitri Simes, of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, spoke of the “unprecedented specter of a nuclear superpower sliding into bloody chaos,” of “the Soviet Union... falling into the abyss.”
To the poets and philosophers of politics, the surprise may only be that this system with its defective ideological and ethnic antagonisms lasted as long as it has–anchored in a palpable second reality, in a dreamworld in the mode of modern gnosticism.
Why didn’t the experts know sooner? Reality, including the reality of human nature, is finally asserting itself–as the original craftsmen of the so-called “Containment policy” over forty years ago commonsensically assumed it would. What is collapsing before our eyes, then (with unforeseeable attendant horrors perhaps yet to come), is more than merely a command economy and an apolitical totalitarian regime. Rather, it is the socio-economic superstructure of the Soviet imperial orthodoxy that, considered altogether, President Ronald Reagan in 1983 characterized as an Evil Empire.
In recalling that episode, can any reader of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, for instance, or any otherwise informed person doubt that Reagan spoke truly? Why, then, the outrage at the time and derision intermittently since then?
Mikhail Gorbachev’s tenure as Soviet leader only began in March 1985, and he did not gain real credibility with most observers as committed to genuine change until after concluding the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in December 1987 at the third Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Moreover, despite proclamation of glasnost and perestroika and a vociferous peace offensive, the nine-year Soviet intervention in Afghanistan actually concluded only in 1989. Here Solzhenitsyn’s most recent assessment of Gorbachev’s policies is worth quoting:
What have five or six years of much-touted perestroika brought us? Pathetic reshuffling in the Central Committee. Slapping together an ugly, artificial electoral system with a view solely to the Communist Party’s clinging to power. Slipshod, confused, indecisive laws... Towering high above us is the granite monolith of the KGB, blocking our access to the future...There is no longer any justification for this Cheka-KGB with its 70 years of bloody and malevolent history, nor does it have the right to exist.
It will be observed that even in 1990, Solzhenitsyn does not believe that recent reforms have washed the Soviet secret police organizations white as snow, but to the contrary.
Why, then, does Evil Empire so offend the intellectuals? Perhaps because things were better in 1983 than they had been under Stalin? Symptomatic of the modern and widely prevalent deformed consciousness, fecund with second realities that still haunt mankind’s dreamlike existence, the real answer to the question is: Precisely because what Reagan said was true, of course!
The Truth-Sayers and Prophets
With this paradox we near the heart of our subject. Jack F. Matlock, Jr., recently United States Ambassador to the Soviet Union, in discussing Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor,” wrote as follows:
The similarity of the basic features of the Grand Inquisitor’s society with that created by twentieth-century totalitarian political movements is overwhelming. Some of the most obvious features which come to mind are the following: the goal of creating a paradise (“The Kingdom of God”) on earth; adoption of a “truth” as the exclusive possession of a few initiates (the ruling party elite); imposition of the adopted ideology on all, and forcible suppression of questioning, not only of the ideology itself but of the political decisions made in its name by the rulers; development of a quasi-religious cult around the founders and often around the current leaders of the political movement.
Dostoevsky would lead us to expect from this an eventual spiritual bankruptcy. And, in fact, evidence is rapidly accumulating that this process is far advanced in those societies where totalitarian political movements have been in power for an extended period of time. In the Soviet Union, for example, ideology has become a mere instrument of state policy, used to delude political innocents abroad who have not experienced it in practice and to provide an increasingly hollow pretext for the status quo at home, rather than a vital motivating and mobilizing force. [Such] observations on this point are paralleled by those of virtually all close observers of the current Soviet scene.
What strikes today’s reader of The Brothers Karamazov with particular force [in 1979] is Dostoevsky’s insight into the ultimate implications of some of the ideologies of his day long before these theories were applied in ruling societies. We must agree . . . that Dostoevsky’s diagnosis of the dangers implicit in the socialism of his day can be read as prophetic of the human and spiritual devastation caused by the twentieth-century totalitarian regimes which trace their ideological lineage to that tradition.
The truth and truth-sayers of interest here, obviously, are not the petty-fogging compilers of statistical tables, analysts of economic indicators or of voter turnout and coattails in presidential elections, or weather forecasters, and the like. Rather they are those who provide us with moral, philosophical, and religious truth–hence often Truth with a capital T as opposed to Lie capitalized.
The truth-sayers‘ pronouncements have a strange resemblance to common sense, too. Such people tell the truth about the Emperor’s New Clothes (“‘But he has nothing on!’ a little child cried out at last.”), for instance; or they speak of Evil Empires where millions of human beings are treated like animals and some even butchered just for fun. And this arouses the contemptuous indignation of intellectuals with ready access to the media who can’t bear to hear a word said against the left, and most especially not a demonstrably true word.
Such a true word, for instance, is this remark Eric Voegelin made in 1973:
“The ethnic-cultural diversity of mankind is still an important factor in spite of the assiduous work of social and cultural destruction perpetrated by empires in the course of their expansion and self-preservation. It is unimaginable that, for instance, a Soviet empire can permanently maintain itself in its present form against the ethnic cultures of non-Russian people who make up more than 50 percent of its population.”
Poets, Novelists, and Playwrights
To speak of the politics of poetry is to notice, most obviously, the striking oddity that poets, novelists, and playwrights have suddenly come center stage from a persecuted underground existence as “dissidents” and assumed positions of power and authority in the newly liberated countries of Central and Eastern Europe: Premier Tadeusz Mazowiecki in Poland, President Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, President Arpad Goncz in Hungary...
It is profoundly convincing evidence to everyone except for some holdout Western academics for whom the emperor must remain fully clad and who, therefore, continue to play the only game they know, the “para-Marxist buffoonery” derided by the distinguished French scholar Raymond Aron. The true artists and scholars were not taken in, but, for exmple, after the liberation the entire philosophy department at Charles University in Prague was promptly sacked as sycophants of the communist regime.
A Great Writer is a Second Government
The central claim of the poets of politics is given by that prince among them, Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, in a famous passage in The First Circle:
But then why have literature at all? After all, the writer is a teacher of the people; surely that’s what we’ve always understood? And a greater writer–forgive me, perhaps I shouldn’t say this, I’ll lower my voice–a greater writer is, so to speak, a second government. That’s why no regime anywhere has ever loved its great writers, only its minor ones.
To be sure, there is the official authority vested in institutions and bureaucracies. But there is also the superior authority beyond all party and convention called nature and God that is accessible to humans by virtue of their very being as men. This abiding authority of mind, heart, and spirit confides the truth before which all lesser truth must inexorably be judged.
It is the solemn duty of the artist, scholar, philosopher, and every other truth-sayer to serve this higher truth. Indeed, to do so is the very price of one’s human vocation under God. Not to do so is to commit a blacker treason than can be done to any earthly power.
That there is a superintending reality which transcends temporal authority and which is the source of justice and goodness in men and their institutions is an insight that breaks the crust of party dogma and dissolves the hold of even the most repressive state on its most abject victims–such as the zeks of the labor camps, those citizens reduced to mere human material for the building of socialism in the old Soviet phrase.
Here is the fountainhead for the core ideas of the “parallel polis” of the Czech and other dissidents that has crept from the rubble in the curious events of 1989 and 1990 as the “second government” has been unveiled to become the official government. Vaclav Havel writes, in a related context, of the “ideological pseudo-reality” and of ideology itself as “that instrument of internal communication which assures the power structure of inner cohesion... It is one of the pillars of the system’s external stability. This pillar, however, is built on a very unstable foundation. It is built on lies. It works only as long as people are willing to live within the lie.”
The revolution we are witnessing, like the American Revolution two centuries ago, claims the high ground of Justice and Truth for its own.
Vaclav Havel and the U.S. Congress
The following passage from President Havel’s address to a Joint Session of the US Congress in February 1990 drives home the points:
[W]e still don’t know how to put morality ahead of politics, science and economics. We are still incapable of understanding that the only genuine backbone of all our actions, if they are to be moral, is responsibility.
Responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success–responsibility to the order of being where all our actions are Indelibly recorded and where and only where they will be properly judged.
The interpreter or mediator between us and this higher authority is what is traditionally referred to as human conscience... If the hope of the world lies in human consciousness, then it is obvious that intellectuals cannot go on forever avoiding their share of responsibility for the world and hiding their distaste for politics under an alleged need to be independent ... I think that you Americans should understand this way of thinking. Wasn’t it the best minds of your country, people you could call intellectuals, who wrote your famous Declaration of Independence, your bill of human rights and your Constitution and who, above all, took upon themselves practical responsibility for putting them into practice?... They inspire us all; they inspire us despite the fact that they are over 200 years old. They inspire us to be citizens.
When Thomas Jefferson wrote that “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” it was a simple and important act of the human spirit. What gave meaning to the act, however, was the fact that the author backed it up with his life. It was not just his words; it was his deeds as well.
The Recovery of Truth in Eastern Europe
To a great degree, a recovery of Truth in the modes of classical philosophy and of Christian faith undergirds the repudiation of Marxist socialism in Eastern Europe. This is most evident in the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the rise of Solidarity in Poland, where the counter to communism is plainly rooted in the refusal of the Poles to abandon the faith.
Behind Wałesa and Solidarity looms a long tradition of underground education which includes Cracow’s and Lublin’s philosopher priest Karol Wojtyła, known to the world as Pope John Paul II, whose scholarly point of departure was a reworking of the phenomenology of Max Scheler, a starting pointing shared with Eric Voegelin.
According to Lech Wałesa, instead of force meeting countervailing force, the logic of action in Poland is infused by the consciousness of a third way: “the rebirth of man himself” through “conversion” with the promise not of violence but of hope for reconciliation and community.
The broad range of samizdat activities sustained a veritable underground “evening” or “flying” university through an elaborate network of clandestine communications and publications fostered by a number of individuals, notably George Soros, the millionaire financier and Hungarian expatriot, in New York and Roger Scruton, with his Jan Hus Foundation, in London and (now) Brno. As the latter wrote:
In fact, the “dissidents” were the only normal people in a society of Gadarene madness: the only ones who had refused to follow their countrymen to the trough of corruption into which the Party poured their daily feed. This is why they are now entrusted with the highest offices of State.
This “catacomb culture” constituted the core of the parallel polis previously mentioned with smuggled books and tapes, full-scale university programs and publishing endeavors, activities ranging from visits by (to say the least) a cosmopolitan stream of lecturers including Richard Rorty, Jacques Derrida (who was arrested and briefly detained), and Oxford’s John Gray, to “translating forbidden authors like Hayek and Voegelin and... providing information to their colleagues in the West.”
In personal conversations with Ivan Havel, the president’s brother, and Martin Palouš of Civic Forum, the influence on Czech leaders is well attested of Eric Voegelin’s reconstitution of political theory on the basis of Greek and Christian philosophy and analysis of modernity (especially in The New Science of Politics and the first volumes of Order and History), as well as F. A. Hayek’s emphases on rule of law and personal initiative (especially in The Road to Serfdom).
In Poland, whose philosophical richness is legendary, editions of Voegelin’s, Hannah Arendt’s, Leo Strauss’s, and Michael Oakeshott’s works running up to 20,000 copies in translation have been published. Lezek Kołakowski, who emigrated from Poland in 1968, has had his Metaphysical Horror published there in a 50,000-copy run. “His three-volume critique of Marxist thought, by exposing in detail its character as an anti-philosophy, is more responsible than any single agency save the economy for the demise of Marxism as a respectable theoretical discipline in Poland.”
In Hungary there is the further dimension of a search for a new constitutional and legal foundation adapting the Anglo-American tradition of liberty and free government that is stunningly signaled by the establishment in 1989 of a Henry Bracton Society in the law school of the Eotvos Lorand University in Budapest, much work being done in English, and conscious emulation of the United States Constitution in its own constitution-making.
The classic and Christian analysis of reality that is patent in the writings of many of the members of the new East European leadership forms the foundation of the alternative to Marxism, even if their language still betrays residues of a cast of mind now essentially repudiated. The previously noticed opposition between the pseudo-reality and true reality, the Truth and the Lie, are distinctions familiar to readers of Voegelin’s political philosophy with debts to Plato’s Republic (the “True Lie”) and to Robert Musil’s and Heimito von Doderer’s novels (“Second Reality”).
In Voegelin’s powerful formulation, “True humanity requires true theology; the man with false theology is an untrue man. To be deceived or uninformed in the soul about true being [peri ta onta] means that ‘the lie itself [hos alethos pseudos]’ has taken possession of the ‘highest part of himself and steeped it into ‘ignorance of the soul.'”
Solzhenitsyn and Havel on the Poverty of the West
The emphasis on the spiritual poverty of the West in Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard address, that so outraged his audience and much of American public opinion as he condemned atheistic humanism and pointed to the kindred forms of such reductionist views in American liberalism and in Marxism alike, included the reminder that in early democracies, as in American democracy at its birth, all individual human rights were granted on the ground that man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility... Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual be granted boundless freedom with no purpose, simply for the satisfaction of his whims...
In the past decades, the legalistic selfishness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty, which no one could have imagined even as late as the nineteenth century.
These same themes are sounded in the leadership of the nations of Central Europe. Thus Vaclav Havel remarks:
We are going through a great departure from God which has no parallel in history. As far as I know, we are living in the middle of the first atheistic civilization...I feel that this arrogant anthropocentrism of modern man, who is convinced he can know everything and bring everything under his control, is somewhere in the background of the present crisis. It seems to me that if the world is to change for the better it must start with a change in human consciousness, in the very humanness of mere man...
He must discover again, within himself, a deeper sense of responsibility toward the world, which means responsibility toward something higher than himself... [O]nly through directing ourselves toward the moral and the spiritual, based on respect for some “extramundane” authority–for the order of nature or the universe, for a moral order and its superpersonal origin, for the absolute–can we arrive at a state in which life on this earth is no longer threatened by some sort of “megasuicide” and becomes bearable, has, in other words, a genuinely human dimension. This direction, and this direcion alone, can lead to the creation of social structures in which a person can once more be a person, a specific human personality.
As these statements show, a differentiated experience of reality has been recovered out of the suffering of the people of Central and Eastern Europe that restores to the contemporary world a sense of human dignity and personality largely eclipsed both in Marxism and in prevailing currents of Western thought. “There are some things worth suffering for,” the eminent Czech philosopher Jan Patocka affirmed in his valedictory Political Testament, and he paid with his life to prove it.
The recovery of the reality obscured by second realities by such leading modern thinkers as Voegelin and Solzhenitsyn is important in itself. That it can be discerned as structuring a renaissance of liberty and free government in sectors of the world where such things are culturally all but unknown may be epochal. To see Solzhenitsyn struggle in his latest reflections to find the “grassroots” of a feasible Russian “democracy” in the Russian tradition expressly on theoretical foundations established by Plato and Aristotle is a little breathtaking:
Plato, and Aristotle after him, discerned and named three possible types of state systems...It appears that nobody has actually created anything since then that has not fit this pattern; it was merely augmented by constitutional forms. If we were to disregard the form of complete lack of authority (anarchy, the power of anyone who is strong over anyone who is weak) and avoid being caught again in the trap of totalitarianism, which was invented in the 20th century, we could not say that we have much choice: Judging from the entire flow of modern times, we will opt for democracy.
Creaturely Man as the Paradigm for Politics
If we hear the counsel of those most expert on the subject by virtue of decades of subjection to it, the future of socialism in its authoritarian guise is oblivion. Not autonomous man but, it is hoped, a creaturely man who humbly bears the image and likeness of his Creator, one who is a person potentially restored to the dignity of his being under God, will form the paradigm for the new politics.
Such a man is no mere nodal point gathering in the ensemble of social relations in the Marxist reduction. Rather he is the true man of philosophy and revelation. Social structures must serve him, and not he them, in a dominion of man over nature that harmonizes with Psalm 8 and that is not preoccupied with the material, consumer, and technological dimensions of existence–important though these are in the hierarchy of being.
The political theory of the latest victims of socialism aspires to communities formed by friendship and virtue so as to ameliorate, if it cannot eliminate, the ruthless clash of interests, factions, and parties characteristic of modern democratic politics and seen as lying at the basis of its own fundamental crisis today.
Both Havel and Solzhenitsyn, for instance, tend to be small republic men in somewhat the same sense as were the anti-Federalists during the American founding and the debate over ratification of the United States Constitution. Thus, Solzhenitsyn would dismember the U.S.S.R. (a development he believes inevitable) so as to leave primarily a more cohesive Slavic core of republics animated by a common ethnic foundation and faith.
The dehumanization of man has gone far enough, as has the idolatry of materialism, communist or capitalist, from this perspective. So the private property and free market economies that are urgently sought as admittedly indispensable to genuine personal liberty and independence must somehow be so moderated as to serve not only individual well-being but also the common good in fostering prosperity and happiness.
The great question, then, is not so much the future of socialism per se: real socialism (as the Czechs call it) of historical fact, the kind experienced in Central and Eastern Europe over recent anguished decades, may soon be as extinct as the dinosaur as a political system of choice unless (as Solzhenitsyn says) men again fall into the totalitarian trap.
The great question, one of utmost urgency in a moment of great nobility of soul, is how to avoid utopianism and its traps while effectively seizing a unique opportunity to institutionalize liberty under law in moderate regimes in the only world we have.
Perhaps it is not impossible for the politics of poetry once again to succeed–as it may truly be said to have done when the Glorious Cause, against all odds, carried the day in the American Founding. And perhaps a right beginning can be found in the hard won wisdom of Russia’s leading political philosopher: “Political life is by no means man’s main style of life... Politics should not swallow up the people’s spiritual energies and creative leisure time. In addition to rights, man needs to protect his soul and liberate it for a life of wisdom and feeling... The destruction of souls for three quarters of a century is the most frightening thing.”
This chapter is from The Politics of Truth and Other Untimely Essays. Ellis Sandoz. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999.
© Ellis Sandoz
Originally published by here
 Leon Aron, “The Soviet Union on the Brink: An Introductory Essay,” Foreign Affairs, CLII (Summer 1989), 3.
 Dimitri Simes, “The Specter of Bloody Chaos,” Washington Post as reprinted in the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate (Oct. 27, 1990), p. 11B.
 See Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics: An Introduction (Chicago, 1952), Chap. 4.
 A. I. Solzhenitsyn, “How are We toStructure Russia? A Modest Contribution,” Foreign Broadcast Information Service-SOV-90-187 (Sept. 26,1990), 37-58 at 42, hereinafter cited as FBIS; English trans. from Literaturnaya Gazeta, in Russian, no. 38, Sept. 18, 1990, pp. 3-6. Gorbachev commented that he found Solzhenitsyn’s views “disrespectful” and continued: “After reading it, I was overwhelmed with contradictory feelings . . . [his views] are alien to me . . . He is all in the past, the Russia of old, the czarist monarchy. This is not acceptable to me. I consider myself a democrat, moreover a democrat who is inclined toward radical views both for the present and the future.” Quoted from the Washington Post (Sept. 26, 1990). It is good to learn that Comrade Mikhail is a democrat*
There is, however, nothing in Solzhenitsyn’s text that suggests a return to the czarist monarchy, raising the question of how carefully Gorbachev (as quoted in our press) read the article. Solzhenitsyn, in fact, supports Gorbachev’s new version of the strong Soviet presidency (FBIS, p. 46), reluctantly embraces democracy as the only practicable kind of government (ibid., p. 49), and enters into a long disquisition on elections, representation, and parties in democracies with particular attention to Russia and such “grassroots” institutions as the zemstvos as a native growth to be revitalized (ibid., pp. 50- 58.)
Neither the Post nor the New York Times (see issue of Sept. 19, 1990, pp. A1, A4 [mail edition]) published more than brief excerpts from the Solzhenitsyn article, although the latter did print the KGB passage quoted herein in a slightly different translation.
 Jack F. Matlock, Jr., “Literature and Politics: The Impact of Fyodor Dostoevsky,” Political Science Reviewer, IX (Fall 1979), 39-60 at 47-48, citing in support Vladimir Bukovsky, To Build a Castle–My Life as a Dissenter (New York, 1978). The last quoted sentence of the second paragraph (beginning [Such] . . .) has been interpolated into the text from Matlock’s footnote. Cf. Ellis Sandoz, Political Apocalypse: A Study of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor (Baton Rouge, La., 1971), chap. 9.
 Eric Voegelin, Autobiographical Reflections, edited with an introduction by Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge, La., 1989), p. 107, in chap. 22: “Why Philosophize? To Recapture Reality!”
 Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, The First Circle, trans. Thomas P. Whitney (New York, 1969), p. 415. See the reflections on this and related matters in Marion Montgomery, The Men I have Chosen for Fathers: Literary and Philosophical Passages, (Columbia, Mo., 1990), p. 136.
 See Julien Benda, La trahison des clercs (Paris, 1927) and the fine analysis by Lewis P. Simpson, “Voegelin and the Story of the Clerks,” in Eric Voegelin’s Significance for the Modem Mind, ed. Ellis Sandoz (Baton Rouge, 1991), pp. 71-110.
 Vaclav Havel, The Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe, introd. Steven Lukes, ed. John Keane (London, 1985), pp. 34-35.
 President Vaclav Havel’s address to the United States Congress as printed in The Washington Post (Feb. 22, 1990), p. A28.
 See Lech Walesa, A Way of Hope (New York, 1987), pp.142-44 and passim.
 Roger Scruton, “A Catacomb Culture,” Times Literary Supplement (Feb. 16-22, 1990), 170, 176.
 Josiah Lee Auspitz, “Where Philosophy Matters,” Commentary, LXXXVI1 (June, 1989), 54, 56.
 Eric Voegelin, Plato and Aristotle, vol. III of Order and History (Baton Rouge, 1957), pp. 67-68, quoting Plato’s Republic (382a-b).
 Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn, A World Split Apart: Commencement Address Delivered at Howard University, June 8, 1978, trans. Irina llovayskaya Alberti (New York, 1978), p. 51. For commentary see Ronald Berman, ed., Solzhenitsyn At Harvard: he Address,Twelve Early Responses, and Six Later Reflections (Washington.D.C., 1980),esp.pp. 05-13 (by Harold J. Berman).
 Vaclav Havel, Disturbing the Peace: A Conversation with Karel Hvizdala, trans. and introd. by Paul Wilson (New York,1990) pp.11-12.
 A disciple of Edmund Husserl and one of three founding spokesmen for Charter 77, Patocka died after relentless interrogation and hounding by the police in 1977. The quotation is taken from Havel, The Power of the Powerless, pp. 48-49.
 Solzhenitsyn, “How Are We to Structure Russia?”, FBIS, 49