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First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
By Orson Scott Card August 10, 2008

Nobody Was Listening

It's not enough for someone to tell you the truth -- you have to be willing to hear it.

I learned of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn when his books began appearing on bestseller lists and as Book-of-the-Month Club selections. I read Cancer Ward and The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and August 1914, and I knew I was reading the words of a hero -- a man unsparing in his vision, who spoke truth to power.

Then Solzhenitsyn was ejected from the Soviet Union. In a rare moment of cleverness, the Communist overlords whom Solzhenitsyn exposed and criticized realized that the best way to silence him was to send him to the West, where the American Left, which already dominated our cultural elite, would find him just as uncomfortable a fellow citizen as the Communists had found him.

They were right. Starting at the moment of his famous address at Harvard in 1978 (see http://snipurl.com/harvardspeech), Solzhenitsyn became, in effect, mute. Why? Because the cultural elite of the West is just as unhappy to hear itself criticized as the political elite of the Soviet Nomenklatura. How dare Solzehenitsyn fail to recognize that the American intellectual establishment was not in possession of Truth! How dare he point out that in our arrogance, we of the West were as blind to our own doom as the Communists?

Let me quote just one passage from Solzhenitsyn's speech: "A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations.

"Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life."

He saw this in 1978. It is so clear today that he was right -- but how many of us saw it then?

Our intellectual elite today has only the courage of bullies. They can jump on individuals who dare to depart from their absurd and contradictory dogmas, calling them vicious names and doing all they can to silence them. But they haven't the courage of their own convictions.

They thrill at causes like saving Darfur, saving the desaparecidos of Argentina, saving just about everybody. The problem is that all this "saving" can only be done by the use of or the threat of America's overwhelming military force. All the "negotiations" they call for to solve such problems are absurd if there is no credible threat of force behind them.

Yet they cannot bear any actual use of force. A young intelligence officer I know well told me of his work in excavating the mass graves of Saddam's victims in Iraq. "That was when I knew that President Bush was right to invade this country," he told me. But the intellectual elite, which should have championed the liberation of Iraq from a genocidal dictator, still excoriates George W. Bush for having done what they keep calling for "someone" to do -- he put a stop to a vile dictatorship that slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocents.

The intellectual elite is full of screamers and name-callers, accusers and slanderers. President Bush is accused of doing too much and doing too little. But with rare exceptions they don't volunteer for the military; when in office they don't support the military; they don't have the personal or institutional courage to recognize the real-world implications of their own moral poses.

In short, as Solzhenitsyn saw thirty years ago, America has decided to strut like an imperial power even as our supposed intellectual "finest" refuse to be the kind of people who deserve to lead.

The whole world would love to have our prosperity. But the whole world does not admire our moral emptiness, our hedonism, the stupidity with which we destroy our core institutions in the name of transient fads, our undependability, and the cowardice of those who vote for war and then undercut their own troops so they can appear "peace-loving" at election time.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn died last week. For the last thirty years of his life he was almost unheard-of. He was dismissed by our media elite as a has-been, a grumpy old man who dared to criticize them as scathingly as he criticized the Communists. They declared him No Longer Interesting.

But he is as important as he ever was. He was mostly right about the Soviet Union; he was mostly right about us.

In the Soviet Union, he was seen as dangerous.

In America, he was rendered powerless by sheer inattention.

Just as Americans who speak the truth to the elitists who want to be our overlords are dismissed as cranks, fanatics, madmen. Supposed defenders of liberty want to pass laws that would destroy their opponents on talk radio. Supposed defenders of tolerance seek to silence any who would express their religious views as part of our political conversation. Unsupported assertions are taken as facts by people who claim to be intellectuals. The edicts of judges, unfounded in law, are worshiped, while they treat democratically enacted laws with contempt. They want to have their way without a breath of dissent; they refuse to admit that anyone who disagrees with them might know something useful.

And when someone says the kinds of things I am saying right now, their response is never reasoned argument. Instead they make personal attacks, call for boycotts, or seek to marginalize their opponents. I have seen it myself this week, as my attempts at a reasoned examination and defense of marriage has raised a firestorm among people who count themselves as intellectuals but give no evidence of any ratiocination beyond repeating the slogans of groupthink.

We are what Sozhenitsyn accused us of being. Unwilling to listen to and learn from him, we are acting out the tragicomedy of national decline. Is there still greatness in us? Just as the dying British Empire, led by the genuinely brave Winston Churchill, had one last paroxysm of greatness in World War II, we may be enacting our last spasm of courage under the leadership of George W. Bush.

In the election coming in November, we face the kind of choice that shapes the future of nations. On the one hand, we have an irascible Republican who is wrong as often as he is right, but at least has the courage to act according to his conscience often enough to earn the enmity of party hacks.

On the other hand, we have a candidate who has shown himself to be a complete captive of the intellectual elite, voting their party line in Congress, sneering in private at ordinary citizens that he does not even try to understand, wrapping himself in ersatz victimhood, changing his mind whenever it seems politically prudent while denying that he ever had any other view.

We are at the great political divide, and most Americans -- especially the young, who have been so grossly miseducated by the intellectual elite -- are getting their news from comedians who parrot the slanders of the elitists.

Solzhenitsyn saw what we seem determined to ignore: Power is fleeting, and so is freedom. The "world's only superpower" can only maintain the current world order if it acts with courage and vigor to stop the enemies of freedom and prosperity.

The great network of trade that creates the prosperity of our nation and the rest of the world rests entirely on the Pax Americana that is enforced by American arms and American honor.

The mad views of our intellectual elite are a luxury that is utterly dependent on our incredible prosperity and on the freedom enforced by the American military. The self-discipline and sacrifice of our soldiers are treated with disdain by the very people who seek to have the control of them.

Obama doesn't even have the courage to admit that he was wrong about Iraq, and that his long-touted plan to withdraw from Iraq immediately was insanely self-destructive all along. Now he adopts exactly the position that President Bush has always had, and pretends that he has not changed his mind.

And the media, supposedly the guardians of truth, let him get away with it. President Bush is constantly called a liar when they know he did not lie; Obama is never called a liar when the comparisons between past statements and present ones are there to be seen by anyone.

Thus the intellectual elite embraces lies and frauds, posing right along with the poseurs, not even interested in the statements of those who recognize the patterns in history that Solzhenitsyn saw.

We have decided, as a nation, to break ourselves, even to die, like children leaping off the roof with a superman cape tied around our necks, because we refuse to consider the consequences of our choices. We follow fashion and refuse to listen to sober warnings. We leap into vast social experiments with no evidence of their efficacy or necessity, while demanding the end to a war against relentless foes determined to destroy precisely those aspects of our culture that the intellectual elite most treasure.

The intellectual elite blithely accuses its foes of being fools, liars, madmen; but when someone correctly names their plans and dogmas as foolish, false, or insane, they are quick to call such criticism unfair and intolerant.

History is on Solzhentsyn's side. Nations that behave as large portions of our population are behaving do not long endure. Fools say that Obama, as president, would raise our stature in the world; they do not understand that our stature in the world depends entirely on the soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, under the leadership of the courageous President who did what was right and necessary to uphold the freedom of the West.

If we elect a president who behaves like our intellectual elite, full of talk but afraid to take necessary action, slave to fashionable dogmas but incapable of questioning any of the dogmas of the Left, happy to let courts dictate against the will of the people, creating contempt for democracy, and unwilling to admit error even when the evidence of error is overwhelming, then we will deserve, as a people, the inevitable outcome.

I fear that the line we would cross by choosing the candidate of the intellectual elite may be one across which we may never return, try though we might. We would end up with lifetime judges eager to destroy fundamental institutions, a demoralized military incompetently led, and a national policy without principle or purpose.

Not because Obama himself embodies all these negatives, nor because McCain embodies all virtue, but because Obama would bring with him into office the cynical, reckless, cowardly, and willfully blind intellectual elite to which he owes his first and greatest allegiance ... and McCain would not.

Solzhenitsyn is dead. His messages did not die with him. But if it is not heeded, what difference does it make that some of us keep trying to issue the warning?

Democracy is the best form of government only when the people take responsibility for making wise, informed decisions with forethought about their consequences. Not that any form of government will be better; but when the people choose bad leaders and throw away good ones, the democracy will not last.

It can be argued that in America, democracy is already almost gone anyway. But what remains is worth defending to the last breath of possibility. Is this election that last breath?

I fear yes; I hope not. Meanwhile, too many Americans continue to think that empty slogans are a substitute for courage and honor.

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