Discover more from Mindset Shifts—Essays by Barry Brownstein
The Price of Cowardice is Evil
Bari Weiss's Federalist Society lecture
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's 1970 Nobel Lecture was smuggled out of the Soviet Union; he didn’t deliver his address in person. In the manuscript, Solzhenitsyn pointed out that the youth of the West had learned nothing from the terrible Soviet experience:
The young, at an age when they have not yet any experience other than sexual, when they do not yet have years of personal suffering and personal understanding behind them, are jubilantly repeating our depraved Russian blunders of the Nineteenth Century, under the impression that they are discovering something new.
You can feel Solzhenitsyn’s disgust as he observes the idiocy of young people:
They acclaim the latest wretched degradation on the part of the Chinese Red Guards as a joyous example. In shallow lack of understanding of the age-old essence of mankind, in the naive confidence of inexperienced hearts they cry: let us drive away those cruel, greedy oppressors, governments, and the new ones (we!), having laid aside grenades and rifles, will be just and understanding.
Of course, some of those youths became college professors and are spreading the pernicious doctrines they never outgrew. Yesterday, they praised the Red Guards; today Hamas.
In Solzhenitsyn’s time, those who knew better stayed silent in the face of barbarity. Solzhenitsyn observed the timidity of the civilized world:
But of those who have lived more and understand, those who could oppose these young—many do not dare oppose, they even suck up, anything not to appear “conservative.” Another Russian phenomenon of the Nineteenth Century which Dostoevsky called slavery to progressive quirks. The spirit of Munich has by no means retreated into the past; it was not merely a brief episode…The timid civilized world has found nothing with which to oppose the onslaught of a sudden revival of barefaced barbarity, other than concessions and smiles.
Solzhenitsyn could have been describing the cowardly administrators and professors who stayed silent during abhorrent campus reactions to October 7th when he wrote:
The spirit of Munich is a sickness of the will of successful people, it is the daily condition of those who have given themselves up to the thirst after prosperity at any price, to material well-being as the chief goal of earthly existence. Such people—and there are many in today’s world—elect passivity and retreat, just so as their accustomed life might drag on a bit longer, just so as not to step over the threshold of hardship today—and tomorrow, you’ll see, it will all be all right.
As in Solzhenitsyn’s time, many who know better stay silent in the face of barbarity.
“The price of cowardice will only be evil,” Solzhenitsyn warned. Bari Weiss would agree. Recently Weiss delivered the Barbara Olsen Memorial Lecture before The Federalist Society. Weiss was an opinion writer and editor at The New York Times before she resigned, keeping her principles intact. She is the founder and editor of The Free Press.
Like Solzhenitsyn, Weiss finished her speech for the ages with an admonishment: “Our civilization depends on us.”
There is something almost irresistible about another person’s facing and honoring the truth, without fanfare of any kind, but with courage and clarity and assurance.—C. Terry Warner, Bonds That Make Us Free
How did she arrive at her conclusion?
She began with awareness. Weiss advised, “We must recover our ability to look and to discern accordingly. We must look past the sloganeering and the propaganda and take a hard look at what’s in front of our eyes.”
She explored the campus reaction to October 7th: “In lockstep, the social justice crowd—the crowd who has tried to convince us that words are violence—insisted that actual violence was actually a necessity. That the rape was resistance. That it was liberation.” The reprehensible behavior that followed went unsanctioned even when they interfered with normal campus activities and threatened Jewish students. Weiss related:
At Princeton, hundreds of students chanted, “globalize the intifada” which can mean only one thing: open season on Jews worldwide.
At NYU, students held posters that read “keep the world clean” with drawings of Jewish stars in garbage cans.
Hip, young people with pronouns in their bios are not just chanting the slogans of a genocidal death cult. They are tearing down the photographs of women and children who are currently being held hostage in the tunnels that run under the Gaza Strip. They do so with pleasure. They laugh. They mock the 9-month-old baby who was stolen from his parents.
Weiss explained why their repulsive tribalism matters: “In doing so, they are tearing down—or at least trying to tear down—-the essence of our common humanity, or even the reality that hostages were taken at all.”
About what is at stake, Weiss is clear. All of us are at risk when “educated people… respond to an act of savagery not with a defense of civilization, but with a defense of barbarism”:
When antisemitism moves from the shameful fringe into the public square, it is not about Jews. It is never about Jews. It is about everyone else. It is about the surrounding society or the culture or the country. It is an early warning system—a sign that the society itself is breaking down. That it is dying.
Weiss argued ideas like “postmodernism and postcolonialism and postnationalism” seek “nothing less than the deconstruction of our civilization from within.” Adopting these ideas,
replaces basic ideas of good and evil with a new rubric: the powerless (good) and the powerful (bad). It replaced lots of things. Color blindness with race obsession. Ideas with identity. Debate with denunciation. Persuasion with public shaming. The rule of law with the fury of the mob.
Weiss further explained why this matters: “People were to be given authority in this new order not in recognition of their gifts, hard work, accomplishments, or contributions to society, but in inverse proportion to the disadvantages their group had suffered, as defined by radical ideologues.”
Weiss warned the rot is everywhere:
Over the past two decades, I saw this inverted worldview swallow all of the crucial sense-making institutions of American life. It started with the universities. Then it moved beyond the quad to cultural institutions—including some I knew well, like The New York Times—as well as every major museum, philanthropy, and media company. It’s taken root at nearly every major corporation. It’s inside our high schools and our elementary schools.
Yes, Weiss is Jewish, and she understands the opportunity for Jews to achieve is at risk:
For Jews, there are obvious and glaring dangers in a worldview that measures fairness by equality of outcome rather than opportunity. If underrepresentation is the inevitable outcome of systemic bias, then overrepresentation—and Jews are 2 percent of the American population—suggests not talent or hard work, but unearned privilege.
But Jews are the canary in the coal mine; all people who strive to succeed are at risk. Weiss observed:
But it is not only Jews who suffer from the suggestion that merit and excellence are dirty words. It is every single one of us. It is strivers of every race, ethnicity, and class. That is why Asian American success, for example, is suspicious. The percentages are off. The scores are too high. The starting point, as poor immigrants, is too low. From whom did you steal all that success?
Weiss also added a potent warning that I made in my recent essay, Barbarians Can’t Pass This Adam Smith Test. Illiberal ideas, she said, have “already torn down so very, very much. The civilization that feels as natural to us as oxygen? That takes thousands of years, thousands of nudges of progress, thousands of risks, thousands of forgotten sacrifices to build up. But vandals can make quick work of all that.”
I have warned that civilization is at risk, as did Weiss: “Take stock of how profoundly the lies and the rot have traveled. How badly the forces of civilization are faring in this battle. How it is the most educated, the most pedigreed, who have become the most morally confused.”
We now reach her conclusion, which echoed that of Solzhenitsyn who urged us not to go along with lies: “One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”
Weiss urged us to take action:
The right ideas don’t win on their own. They need a voice. They need prosecutors.
Time to defend our values—the values that have made this country the freest, most tolerant society in the history of the world—without hesitation or apology…
We have let far too much go unchallenged. Too many lies have spread in the face of inaction as a result of fear or politesse.
Do not bite your tongue. Do not tremble. Do not go along with little lies. Speak up. Break the wall of lies. Let nothing go unchallenged.
Our enemies’ failure is not assured and there is no cavalry coming. We are the cavalry. We are the last line of defense. Our civilization depends on us.
In the comfort of our safe homes, all that is asked of us is the courage to be disliked. Many took COVID shots out of fear of being disliked and now deeply regret their decision.
This time, the decision to remain faceless in the silent herd will have far greater consequences. As Solzhenitsyn warned, we will pay for our cowardice with the growth of evil and the collapse of the civilization we depend on.
If my essays are valuable to you, I would be grateful for your paid subscription. With their permission, here are some reasons my most recent paid subscribers support Mindset Shifts.
Thank you for bringing clarity to my confusion.
Great writing Barry.. Keep up the fight to educate.
Love your work and writing - every topic you tackle in defence of liberty resonates with me and adds to the impetus that inspires my own writings and reflections.
Been reading for over a year now - time to pay up :) Your writing puts into words thoughts and feelings I have, or provides a new way of looking at the chaos and beauty of life. Thank you Barry!