Towards the Spiritual Convergence of America and Russia: American Mind and Russian Soul, American Individuality and Russian Community, and the Potent Alchemy of National Characteristics (fb2)

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Stephen Ludger Lapeyrouse Towards the Spiritual Convergence of America and Russia: American Mind and Russian Soul, American Individuality and Russian Community, and the Potent Alchemy of National Characteristics


With this preface written especially for the free, 2014 electronic version of his 1990 book, the author wanted to take the opportunity thereby provided to explain a bit to the reader (now reading sometime after this new, unrevised edition was published and released into the internet world) about how the author saw his younger work written some 25 years before 2014 — for he himself had definitely not stopped studying, growing, maturing, nor had he stopped his daily social and life observations and reflections, nor his experiences and travels, and this all not only of Russia and America. Additionally, the Russian nation of and to which in part he published his 1990 essay no longer existed.

Many completely unexpected yet deeply intriguing experiences in Leningrad and Moscow in the latter 1980s lead the author to seek readings on that theme often named the “Russian soul”, and when library research and a direct personal query to the head of a preeminent Slavic department in the USA indicated there was no such work per se, the author — then involved also in a wider spectrum of studies and lectures in what sub specie academiae is often called the “history of ideas” (evidenced in his public “Chrysopylae Lectures” given contemporaneously in California, and in part in apartments in Moscow and Leningrad) — decided to write towards making some greater sense of his experiences, discoveries, studies, and observations related to the differing American and Russian psyches (“national characters”), their traditions, histories of ideas, each societies’ “philosophies of man” (individually and socially), and all related to the shared “vertical” ideas of man present in the differentially-shared essential ideas of Christian “anthropology”.

When looking back some years after the 1990 publication, the author found a certain Romantic idealism present in the overall conception, structure and “hopes” of the work — recognizable as, to a degree, a period in his life and intellectual development, as well also influenced by the sunny “spiritually idealistic” context of conditions of the life, times and mind of California when and where it was written. Also, the limited then possible direct experiences in the USSR due to Intourist and visa restrictions had their influence on the breadth and depth — or perhaps lack thereof — of the author’s experiences and understanding of Russia and of Russians under those Soviet conditions.

For “Russia(n)” under late Soviet conditions — if only that which the author had the gain and gratitude to experience in what turned out to be the last years of the USSR — were very different from the social, psychic, cultural conditions that had gradually developed, that had revealed themselves, since the dissolution of the USSR, especially in the 10-15 years before this preface’s 2014 composition.

“Being determines consciousness” Marx wrote realistically — contradicting the philosophically high-flying Hegel. This was fully proved in history to anyone who lived or knew the life, emotions, mind and “atmosphere” of Russia in the late USSR, and was able to observe and experience the gradual but deep changes which social conditions brought about thenafter. To indicate this in just one once well-known way: though the topic of “inner freedom” was discussed consolingly deep into many nights of often smoky and inebriated “kitchen philosophy” gatherings in the USSR, it was — fully forgotten? little noted? — gradually “gone with the wind(s)” of greater external, outer, social-economic, etc, “freedom(s)” and changes, in at least metropolitan Russia, by the time this preface was written.

The 1990 book Towards the Spiritual Convergence of America and Russia: American Mind and Russian Soul, American Individuality and Russian Community and the Potent Alchemy of National Characteristics received little response — though the author did all that in the early 1990s was practically possible to bring it to the attention of all the major Slavic departments, institutions, libraries, scholars, from San Francisco to Boston to London to Munich to Moscow to Irkutsk to Vladivostok to Japan. It was not clear to the author why in the many years after its publication it received so little reply and response. Perhaps, he thought, in part this was because it was not written in or for the relatively closed world, intentions and goals of academia.

The unexpected interest and enthusiasm in 2013-14, followed by the unsolicited, generous transformation of the paper book version into this e-book, was the much appreciated, gracious, committed work of my Russian friend (who preferred to remain anonymous), who thereby helped bring this book out into this new, readable format in the recently-globalized internet era. Were it not for his interest and effort, this reissued 2014 version might not have occurred at all during the lifetime of the author.

Two or three minor, completely inessential, changes were made to the original book text; otherwise it was e-published in spring 2014, as it was originally, in 1990. Whatever changes there had been in Russia, and in the author’s knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, hopes and expectations since he wrote and published it in his late 30s, its structural ideas related to the commonly-derived, but contrasting, conceptions of “man” vis-à-vis man himself, his self in society, and the divine in man — evidenced in the contrasting but complimentary national branch-traditions of Transcendentalism and Slavophilism — have changed little. There were e.g. in the 19th century other such hopeful romantic idealisms and speculations of compatibly-contrasting social completions of “Russian” and European nationalities, by some Romantic writers, poets, philosophers, travelers; but this work, Towards the Spiritual Convergence of America and Russia, addresses a combination less often considered, certainly in the 19th century, of “American” and “Russian”. (One rare, early reader described it ca. 1991 as a “pioneering work” on these questions.)

At the time when this book was to be republished for free into the new internet realm, the author hoped that its ideas — though only a part of his past (cf. his American Reflections essays) and, at the time of this e-book, still ongoing interests and studies — would find some new interested readers, and provide at least ideas for reflection, study and further insights. It was written neither in nor for academic institutions, purposes or needs; it was written for those who seek knowledge and understanding related to its themes.

Man does not live by ideas alone. But the author hoped that the ideas in this work would help contribute to some sharing of clarifying insights. It may only consider a, perhaps, twelve of a full world/man-view, but its deeper ideas should relate to the others in so far as seriously thoughtful individuals attempt to make sense of themselves, their societies, and the(ir) world in the stream of human history.

One special note: The author was faced at its publication in 1990 with the necessity of being the editor of his own work. This was, and is, an impossible task (an author can hardly be expected to clearly see his own faults and weaknesses, for then a book would be written differently), and surely this book — as the author saw it in 1990, and still in 2014 — would have been improved had it been otherwise.

It is with some small lingering hope of interest, resonance and perhaps response in others that the author agreed to have Towards republished on the internet.

Stephen Ludger Lapeyrouse

Moscow, March 2014

You are welcome to send any comments and questions to

The author’s personal website American Reflections:

The author’s page in Wikipedia:


This essay is dedicated, with gratitude and respect, to the memory of my father Reuben Ludger Lapeyrouse (1931-1965) and grandfather: Lawrence Ludger Lapeyrouse (1898-1985)

First Thoughts

Man has on the earth no home, — but he does have wings to heaven. [1]

I look for the hour when that supreme Beauty which ravished the souls of those Eastern men, and chiefly of those Hebrews, and through their lips spoke oracles to all time, shall speak in the West also.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1838. [2]

О Russia, in sublime premonition,

A mighty decision you ponder,

What kind of Orient do you wish to be -

The Orient of Xerxes, or that of Christ?

Vladimir S. Soloviev, 1890. [3]

“Russia is the only country which can and will redeem Europe — for the simple reason that toward all vital problems she assumes an attitude which is diametrically opposed to that of all European nations. Out of the depths of her unique suffering, and because of it, Russia is able to bring a deeper knowledge of mankind and of the meaning of human life to the other nations. The Russians possess the spiritual qualities required for this task, qualities that are lacking in every Western nation.

“In its present form, the problem of East and West represents, at one and the same time, the great problem of the rebirth of humanity, the possibility of regenerating the West, a reminder of the necessity of reuniting a divided mankind and the task of creating the perfect type of human being.”

Walter Schubart, 1938. [4]

Ex Occidente Lux — Thoughts From America’s Chrysopylae

These thoughts were written at the edge of the journey of Western Man: the geographical, historical, mental, and spiritual West of the West [5]. Chrysopylae, the Golden Gate, was named by the American John Charles Frémont, in 1846, as an intentional reminiscence of the Golden Horn (Chrysoceras) of Constantinople, to symbolically indicate a new passageway of the West towards the East. [6] Here the West faces the peoples of the Far East; not only those evoked by such names as Beijing and Tokyo, but also Nikolai N. Muravyev-Amursky’s Vladivostok, with its own Golden Horn (Zolotoy Rog) and Eastern Bosporus. [7] Man, leaving Europe, goes Westward and Eastward, and meets on the Pacific, the “Mediterranean of the Future” [8], as Alexander Herzen ‘prohetically’ named it from nineteenth-century London.

From the Golden Gate of California, the Far West faces west over the Pacific to the Far East, including Siberia. As it was spoken in an address in San Francisco, during the First World War, on August 28, 1916, by Benjamin Ide Wheeler, President of the University of California Berkeley from 1899-1919:

…Now there are many who see and know that so certain as it is that the first four centuries of the North American occupation have been shaped in terms of its place on the Atlantic facing Europe, just so certain is it that its coming life and duty is to be shapen in terms of its place on the Pacific facing Asia.

The old world consisted in substance of the Orient and Occident facing each other over the great rent at Constantinople from the Black Sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. But the venture of Columbus in its final effects turned this old world inside out. The old world looked inward upon an island sea, where Europe faced Asia Minor, and the frontier citadel was Constantinople. The new world looks outward toward the great ocean, where America faces Asia, and the frontier citadel is San Francisco. [9]

Or, as it was written in a poem by Walt Whitman in 1860:

Facing west from California's shores,
Inquiring, tireless, seeking what is yet unfound,
I, a child, very old, over waves, towards the house of maternity, the land of migrations, look afar,
Look off the shores of my Western sea, the circle almost circled;… [10]

So as it once was, that it became proverbial, in that time when Latin was the language of the mind, to summarize the relation of East and West by the phrase Ex Oriente Lux [11]; so I am mindful with this essay, to contribute towards substantiation of a new relation, expressible: Ex Occidente Lux. [12] And though it is common, and appropriate, when speaking of the “Pacific Basin”, the “Pacific Rim”, the “Pacific Era”, and so on, to think predominately in terms of economic power and trade, international commercial and financial relationships, political and military alliances, and such; as the “light”, which towards the beginning of Western Man's history was conceived to shine from the “Ancient Near East”, was a light of divinity, spirit, philosophy and culture, so would this my essay, at its best, add some small measure of oil, such as would contribute to a similar shining here at the West’s Chrysopylae. As it is succinctly summarized in the westward-looking University of California Berkeley’s motto: Fiat Lux: Let There Be Light. [13] But whereas once the Light from the Ancient Near East was recognized to have devolved ultimately from God to Man; here, at “the shores of my Western sea, the circle almost circled”, the Light [14] must be borne in and by men and women of Man, upwards to God.

Spiritually, and Practically Speaking

Some, perhaps many, will find the thoughts of this essay — from the Chrysopylae of the Pacific — if interesting to historical curiosity, irrelevant or useless in regard to the practical problems of daily life, international relations, and so on. Such “philosophical speculations” may seem unreal, “idealistic” or “ethereal”, in relation to the complex, pragmatic social, political, economic realities and problems — even in regard to new possibilities and relations between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In some ways, this may be true enough. But these words were not written toward the worldly woes, or the mundane, “horizontal” [15] identities of the people of Russia or America. This essay was written, rather, to their inner lives of heart, soul and mind, with which they, as human beings, must existentially and spiritually face the world — with its questions of life, death, evil and suffering; God; the meaning and purpose of human existence, etc, etc,… In short, it is in regard to the internal, the inner, “vertical” life of Man that these words would have their greatest intent.

I do not anticipate that this work will gain a large agreeable acceptance; for, rightly understood, it is deeply challenging to much of that which constitutes the current common intellectual and religious life of both America and Russia. It should be more strongly of interest to earnest, independent spirits, whose sensitivity, understanding, educational and moral stance, has them profoundly disturbed and concerned with the spiritual and intellectual problems of America, Russia and Mankind. If some few hundred souls in Russia find useful meaning, helpful insight and creative stimulation; if some several scores of individuals in America find these pages enlightening and nourishing; I shall feel that this labor has been justified, fruitful and successful. May it indeed, so be.

* * *

Though this work is written to both Americans and Russians; because of the great differences which exist in these two worlds, it was necessary to write introductory chapters which are directed to each people specially. Their inclusion, in the publication of this work intended for both languages, allows the thought and orientation expressed in those chapters directed to each people individually, to be read and considered by the other as well. It is my hope to be able to publish this work, in both countries, and in their respective languages, during the same general time period.

There is much now in development in many new, varied relations, between the USSR and the rest of the world — including especially Western Europe and America. Yet there is very little written material present which addresses the questions, which I here engage, in the direct and clear manner which seems to me so necessary and essential. So it is my hope, with this essay, to call forth important themes and ideas, before a thoughtful and heartful readership of Americans and Russians.

I do not intend, with this essay, to attempt to convert the skeptical. Rather, I hope to make some real, living contribution towards clarification and understanding — in the minds of those who know or sense, but perhaps do not fully recognize — certain of the real characteristic and spiritual differences between “American” and “Russian”. I will examine, in this essay, only certain aspects of all that which might be considered of this contrast Yet in regard to the questions, of the relation and contrast of the spiritual and psychological aspects of the “national characteristics” of both peoples, the material and ideas herein presented are certainly fundamental, and essential, for any educated grasp and understanding of this relationship. By examining portions of the intellectual and spiritual history of both nations, we shall be able to make a well-founded approach towards a more clear and conscious understanding of the history and current relations of American Mind and Russian Soul, American Individuality and Russian Community, and of the potent alchemy extant between these “national characteristics”. The ultimate goal is to promote a more fruitful, creative meeting and mixture, of these “characteristics”.

I do not intend, or wish, the contents of this work, (o be in any way misconstrued, or mis-taken, as support for any sort manner or character, of national hubris, “nationalism”, chauvinism, or such. It is intended to be understood and embraced in direct and absolute contrast to any such attitudes and interpretations. The identification of peoples, their unique character, culture, soul, spirit, or etc, in some vain, arrogant manner, with the political nation-state and government has already been more than enough of a baneful influence on — and traumatic period of — human history, as that I would in any way want with this work, to further inspire any such tendencies. [16] The sooner such identification is actually surpassed, by some living and more encompassing reality, amongst men and women of Man, the better it shall be far Mankind as a whole. Then Mankind shall only need to deal with the problem of “man’s inhumanity to man” and human “fallenness" as such.

* * *

This work in no way attempts, or pretends, to be complete or definitive; not even in regard to the topics, personalities and ideas which it directly considers. Rather, it is intended to be a substantial, serious, thoughtful consideration, contribution and provocation, towards further insight, thought, and understanding, by such persons as are seriously interested in these questions and themes.

Rejecting, unhesitatingly, as I do, any such mentally incestuous notion as “scholarship for scholarship’s sake”; I have nevertheless included rather fulsome material in the “Notes” (“footnotes”) section. Therein is to be found, not only standard references to the particular sources of quoted materials, or quotations which help support an idea, interpretation or point; but also, at times, substantial commentaries and thought developments, as I wanted to include in this work, but which, for various reasons, seemed to me more appropriate to include in a segregated section, rather than the main text I have, however, attempted to write this work in such a way, that the essay itself, may be read alone, independently and separately, from the “Notes”. But for those who wish to consider any or all of its ideas and thoughts more fully and deeply, the “Notes” contain not only additional developments of ideas and points, but also, in places, references to other works, quotes by other authors, directions for further consideration, and otherwise, such material as would lead toward deeper understanding, further study and the like.

* * *

I hope, with this essay, to place its ideas before a thoughtful reading public, with the hope that it shall stimulate further developed discussion, consideration and understanding of these important human problems and questions. Deeper, clearer and more penetrating understanding is certainly possible in these and related areas. So I intend this work to be a serious, substantial contribution towards such “dia-logue”; that through engaged thought and understanding, it will be possible to move more closely towards Truth in these and related matters.

The thoughts of this essay, and other related materials, were first delivered in private lectures in Moscow [17] and Leningrad in 1987 and 1988 — especially around the time of the Orthodox Millennial Easter. They were also presented to small public audiences in northern California [18] in conjunction with the journey of the then President of the United States to the Soviet Union in May of 1988. Seeking to reach a broader public, both in America and the Soviet Union, as well as to contact [19] individuals with an especial interest and relation to these themes, I decided to adapt and submit them for publication in both countries; hence this long essay.



„.We have never suffered like the rest of humanity, and have waxed fat without, as yet, having to consider the problems forced upon others, until we have ceased to believe in their reality. The dominant American note has been one of a buoyant and unthinking optimism. America is a child who has never gazed on the face of death.

…Are our letters and philosophy to remain the child until the Gorgon faces of evil, disaster, and death freeze our own unlined ones into eternal stone?…

James Truslow Adams, 1930. [20]

But should someone ask me whether 1 would indicate the West such as it is today as a model for my country [Russia], frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Weston system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive… A fact that cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West, while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe: during that time we have gone through a spiritual training far in advance of Western Experience. Life's complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper and more interesting characters than those generated by standardized Western well-being.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1978, Harvard. [21]

The Spiritual Call in the “American Dream”,

What is the prevalent, popular image of the achieved “American Dream”, the successful, accomplished “good life”, in the United States of America? Is it not some variation on the image of living in a large, luxurious, private home, surrounded by land, lawn, and trees; with all the fashionable interior decorations, and inside and outdoor amenities — and servants — which make life easy, comfortable, convenient, and enjoyable; plus many of the various playthings and goods of leisure and entertainment such as a pool, boat, tennis court, etc, etc; plenty of food and clothes, etc, etc. And of course a good lucrative job — if one must work at all — which brings in, preferably, much more than enough money to support one’s “lifestyle”, and as much leisure and vacation time as possible.

Yet, what if an exhaustive concern with the successful acquisition of this “American Dream”, requires such labor, that it leads to psychic, spiritual, social and cultural impoverishment. What if the psychic and spiritual cost, to an individual — and society—, of the grand luxurious home and the materially-rich lifestyle in “this world” [22], is infinitely greater than the labor necessary to acquire the hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars it requires to gain and maintain such “success”? What is the spiritual result, of the kind of activities, interests and involvements with life, pursued in such homes, in a nearly exclusive concern with an earthly-physical enjoyment of life, with little or no concern for inner development, soul refinement, self-education or similar? What if such worldly worry, commitment and involvement entails, that when one “passes” — as shall all flesh — from “this world”; that one finds oneself to live in some psychic shanty shack, in a spiritual slum in the “life beyond death”? An individual’s possessions, real estate holdings and properties are considered primary assets in this world; but how many Americans are sufficiently interested and concerned, so as to read Dante’s “real estate” prospectus [23] concerning future “properties” in the spiritual worlds; and worry the inner possessions which they will or will not bear in themselves through the grave of death.

Americans build their “homes” on earth, with the materials of earth and nature. The “American Dream” is certainly not primarily sought in the “Kingdom of Heaven”, by way of soul and spirit. It exists, and is pursued in “this world”; this side of death. It is predominately, a “horizontal” conception; at least as it is commonly conceived. It is certainly not such a “vertical” conception of life as was present in Medieval Christendom. But it might be well, or better, if it were; if somewhat more grave consideration were given, as to how “homes” are built in that world, into which many sincerely hope and pray that they will someday journey in the “hereafter”. Is not the common ideal image of an accomplished ‘“American Dream’ come true”, some leisurely, pleasurable, materially plentiful, comfortable earthly life in some “paradise”, “Shangri-La”, or “Garden of Eden”? Is this not, generally speaking, the goal towards which many, many Americans — consciously or unconsciously — work and aspire; and which it is their desire to acquire and enjoy? (Many seem to have forgotten, however, a small aspect of the story of the Garden of Eden. For it is said to be guarded by an angel, — with a flaming sword. It is dismaying to consider how many imagine it as some place surrounded by a golf-course; or a peaceful, sensual life on an island filled with luscious fruits, and palm trees wisped by a gentle breeze.)

That “home”, which is the preponderate worry, labor and goal in America — and much of Western and human culture — is, indeed, an earthly home. It is certainly not the common conception, of the aspiration and goal of the "American Dream”, to imagine it as the psychic building of some spiritual estate of inner properties. Working and striving to live in some exclusive, luxurious residential area of our earthly civilization, is profoundly different from striving to build a satisfying home, to which the biblical inscription inside of the main reading room at the University of California Berkeley, gives indication:

Sapientia aedificavit szibi domum; venite comedite panem meum et bibite vinum quod miscui vobis

(Wisdom has built herself a house: ‘come and eat my bread, drink the wine I have prepared, Proverbs 9:1 and 5.)

This concerns, rather, a very different, inner house [24], to have as one s life s goal!

Few have accused recent Americans [25] of being too “medievally” preoccupied with life in the world to come. Our occupations are predominately with the “Kingdoms of this world”. Indeed, Americans have come to be known, characteristically, as concerned with an earthly, material life on earth. If long, hard and devoted hours of soul and spiritual labor is required for achieving a “high standard of living” in Heaven (there are, it seems, also other locations!); then America should perhaps seriously re-evaluate its “American Dream”, and the labor it directs towards such realization-especially if it is concerned with its spiritual economic (eco+nomy [26]) future and security!

The loss of a deep, central spiritual (“vertical”) sense, labor, concern and evaluation of life — which is a characteristic not only of America, but also of expanding portions of the modern, “enlightened” world — has led to many of the misconceived excesses, which seem to have become commonly accepted as parts of our civilization, culture and daily lives.

Certainly the national government of the United States of America does not force us into some radical earthly secularly — as was, and is the case, undo aggressive atheist regimes [27]. Indeed, it fundamentally leaves us free to worry, individually and as a people, our own personal “religious” concerns and beliefs: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment or religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…” [28] Which has the effect that the spiritual achievement or failure, condition and future, of the United States of America, is the responsibility of the American people themselves. We shall soon see how such an idea, and ideal, is an original, vital, essential element of the idea and realization expressed in the term “American Dream”.

No government — however much it may successfully strive to solve the problems of human society and civilization — shall ever be able to solve the questions and problems of the meaning and purpose of life, and death. If we, in the USA, listen to “Washington” for such words of sense and truth, as can only be spoken by some living spiritual source; then we shall surely hear wrong counsel. The President of the USA is not, and should never be imagined as being, as he is sometimes called: “the spiritual leader of our nation”. He is a political head of state, in a nation which is, in origin and by nature, a worldly, secular state. We have no traditional spiritual leader in common, to which all our people give some fealty. In other words, the President speaks — though it seems perhaps a bit odd to use these ideas to express it — for a “kingdom” which is very much “of this world”. The office certainly does not pretend to “the Divine Right of Kings” [29]. (Whoever is President, holds their own individual personal stance towards “the kingdom which is not of this world”.) It is disoriented, misconceived and deeply erred, to imagine otherwise. The President is, indeed, the leader of our nation; but he is most definitely not the Voice of God to America. We are not, here, in the United States of America, lead in our spiritual lives, by some King, Czar, Pope, Ayatollah or other spiritual leader, who is common to us all. (Though there is a great pluralism of religious leaders of many religions, in this country; we all partake of no one such leader, common to all.)

And here we come, face to face, with one of the deeper problems of the USA; the pluralism of “Gods”. We have, as a nation, people and culture, few commonly shared “ultimate truths” to our lives as Americans; unless you consider MacDonald’s hamburgers, baseball, television news, sit-coms and malls, or “your god”, as anything but shallow secular substitutes for deeply shared experience, ideas and ultimate values. Indeed, though our dollars, secular government, civic ceremonies and occasions, do often state, in one generally acceptable way or other “In God We Trust”; this is all fine, only so long as we does not inquire too clearly, just what each of us, amongst our millions, understand by “God”. So we maintain, politely and politically, our generic “God”, to bless and guide the public occasions of our state and society. And while this is, perhaps, “a necessity of state”, it is hardly an adequate relation of a society to “God”.

There is a tremendous need, and call, for a renewal of “moral values” in the USA in our time. But to the degree that such values are founded in and sustained by religious belief in “God” or other, we shall hardly be able to simply reestablish common religious values; for we do not have a common religion — not to mention the large quantity of secular agnostics in our society. Social, civic, humanitarian “morality” is about the most that can be commonly preached to all, in this secular nation. But it is doubtful — to this author at least — that any such revival of civic virtue and morality, will ever be an adequate substitute for religious morality and injunction; and thus this shall remain a continuing problem for America. [30]

* * *

Americans, considered as a whole, are woefully ignorant of history, even their nation's own. Government reports [31] have documented these lamentable conditions, which have long dismayed and pained those sensitive, educated souls here, who revere truth and knowledge, understanding and mind, art and culture. The majority of people seem, as if, “engulfed” in some more or less solipsistic “present”; one in which only their own immediate experience, time and perspective, have any real meaning and value to them. A problem — reconsidered — by the American educator Benjamin Ide Wheeler, in an article, almost a century old:

Socrates, in the Phaedo, compares the people of his day, who thought their world about the Ægean to be the whole, to ants and frogs about a marshy pool. The ants and the frogs we have ever with us. They are the antiquarians of Copenhagen to whom Danish history is the history of the world. They are the school committee men who insist that Kansas schools should teach only Kansas history and Kansas geography and Kansas weather. They are the political historians who make the world start afresh with the Declaration of Independence. They are the financial experts who ignore the existence of international values. They are the three wisemen of Gotham who went to sea in a bowl. All those who do not know that the experience of the race is one continuous whole, in which dates and boundaries are only guide-posts, and not barriers, are the ants and frogs of Socrates. Without life perspective and historical per-spective there can be no sound political judgement, — least of all in these days, when mighty world forces are twirling the millstones of the gods, and the garnerings of the ages are pouring into the hopper. [32]

Regrettably, in our time, it is not even possible to assume, that the “ants and frogs”, know of “Socrates”, [33] not to mention the Phaedo. If it is somewhat more understandable that some such “otherworldly idealist” — as common understanding imagines Plato to have been — is poorly known by our worldly populace; perhaps it is not too much to expect that they know, or learn, somewhat more of the “idealistic” history of that “American Dream” towards which they devote so much of their lives in achieving. For, surprising though it may be to many, the apparent primary source [34] in the twentieth-century, of this expression: “American Dream”, gives clear and challenging answers concerning the questions of the loss of a spiritual sense in society; the position of politics in relation to God; the decline and possible renewal of moral values. Yet the answers are not sought for in some great political or religious “father figure”, nor in some great utopian social scheme; they are not sought for in some shared “God”, or cosmology. The answers are sought elsewhere…

Of all that could be considered from American history (which seems so irrelevant to so many), let us consider this primary historical, literary source of the expression “American Dream”; and see, not only how well it is understood by us today, but also, what it says to and of our society.

The expression “American Dream” has, of course, many precursors and related conceptions — and not only in Western culture. The Puritans’ idea of a “citie on a hill” [35] is one such important earlier relative. But the particular expression, “American Dream”, seems to have received its current, formal literary and intellectual “solidity” — and wide publicity — from a work by the American historian James Truslow Adams [36], in 1931. In his The Epic of America — which was published in what turned out to be only an early year of the Great Depression — the expression was taken out of whatever general colloquial use it may have had before and during that time, and placed solidly into the terminology and vocabulary of America’s intellectual life. In the “Epilogue” to his examination of American history, Adams wrote:

If, as I have said, the things already listed were all we had to contribute, America would have made no distinctive and unique gift to mankind. But there has been also the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a social order in which each man and woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth and position…

No, the American dream that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtless counted heavily. It has been much more that that It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which has slowly been erected in older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class. And that dream has been realized more fully in actual life here than anywhere else, though very imperfectly even among ourselves. [37]

The American Dream is, states Adams, “a dream of a social order in which each man and woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable,…” This is an aspiration, a hope, a plan, a “dream” — an ideal, of a social order, a societal structure, a social environment wherein the individual human being should be able, as an individual, to freely live, think and act, in the world, in whatever they of their own capacities can, and of their own volition, would. But to James Truslow Adams, the “American Dream” was not and is not, realized by the mere successful acquisition of “material plenty”. Material plenty is the basis upon which the “American Dream” is to be realized:

Once the frontier stage is passed, — the acquisition of a bare living, and the setting up of a fair economic base, — the American dream itself opens up all sorts of questions as to values. It is easy to say a better and richer life for all men, but what is better and what is richer? [38]

And how is this “better and richer and fuller” to be determined; one may inquire with Adams. We shall find that the answer to this question, which Adams — that individual who seems to have, as it were, “launched” this particular expression into the domain of serious public discourse — gave, is seriously deeper, more challenging, and demanding, than that which most of us imagine as an “American Dream” realized. It is, in essence, a spiritual challenge; but not to God, от Jesus, or the President…

and “We the People”

When James Truslow Adams is describing what he considers to be unique of America before the world: the “American Dream”; his idea is, as I have mentioned, a modern American version of an idea which goes very far back into cultural, mythological and civilizational history. It is essentially, a modern, American, earthly, historical re-expression, of the ancient and perennial imagination of another, better world and life. [39] The general idea of a dream of “a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man,…” is widely held, in one way or other, in the mythologies of the world’s cultures.

But the idea of the “American Dream” has a special character and focus. It is a secular “dream”; of a social order which allows great worldly freedom. Other and older civilizations, Adams states, had “barriers” and “classes” which precluded, usurped or thwarted the free development of the “simple human being”. Here, in America, the individual should be able to develop freely, and fully, as, simply, a human being. We shall soon see just how crucial and important such development was, to his idea of the realization of the American Dream.

As Adams articulates the dream, and how it is to realized and maintained; he examines the condition of American society, historically and contemporarily, around him. The high, noble character of the “American Dream”, as he conceived it — and to which he helped give voice — begins to be revealed gradually, by that which he critiques [40] of American society.

He laments, for example, how “business and money-making and material improvement” had come to be viewed as ends in themselves; and how the pursuit of such worldly accomplishments had come to be seen as “virtuous” [41] in themselves. He castigates America for blind “unthinking optimism”; and for ignoring the darker and “sordid” realities of our history and lives. He denounces anti-intellectual tendencies amidst the culture; the predominance of a tendency towards quantity and material development, over quality and "spiritual values”; and how we forget the past, in our rush towards the future. Utilitarian tendencies in education; the dissolution of moral values; the stubborn attitude which looks at the world simplistically-avoiding rigorous examination of directions and goals; all receive his criticism.

He repudiates, especially strongly, the economic-business view of Man and society; wherein Man is considered and treated primarily as a “consumer”. He criticizes this misconception, in relation to the deeper questions of the nature of the human being.

If we are to regard man merely as a producer and consumer, then the тете ruthlessly efficient big business is, the better. Many of the goods consumed doubtless make man healthier, happier, and better even on the basis of a high scale of human values. But if we think of him as a human being primarily, and only incidentally as a consumer, then we have to consider what values are best or most satisfying for him as a human being. We can attempt to regulate business for him not as a consumer but as a man, with many needs and desires with which he has nothing to do as a consumer. [42]

He laments the growth of uniformity and timorousness in men — in contrast to the “strong individualism” required in earlier pre-industrial days; calling for an equivalent strength and independence today. He rejects the degrading influence, on independent, intellectual creativity and literary life, of economic motives and realities; “The theory of mass-production breaks down when applied to the things of the spirit,” [43] he wrote; for such leads to the degrading of needed standards for all of society.

A materially “high standard of living” — to use an expression which, I believe, is of more recent date — is only the basis upon which the “American Dream” to be realized. It is certainly not the end, nor the goal; not to James Truslow Adams, whose articulation of the expression helped crucially to launch it into the language of America's twentieth-century selfconception. A materially “high standard of living” is the base upon which should be realized a “high standard of living” of person, in their own soul, mind, culture and, ultimately, spirit.

Above and beyond the mere economic base, the need for a scale of values becomes yet greater. If we are entering on a period in which, not only in industry but in other departments of life, the mass is going to count fen1 more and the individual less, and if each and all are to enjoy a richer and fuller life, the level of the mass has got to rise appreciably above what it is at present. It must either rise to a higher level of communal life or drag that life down to its own, in political leadership, and in the arts and letters…

The point is that if we are to have a rich and full life in which all are to share and play their parts, if the American dream is to be a reality, our communal spiritual and intellectual life must be distinctly higher than elsewhere where classes and groups have their separate interests, habits, markets, arts, and lives. If the dream is not to prove possible of fulfillment we might as well become stark realists, become once more class-conscious, and struggle as individuals and classes against one another. If it is to come true, those on top, financially, intellectually, or otherwise, have got to devote themselves to the “Great Society,” and those who are below in the scale have got to strive to rise, not merely economically, but culturally. We cannot become a great democracy by giving ourselves up as individuals to selfishness, physical comfort and cheap amusements…The very foundation of the American dream of a better and richer life for all is that all, in varying degrees, shall be capable of wanting to share in it. It can never be wrought into a reality by cheap people or by “keeping up with the Joneses.” There is nothing whatever in a fortune merely in itself от in a man merely in himself. It all depends on what is made of each. [44]

“We cannot become a great democracy by giving ourselves up as individuals to selfishness, physical comfort, and cheap amusements.” It is a question, says Adams essentially, as to what is a worthy, noble life, for the individual (as a human being) and society of the United States of America; and what are the higher values by which a society may live and thrive, and how are they to be determined. The answer to these questions, Adams answers so:

If we are to make the dream come true we must all work together, no longer to build bigger, but to build better. There is a time for quantity and a time for quality. There is a time when quantity may become a menace and the law of diminishing returns begins to operate, but not so with quality. By working together I so not mean another organization, of which the land is as full as was Kansas of grasshoppers. I mean a genuine individual search and striving for the abiding values of life. [45]

A “genuine individual search and striving for the abiding values of life”. So that it is to the individual human being, and their striving, towards which Adams looks to determine the true and important values in life, and how the “American Dream” is to be realized. “If the American dream is to be a reality” we must strive as individuals for a higher “communal spiritual and intellectual life”. He states further:

I have little trust in the wise paternalism of politicians or the infinite wisdom of business leaders. We can look neither to the government nor to the heads of the great corporations to guide us into the paths of a satisfying and humane existence as a great nation unless we, as multitudinous individuals, develop some greatness in our own individual souls. Until countless men and women have decided in their own hearts, through experience and perhaps disillusion, what is a genuinely satisfying life, a “good life” in the old Greek sense, we need look to neither political nor business leaders…So long as we are ourselves content with a mere extension of the material basis of existence, with the multiplying of our material possessions, it is absurd to think that the men who can utilize that public attitude for the gaining of infinite wealth and power for themselves will abandon both to become spiritual leaders of a democracy that despises spiritual things. Just so long as wealth and power are our sole badges of success, so long will ambitious men strive to attain them. [46]

This entire quote merits long and thoughtful consideration.

It is important to note, that, after Adams rejects leaders in politics and business, he does not then look towards some great religious figure, nor to any ready, utopian ideology of any sort; in order to help us to determine what is a “genuinely satisfying life, a ‘good life’ in the old Greek sense,…” He looks, rather, to the individual human being: the simple human being, who must search and strive to discern the better and richer life, and who must participate in raising “our communal spiritual and intellectual life”. The individual human being, who, in multitudes, must “develop some greatness in… [their] own individual souls”. This is the actual core idea, the spiritual core of the idea of the “American Dream” — by that person who helped definitively place the expression before American mind, and solidly into the language of the American people. It is a call, to the “simple human being” as such; that they develop “to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable”. And it is the fully developed human being, which, in multitudes, must seek to determine, “through experience and perhaps disillusion”, what is to be the “good life” in America.

We have a long and arduous road to travel if we are to realize our American dream in the life of our nation, but if we fail, there is nothing left but the old eternal round. The alternative is the failure of self-government, the failure of the common man to rise to full stature, the failure of all that the American dream has held of hope and promise for mankind. [47]

Here Adams’ conception verges on a secular “religious vision” for America, and of the simple human being in America. His thought is not so much a description, as a call, an injunction, a summons to human beings in America. Hence, per Adams, the idea and realization of the “American Dream”, is inextricably involved with the lives of individual human beings-and with their own inner lives; their own spiritual lives and striving.

* * *

This is all quite far away from the general description of the current popular image of the ideal realization of the “American Dream" which we presented above [48]. Whatever else might be said, the predominate, contemporary image of the ideal, successful life, and the ideal of the individual, here in America, is not that of some wise, learned sage. It is not the cultured, self-educated man or woman of letters and mind, soul and spirit, towards which our society aspires and labors, towards which it gives reverence and praise, and around which ù orients itself. It tends rather more to so view financially wealthy individuals, with “megabucks", a grand estate(s), material plenty and a glamorous [49] lifestyle. This “rich” individual, is more the “role model", die pinnacle of “success”, for our society; die ideal is certainly not some gadfly sage, or Holy man.

Certainly, there are those for whom die first portrayed image of the achievement of the “American Dream" would not be considered full or complete, as to their conception of it [50]. However, it is certain that few Americans are well-aware of the literary origin — or its actual content — of that dream about which so many talk, and towards which so many labor.

The term “American Dream" is certainly one of the more familiar and common expressions in use m America, which attempt to describe our life and society, at its best So that it is quite unfortunate — but very revealing -, that it is truthfully and well understood by so few. It is more than safe to say, that very few, if queried, would accurately imagine the original literary content, and injunction, which I have here recounted. The material aspect of the American Dream is well known, but not so…the spiritual call in the American Dream.

As Adams gave voice to it, the “American Dream" will not come true “unless we, as multitudinous individuals, develop some greatness in our own individual sorts." As he saw it, that which America “held of hope and promise for mankind”, depends on multitudinous individuals, who are willing to travel the “long and arduous road”, to ‘develop some greatness in their own individual souls’.

This is, essentially, a call and a challenge; towards an independent spiritual life. And it is another, deeper call to “We the People”!

West Needs East?

Outer greatness and inner greatness. These are very far from necessarily being the same realization. As the much-castigated quote, above, from Solzhenitsyn’s speech at Harvard in 1978, indicates, some of the more deep and forceful Russians are well aware of this distinction. Even James Truslow Adams, in the Epilogue to his The Epic of America — published when Stalin had only been in full power for two years, and addressing America, from his perspective in America — presents an understanding which is complementary to Solzhenitsyn’s:

[People]…are beginning to realize that, because a man is born with a particular knack for gathering in vast aggregates of money and power for himself, he may not cm that account be the wisest leader to follow nor the best fitted to propound a sane philosophy to life. [51]

We might immediately ask, what might such a “wisest leader” be like? Who could know and articulate such a philosophy of life? To cite Adams, if we are to find 'wise leaders’ to “propound a sane philosophy of life”, we must look to those individuals, who have indeed “develop[ed] some greatness in [their] own individual souls”. Such persons are to help us discern what is the “good life”, what are the real values in life. The quote by Solzhenitsyn merits rereading; and meditation.

If it is still true and fair to say of America, as Adams did in 1931: “Are our letters and philosophy to remain the child until the Gorgon faces of evil, disaster, and death freeze our own unlined ones into eternal stone?” [52]; it could certainly not be said of Russia, that she "is a child who has never gazed on the face of death." And it is here, I contend — in spite of however forcefully, critically or disparagingly such ideas may be rejected by intellectuals of America — that America, and the comfortable West, has truly important, real, essential, vital lessons to learn from the Russia and the European East, with its life experience, suffering, knowledge and wisdom, to which Solzhenitsyn gave voice before the Harvard elite. But that which the West might learn from this East, is certainly not such as will help it towards the acquisition of valuable real estate property and possessions in “this (horizontal) world”! But it might, indeed, deeply contribute, towards an understanding of an inner greatness, which verges closely onto the “vertical”.

The West needs the East! — even if it does not clearly recognize this itself. Perhaps, in some ways, it may need the East, in soul and spirit, just as profoundly as the dire conditions of material and practical need and life, in the European East, require real help, knowledge and assistance from the West.

* * *

On December 10, 1989, on the popular American television program “60 Minutes”, there was shown, for the first time, a filmed view of “Perm 35”, a labor camp in the Soviet “Gulag” system. Natan Sharansky, who had been incarcerated in this camp, gave comments and observations on the footage shown. At the conclusion of this rare film, when asked his thoughts of seeing again this labor camp, he stated to the interviewer Mike Wallace:

“Well, I’m afraid you will be surprised. I feel that I’m coming back to my alma mater. To the place where — well, an awful place, but there were so many — lots of good things were there, and so many-”

“Good things?” asked the interviewer.

“Good things. I mean, good things where you met so many good people. And some of the most interesting intellectual discussions which I had in my life were there. And evidently, to feel deeply, some of the fundamental things were there. Like ghosts who came from another life. In another sense, it would be useful for everyone to spend some days there-”

“You learned about yourself?”

“Yeah. You learn about yourself, about the man, about how important are things like love, like moral values, like the feeling that you have your people, your country with you. That’s something which you learn there, at this alma mater.” [53]

Similar, thought-provoking descriptions are also to be found in the writings of others, who have gone through such experiences, as many would normally imagine as the maximum of unfreedom and trial: Soviet imprisonment.

In the…books of Solzhenitsyn, Panin, Shifrin, and Tertz, several continually repeated paradoxical statements immediately impress the thoughtful reader. All these authors agree that arrest, prison, and camp — simply to say, the loss of freedom — have formed the most profound and significant experience in their lives. The paradox is complicated by the fact that, although they underwent the most extreme spiritual and physical suffering during their imprisonment, they also experienced a fulfilling happiness, undreamed of by people outside the prison walls.

None of these authors had ever before experienced such powerful feelings of love, hate, or despair, such days and nights filled with the most profound questions concerning human life, nor felt so close to the essence of cosmic life. Thus their description of imprisonment are descriptions of an intense, concentrated life…a life, which despite all torment, was oddly precious. [54]

“…Experienced a fulfilling happiness, undreamed of by people outside the prison walls.” It is safe to say that the inner experience, the meaningfulness and the “goal” of life, in a successfully achieved “American Dream” — as that is commonly conceived: with the “pursuit of happiness”, “enjoying life”, etc., — is dramatically other in character and reality, than that which these people experienced during some of the most precious moments of their lives. The best moments, of “happiness”, in such lives, are profoundly contrasting.