Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said that:
“The strength or weakness of a society depends more on the level of its spiritual life than on its level of industrialization. If a nation's spiritual energies have been exhausted, it will not be saved from collapse by the most perfect government structure or by any industrial development. A tree with a rotten core cannot stand.”
When he was allowed to leave the USSR, he went to the US where he was given a hero’s welcome. But he quickly realised that American society was far from perfect. He started lecturing Americans about the problems he saw. Americans don’t like that.
Like Solzhenitsyn, I come from the Soviet Union but I have no intention of repeating his mistake. That’s why I’ve come to Britain where you love being told how terrible you are by foreigners.
But I do have to be honest. Six months ago, when Jordan and Phillippa asked me to speak here at ARC about the importance of audacity, adventure and a positive vision for Western civilization I was both honoured and delighted. But, as I stand here today, after watching crowds openly celebrate mass murder on the streets of our cities, after watching the police spend more time debating Islamic theology on Twitter than enforcing the law, I am starting to lose faith. I don’t know how long our civilization will survive. For years now, many of us have been warning that the barbarians are at the gates. We were wrong. They’re inside.
I’m not going to be all doom and gloom. There are positives as well – say what you want about Hamas supporters, at least they know what a woman is.
Joking aside, I’ve been in a dark place these last few weeks and so I did what I always do when I don’t know what to do – I talked to my wife. She said, “you need to take a few days off, clear your head, let’s go on holiday. And I hate going on holiday. I know it’s a strange thing to say but I love working and I hate spending money. I’ve got Protestant work ethic in a Jewish man’s body. Sadly, my wife is exactly the other way around.
But she was right. She’s always right – that’s her best and most annoying quality. We went to Barcelona, a beautiful city and as we were walking down the main tourist street we eventually got to the Christopher Columbus monument. It’s a giant column with a statue of Columbus at the top, pointing towards the new world.
This reminded me of my son – he’s about 16 months and this is what he does. He sits on my hip and points me in the direction he wants to go. Treats me like a horse. And if I don’t act quickly enough, he does what all toddlers do – he throws a tantrum and starts screaming: “How dare you! You have stolen my dreams with your empty words”. And when he does that, we read him a story and put him to bed. We don’t give him a standing ovation in front of the UN.
Anyway, trigger warning, I am going to say some positive things about Christopher Columbus. I know he committed some pretty sizeable microagressions, but he also changed the world.
Do you know why he changed the world? Yes, he tried to reach India and discovered America by accident. But why go west to India? Europeans had been trading with India and China for centuries via the Silk Road. Why risk your life to go out on a limb?
The decision to try to reach Asia by going West was not made out of choice! Europe was desperate. In 1453, the Ottomans sacked Constantinople and cut Europe off from the Silk Road. The West was facing a huge challenge and a new threat, no smaller than the one we face today. And like us, what they needed was another way.
But when Columbus took his idea of reaching India by going west to the kings and queens of medieval Europe, they laughed at him. They didn’t laugh at him because he was some sort of misunderstood genius. They laughed at him because he was wrong.
If you go out into the street and ask a random person why Columbus discovered America, they’ll tell you he had worked out that the Earth was round. This is not true. By the time Columbus set off on his voyage in 1492, people had known the Earth was round for 2 millennia. There’s probably more flat earthers now than there were in the 15th century. God bless the Internet.
The reason Columbus discovered America is not that he’d worked out the earth was round – the reason is that he massively underestimated the size of the planet.
They were right to laugh at him. He was wrong. But he took that wrongness, he persuaded 90 other men to get into three boats smaller than this stage and sail into the unknown. And he persuaded Queen Isabella of Castille and King Ferdinand of Aragon to fund his expedition.
The moral of the story is: it doesn’t matter how wrong you are, as long as you’ve got rich friends.
That’s not the moral of the story. The moral of the story is the history of our civilisation was not made by people who never made a mistake. It was made by people who dared to believe that they could solve the problems they faced. The story of the West is a story of audacity.
The big debates of the last decade, the culture war, the polarisation are about one thing: the future. There are people like us who believe that our future is to be prosperous, powerful and influential. We are the majority. But there are also some people, whose brains have been broken by an excess of education, who believe that our history is evil. That we do not deserve to be great, we do not deserve to be powerful, that we must be punished for the sins of our ancestors. To them: our past is abominable, our present must be spent apologising and our future is managed decline.
My message to those people is simple: how dare you! You will not steal my son’s dreams with your empty words.
But Jordan is right, we need a positive message too so here it is: from the dawn of time, human beings have had to work to make the world a better place. We captured the mystery of fire, we invented the wheel, today we build buildings that would shock and awe almost every single human being that has ever lived. We split the atom, we spliced the genome and we connected the world through a microcomputer that fits in your pocket that lets us do amazing things:
This morning I destroyed someone with facts and logic on Twitter from the toilet. It’s magic!
Remember your grandparents? If I could go back in time and transport your grandparents’ grandparents into this room so they could see how we live today they’d think they’d been abducted by aliens. That’s the progress we’ve made. We haven’t made that progress by whining and acting like victims. We’ve made that progress by unleashing the creativity and talents of people like us in this room.
But I do think we’ve forgotten what adventure is. Being adventurous is not ordering extra spicy chicken in Nando’s. Wrong reference for this crowd. Being adventurous is not ordering extra spicy chicken from your personal chef.
Adventure is dangerous and it’s terrifying. When Columbus and his men got on those boats and took a journey into the unknown, they sailed to certain death. You know why? Because they knew something we’ve forgotten:
ALL DEATH IS CERTAIN.
And so I say to our friends in the world of business, you have made your fortunes by maximising the returns on your investments. We are in the fight of our lives. There is no greater return on your investments than to protect and preserve our civilisation. And so I invite you to follow in the footsteps of Elon Musk, Paul Marshall, Ben Delo and many of you here who are using their fortunes for the betterment of humanity.
I say to our friends in the media, truth matters. We are in the fight of our lives. There is more to life than clicks and downloads. Let’s move beyond the culture war where all we do bat away the litany of slanderous accusations about our history. Let’s set the agenda. Let’s remind our fellow citizens why we are where we are. Let’s remind them that we are the most tolerant, open and welcoming people in the history of the world. We’re not embarrassed about our past – we’re proud of it.
And to my colleagues in the new media, I say this. The legacy media is dying for a reason. They cannot be saved, they cannot be reformed. Let’s stop complaining about them and start building the media empires of the future ourselves. We have everything we need. We’ve even got rich friends.
I say to our friends in education and academia. I understand that many of you feel like the French Resistance or Soviet partisans, stuck behind enemy lines undermanned and outgunned. And you’re right: we are in the fight of our lives. So keep fighting for every young mind you can.
And finally, I say to our friends in politics, many of you here are conservatives. I am not, I look terrible in tweed. That’s why I identify as politically non-binary. But I can tell you conservatives something: you will never get young people to want to conserve a society and an economy that isn’t working for them.
We will not overcome woke nihilism as long as young people are locked out of the housing market, unable to pair up, unable to have children, unable to plan for the future. I know it’s difficult and I know that whoever solves the housing crisis will pay the price at the ballot box. This is true of many other pressing issues too. Or at least you think it is.
But you did not get into politics to get re-elected. You got into politics to make a difference. We are in the fight of our lives. If courage means anything at all it means doing the right thing and being willing to take the punishment.
Let me say it again:
ALL DEATH IS CERTAIN.
We do not get to choose whether to die or not. The only choice we have is whether we LIVE before we do.