Mr. Helprin (Novelist and Contributing Editor, The Wall Street Journal) delivered the following speech at the first annual Hillsdale College Churchill Dinner, held on Tuesday December 5, 2000, at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia. I believe that we are in the wilderness, that we are in the wilderness because of too many lies told and too many lies believed, and that, if left unchecked, this habit of untruth will destroy us.
I was born in 1947, and in my lifetime have seen three American political crises. Of these, two have come in the last two years. Whereas European political crises are almost always about power, American political crises are almost always about truth, which is why Europeans almost always mistranslate and misapprehend us. It is also why Winston Churchill, wholly British and half American, was able to save the West. As a European he understood power, but as an American he brought into history's consummate struggle for power the idea of truth as the consummate weapon. In those great moments when the world depended on his every word, it underlay every word he spoke. It was the foundation of the nearly metaphysical strategy into which he marshaled the allies to destroy the enemies that had nearly overwhelmed them. It enabled him to see when others could not, to speak when others would not, and to record his times with majesty, elevation, and wit.
It is almost an axiom of the Left that the wound that cleaved America from Europe and in which we found our special nature will heal, and that our political culture will come to tolerate the corruption it was born to put to an end: in short, that, embarrassed by our exceptionalism, we will race to abandon it. Unfortunately, this is true, it is happening on the instant, and it is the source of the crises in our political life that, mistakenly and superficially, we perceive and address as contests of power. But they are not contests of power, they are arguments about truth.