A Brilliant Death: My Grandmother, 2003

Grandma Basgall Dec 1990

Julitta Kuhn Basgall, 1911-2003

Probably few who passed my grandmother on the street would have thought of her as a “great woman.”  Yet, I would beg to differ.  Not that anyone is passing her now.  At least if they are, they’re more than unaware of it.  She passed away from this world into the next eleven years ago.  She had led a long life, 1911-2003.  It was also, I believe, a rather great life.

She was the best cook and baker I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve met quite a few.  I’ve done everything I can to live up to her cooking and baking skills, but I’m afraid I’m not the perfect heir.

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Solzhenitsyn, 9 Years after His Death

Shut your eyes, reader.  Do you hear the thundering of wheels?  Those are the Stolypin cars rolling on and on.  Those are the red cows rolling.  Every minute of the day.  And every day of the year.  And you can hear the water gurgling—those are prisoners’ barges moving on and on.  And the motors of the Black Marias roar.  They are arresting someone all the time, cramming him in somewhere, moving him about.  And what is that hum you hear?  The overcrowded cells of the transit prisons.  And that cry?  The complains of those who have been plundered, raped, beaten to with an inch of their lives.  We have reviewed and considered all the methods of delivering prisoners, and we have found that they are all. . . worse.  We have examined the transit prisons, but we have not found any that were good.  And even the last human hope that there is something better ahead, that it will be better in camp, is a false hope.  In camp it will be . . . worse.—End of Volume 1 of the Gulag.


The greatest of 20th-century prophets.

Last week, we passed the ninth anniversary of the death of the Russian prophet, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, one of the truly great men of our day.

Though faced with severe reprisals from the state, the betrayal of his first wife to the Soviet government, and eventual exile from his beloved though tortured homeland, he recorded the tyranny perpetuated by the Soviet ideologues in a number of deeply meaningful works, including, most famously, The Gulag Archipelago.  Some of this massive work he wrote on scraps of paper, some he memorized on the rosary beads given to him by Catholic prisoners.

Solzhenitsyn knew of that which he wrote in his appropriately subtitled “An Experiment in Literary Investigation.”

“And where among all the preceding qualities was there any place left for kindheartedness?  How could one possibility preserve one’s kindness while pushing away the hands of those who were drowning?  Once you have been steeped in blood, you can only become more cruel,” Solzhenitsyn knew.  “And when you add that kindness was ridiculed, that pity was ridiculed, that mercy was ridiculed—you’d never be able to chain all those who were drunk on blood.”

More than any other work, the Gulag forced western journalists and academics to confront the monstrous realities of the Soviet Union, not just under Stalin’s Cult of Personality dictatorship, but under the wretched evil that pervaded the entire system.  Indeed, the Soviet Union ran on the blood of those who deviated from its vision of harmony and perfection.  From the very beginning of the Soviet takeover of Russia, Solzhenitsyn noted, the revolutionaries established the ideologically-driven police, militia, army, courts, and jails.  Even the labor camps—the Gulag—began in embryo form only a month into the revolution. The parasitic Soviets craved blood from 1917 to 1991; such bloodletting was an inherent part of the system.  Solzhenitsyn claims that the Gulag state murdered 66 million just between 1917 and 1956.

The ideological system created distrust. “This universal mutual mistrust had the effect of deepening the mass-grave pit of slavery.  The moment someone began to speak up frankly, everyone stepped back and shunned him: ‘A provocation!’  And therefore anyone who burst out with a sincere protest was predestined to loneliness and alienation.”

It also, Solzhenitsyn understood, established a permanent lie.  “The permanent lie becomes the only safe form of existence, in the same way as betrayal.  Every wag of the tongue can be overheard by someone, every facial expression observed by someone.  Therefore every word, if it does not have to be a direct lie, is nonetheless obliged not to contradict the general, common lie.  There exists a collection of ready-made phrases, of labels, a selection of ready-made lies.”

Ultimately, those who died immediately had the best of it, the Russian prophet knew.  To survive meant not merely to lose the body at some point, but almost certainly the soul as well.

No mere anti-communist, Solzhenitsyn attacked not just the ideological regimes of Russia and its former communist allies in Eastern Europe, but he challenged all of modernity—in the East and the West.  Western consumerism, he warned, will destroy the West by mechanizing its citizens in a more efficient and attractive manner than communism could.  “Dragged along the whole of the Western bourgeois-industrial and Marxist path,” Solzhenitsyn stated,

A dozen maggots can’t go on and on gnawing the same apple forever; that if the earth is a finite object, then its expanses and resources are finite also, and the endless, infinite progress dinned into our heads by the dreamers of the Enlightenment cannot be accomplished on it . . . All that ‘endless progress’ turned out to be an insane, ill-considered, furious dash into a blind alley.  A civilization greedy for ‘perpetual progress’ has now choked and is on its last legs.

Only by embracing a transcendent order and the true Creator, Solzhenitsyn argued, can mankind save itself from the follies and murders of the ideologues.  In his 1983 Templeton address, he took his arguments against modernity even further.

Our life consists not in the pursuit of material success but in the quest of worthy spiritual growth.  Our entire earthly existence is but a transition stage in the movement toward something higher, and we must not stumble or fall, nor must be linger fruitless on one rung of the ladder . . . The laws of physics and physiology will never reveal the indisputable manner in which the Creator constantly, day in and day out, participates in the life of each of us, unfailingly granting us the energy of existence; when the assistance leaves us, we die.  In the life of our entire planet, the Divine Spirit moves with no less force: this we must grasp in our dark and terrible hour.

In his commentary on Solzhenitsyn’s address, Russell Kirk argued that the above passage “expressed with high feeling [ ] the conservative impulse.” Certainly, Kirk and Solzhenitsyn were kindred spirits.

Importantly, one should never underestimate the importance of Solzhenitsyn’s moral imagination.  As one of the leading Solzhenitsyn scholars, Edward E. Ericson, Jr., has argued: “I would say that One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich put the first crack into the Berlin Wall and The Gulag Archipelago was an irresistible blow to the very foundations of the Soviet edifice.”

The prophet is dead.  The priest (John Paul II) and the king (Ronald Reagan) went before him.

Emily Stelzer’s Latest: GLUTTONY AND GRATITUDE


Order now.

November 2017 | 350 pages | cloth | ISBN: 978-0-8207-0708-2

Book Information:

Despite the persistence and popularity of addressing the theme of eating in Paradise Lost, the tradition of Adam and Eve’s sin as one of gluttony — and the evidence for Milton’s adaptation of this tradition — has been either unnoticed or suppressed. Emily Stelzer provides the first book-length work on the philosophical significance of gluttony in this poem, arguing that a complex understanding of gluttony and of ideal, grateful, and gracious eating informs the content of Milton’s writing. Stelzer works with contextual material in the fields of physiology, philosophy, theology, and literature and builds from recent scholarship on Milton’s experience of and knowledge about matter and the body to draw connections between Milton’s work and both underexamined textual influences (including, for example, Gower’s Confessio Amantis) and well recognized ones (such as Augustine’s City of God and Galen’s On the Natural Faculties).

Author Information:

EMILY E. STELZER iis assistant professor of literature and program director for English and Great Texts at Houston Baptist University.

On Losing a Child: Ten Years Later

Dear Friends, I want to thank you so much for all of the wonderful and heart-warming comments about our Cecilia Rose (this past Tuesday) and what would’ve been her tenth birthday. For whatever reason, we felt more at peace with her absence than ever before. No matter what, pain and anxiety always come that day, and always will. Such is life.  For the first time since her death, however, I, at least, accepted it, even if I still hated it.

A couple of you expressed how impressed you were at our faith. All credit to Dedra for this. She’s the strong one, and she’s the one who keeps (through God’s grace) our faith as a family at its best.

I’ve spent close to the last ten years being VERY angry with God. My main thought was, how could God give us children ONLY to take them away? As parents, we have one main job: to protect and nurture our children. How can we do that when we’re not even given a chance?

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THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE Print Subscription: $12/year

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$12/year print subscription

If you’re an #FOB–no! not “friend of Bill”! FRIEND OF BRAD–you can get a year’s print subscription to The American Conservative for just $12.* Yes, truly, $12!

If you’d like the $12 subscription–
1. Email us at**
2. Put #FOB in the subject line
3. Give us your mailing (physical) address in the actual message

Within a few days, we’ll email you the link to pay your $12 and get a year’s worth of The American Conservative.


*only for those with a U.S. postal address.

**yes, this is an outrageously convoluted email address.

Edmund Burke’s Disney: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST


The Image of Grace Itself

What if?  Why Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017) is one of the most Burkean movies ever made.

As the movie was ending, I thought, I might very well be reading too much into this, wanting to find Christianity in the story simply because I fell in love with the story. Then, my patience and thought was more than rewarded. As the spell was lifted from the castle of the Beast, the last thing to transform was the very top of the castle, a rather eerie gargoyle overlooking the cursed realm. When it changes, it doesn’t just become less creepy, it becomes truly holy. The gargoyle transforms into St. Michael slaying the devil. Truly, literally. Right there on a Hollywood movie screen—seen by millions of movie goers—is the symbol of the entire movie, a statue of St. Michael in victory against the devil. How amazing is that?

To read the full review, please go here:


amconDear Friends,

I am extremely honored to announce that I have been named the interim President and CEO of The American Conservative magazine and its parent NPO. It is interim—a one-year position as steward (Faramir) as we search for the return of the king (Aragorn).*

My position with TAC will, in no way, affect my day-to-day duties (or loyalties) to Hillsdale College or The Imaginative Conservative.

Indeed, it is clearly Winston Elliott and his magisterial The Imaginative Conservative and the experience and opportunities it has offered me that paved the way toward the interim position with TAC. TIC-TAC! Ave, Winston.

And, of course, a huge thanks to my great friends, Dan McCarthy, Mark Kalthoff, and Tom Woods, for their encouragement. And, to Sarah Skwire and Steve Horwitz, too. Oh yeah—that mighty Johnny Burtka as well!

As it always has, The American Conservative seeks and will continue to seek “ideas over ideology” and “principles over party.”

Yours, delightedly, Brad

*This makes Dedra, Eowyn. Makes perfect sense.

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