At the start of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel In the First Circle, a Soviet diplomat on home leave in Moscow tries to make an anonymous call to the U.S. embassy. His purpose: warning the Americans of a Soviet theft of atomic secrets. But he gets a dull-witted, indifferent embassy staffer on the line, and the call goes nowhere. Or almost nowhere. The call is monitored by Soviet security. Arrested and imprisoned at the end of the novel, the diplomat’s final thought about Americans is that “prosperity breeds idiots.”
Solzhenitsyn’s diplomat channels views that were clearly held by the author himself. Comfort and safety, enjoyed too long in the West, invite complacency—and complacency leads to stupidity. As a gulag survivor, Solzhenitsyn had a barely disguised disgust for Western elites with little experience of political murder and repression. Nor could he abide the legion of fools who seemed fascinated, from a secure and prosperous distance, with socialist thought.
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