The following are Garry Kasparov’s remarks as prepared for the 2017 Goldwater Institute Annual Dinner.
Scottsdale, Arizona – October 19, 2017
My deep thanks for this award to the Goldwater Institute, President Riches, Chairman Crown, and to every board member, member, and supporter of the Goldwater Institute. The work you do here matters very much today, as much as at any time since the end of the Cold War. Freedom has been taken for granted, and, like anything taken for granted, it is slipping away, so your fight—our fight—is a vital one.
I’m happy to be here to share my life experience with you all. As you may know, I come from a faraway place where big government triumphed completely. Yes, I came here from New York City. But jokes aside, I am very grateful to be able to make America my home now, in exile from Russia after Putin’s crackdown in his rebuilt KGB dictatorship.
And I respect your courage in having me here. After all, tonight you have all been seen collaborating with a Russian.
I have many trophies on my shelf, but it’s hard to imagine a greater honor than receiving an award bearing the name of Barry Goldwater. If only my diehard Communist grandfather could see me now. I used to get into terrible arguments with him. Due to my chess successes I had the rare ability to travel to the West as a teenager and it became quite obvious to me who was on the right side of history. This put me in an awkward position in the USSR as my fame grew in the 1980s, but I refused to be silenced.
By the way, I don’t think about my grandfather only as a joke. He was a true believer in Communism and the Soviet system. He didn’t do it to gain advantage, or because he was coerced. He really believed, and remembering that always reminds me that socialism is a powerful drug, and that vigilance must always be maintained.
More even than Ronald Reagan, Goldwater was a bogeyman in the USSR. Not simply because of his staunch anti-Communism, or his declarations about needing to win the Cold War, not have détente with an existential threat. No, Goldwater was demonized because he accurately diagnosed the differences between freedom and slavery. He recognized that Communism was a lie, that it was never about utopian socialism or equality. Goldwater attacked the real foundation: power and control.
I thought about those old Soviet propaganda news stories and textbooks recently, when I saw a new documentary series on Netflix. It’s called “The Untold History of the United States”, by director Oliver Stone. I admit I didn’t make it all the way through, because most of it was quite familiar to me. So I really didn’t understand the title. Untold history? Not at all. This was the hostile, fake, history of the United States that was told in every Soviet social studies class I had growing up. America as the bad guy, and how the world would be so much better off if the United States left peace-loving Russia alone. Uh-huh, sure.
I’m sorry, but as someone whose family, whose entire country, was freed from totalitarian slavery by the American devotion to freedom, I find this sort of hateful revisionism disgusting. Of course, Stone was also a big fan of Hugo Chavez and recently made a very flattering documentary about Vladimir Putin, so I suppose he has made his loyalties clear. But where do these anti-Americans live when they say these things? If you want to tell me about the glories of socialism, go say it from a food line in Venezuela, not from Hollywood, not from Vermont. If you want to tell me that Putin is a strong leader, try it from a jail cell in Moscow, not from New York, not from Washington DC.
But socialism will always be an alluring dream, even in the freest and richest countries in the world. In fact, especially in such places, where what Goldwater called “welfarism” has slowly and steadily replaced political socialism with calls for free everything. First off, talking about socialism in America is a luxury paid for by the successes of capitalism. Goldwater was right in 1960 and it became even clearer with the collapse of the USSR that the historical record leaves no doubt: free markets and free people create prosperity while government control of resources and citizens creates poverty.
This isn’t a theory. This isn’t a matter of somehow getting socialism right for once. Look at the record. Look at history. Even some of the worst right-wing dictatorships made successful and peaceful transitions to thriving democracies and market economies. South Korea, Taiwan. Chile, South Africa, Portugal, Spain. Now look at the former Communist states, nearly every one of which is still struggling under authoritarian regimes and stagnant economies. Only the formerly occupied Eastern European nations that could join the European Union and NATO have showed resistance to this disease. And that’s what it is. Socialism isn’t a system of government; it’s a disease, an auto-immune disorder that leaves the system vulnerable to other infections. It destroys the human soul itself. Socialism attacks self-reliance and tells you to instead rely on authority, on government, on the dictator. And as we know, once you give power to the government it’s nearly impossible to ever get it back.
This is why I was so alarmed during the last presidential primaries when millions of Americans openly supported an openly Socialist candidate. Of course, Bernie Sanders does not espouse the totalitarian Communism of the Soviet Union, but that so many Americans seem not to know or care about the beliefs, the conservative beliefs by the way, that turned America into the greatest, richest country on Earth is very worrying. I have a lot of experience living in a place where everything was supposed to be free—except for us, of course.
This misconception about wanting the government to do things for you rapidly becomes a perversion of rights, and even twists what that vital word means. As anyone who has lived under dictatorship knows, rights are not what government must do for you. No, that’s not it at all. Rights are what the government cannot do to you.
Returning to conservative values does not mean turning back the clock. This is a critical message, that moving forward, that progress and innovation require principles that are timeless. As Goldwater wrote, “To suggest that the Conservative philosophy is out of date is akin to saying that the Golden Rule, or the Ten Commandments, or Aristotle’s Politics are out of date.” That is, not old—eternal. Not from the past—but for all time.
American prosperity and leadership depend on this understanding because freedom is the absolute requirement for the innovation needed to create and sustain economic growth. Freedom of capital. Freedom of thought. Freedom to move, to speak, to succeed. Even freedom to fail, and to try again.
Dictatorships are intellectually stagnant. The United States and the United Kingdom founded two cornerstones of modern technology in World War II. The nuclear age with the Manhattan Project and the information era with the codebreaking computers of Bletchley Park. You might point out that both projects benefited from educated immigrants, especially from Nazi-controlled continental Europe. Yes, exactly! It was in America they had the freedom to contribute their skills, to share in the free spirit of innovation. This is still true, but for how much longer? My countryman Sergey Brin might have gone on to be quite a good chessplayer in Russia, but he had to come to America to invent Google.
Socialism is impotent once it finishes wringing the last drops of blood and sweat from its victims. The Soviet Union even had the early lead in the space race with the United States, but as soon as it became a priority for America, the race was over in little more than a decade. Despite the massive resources of the USSR, looting an entire continent and turning scientists and engineers into forced labor, they couldn’t come close to matching the steady supply of new breakthroughs in America. It was no coincidence that the freest country was also the most successful. But again, for how much longer? Regardless what you may think of its causes or solutions, inequality is a huge issue today. But this is not because the free market has betrayed us, but because we have betrayed the free market. Regulations, redistribution, taxation, it’s enough to make you wonder if the Soviet Union still has a chance to win the Cold War. Capitalism has failures and successes, it is true. But trust me, you are far better off with the failures of capitalism than with the “successes” of socialism.
Rising inequality is one reason why politicians like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK are now having success selling the same socialist snake oil they have been touting for decades. People are frustrated and looking for answers, and very few of our leaders are brave enough to tell them the truth: that success takes sacrifice and hard work. Campaigning politicians on both sides make promises about how easy everything is going to be if they win. Once in office they vote for every program and subsidy while forgetting about the spending cuts and tax reform. As Goldwater wrote, the problem in DC isn’t broken promises, it’s kept promises.
As for what must be done, Goldwater was once again ahead of his time. In his 1979 book, With No Apologies, he expressed his optimism and his awareness that individual liberty was the real engine of the American economy. He wrote, “I marvel at the shortsighted pessimists who tell us that we have reached our productive capacity, who project a future of primarily dividing up what we now have and making do with less. To my mind the single essential element on which all discoveries are dependent is human freedom.” Amen. We must make the pie bigger, not sell off pieces of the bakery until nothing is left. Growth is the only real answer, and growth requires innovation, and innovation requires freedom.
I am also an optimist about technology and the future. This is why it bothers me so much to hear the word “progressive” used as a synonym for politically liberal in the United States. American progress, and therefore global progress for the past century, has been based on inherently conservative values of individual liberty. America still has all the ingredients, but is at risk of losing the recipe.
Since I retired from professional chess in 2005, I’ve given hundreds of lectures to business audiences on strategic thinking, decision-making, artificial intelligence, innovation, and other such topics. These weren’t political speeches, but it was very hard for me not to talk about politics when discussing the values of innovation. On a personal level, a corporate level, a national level: risk-taking, investment, sacrifice, faith, excellence, freedom. Those are the values of a successful entrepreneur, a successful Fortune 500 company, a successful nation and—might I add, the values of the 1964 GOP candidate for president, Barry Goldwater, who was successful not in that election, but in revitalizing the American conservative movement.
It’s not exactly a value, but another key element for success is vigilance. Since the Iron Curtain fell and the Soviet Union collapses over a quarter-century ago, it has been easy for America and other Western leaders to pretend that there are no more serious external threats. The Cold War is over, we won, let’s relax. But evil does not die, it waits and gathers strength and looks for new opportunities. Evil returns in new forms, from Islamist radicals to a Russian dictator. Evil uses new weapons, uses our own technology against us, from jumbo jets to fake news on Facebook.
These new threats are formidable, but they pale in comparison to those faced by past generations. What would Truman or Reagan say today? Or freedom-loving Senators like Goldwater, Scoop Jackson, Walter Judd? There is no giant Soviet threat, no Stalin or Mao to face down. We are a few weeks away from the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917. This would have a global impact that only a few at the time, like Winston Churchill, were quick to warn about, but America quickly returned to its isolationist ways after World War I. And we know how that ended, as American retreat from the world always does, in disaster. The American giant again returned to save the world, but only after Pearl Harbor. America learned that lesson and after World War II built the institutions that would fight and eventually win the Cold War. NATO, the CIA, the NSA. But when the Cold War ended, nothing was done to press the advantage. Nothing was built to promote the stability and prosperity that only democracy and free people can guarantee. This time, it took only a decade to see consequences of that complacency, on 9/11.
Unlike decades ago, today the free world has huge advantages militarily, economically, culturally—and yet it feels like we are losing. It feels like we are losing because we are afraid to fight. We no longer have the will to fight for our values, our culture, or our future. And yes, you can lose a war that you refuse to admit even exists. You lose by complacency and appeasement. You lose by saying you can have friendly dialogue with dictators. You lose by allowing corruption to be exported by criminal regimes that don’t play by the rules. You lose by doing business with brutal regimes and never mentioning their human rights or political prisoners. You lose slowly, day by day, by learning to tolerate what you should instead destroy.
You hear many voices say that America shouldn’t be a global policeman. But nobody likes to live in a neighborhood without a cop on the beat. America cannot just walk away from the world, as it has been doing for the past nine years. Vacuums of power do not stay empty for long, as we are seeing very clearly today in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia, in Latin America. Global freedom has declined every year for eleven straight years. The United States must lead, both by example, and by telling the world that liberty still matters, and by backing up that claim.
For those who say America is tired, to let someone else take a turn, who will that be? Do you think America will better off with China or Putin’s Russia setting the standards in the 21st century? Looking to Europe only meets Europe’s gaze in return, looking back to America for leadership. Who else will innovate the way America does, creating the technology the rest of the world benefits from and copies? Who else will defend global stability with an unmatched military force? Who else will show the world that free people, free markets, and democracy are the only way to guarantee peace? I’m sorry, but there is no one else.
That’s a good reason, but not the only reason for America to defend freedom everywhere. You cannot promote freedom at home and not believe that every individual around the globe deserves a chance at that freedom. And standing up for freedom, especially where it is under great threat, reinforces the blessings you have here in the free world, and how important it is to preserve them, and not to take them for granted. In the end, American leadership is still essential because America is still essential. I wish you luck and courage, and thank you again for this great honor.
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