Bruce Bawer is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
In 2017, University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson made headlines, and began his rise to international celebrity, when he publicly registered his opposition to Bill C-16, a measure in the Canadian parliament that prohibited discrimination on grounds of “gender expression” and “gender identity.” A year later, Konstantin Kisin, a stand-up comic in Britain, made the news, although on a somewhat less splashy scale, by refusing to sign an agreement in which he promised not to joke about “racism, sexism,” and a litany of other topics during a scheduled appearance at the University of London. Just as Peterson lost his battle against Bill C-16 but went on to become a worldwide intellectual guru, Kisin lost the comedy gig but, with fellow comic Francis Foster, started a smart, good-humored podcast, Triggernometry, that has provided a platform to such prominent opponents of social-justice wokery as Douglas Murray, Theodore Dalrymple, and Sebastian Gorka, and that now boasts over 300,000 subscribers around the world. In 2018, Peterson jumped to a new level of fame and influence with his enormous bestseller 12 Rules for Life; now Kisin has published his own book, An Immigrant’s Love Letter to the West, which also deserves a broad readership.
As fans of Triggernometry know, Kisin is Russian by birth. He’s occasionally discussed his family and childhood on the podcast (interviewing Peterson last year, Kisin recalled his grandmother telling him that when she was fifteen, the question uppermost in the minds of her and her friends was: “Will we ever eat bread again?”); in the book he fills out the story. When he was eleven, not long after the fall of the Iron Curtain, his parents sent him to Britain – specifically, to Bristol – to attend school. His grandfather, a physicist who’d run afoul of Soviet authorities by criticizing the Afghan war, had already relocated to that city, where he’d found a congenial job and enjoyed a happy life in exile until his death in 2014. Kisin’s parents eventually followed their son to the U.K., where, although he’d arrived without knowing a word of English, he had not only adapted but flourished. Why? One word: freedom. Now, for not a few Westerners these days, freedom is an empty word. They’re dismissive of it; many scoff at it; they say there’s no such thing as freedom, that it’s just a right-wing buzzword; some claim that, even if there is such a thing as freedom, then countries like the U.K. and U.S. are no freer than any others, or that the West is the least free place of all. Kisin knows otherwise. He knew what unfreedom felt like. And from his first day on British soil, he felt his new freedom in his bones. “Twenty-five years on,” he writes, “that feeling of freedom has never gone away. Nor has my adopted country ever disappointed me.”
Hence this book. It’s addressed precisely to those Westerners who, never having been without freedom, have no appreciation for it – and who now, under the banner of social justice, seek sweeping social changes not unlike those that the Bolsheviks promised to institute when they made their revolution in Russia. Kisin wants such people to understand that, however pretty the rhetoric may sound, in reality socialism has never worked and utopian ideas have always been dangerous. He underscores that while millions of purportedly well-educated people in the West may not grasp these facts, millions of people in his homeland certainly do, because they and their forebears have been the victims of precisely the kind of idealism that so enchants them. Russians who are aware of the realities of life in the nations of the West, and who hear about the contempt with which many privileged Westerners trash it, see those Westerners “as totally drunk on decadence; so accustomed to liberty and prosperity that they take it for granted – and appear to be throwing it away with reckless abandon, completely unaware of its inherent value and fragility.”
What makes privileged people treat their privilege with such disdain, and even try to destroy it? Of course, that’s a question about human psychology, and in pondering it, Kisin has some interesting thoughts that lead him to cite Poe, Freud, and the historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee. Surveying the spread of toxic ideas by progressives in the West, Kisin makes a strong argument for freedom of expression – which not long ago was universally accepted in the West but has become increasingly embattled – and, in what can be read as a footnote to Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and “Principles of Newspeak,” ponders the left’s methodical manipulation of language to conceal the truth. He pleads with Western journalists to stop being Pravda-style ideologues and propagandists. And he debunks the now-routine demonization of whites. For those who’ve been taught to think of slavery as an offense invariably committed by the light-skinned against people of color, he points out that paleskins were serfs under the tsars and that, after the October Revolution, other whites – including his great-grandfather – were chattel in the gulags. He praises capitalism, reflects on the value of comedy in a free society, and explains the importance of immigration controls.
You’ve likely already gleaned that if you’re a regular visitor to this website, you probably don’t need to be told most of the things that Kisin has to tell you. Still, if you share his love of freedom and his alarm over the spread of Soviet-style ideas in the West – and especially if you enjoy his podcast – you’ll almost surely find this billet-doux to be a breath of fresh air. And if, like most of us, you have friends or family who’ve been poisoned by the totalitarian toxins of our era, you could do worse than to press Kisin’s book on them. It’s not a profound piece of work, but what love letter is? What matters is that it’s human, smart, charming, funny, straightforward, and unpretentious – perfectly pitched for precisely the kinds of people whom Kisin wants to reach. There’s not much chance that he’ll have the immense impact that Jordan Peterson has had, but here’s hoping that he at least makes a dent in the madness.