Speeches & Lectures

Commencement Address 2018 by John Lenczowski

The following address was given by IWP Founder and President John Lenczowski at IWP’s 2018 Commencement ceremony. To read more about Commencement, please click here.

Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen.  I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the life of our school: our Trustees, benefactors, faculty and guest lecturers, staff and interns, friends and helpers, our students and alumni, and the spouses and families of those who work for our cause and study here.

I would also like to welcome Secretary [of Defense, James] Mattis.  We are honored, sir, by your presence.

I have always found it useful to share with our graduates’ families and friends the reasons why IWP exists.  There are basically two major reasons: one that concerns how to defend our nation and political order, and the second which concerns why.

The study of history reveals that America has often suffered the consequences of a lack of realism about the dangers of the world and a lack of professionalism in dealing with it.  There are times when we have sent signals of weakness to potential enemies, eroding our deterrent posture, and tempting them to conduct aggression.

We have suffered from strategic surprise, at Pearl Harbor, with the Sputnik challenge, and on 9/11.  We lost Vietnam, because, according to the North Vietnamese generals, we left ourselves vulnerable to being demoralized by communist propaganda and psychological operations.  We allowed Communist China to become a hostile superpower over three decades by covertly helping it develop 10,000 technologies, while letting it steal what we didn’t give it.  With its development of quantum computing and artificial intelligence, we may be facing another “Sputnik” moment of decisive strategic danger.

After 9/11, we diverted most of our counterintelligence assets to countering Islamist terrorism and have given hostile foreign intelligence agencies an open field to exploit.  We let as many as 50,000 Chinese intelligence collectors do as they wish in the United States.

Most of our failures result from intellectual, psychological, or physical disarmament that has cost us dearly in blood and treasure.  Each of these forms of disarmament derives from a lack of realism about the world.  Part of this is an intellectual problem where too many of our leaders have serious gaps in knowledge of foreign political cultures and ideologies.  The other part is a moral problem that is characterized by wishful thinking, willful blindness, or utopianism about the possibilities of making peace with evil.

Central to the mission of IWP is our determination that our students be intellectually and psychologically prepared to see the world the way it really is rather than the way too many of our leaders wish it to be.  Once one faces reality, the challenge is how to deal with it.

Here our mission is to prepare our students to master the different arts of statecraft — military power, diplomacy, public diplomacy and strategic influence, intelligence and counterintelligence, economic strategy, cyber strategy, and more.  Each is like an instrument in an orchestra, and each participant must not only play his instrument but understand how it integrates into the larger symphony of our national strategy.

The problem here is that our foreign policy culture has long put the emphasis on material things such as arms, trade, and the diplomacy concerning those things while neglecting the non-material instruments of power.

When we founded IWP, 99 percent of intelligence officers had never systematically studied intelligence: its history, its impact on history, its policy issues, and the epistemological problems — that is, how one knows if information is the truth in the face of propaganda, disinformation, and strategic deception.

Nobody was studying counterintelligence.  Nobody was studying public diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, information operations, strategic influence, or political warfare.  Few people paid attention to the role of ideology and religion in world politics.  These are just some of the subjects where our education has filled the gaps.

2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu said that to defeat one’s enemy without using force is the acme of skill.

How do you do that?

To my knowledge, no school in America systematically teaches this except us.  Our philosophy is that if a nation uses all its non-military instruments of power effectively, while never neglecting armed force and credible deterrence, it minimizes the need to use force.  We call this “winning without war.”  One would think that this would be a more popular subject in the nation’s universities.  But it is not.

That is the professional side of our curriculum.

But then there are the philosophical underpinnings of the defense of our civilization.

Here, we study American founding principles.  Again, this has become an almost forbidden subject in to many of our nation’s universities.  This ignoring of our founding principles has been accompanied by a precipitous decline in the study of history, whether it be political, economic, diplomatic, intellectual, or military history.  Most of the history taught today is social history with a strong victimological cast.  It is part of a deconstructionist attack on Western and American civilization which is called “critical theory.”  It is an ideology that originates in cultural Marxism, particularly as advocated by the Italian communist, Antonio Gramsci.  Its branches include promotion of the sexual revolution, gender as a social construction, and emphasis on group identity — central features of Bolshevism and other radical ideologies that are grounded in moral and cultural relativism.

These ideological and cultural trends are presenting America and the West with what is arguably the greatest threat to our civilization and form of government.  They weaken what I call the “national immune system” which is our nation’s consensus on the most precious values and principles that underlie our civilization.  In Europe, the demoralization and civilizational fatigue that result from these trends is producing the demographic suicide of virtually the entire continent.

We have also seen what a cousin of that ideology has done to one of our neighbors — Venezuela — in just 15 years.  In what was once one of the most prosperous countries in our hemisphere, people are now searching for food in garbage cans.

How does one defend against such a disastrous ideology?  One first has to know what it is, and how it relates to the totalitarian ideologies that have produced unprecedented human suffering in the last century.  One then has to have a positive alternative.

This is why we teach America’s founding political philosophy of political, economic, and religious freedom.  Ironically, it is this philosophy that has produced the very conditions that permit the acolytes of critical theory to make their criticisms.  Let them try using critical theory in China, Venezuela, Iran, or North Korea!

It is our Founders’ philosophy that recognizes that, as Madison said, “if men were angels, there would be no need for government.”  But men will always be tempted to do the wrong thing.  And so our amazing Constitution sets up all our public arrangements to defend society against the corruptions of leaders who will inevitably succumb to that temptation.  Where is there a better system?

To preserve it, we must continue to articulate what it is.  It is a system of: rule of law, not of judges; consent of the governed; separation of powers; checks and balances; and inalienable individual rights not just for majorities but for minorities.

If rights for minorities are to be inalienable, they must come from a source higher than majority vote.  And logically that means they must either inhere in nature or come from some higher moral intelligence that some of us call God.  Otherwise, those rights become a matter of power struggle — the doctrine of “might makes right” — a doctrine mastered by the Nazis, Fascists, Communists, and criminal dictatorships of this world.

Those who would tear down this system must be challenged to define what they would put in its place.  In the meantime, while our nation is as divided as it is, and so long as our adversaries like China, Russia, and the jihadists attempt to exploit those divisions, those of us in the national security business have a critical responsibility.  We must deter, and if necessary defeat those adversaries until such time that they feel there is no profit in conducting what are principally the many forms of cold war against us.

This brings us to the last part of IWP’s mission.  It has to do with moral strength and moral leadership.

In 1808, Napoleon taught that: “In war, moral considerations make up three quarters of the game: the relative balance of manpower accounts only for the remaining quarter.”

What is this moral factor?  It is the will to fight and to sacrifice for a higher cause.  It is built on the soldier’s sense of justice and honor and his outrage over justice denied and honor trampled.  It appeals to his highest ideals of love of family, home and country, of what is right, good and true, and in America, of liberty and democracy.

The Marine Corps captures a key element of this in its motto: “Semper Fidelis” — “Always Faithful.”  Faithful to what?  Faithful to God, to country, to one’s spouse and family, to one’s friends and comrades-in-arms, and to the highest principles by which we should run our country and our personal lives.

To understand faithfulness, it is useful to consider its opposites.  The most obvious of these — betrayal — is bad enough: treason, adultery, and all the harm such betrayals cause.

But there is a relative of betrayal which has consequences similar to those of breaking faith: and that is cynicism.  Cynicism is usually marked by lack of faith or belief, whether in God, in the possibility of truth, in the existence of objective moral standards, or ultimately, in any cause commanding loyalty that is higher than oneself and one’s selfish needs.  It means a disbelief in the possibility of noble motives and an attendant lack of commitment to any higher principles.

It is cynical selfishness that invariably nourishes hubris — the main characteristic of large portions of our modern intelligentsia and much of America’s leadership class.

Hubris is the assertion of the supremacy of man and the belief that man and human reason, and nothing higher, represent the creative intelligence of this world.  Hubris is the spirit that inspires man to dictate his own standards of right and wrong according to his personal economic, political, social, or sensual preferences and to reject those of any higher authority.  It operates at the level of the individual, where no cause is higher than oneself.  At the social level, the apotheosis of man lies at the root of modern totalitarianism.

When there is no cause higher than oneself and no source of morals other than personal preferences, life is a struggle for power and material treasure.  Where worldly cynicism prevails, it holds itself to be the universal attitude, except among the hopelessly naïve whose idealism is scorned.  It is for good reason why hubris was seen by the ancients as man’s challenge to the gods, and why in Judeo-Christian civilization it is seen as the sin of pride — the failure to humble oneself before our Creator and His standards.

The true cynic, the man marked by hubris, has few soft spots in his heart.  He cannot subordinate himself before a cause higher than himself — whether it is God, country, or family.  He cannot be truly outraged by justice denied or honor trampled — because genuine moral outrage is impossible in a cynical world of power struggles and unscrupulous methods.

And when one’s heart is so callused, then betrayal becomes all the easier.  When nothing more important than selfish interests is at stake, to be faithful or not makes no difference.  And with no cause higher than oneself, where does one find that commitment that sustains our security and civilization at all levels: military, political, moral, psychological, economic and social?

The lesson here is that true strength — the strength of leaders, of armies, of nations, and of civilizations — is to be found in commitment to a higher cause: in faithfulness, in idealism, and in unselfishness, all of which depend upon humility.

These are virtues and they must be cultivated if our nation is to be effectively led.  We at IWP take seriously the task of character development, which is a matter of self-control, prudent moral choices, and the development of good habits which ultimately become one’s destiny.

We teach that there are two kinds of people: the careerist and the mission-oriented person.  The careerist seeks the promotion, the credit, the glory, and the power.  It is all about one’s self.  Mission oriented people are there to serve their family, customer, community, organization, and country.  In doing so, they will achieve many of the things the careerist wants but will never risk sacrificing their honor to get them.

In the main classroom at the Institute, we display Arnold Friberg’s famous painting of “The Prayer at Valley Forge.”  It shows General George Washington on his knees in the snow during the American Revolution’s most desperate hour.  We hope that this has helped inspire our students to understand that the greatest leadership is marked by humility, a humility which recognizes that there are indeed causes higher than oneself.

Let me congratulate the Class of 2018.  We have high hopes that you will continue in the spirit in which you have pursued your studies here and elevate the level of professionalism and moral leadership in our country and the world.  The more of you who exercise leadership by setting a good example, no matter what position you occupy, and do the right thing when nobody is looking, the greater the chance that our system of ordered liberty and self-government will not perish from the earth.

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John Lenczowski, PhD, is Founder, President, and Professor at The Institute of World Politics, an independent graduate school of national security and international affairs in Washington, D.C.  He formerly served in the Department of State, and as President Reagan’s principal White House adviser on Soviet affairs.  His latest book is Full Spectrum Diplomacy and Grand Strategy: Reforming the Structure and Cultural of U.S. Foreign Policy.

John Lenczowski, Commencement 2018, DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith

Above: IWP Founder and President John Lenczowski speaks at IWP Commencement on May 19, 2018 at the Fairmont Hotel.
DoD photo by Army Sgt. Amber I. Smith.