Leopold Tyrmand (May 16, 1920 – March 19, 1985)

Leopold Tyrmand (May 16, 1920 – March 19, 1985)

Below you will see two memorial comments John Howard gave. One to the Philadelphia Society and the other to the Heritage Foundation.

Memorial Comments at The Philadelphia Society Luncheon

April 13, 1985

When Leopold Tyrmand escaped from Poland in 1966, he managed to take with him the manuscript of a novel which was later printed in England, smuggled back into Poland and circulated by the Zamisdat. Increasingly over the last several years, Leopold came to be respected, even revered, by many in his native country as its most eminent man of letters who steadfastly refused to bend to the yoke of the totalitarian rulers.

In the United States, his adopted patria, the fires of his indignation were directed against a different kind of tyranny. This one, too, suppresses and deadens human decency, human normalcy and the traditions of amiable and civilized social intercourse. In a way the oppression of the liberal culture here was even more intolerable to him because it was self-inflicted. It needed only understanding, not armies, to vanquish it.

The obituary reviews of this author were mixed. There was a general recognition of high and unusual talent, but the praise was tempered with a tinge of regret over what was seen as irrascibility or perhaps an excessive rhetoric of condemnation.

It may be that a decade or so after his departure from us, his American compatriots will come to appreciate more fully his impact and his legacy as his Polish compatriots belatedly did. In my view, Leopold was unique among major literary figures who escaped from the Iron Curtain in that intellectually and intuitively, he was more fully attuned to the American temper, American history and American virtues than any of the others. And he burned with frustration at not being able to help people see more clearly how precious the heritage is that we are squandering in our self-indulgence and intellectual sloth.

I would like to read several excerpts from the Foreword to his third American book, THE ROSA LUXEMBURG CONTRACEPTIVES COOPERATIVE.

“This book does not have any scholarly, publicistic or journalistic pretensions. It has literary ambitions. Despite this, it is neither prose, nor fiction, nor a literary essay. It is a pamphlet, an intentional hyperbole of an existing reality. I personally regard communism as the worst plague that ever befell mankind and I nourish the hope that this book mirrors my feeling to a sufficient degree. Does this mean that the pamphlet distorts the truth? Not in the least. Communism is a phenomenon toward which objectivity as an interpretative method is absurdly helpless.

“Can one objectively explain a legal system in which the prosecutor is always right?… Can one objectively describe the institution of a political police whose raison d’etre is to create culprits where none exist? Can one objectively examine the morality of people who build careers by hunting down and destroying the slightest manifestation of free thought, while in London, Paris and Washington they deliver speeches about their struggle for freedom and the independence of the human spirit–and their Western listeners believe what they say?…

“My attitude toward communism is the outcome of my life under communism. During those years I came to hate communism for the evil it contained. And also to fear it for its metaphysical power to hold more and more and more evil.”

Leopold’s life in its personal and professional and artistic dimensions, was intensely devoted to exposing the evil and the rot in our culture, and to disinterring our heritage of civilized ideals and shedding wholesome light on them. And because that was so, it is fitting that this Philadelphia Society should acknowledge that life with gratitude today.

John A. Howard, President The Rockford Institute


Memorial Comments

Heritage Foundation Resource Bank Meeting
April 12, 1985

Leopold Tyrmand, the co-founder and vice president of The Rockford Institute, died three weeks ago. At the services, our colleague, theologian Richard Neuhaus, gave the eulogy. Here is an excerpt:

“Speaking to the Philadelphia Society two years ago, Leopold surveyed the wreckage of what he insistently called “the liberal culture,” and he asked the inevitable question, “What is to be done?” “My answer would be,” he said, “first to refurbish the description of how to live a rewarding life.” It was this Leopold sought to understand, to communicate, to exemplify.

“Leopold’s life was marked by driving moral vision and by whimsy; by sardonic humor and by rage. He cared enough about others to be outraged that they cared so little about themselves and what they were doing to themselves. Having lived under the totalitarianism of the Nazis and then of the Soviets, he had been schooled in the fragility of those things that make for the rewarding life. Because he had been at the margins of life, he had come to understand what was at the center of life. He was outraged by a culture that not only failed to see that the center was not holding, but took adolescent delight in its collapse.”

That tribute to a man who did so much to shape the course of The Rockford Institute also describes our purpose–which is to help reconstitute a public philosophy for the American experiment in liberty, and it must be a philosophy which applies time-tested wisdom to the realities of today. Our activities fall in three large categories: religion, literature and the primary social institutions. In the realm of religion, we have an operating division in New York City, the Center on Religion and Society. Through the programs of that Center, and its monthly newsletter, Richard Neuhaus and a broad representation of theologians, clergy and scholars are working to reestablish religiously-grounded values as the paramount guide for decision making in private lives as well as in matters of public concern. In the second category, through our monthly magazine, CHRONICLES OF CULTURE, and through the Ingersoll Prizes, we seek both to encourage and make prominent that literature and scholarship which lift man’s sights toward humane ideals, and additionally to expose not just the shallowness, but also the desecration of human worth that is inherent in today’s literature of sensationalism and self-pity. In the other arena of social institutions, through our monthly newsletter, PERSUASION AT WORK, Allan Carlson provides, through the perceptions of a conscientious historian, an affirmation of certain concepts of the family, education and our economic system, concepts deriving from the recognition that the benefits received from those institutions are never greater than the degree of self-discipline, integrity and compassion invested in them. These regular activities are supplemented by speeches, radio and TV appearances, articles in numerous other periodicals, our own Occasional Papers series and our books, and all are directed to the identification and refinement of a coherent system of values and beliefs which can serve as guides for reconstructing a society which is orderly and amiable as well as productive.

As I think was implied in Glenn Loury’s remarks yesterday, it is only as we can bring into focus a definition of the rewarding life, firmly rooted in the realities of human nature, that public policies can be formulated which are workable, consistent with one another, and which can be advocated to the public with a sure hope that freedom can survive and flourish.

John A. Howard, President The Rockford Institute

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