One of the things I cherish about my Harvard education is that despite Harvard's image as a left-wing bastion ("Kremlin on the Charles"), the education I got there in the early 1990s was in significant ways an intellectual product of the Reagan administration. I took economics from Martin Feldstein, who had been chairman of Reagan's council of economic advisers. And I took Russian history from Richard Pipes, who had been on Reagan's National Security Council staff.
The news today that Pipes has died sent me back to remembering having him as a teacher.
Pipes assigned his class as a text the hardcover edition of his own book, The Russian Revolution, which had just been issued by Knopf with a then-rich cover price of $40. (It's the sort of professorial move that prompts some grumbling and raised eyebrows, but the book is so great that I've carted around with me for nearly 25 years. I plucked it from my shelf earlier and it sits on my desk as I write this.) He spoke English in the accent of Poland, where he had been born and from where he had fled the Nazis. He was able to do something that in my view is the sign of professorial success — leave students, or at least me, with a simple sentence that sums up the big idea of his class. In Pipes' case, that was this — what is known as the Russian Revolution wasn't a popular uprising, it was a coup by a collection of Bolshevik thugs. The Pipes Russian Revolution book is dedicated "To the victims." It describes the "revolutionaries" as perpetrators, dictators, totalitarians — the inventors of the concentration camp.
A collection of Richard Pipes' articles for Commentary is available here, and the Hoover Institution website also has some material. There is also a fabulous 4 and a half minute YouTube video interview of Pipes (embedded below) by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, in which Pipes talks about his service in the Reagan administration. He wrote a memo advising a policy shift, away from containing the Soviet Union to instead defeating it. "Very sound," the president wrote in the margin.
The story of how Harvard helped win World War II with James Conant's leadership in the atomic bomb and radar development efforts has been well covered at this point by many writers including by me. The story of how Harvard helped win the Cold War is less well known, but it's a great story, too, and Pipes was at the center of it. He's not as well known as Reagan or as Lane Kirkland or as Pope John Paul II or Natan Sharansky or even as Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson. But the moral clarity and the ideas supplied by Pipes were as essential to victory as was any ammunition.
Jay Nordlinger also had a really wonderful and perceptive column in National Review in 2003, reviewing Richard Pipes' memoir (Vixi: Memoirs Of A Non-Belonger), that concludes with an anecdote about editing the scholar:
At the dawn of 2000, we published our "millennium issue," consisting of big-think pieces by big thinkers, including Pipes. In his essay, Pipes cited a book by Henri Frankfort, Kingship and the Gods (on ancient Near Eastern religion and society). He had the g in "gods" down — in the lower case — but, as it was in the title, I, of course, as editor, put it up. He insisted on its being put back down. "I am a Jew," he said, "and there is one God, and I will not have the plural word capitalized." "But Professor Pipes," I pleaded, "I am as monotheistic as anyone, but this is a matter of style, and to have the word up doesn't imply any idolatry: It's just a word in a title, like 'table' or 'chair.'" No, no, said Pipes, it could not be up, title or not.
So, that's how it appeared in the magazine.
Richard Pipes' son Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, has carried on his father's work in his own way. Richard Pipes rejected the romantic false depiction of the Russian Revolutionaries as idealist heroes in favor of the evidence-based truth that they were criminals. Daniel Pipes rejects the romantic false depiction of Arab and radical Islamist terrorists and dictators as anti-colonialist heroes in favor of the evidence-based truth that they are criminals.
One of Richard Pipes' great victories was outliving the Soviet Union. Like all great teachers he will live on in the memories of his students. I count myself fortunate to have been among them.