Seventy years ago, leading lights of the free world gathered in Berlin to push back against Soviet efforts to discredit liberal values. What can their efforts teach us today?

Today, it is said, we live in a time of unprecedented crisis. Autocracy is resurgent, territorially expansionist, and ideologically assertive, while the liberal democratic West appears anxious, timid, divided, and riddled with illiberal forces that often openly align with the West’s authoritarian detractors. It was in similar but arguably more challenging circumstances 70 years ago this month that more than 200 leading intellectuals from Europe and North America gathered in Berlin’s Tatiana Palace to launch a counter-offensive to the Soviet Union’s increasingly aggressive efforts to challenge and discredit Western liberal values. The resulting Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF) would play a seminal role in the ideological Cold War, initially as a vehicle for ideological “containment”-a politico-cultural counterpart to the Marshall Plan-and later as the central protagonist in a cross-border Kulturkampf that helped shape the values and worldviews of a postwar generation.

The circumstances for such a gathering were less than auspicious. News of North Korea’s invasion of the South broke as delegates gathered in a city that had only just emerged from a Soviet blockade. Berlin was surrounded by the Red Army, which had occupied half of Europe to impose a string of satellite states, stifling civil society and silencing dissent. Newly-installed Communist regimes hanged dozens of political rivals following show trials in Bulgaria, Hungary, and… [continue reading]