The Russian writer Valentin Rasputin, himself no lackey of the Soviet regime, once attacked Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for having crossed the line where “war against communism became war against . . . Russia.” In Rasputin’s eyes, the prophetic exile had stained Russia’s reputation—not merely that of the communist regime—in his relentless assaults on Soviet power. The line can be a very thin one. At the end of “The American Century,” I finally understand how Soviet-era Russian dissidents must have felt when they attacked communism (“Then you favor unjust capitalism!?” screeched their inquisitors), criticized the war in Afghanistan (“Support the troops!”), and demanded that the Soviet authorities reopen the closed churches of their historically Orthodox Christian country (“Separation of church and state is the bedrock of our constitution!”). No real patriot ever intends to aid and comfort his homeland’s enemies in either peace or war. But no patriot can stand idly by while his country, her body violated and possessed by the modernist demon (in either its communist or consumerist guise), is made vile and aggressive, as disfigured and offensive to the patriot himself as to the world she now threatens.

For those who can see clearly what we have become and can bear to gaze at an America whose image the world over is shaped by CNN’s video clips of the victims of depraved adolescent murderers, their hapless and deracinated parents, and the New World Order’s destruction of Yugoslavia (while soulless bureaucrats chirp their “regrets” over “collateral damage”), the revulsion felt and the desire to explain to any foreigner—or fellow American, for that matter—who will listen that this is not America but a nameless something else is almost overwhelming. At the end of the American Century, the America we love—and so many long for in silence, as “nostalgia” is deemed “reactionary” and “sentimental”—is preserved only in tiny islands of sanity: a small town where the people still answer the call of church bells (there are a few); the rapidly filling plains, deserts, and mountains of the West, our mythic American landscape; regional accents that somehow persist; and in the island of the patriotic imagination. America, like occupied Russia before her, still lives because a memory of her persists.

At the end of the American Century, the price of global empire has become evident. We are losing our country: Some even advise emigration. To where? The Russian patriot Sergei Bulgakov once wrote that only “suffering love gives one the right to chastise one’s own nation.” American dissidents should remember the example of those Russian exiles who, like Solzhenitsyn, suffered in their loving chastisement of a perverted Russia and have now returned to share her fate. No real life in a foreign land is possible for us, even if the America we have exists only in the soil we stand on and in the piercingly painful memories we possess. As long as we have them, there is hope.