A venerable masterpiece!
Photo from YU
Schneur commenting on Not Brisk turning it up a notch:
Bimechilas kevodo of the Rav; he had a Romantic and nostalgic view of Chassidus in Poland. Things were not as feigeldik as he decribes it. But the Rav was a darshan a master of homiletic, and as any good darshan and magid, you create an atmosphere imagined or real to prove your point. In Nefesh Horav, Rav Hershel Schacter has the Rav saying that good part of his droshes are theatrics, and of course thats true. See "Boston Boy" by Hentoff for a most interesting portrayal of the Rav as a preacher. Thousands of Chassidic young people were leaving the fold every year to become secular Jews, Zionists, Communists etc. The big Chassidic groups were not particularly spiritual, that's why Rebbes like the Piasecner, Reb Shimmele Zelichover, the Levertever, the Koznitzer and Chabad were gaining followers from the young people. Even those who stayed Chassidic joined groups like Zeirei Aguda and Poalei Aguda where politics was more important than other activities. See Mendel Piekasz's fine study of this subject in Hebrew, where he studies the state of Chassidus in Poland between the wars in depth. Rabbi Simon Huberband alludes to these issues in his book about religious life in the warsaw Ghetto.
Many Chassidim were not particularly learned either. That's another myth; as if the water carrier in Warsaw knew shas and the Vilner water carrier was a lamdan. Nonsense. Punkt farkert! until after the War you could be a good Orthodox Jew and not have anything beyond a cheder education. Today 99% of chassidim have attended yeshiva gedola and Kollel. Of course the pockets of chassiduth that did exist, were much more powerful than what passes as chassidus today. As I mentioned, you had spiritual Rebbes in Poland who were slowly rebuilding chassidus, like the Piasetzner and Levertever . You also had chavrayas studying Chabad, a network of shtieblech adhering to the teachings of Rav Kuk, and men like Reb Hillel Zeitlin HaY"d. But in general today's chassidim are much more learned in Gefes, if not in darchei hachassidus, And I presume the Rebbes of yore were more serious people. But let's not mince words, the Rav was wrong - Chassidus and chassidim have reconstituted themselves in the USA.
Let me add a controversial idea , I believe the last Lubavitcher Rebbe agreed with the Rav on this , and that's why he changed Chabad from a movement that stressed Avoda and "Haskolah" to a movement stressing pragmatic action. When the Hungarian and Galitzianer Chassidim started coming for dollars, I am convinced the Rebbe was a bit amazed that chassidus had grown in America with the classic levush, Yiddish, and the whole 9 yards, a lot of which had been left on the wayside by Chabad in America. Sure he saw some Chagas people in CH in the early 1960's but there was a tremendous shvachkayt there, Bobov in 1960 was not Bobov in 1980. But these groups were huge and more Chassidic by the 1970's and no longer in CH. I am sure the Rebbe would have been amazed to see life in BP in 1989.