December 06, 2017

Solzhenitsyn’s Nearly 40-year old Address

I read Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 address to Harvard to see how prescient the great Russian sage was.  Some excerpts:
Truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter. A measure of truth is included in my speech today, but I offer it as a friend, not as an adversary.
He goes on to see a lack of courage in us, calling it the first sign of a nation’s end, primarily reflected in our lack of robust self-defense of Western values during the Carter years, i.e. not cringing and constantly in apology-mode.

The Trump win in some way would seem to negate this tendency and George W. Bush as well, who was unapologetic and courageous in his confidence as far as rebuffing opinion.  (Too confident on Iraq, alas.)

And on materialism...
So who should now renounce all this, why and for the sake of what should one risk one's precious life in defense of the common good and particularly in the nebulous case when the security of one's nation must be defended in an as yet distant land?
Even biology tells us that a high degree of habitual well-being is not advantageous to a living organism.
It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.
He goes on about our lack of depth, which is oh-so-much-more true now than even then:
“Everyone is entitled to know everything." (But this is a false slogan of a false era; far greater in value is the forfeited right of people not to know, not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life has no need for this excessive and burdening flow of information.) Hastiness and superficiality — these are the psychic diseases of the twentieth century and more than anywhere else this is manifested in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press; it is contrary to its nature. The press merely picks out sensational formulas.
More on our apology-itis:
It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world the way to successful economic development... However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of no longer being up to the level of maturity by mankind. And this causes many to sway toward socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.
The mathematician Igor Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliantly argued book entitled Socialism; this is a penetrating historical analysis demonstrating that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. 
And good spiritual stuff:
If, as claimed by humanism, man were born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to death, his task on earth evidently must be more spiritual: not a total engrossment in everyday life, not the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then their carefree consumption. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become above all an experience of moral growth: to leave life a better human being than one started it.
Most of the speech stands up well and serves as a present day diagnosis, but it’s hard to see his words about Russia as true (perhaps Poland though):
A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human personality in the West while in the East it has become firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. 
Russia’s soul has waned mightily and is committing suicide with vodka and low birth rates while enthusiastically supporting a pernicious leader for decades (Putin). They seem as about as morally comprised as a nation can be, so their rot post-Cold War has been alarmingly fast. As has been said of the pre-Vatican II culture - how good could it have been if it collapsed so quickly? - so too of Soviet.

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