Last week I mentioned that on June 8, 1978, a Nobel Prize winning author stood before Harvard’s graduating class and gave a speech that both offended and fascinated our nation. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet Army veteran arrested in February 1945 for speaking against Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend. He spent the next eight years in prison in the Gulag, eventually being transferred to a camp for political prisoners. It was out of this experience that Solzhenitsyn wrote his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
The Harvard speech was complex and somewhat disorganized, but Solzhenitsyn delivered it with conviction born out of his suffering. His listeners are now in their upper 50’s and have become some of the leading intellectuals, elites, and journalist of our day. I wonder if they listened? After laying the foundation that the world is perilously “split” culturally, economically, and philosophically, Solzhenitsyn offered five broad propositions.
1. Americans’ beloved “pursuit of happiness” is denigrated into a self-consumed, self-interested pursuit of materialism, which has serious consequences for the health and stability of the United States—especially since we’ve grown more litigious and misuse the legal system as the only means to solve social and personal problems.
2. Journalistic standards in the United States are morally bankrupt because it trivializes important events and people, shamelessly invades privacy, refuses to acknowledge errors in judgment, and has built up a comfortable collusion to prevent new views from reaching the marketplace of ideas. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.]
3. Intellectuals in the West continue to be enamored with the ideas of socialism, even though citizens of such regimes have repudiated its utopian illusion. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.
4. Americans’ treasured ideas of freedom are corrupted because there is no longer a belief in the existence of evil, leaving us defenseless against the evil of pornography and crime, and the very real possibility of our civilization’s destruction. As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.
5. The foundational reason for humankind’s woes and the West’s current weakness is the Enlightenment philosophy that we are independent from God and accountable only to ourselves, which has left us spiritually depleted and morally anemic. Taken together, these propositions add up to a major crisis for the human race. So what does Solzhenitsyn propose we do to avoid a catastrophe? We must cease from the deception that evil doesn’t exist. The dividing line separating it and goodness runs through every human heart. We must stir up our courage and resist evil wherever we find it, even if it means fighting it to the death. Finally, we must acknowledge God’s sovereignty over His creation, including us. No one on earth has any other way left but—upward.
Christopher Lasch, in his Culture of Narcissism suggests that our American culture is headed either for a totalitarian dictatorship or a spiritual awakening. Let’s pray for the latter.
(Elements of this summary are from a WordPress blog by D. Jeter 2007)