Image of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

The Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of “The Gulag Archipelago,” and 1970 Nobel laureate, in a 1978 speech at Harvard.

The speech is wide-ranging and some of it I agree with and some I don’t. But his comments on the problems of the unelected, irresponsible and influential “free” press are right on. As are his observations about our “legalistic” and hence amoral society, which focuses too much on “human rights” and not enough on “human obligations.”

He would certainly excoriate today’s younger generation for their flirtations with “socialism”:

However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current… Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. 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.

He lays the blame for the deterioration of the West in a lack of “courage,” and in the “despiritualized humanism” that originates in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. I have long thought exactly this: we kept the Enlightenment ideals, but jettisoned the morality, after the clever philosophers and scientists killed off God and put nothing in his place. (The Canadian political philosopher John Ralston Saul wrote of this “dictatorship of reason” in his 1992 book, “Voltaire’s Bastards.")

Solzhenitsyn claims the same disease affects the West that affects the East; with the difference that in the (now former) Soviet bloc, the people have suffered so long under human evil that they are ready to reevaluate their premises about human nature and our purpose in this life – which is not merely to achieve “happiness.” I wonder what he would make today of Bernie Sanders, AOC and the like? Not to mention our distracting “social justice” movements. Or even our political-military apparatus, which is so lacking in vision, moral courage and national unity that we cannot decisively win a conflict even against a much weaker nation. I do not think he would be kind to them.

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