Alexander Solzhenitsyn died last week passing quietly with less recognition in the news than Paris Hilton’s campaign ad. Having read two of his works, Day in the Life of…, The First Circle, as well as some essays, in particular A World Split Apart, which was an address given at Harvard, it is my opinion he is one of the wisest and most prophetic voices of the last and current century.
Having fallen from being a “fire-breathing Communist” he turned to belief in a Capitalist society, but later turned to God believing Capitalism too had its flaws. In his Harvard address, he criticized what he said Americans promoted as “family morality” saying that, “The family is an ethical dead end.” What he meant by this is what I believe Jesus meant when he said, “What reward should you get for loving those who love you? Do not even the tax collectors and pagans do this?” and what Robert Wright intends to draw our attention to when he quotes Graham Greene’s whiskey priest in the Power and the Glory at the beginning of the Moral Animal, ” ‘This was the love he should have felt for every soul in the world: all the fear and the wish to save concentrated unjustly on one child. He began to weep; it was as if he had to watch her from the shore drown slowly because he had forgotten how to swim. He thought: this is what I should feel all the time for everyone…’ ” or what Darwin means when he says: “As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.”
And though I do not agree with all of his sentiments, especially on Vietnam, Solzhenitsyn also addressed, in his Harvard speach entitled “A World Split Apart”, what he referred to as the west’s “persisting blindness of superiority” and their “incomprehension of the essence of other worlds”. This address given in 1978 could not be more prophetic in a post 9/11 world. He states that haste and superficiality are the psychological diseases of modern western man. Is this not prophetic too?
He goes on to say this, “We cannot avoid reassessing the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities should be ruled by material expansion above all else? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual life?” Harvard attendees took his remarks as an attack on the western way of life, but that cannot change what Solzhenitsyn summed up in his most famous comment made at his Nobel address. “One word shall fell the world…truth.” He had encouraged Russians to speak the truth about Stalin Russia and he continued to speak the truth as he saw it until he died. Apparently the Harvard critics in the crowd were not comfortable with their own motto, “veritas”.
This is also a segment directly quoted:
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President’s performance be reduced to the question how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.
And he ends with this:
If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: We shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.
This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but — upward.