Monday, August 4, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn 1918-2008

Solzhenitsyn died yesterday. It is a loss for the world. A true man of conscience because he was a man of faith. He lives beyond faith now. He wrote The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, a book that blew the lid off the Soviet regime under Stalin, exposing the lies that communists and their sympathizers in the West had been believing and promulgating about the workers' paradise and all that nonsense. Alexander Solzhenitsyn is perhaps best remembered in this country for his 1978 Harvard commencenment address, in which he turns his prophetic charism, just as his fellow Slav, JPII, who was also from a communist country, would do for over twenty-five years upon being selected to walk in the shoes of the fisherman later that year, on the decadent West. Here is a section of that speech- Humanism and Its Consequences:
"How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

"This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.

"The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man's physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.

"However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the Twentieth century's moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the Nineteenth Century."
These are truly prophetic words. I encourage you to read A World Split Apart. A diaconal bow to Dr. Francis J. Beckwith for directing me, from the blog WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE WORLD, to the Columbia University page of Solzhenitsyn's speech and to Sharon for linking me to Dr. Beckwith's post.

As the Orthodox say, May his memory be eternal.

UPDATE 18:24: In the NY Times a young Russian man, named Anton Zimin, age 26, demonstrates that, while there are challenges, Solzhenitsyn's charism lives on in the Russian people. He observes: "'The problem is that now, it’s all about consumption — this spirit that has engulfed everybody,' Mr. Zimin said. 'People prefer to consume everything, the simplest things, and the faster, the better. Books are something that force you to think, reading books requires some effort. But they prefer entertainment.'"

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