- In Solzhenitsyn's death on August 3, at 89, there passes
one of the few truly great men of our time. Not only a courageous individual,
but also one of rare insight. Whether such prophets are honoured in their
own Time, let along their own land, is another matter.
- Solzhenitsyn was born in 1918, at a time when the Bolsheviks
had not even consolidated their power. Serving during World War II in the
Soviet Army, he was sentenced to ten years of prison camps and internal
exile for critical comments about Stalin to a friend.
- After the death of Stalin, and eventually a new regime
eager to give the impression of a different era, Solzhenitsyn's first and
only book published in the USSR, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch,"
appeared in 1962. However, Solzhenitsyn could not be co-opted by the new
regime and was exiled from the USSR in 1974.
- Solzhenitsyn also refused to be co-opted as a Cold
Warrior defender of the liberal decadents of the West, as the Trotskyites
had been. In fact he offended liberal sensibilities. His rejection of the
Communist system was on the grounds of its spiritual impoverishment, its
materialism and mass conformity, and in this he saw a parallel in the West's
liberalism. Unlike most of the other Soviet dissidents, he was not a liberal-democrat,
or a potential neo-con. He therefore made enemies among both the liberal
literati and the corporate power elite such as those among the New York
Times, and the likes of Henry Kissinger, who had in 1975 blocked Solzhenitsyn
from visiting the White House, and had attempted to block his being awarded
honorary citizenship by the Senate.
- In 1978 Solzhenitsyn was invited to give the Commencement
Address to Harvard. (Available from Renaissance Press, <http://www.freewebs.com/renaissancepress>www.freewebs.com/renaissancepress).
Here he analysed with depth and vision such as few have, the fundamental
malady of Western Civilisation. He declared that the West had lost its
moral courage, starting at the top among the ruling elite and the intellectuals.
Solzhenitsyn traced the decadence back to the ideology dominant in the
West, lambasting the Western ideal of the happiness of the greatest number
and a freedom that becomes licentious. Decades of technical and social
progress had granted the masses the accumulation of goods, but also spiritual
and moral impoverishment; happiness "in the morally inferior sense."
This has led to the desire for ever more possessions, "without opening
the way to free spiritual development." The excess of leisure and
affluence had undermined any notion of the defence of higher values and
of sacrifice. Drawing on the lessons of biology, Solzhenitsyn warned that
"habitual safety" is not conducive to the well-being of an organism.
- Politically also nothing great could be achieved, because
any sign of statesmanship and the need for far-sighted action would be
stifled by this desire for "habitual safety." The outstanding
individual could not assert himself; mediocrity triumphs in the name of
- "It is time in the West to defend not so much
human rights as human obligations."
- "Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been
granted boundless space."
- "Society appears to have little defence against
the abyss of human decadence."
- Solzhenitsyn castigated the press for its freedom to
be misleading, immature and superficial, devoid of in-depth analysis. The
direction of standards by fashion and conformity is every bit as stifling
as conformity of the Communist variety, and both led to the "herd."
- In the West human weakness is cultivated; in the East,
strength. The East had endured decades of suffering and privation, and
from this crucible had emerged the soul longing for what is "higher
and purer." The West offered by contrast "TV stupor" and
"intolerable music", artistic decadence and the lack of statesmanship.
- This Western decline had been advancing since the ideological
foundations laid in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, emerging as
rationalism and humanism. From this emerged Marx and his communism. (Solzhenitsyn
was to elsewhere refer to the natural alliance that had developed between
capitalism and communism, alluding to Armand Hammer as having opened up
contracts with the USSR since the time of Lenin; a relationship that had
built Soviet military power).
- Solzhenitsyn challenged humanity to rise to new spiritual
- The speech was a shocking blow to the Liberal Establishment.
The New York Times called Solzhenitsyn "dangerous". The Boston
Globe called him the "mad Russian." He was condemned by neo-con
guru William Buckley, and by liberal columnist Arthur Schlesinger Jr. The
Washington Post called him "irrelevant" to democracy. Rosalyn
Carter, friend of that paragon of liberalism, Rev. Jim Jones, responded
with total incomprehension. Solzhenitsyn could not be co-opted to the liberal
cause. It seemed mighty ungrateful. He did not fit in with the Western
intelligentsia, and refused to compromise his writing style for the sake
of popular culture. He lived not among the rootless cosmopolitans but among
the woods of Vermont.
- Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994, but equally
he would not be co-opted by a post-Communist regime that sought to import
the liberal decadence he had decried in the West. He held capitalism in
disdain, opposed the way the oligarchs were talking over the post-communist
economy and held to a vision of Russia as having a unique culture and destiny,
under the impress of Orthodox faith. Therefore he refused the Order of
St Andrew offered by Yeltsin, paragon of the type of liberal rot the West
wished for Russia. But he did accept an award from Putin.
- Solzhenitsyn was the embodiment of the Russian soul,
as such not itself of the "West" (see Spengler, Decline of the
West), but provided a detached analysis of what ails the West Civilisation.
We continue to ignore his wisdom, while Russia seems to have embarked on
a course of revival based on the crucible of suffering that leads to spiritual
- Kerry Bolton is the Editor and Publisher of Renaissance
Press in New Zealand.