Solzhenitsyn True and False, Part III
By David Henderson
A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West, while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger. Six decades for our people and three decades for the people of Eastern Europe; during that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. Life’s complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting characters than those generated by standardized Western well-being.
More interesting? Possibly. Stronger in the sense that they have learned to deal with regular extreme oppression? Sure. Spiritual training? I doubt it. Although my sample size is small, my experience of people from Soviet countries, and the experience of friends who have had experience with people in Soviet countries, is that people who grew up in that environment necessarily had to learn NOT to trust people and had to learn to lie as a way of life. I’m wondering if AS is generalizing from his own self and from a small group of Soviet citizens who weren’t that way.
The Western way of life is less and less likely to become the leading model.
Of course people in every society learn to take pieces from other cultures and so the “Western way of life” has not dominated, but it certainly has had a huge effect.
There are various meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society–the decadence of art, for instance, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then; the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.
He’s almost certainly referring to the New York power blackout during the summer of 1977. And, from the reports I saw at the time, it seemed as bad as he says. But it’s one example. Think of the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, when there were numerous instances of heroism and little looting. The social system has survived more or less intact.
Very well-known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: We cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against Communism’s well-planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events.
I’m not familiar enough with Kennan to judge whether AS has summarized his viewpoint accurately. I agree with his critique, though, as did Ronald Reagan. So score one for AS. Note that Reagan was moralistic–see his famous speech at Moscow State University–and did triumph. So I can hardly criticize AS for this. He may have well identified correctly one of the elements of beating Communism.
And while I don’t endorse everything in this particular paragraph from Reagan’s speech, notice that Reagan strongly disagreed with AS:
Freedom, it has been said, makes people selfish and materialistic, but Americans are one of the most religious peoples on Earth. Because they know that liberty, just as life itself, is not earned, but a gift from God, they seek to share that gift with the world. “Reason and experience,” said George Washington, in his farewell address, “both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. And it is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
The American intelligentsia lost its nerve, and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your shortsighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing space; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small Vietnam had been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation’s courage. But if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small Communist half-country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future?
I think we know how this prediction worked out. Even with much of the intelligentsia losing its nerve, we didn’t have “a hundredfold Vietnam.” And, of the USSR and the USA, we know which one crumbled.
To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being.
I agree with the first clause, although it’s important to remember, a la George Patton, that it’s even better not to die, though ready. Again, though, as I mentioned in a previous post on this speech, we have over one million people in the U.S. armed forces who have stepped to defend the United States. (I’m not saying that that’s what they’re doing–I’m saying they are committed to defending the United States in the unlikely event that our existence is threatened.)
The next war (which does not have to be an atomic one, and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization forever.
There have been many such wars since 1978, a good number of them, unfortunately, being instigated by the U.S. government. We’re not buried yet.
At that, 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, on the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred years ago–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. Meanwhile, state systems were becoming increasingly materialistic.
I’m not sure he has U.S. history right. I don’t read either the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, or the U.S. Constitution as making rights conditional on “constant religious responsibility.” I do think also that he exaggerates the extent to which Westerners, especially Americans, have moved away from Christianity and he definitely minimizes the extent to which we, whether religious or not, are merciful and willingness to sacrifice.
The Communist regime in the East .could stand and grow, thanks to the enthusiastic support of an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship withCommunism and refused to see its crimes. When they could no longer ignore them, they tried to justify them. In our Eastern countries, Communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.
This is absolutely on target. Notice, though, that the West did withstand the East.