"One word of truth will outweigh the whole world"
So once said Alexander Solzhenitsyn , Russian dissident, Nobel Prize laureate in Literature, exhile to US for 16 years, hero in his native Russia. He is perhaps most well known for The Gulag Archipelago, his account of the Soviet prison system in which he lived for many years. While I am not a Solzhenitsyn scholar, of course, I am in the ranks of a great many who find him an inspiration and modern prophet.
I read some of his Oak and Calf, a sort of literary bio. Among the more remarkable accounts therein is his record of how he preserved his writing during the years when his work was forbidden. He literally memorized — if my memory serves — entire books. He also would write in tiny print and save the rolled MS in cannisters which were then buried.
I often wished I had taken time to travel to his American home in Vermont in the ’80’s though it’s doubtful I could have met him. And, of course, he had his detractors in recent years — you can find a dissenting view here.
But on any account his life is remarkable: from a young soldier on the front lines in WWII to political prisoner to father (one of his sons is Ignat Solzhenitsyn, conductor and composer in Philadephia) to dissident author, Nobel laureate, exhile, a Soviet non-person, modern prophet, American resident, returning hero to his beloved homeland in 1994.
He seemd like the aged sage that would always be here — and so he is for some time to come if we will have the sense to remember the kind of thundering and wise things he said. I have excerpted below some of his statements from the famous speech he gave at Harvard on June 8, 1978 . It was not what Harvard wanted to hear, but they, and we, need to take to heart what he said.
I was sad to hear of his passing. Ironically I have been reading his novel Cancer Ward not knowing he had died. My friend, Steve Blakemore, posted about his death on his excellent Third Millenium faith email which you can join here . He quoted from Solzhenistsyn’s 1978 Harvard Speech and I enjoyed re-looking at it. I hope you will have time to savor — and receive a helpful jolt — from the comments excerpted below.
It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones. . .
We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.
After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor and by intolerable music.
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die.
It is not possible that assessment of the President’s performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline.
People also have the right not to know, and it is a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life does not need this excessive burdening flow of information.
Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press.
Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
Socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.
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…. There are no other criteria.
On the way from the Renaissance to our days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility.
Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil…was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature; the world belongs to mankind and all the defects of life are caused by wrong social systems which must be corrected.
Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror.
I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed….[However, yours is the opposite error, so I would say],whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.