The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alexander’s Words

On June 8, 1978, Alexander Solzhenitsyn gave a commencement speech at Harvard University [hat tip: The Belmont Club]. Almost 30 years have passed since his words were first uttered, but many of his ideas are timeless. I present excerpts will a comment here and there.

Any ancient deeply rooted autonomous culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the earth's surface, constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking.

Solzhenitsyn refers to the “Muslim world” as one of these “autonomous cultures.” It’s obvious that our Western thinking has not adequately absorbed the meaning of Islamic thought, but it’s equally obvious that a significant minority of Islam has telegraphed its thinking to us and that a significant minority of the Western world refuses to listen to the message.

Solzhenitsyn also provides a criticism of present day neo-con thinking when he states:

But the blindness of [Western] superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction. However, it is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet's development is quite different.

This is all true, and bolsters the Left’s contention that we are arrogant and thoughtless in our dealing with Islam. But wait … there is more.

At the same time that Solzhenitsyn criticizes our arrogance, he also suggests that we lack to courage to meet threats squarely:

A Decline in Courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.

Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?

Today, courage must be measured not only in our restraint (which Western nations exercise to our collective detriment), but also in our ability to act with purpose when evil is present. It takes courage to recognize that war demands sacrifice – of the lives of our young warriors, of the lives of our adversary, and yes, of the lives of innocents who live among them. It takes courage to understand that words and "negotiation" do not always prevail, no matter how much we want them to; that better understanding of our adversary’s grievances does not mean that our adversary will desist from his drive to kill us.

It also takes courage to recognize that the rights and freedoms defined in our constitution were never intended to threaten the safety and stability of our nation. In what can only be called a prescient moment, Solzhenitsyn addresses this:
The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.

From 30 years in the past, Solzhenitsyn posed stll another critique that is appropriate for the present:
The press too, of course, enjoys the widest freedom. (I shall be using the word press to include all media). But what sort of use does it make of this freedom?

Here again, the main concern is not to infringe the letter of the law. There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? If they have misled public opinion or the government by inaccurate information or wrong conclusions, do we know of any cases of public recognition and rectification of such mistakes by the same journalist or the same newspaper? No, it does not happen, because it would damage sales. A nation may be the victim of such a mistake, but the journalist always gets away with it. One may safely assume that he will start writing the opposite with renewed self-assurance.

Blogs have become the MSM’s conscience, but in essence, Solzhenitsyn’s words remain true. He continues:
Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified, they will stay on in the readers' memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters, pertaining to one's nation's defense, publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: "everyone is entitled to know everything." But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era: 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.

Solzhenitsyn concludes with a sobering thought:
Western thinking has become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost, there should be no changes. This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see that oceans no longer belong to the West, while land under its domination keeps shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by far not on a world scale, not yet) have meant internal self-destruction of the small, progressive West which has thus prepared its own end. 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.

Facing such a danger, with such historical values in your past, at such a high level of realization of freedom and apparently of devotion to freedom, how is it possible to lose to such an extent the will to defend oneself?

Maybe answer lies in the word “defend.”

In the new war – a war that I suspect Solzhenitsyn saw coming, defense alone cannot and will not succeed. With our current adversary, a policy of reaction (let them strike, then we’ll react) is the policy of fools and cowards. We must recognize threats and act before they are delivered. If we do not, this war “may well bury Western civilization forever.”