VIDEO: [Epiphanyinnature] Jordan Peterson fills in the background on Alexander Solzhenitsyn [Sep. 08, 2017]
The “universal adulation of revolutionaries, the more so, the more extreme they are.”
“A certain retreat by the older generation, yielding their intellectual leadership to the younger generation.”
And, a loss of national will as America lurches towards totalitarianism and abdicates its will to resist.
Fox News excepted, that’s a defensible judgment on the American media.
It also describes the ascent of undemocratic Democrats led by social-media-savvy kids who still have to show ID in liquor stores, leaving an older generation of leftists at once admiring, and resentful that their life’s work is dismissed as a failure.
These words however, are not last night’s monologue from Sean Hannity. They are what Alexander Solzhenitsyn had to say on the BBC in March 1976.
The great Russian dissident and the USSR’s most ardent critic, had arrived in the U.S. two years earlier, actually forty-five years ago this month.
He was a twice-decorated war hero, a survivor of both cancer and eight years in the Soviet system of penal labour camps that he immortalised as ‘The Gulag Archipelago.’ For, he was a brilliant author in the grand 19th century tradition of Russian literature, a true heir to Dostoyevsky and the equal of Tolstoy. And, he was a devout Christian.
Notwithstanding official censorship and persecution, his writings had placed him in a unique situation. From the Politburo’s perspective, he was too famous to murder. But, as he directed his withering scorn first in one direction and then in another, he had become too great an embarrassment to the Communist regime to keep around.
Thus it was that in the course of 24 hours on February 12, 1974, he was deprived of his Soviet citizenship, exiled from the USSR and deported to Frankfurt.
The next day, he was received as an honoured refugee in the U.S.
Unfortunately, it did not take Solzhenitsyn long to conclude that much as the West affected to love liberty, it had become too used to good living to do much to keep it. He openly lamented that once, Russians and East Europeans placed America and its commitment to liberty upon a pedestal:
“In the fifties, after the end of the war, we literally worshipped the West. We looked upon the West as being the sun of freedom, the fortress of the spirit, our hope, our ally.”
And then, the heartbreaking realisation – symbolised above all by the cynicism of détente – that the people of the West didn’t really care. That the post-war West would willingly trade principle for peace and when that offer was no longer available, would hold out its own hands for the cuffs of totalitarianism.
He told a BBC interviewer, “Our Russian experience is vitally important for the West, because by some chance we have trodden the path the West is taking seventy or eighty years before the West. And now, it is with a rather strange sensation that we look at what is happening to you when many social phenomena are repeating what happened in Russia before its collapse. Our experience of life is of vital importance to the West, but I am not convinced that you are capable of assimilating it without having gone through it right to the end yourselves…. At the moment, the question is not how the Soviet Union will find a way out of totalitarianism, but how the West will be able to avoid’ the same fate.”
No doubt Solzhenitsyn knew it would be an unpopular message. And indeed, to the delight of his critics, events would soon appear to prove him wrong. Ronald Reagan was elected president. The soft-spoken but grimly determined one-time actor had nothing of the moral flexibility that Solzhenitsyn had condemned in the West. Together with Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher and a surprisingly courageous shipbuilding union in Gdansk, Reagan confronted the USSR.
And, as we all know now, the hollow and bankrupt shell of the ‘sum of all our fears’ collapsed in bankruptcy and disunity.
A few years later, Solzhenitsyn and his wife returned to Russia, where he died in 2008, declining proffered honours and still lamenting the country’s unhappy condition. (The USSR was gone, but not totalitarianism.) He was 89.
It would be easy to write him off as a person of such lofty ideals that no human jurisdiction could ever match the lofty heights to which his soul aspired.
As the Acton Institute’s John Couretas said of him in an admiring reflection upon his death, “There was something in Solzhenitsyn to offend just about anyone, East or West, liberal or conservative, who denied or avoided spiritual realities and moral truths in favour of comfort, worldly success and a too-easy accommodation with anything that smacked of lies.”
And yet today, his charge seems disturbingly fresh, that Western society “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.”
Thus, America today is a nation in which a party that would form government if it could, calls for ‘open borders…’
Where state and municipal officials will shield from a federal government that is at least trying to enforce the country’s laws, people – illegal aliens, – whose hope of citizenship is founded on the breaking of immigration laws in the first place… and then offer them the vote and all the privileges of American citizenship…
A nation in which voters choose for public office, candidates who would fail a high-school civics test…
A nation where freedom of speech is used by mobs to deny that same freedom to people they don’t like, and the idea that reasonable people can disagree on some things, is daily swamped in a tweet-storm…
Where justice is manipulated for political ends and the rule of law becomes the rule of lawyers…
Where masculinity is mocked…
And now apparently, a nation where a party seeks the destruction of a Constitution that not only recognised the inherent dignity of all people, but validated that aspiration by producing wealth, security and liberty for ordinary citizens on a scale not seen before in all the world.
Not for nothing do many Americans love freedom.
But, if election results are any clue, and they are, almost as many would ditch it in a moment, if doing so left them on top of the heap.
All is not lost. What the Romans called ‘virtue,’ is challenged but it is not dead. It is an interesting word, that connotes not only goodness but strength and determination. It can be lost: The Romans lost it in the end, and their empire fell to barbarians. But America has not yet lost its ‘virtue.’
What those of us must pray for who look to America, as Solzhenitsyn did before his ultimate disillusion, is that there will always be Americans who can see their country in the light of Solzhenitsyn’s warnings.
And then act, lest their ‘empire’ too, slip away from them. In Canada, we should notice Americans like that, and encourage them.
We should also be looking for Canadians like that too, and encouraging them. What Solzhenitsyn said of America, is as true of Canada. And God forbid that we should learn the value of freedom, by losing it.
Here is a transcript of the conversation between the BBC’s Michael Charlton and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.