Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – A great man to remember

Canada’s National Post commemorated Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who passed away August 3, 2008 in his home near Moscow.

* Article contains a reference to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Commencement Address, Delivered At Harvard University, June 1978: A World Split Apart.

** Quoted from the article:

“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,” he [Solzhenitsyn] said in his famous address at Harvard in 1978. “But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.”

The argument that Solzhenitsyn made at Harvard -the argument he brought with him into his American exile — was that it is not merely enough to be free, but that freedom must have a purpose. A society that seeks to secure freedoms in law, but nothing more than that, is aiming too low. To be sure, it is better to have freedom than not, but the mere capacity to choose freely does not correspond to our noblest aspirations. It matters what we choose — that we choose wisely that which is good, and just, and worthy and beautiful.

Much of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s criticism of the moral and social decline of the West is also expressed by others, such as Milton and Rose Friedman,

A society that puts equality—in the sense of equality of outcome—ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.  The use of force to achieve equality will destroy freedom, and the force, introduced for good purposes, will end up in the hands of people who use it to promote their own interests.

Milton and Rose Friedman
in Free to Choose: A Personal Statement
(Milton Friedman won the 1976 Nobel Prize for Economics)

Solzhenitsyn’s and the Friedmans are justified in their criticisms.  In his Harvard Commencement Address, A World Split Apart, Solzhenitsyn stated,

As humanism in its development was becoming more and more materialistic, it also increasingly allowed concepts to be used first by socialism and then by communism, so that Karl Marx was able to say, in 1844, that “communism is naturalized humanism.”

It is curious that Solzhenitsyn did not mention one of the major causes of the move towards the totalitarianism of materialism in the West that is now making inroads in Russia and also in China.  Perhaps, given that he went through some divorces, he did not consider it important, even though in 1978 the West had already experienced the loss of the protection of individual freedoms through the abrogation of the social institution capable and designed to offer that protection, the traditional nuclear family.  Nothing other than the sovereignty of the family is able to offer that protection throughout all of society.

The family teaches about the profound differences between two fundamental concepts, equality of opportunities and equality of outcomes, of which the government-sponsored and -enforced implementation of the second one is one of the worst forms of totalitarianism by governments and other social agencies.  In the words of Solzhenitsyn, in his Harvard Commencement Address, A World Split Apart,

When the modern Western states were being formed, it was proclaimed as a principle that governments are meant to serve man and that man lives in order to be free and pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration of Independence.) Now at last during past decades technical and social progress has permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state.

True freedom is the exercise of free will to explore equality of opportunities, to achieve excellence that, if one has the capability and drive to excel, equals that of the best.  Against incredible odds, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn achieved excellence that equaled and even exceeded that of many literary giants.

The totalitarianism of materialism (Karl Marx’s “communism is naturalized humanism”) results in mediocrity, in serious handicaps for those able and willing to be productive or excel, through forcing them to transfer ever larger portions of their wealth to strangers (rather than to family members) who are either not capable or willing to provide for themselves and others.  That is happening in our society to such ever greater proportions that we rank the importance of asset and income equalization to benefit strangers over the importance of providing for the loved ones in our families, so much so that now ever-increasing numbers of people even find animals (pets that is) to be more important than their own offspring.  They opt out, in ever larger numbers, from having children of their own, and, if failing to prevent conception of children, to use abortion as a deadly form of birth control that terminates the lives of about 50 million children (euphemistically called “fetuses”) each year in the World.

That no longer is charity but the most deadly outcome of totalitarianism there is and ever existed.  It makes little difference whether that comes from ideological indoctrination or through government diktat.  How much deadlier can any totalitarianism be than to make people to become unable to maintain their existence and to have them kill unborn children to be able to achieve that objective?

Perhaps, if Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would have been able to deliver another commencement address, 30 years after the one he gave at Harvard, he would have focused more on the ultimate deadliness of totalitarianism by means of materialism, but he did not.

Not all journalists are entirely uncritical of Solzhenitsyn:

Traditional Prejudices
The anti-Semitism of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

Cathy Young | May 2004

Of all books I ever read throughout my life, Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1963) is amongst a handful of books that are the most moving and most powerful I came across.

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2 Responses to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – A great man to remember

  1. Don, in your comment at you stated that “Solzhenitsyn was much more than just a novelist. He was a chronicler and historian. And he was the only living Soviet who did this to such an extent. He filled a dark void and it is hard to imagine a world without his contribution.”

    That is largely true, but it is not quite correct that he was the only Russian who did the sort of research of history you described. There were not many who did so, but he was not the only one to do it. In his own words, he gives credit for doing that sort of research also to the mathematician Igor Shfarevich, in his foreword to Shafarevich’s book, The Socialist Phenomenon:

    While it makes use of a voluminous literature familiar to specialists throughout the world, there is an undeniable logic in the fact that it emerged from the country that has undergone (and is undergoing) the harshest and most prolonged socialist experience in modern history. Nor is it at all incongruous that within that country this book should not have been produced by a humanist, for scholars in the humanities have been the most methodically crushed of all social strata in the Soviet Union ever since the October Revolution. It was written by a mathematician of world renown: in the Communist world, practitioners of the exact sciences must stand in for their annihilated brethren. [My emphasis –WHS]

    The critical aspect of that is that thousands upon thousands of historian in the USSR were exterminated, so that it was only a few individuals like Solzhenitsyn and Shafarevich who were not even historians who survived and did what untold numbers of historians died for in trying to do.

  2. The following pointer is by Donald Hank, to a letter from Aleksander Solzhenitsyn to Ronald Reagan

    August 13th, 2008 LAIGLESFORUM

    Aleksander Solzenitsyn, tragically misunderstood by America

    By Donald Hank

    Solzhenitsyn is known as a writer who addressed issues like the lack of freedom in the USSR, for example, in his novels “Gulag Archipelago” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.”

    But few are aware that his greatest contribution to the world was his thorough fact-finding research on the early years prior to the Russian Revolution and the first years thereafter….(Full Story:

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