Back in 1978, Solzhenitsyn gave a commencement speech titled A World Split Apart. He dwells on the West, however since he paints with the palette he knows, we get a picture from Russia.
ie. he barely manages more optimism than your average tankie death cult... Solzhenitsyn blames everything -- from the West's workaholism to the Socialists' `es ist mir egal-itarianism' -- on our failure to find a work-life balance.
Back in the USSR of 1978, this meant finding a "no work"-life balance. With labor misallocations across the board, people had plenty of mental time on their hands, which Solzhenitsyn believes fostered a deep spirituality. Of course, spirit and soul is what you say people have when you have taken everything else from them. What they actually have is rampant alcoholism.
To Western eyes, his search for the reasons why the world is in this state is the saving grace of this piece. Though one can read that as just a sop for the parents.1
Many of you have already found out and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us as soon as our concentration begins to flag, all the while leaving the illusion that we are continuing to pursue it. This is the source of much discord.
For what truths can you hope to learn from the Tatar Yoke, or Socialism, or Kleptocracy?
On a personal level, Solzhenitsyn understands freedom and its loss, while also feeling conflicted about both. A morose speech can then be expected as he himself was exiled, deracinated from the culture he knew. Was he happy? No. Did he opt for the hemlock? Obviously not.
Socially, though, he does not understand freedom and he has none of the defenses and tools we take for granted. Consequently, his mystification and fumbling presages not only Fareed Zakaria's 1997 Foreign Affairs' piece, "The Rise of Illiberal Democracies", but his eventual return to Russia.
Every ancient and deeply rooted self-con-tained culture, especially if it is spread over a wide part of the earths surface, constitutes a self-contained world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking. As a minimum, we must include in this China, India, the Muslim world, and Africa, if indeed we accept the approximation of viewing the latter two as uniform. For one thousand years Russia belonged to such a category, although Western thinking systemati-cally committed the mistake of denying its special character and therefore never understood it, just as today the West does not understand Russia in Communist captivity. And while it may be that in past years Japan has increasingly become, in ef f ect, a Far West, drawing ever closer to Western ways (I am no judge here), Israel, I think, should not be reckoned as part of the West, if only because of the decisive circumstance that its state system is fundamentally linked to its religion.
But the persisting blindness of superiority continues to hold the belief that all the vast regions of our planet should develop and mature to the level of contemporary Western systems, the best in theory and the most attractive in practice; that all those other worlds are but temporarily prevented (by wicked lead-ers or by severe crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension) from pursuing Western pluralis-tic democracy and adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in that direction. But in fact such a conception is a fruit of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, a result of mistakenly measuring them all with a Western yardstick.
When the modern Western states were being formed, it was proclaimed as a principle that govern-ments are meant to serve man and that man lives in order to be free and pursue happiness. (See, for ex-ample, 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.
If one is risen from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be right, and urge self-restraint or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrif i ce and self l ess risk: this would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: everybody strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames. (An oil company is legally blameless when it buys up an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food prod-uct manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to purchase it.) I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any ob-jective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take full advantage of the full range of human possibilities. Th e letter of the law is too cold and ! formal to have a benef i cial inf l uence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes mans noblest impulses.
And what shall we say about the dark realms of overt criminality? Legal limits (especially in the United States) are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also some misuse of such freedom. Th e culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency all with the support of thou-sands of defenders in the society. When a government earnestly undertakes to root out terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorists civil rights.
The press can act the role of public opinion or miseducate it. Th us we may see terrorists heroized, or secret matters pertaining to the nations defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intru-sion into the privacy of well-known people according to the slogan Everyone is entitled to know every-thing. (But this is a false slogan of a false era; far greater in value is the forfeited right of people not to know, not to have their divine souls stuf f ed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk. A person who works and leads a meaningful life has no need for this excessive and burdening fl ow of information.)
Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within Western countries, exceeding that of the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary. Yet one would like to ask: According to what law has it been elected and to whom is it responsible? In the Communist East, a journalist is frankly appoint-ed as a state of f i cial. But who has voted Western journalists into their positions of power, for how long a time, and with what prerogatives?
Without any censorship in the West, fashionable trends of thought and ideas are fastidiously sepa-rated from those that are not fashionable, and the latter, without ever being forbidden have little chance of fi nding their way into periodicals or books or being heard in colleges. Your scholars are free in the legal sense, but they are hemmed in by the idols of the prevailing fad. Th ere is no open violence, as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to accommodate mass standards frequently prevents the most independent-minded persons from contributing to public life and gives rise to danger-ous herd instincts that block dangerous herd development.
It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world the way to successful economic development, even though in past years it has been sharply of f set by chaotic inf l ation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisf i ed with their own society. Th ey despise it or accuse it of no longer being up to the level of maturity by mankind. And this causes many to sway toward socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.
But should I be asked, instead, whether I would propose the West, such as it is today, as a model to my country, I would frankly have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Th rough deep suf f ering, people in our own country have now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just enumerated are extremely saddening. A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human personality in the West while in the East it has become fi rmer 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. Th e complex and deadly crush of life has produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting personalities than those generated by standardized Western well-being. Th erefore, if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly signif i cant points.
There are telltale symptoms by which history gives warning to a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, a decline of the arts or a lack of great statesmen. Indeed, sometimes the warnings are quite explicit and concrete. Th e 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. Th e smooth surface fi lm must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.
This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very foundation of thought in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world in modern times. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was born in the Renaissance and has found political expression since the Age of Enlightenment. It became the basis for political and social doctrine and could be called rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the pro-claimed and practiced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of all.
Subsequently, however, all such limitations were eroded everywhere in the West; a total emancipa-tion occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrif i ce. State systems were becoming ever more materialistic. Th e West has fi nally achieved the rights of man, and even excess, but mans sense of responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistic self i shness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the celebrated technological achievements of progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twen-tieth centurys moral poverty, which no one could have imagined even as late as the nineteenth century.
The communist regime in the East could endure and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who (feeling the kinship!) refused to see communisms crimes, and when they no longer could do so, they tried to justify these crimes. Th e problem persists: In our Eastern countries, communism has suf f ered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. And yet Western intellectuals still look at it with considerable interest and empathy, and this is pre-cisely what makes it so immensely dif f i cult for the West to withstand the East.
If the world has not approached its end, it has reached a major watershed in history, equal in impor-tance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will demand from us a spiritual blaze; we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed, as in the Middle Ages, but even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon, as in the Modern Era.