March 5, 2022
Subject: Why Harvard Booed: Solzhenitsyn and Zelenskyy reveal America’s Real Crisis
Psalm 27:3 “Though an army should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear.”
“The fight is here. We need anti-tank ammunition, not a ride.”
That’s Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declining America’s offer to fly him out of Ukraine as Russia starts its invasion. He sounds a lot like a speech 247 years ago by Patrick Henry: “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”. This kind of courage in the face of certain death inspires an entire nation to fight against what seem to be impossible odds.
“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. From ancient times, declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end.” This speech, delivered 44 years ago, challenged America’s courage. This speaker was booed off the stage.
Who would question America’s courage? After describing the murder of millions of innocent people in Stalin’s Soviet labor camps in ‘The Gulag Archipelago’ and ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,’ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled in 1974. Four years later, Harvard invited him to give their Commencement speech. This was his first public statement since leaving Russia for America.
They expected a rebuke of Communism and praise for Western liberty and democracy. His speech, “The Exhausted West,” got him booed off the stage. Why? Solzhenitsyn began his speech well enough.
“When the modern Western states were created, the principle was that governments were to serve man and man lives to be free and pursue happiness. See the American Declaration of Independence. Citizens are granted freedom and material goods in such quantity and quality as to guarantee the achievement of happiness.” America is blessed with opportunity. But then he unveils the problem in America and the West.
“But should someone ask me if I would point to America as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would answer NO. The intense suffering that my Russia has been put through has led to a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Life’s weight has produced stronger character than that produced by Western well-being.”
Solzhenitsyn gives an in-depth analysis of America’s, not Russia’s, weakness: “The mistake made by the West can be defined as rationalistic humanism: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him, with man seen as the center of everything that exists. We turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new thinking did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man, nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. This gave access for evil, which in our days has a free and constant flow.” Remember, he wrote this in 1978.
As humanism became more and more materialistic, it made itself more useful by socialism and then by communism, so that Karl Marx was able to say that ‘Communism is naturalized humanism.’ We see the foundations for humanism and socialism: endless materialism, freedom from religion and religious responsibility, which under communist regimes reach the stage of anti-religious dictatorships.
This is typical of 18th century Enlightenment and Marxism. Not by coincidence all of communism’s meaningless pledges and oaths are about Man, with a capital M, and his earthly happiness. We see these common traits in the thinking of today’s West. But such is the logic of materialistic development.
America and the West have lost the principle of a Supreme Entity which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. 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. THIS IS THE REAL CRISIS.
But Solzhenitsyn 44 years ago, and Zelensky today, offer America the solution to its lack of courage: “Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life should promote materialism to the detriment of our spiritual integrity? Only moral criteria can help the West against Communism’s well planned world strategy. Facing such a danger, with such splendid historical values in your past, how is it possible for America to find itself in its present state of weakness?
To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die. There is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being.” As this week’s verse declares, there is no fear of death when you fear God.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.