“Truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit………..truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.”–Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard University, June 1978.
The death this week of Alexander Solzhenitsyn eliminates one more among the few really significant personalities who, along with Reagan, Thatcher, Pope John Paul II, and Lech Walesa, converged on the world stage at a crucial point in time to finally defeat Soviet totalitarianism. His emergence as a Russian dissident and novelist in the early 1960s provided transparency and moral condemnation to the horrors of the Stalinist regime during a period when there remained considerable sympathy for the communist model among fellow traveling leftists in the intellectual class in Europe and the U. S. Some of his most outspoken criticism, however, was of the crisis of moral courage in the West, and he continued to deliver a message of warning to the West of the need to arrest its decline into political weakness and cultural decadence.
Never was this message more eloquent or forceful than in his commencement speech at Harvard in June 1978, entitled “A World Split Apart”. This is a classic analysis of what he calls the decline of civil courage in the West brought about by the primacy of materialism and consumerism, destructive and irresponsible freedom, and the dominance of a humanism which has elevated personal autonomy to the exclusion of our moral heritage.
It is ironic that he had achieved a popular and official revival of sorts in Russia in recent years with the blessing of President Vladimir Putin, a period during which all indications are that the country is returning to autocratic rule and a tendency toward some of the forms of tyranny that he spent his entire life opposing. In fact, it would have been greatly beneficial to the Russian people and the country if he had been able to lead a “truth commission” to fully investigate, disclose, and enable some semblance of closure on the murderous lies and systematic terror of the Soviet regime. He might have been the only person with the moral authority to have led such a movement.