Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Thoughts From Solzhenitsyn

I was listening to Ravi Zacharias this afternoon. He name dropped Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the author of The Gulag Archipelago, commenting on a speech the latter made at Harvard University in 1978. I first made acquaintance with Mr. Solzhenitsyn while reading Warren Carroll's The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution, and while I would like to one day read The Gulag Archipelago, time constraints have prevented me from doing so as yet. The speech, however, is much shorter and I was able to digest the whole thing. Solzhenitsyn writes:

And yet -- no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. 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. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time and betrayal.

As I have freely admitted, much to my shame, initially I fully supported every facet of the President's War on Terror. One reason for my duplicity was my disgust at the protestations of liberal peaceniks. It is one thing to oppose an interventionist war; in fact, it is a very sound thing. But it is quite another to pretend that Saddam was not a tyrant and to suggest that it was Bush who should be tried for war crimes. It is one thing to take a hammer to a horsefly. It is another to pretend the horsefly doesn't exist at all. It might be best to simply ignore the horsefly, just as it would have been best to simply ignore Saddam; but we do not ignore him because he isn't a dictator, but rather despite the fact. It is important not only to make the right decisions, but to make them for the right reasons.

About the time the punditry started clamoring for war, I listened to a great deal of talk radio. I have since graduated to books, though I still like to listen to Drudge when I have the chance, but much of my political philosophy was formed during these late night sessions of listening to various callers to the local radio show expound rather less than eloquently about the topics of the day. One of the points the callers and the hosts would make was that, essentially, liberals were cowards. They lacked willpower. And at the risk of generalizing completely, there is much truth to the statement. Liberals couldn't recognize the evil of Saddam just as they couldn't recognize the evil of the Soviet Union. If they do recognize it, they fail to stand up and condemn it.

And no, the internal combustion engine isn't evil, even if it might be unpleasant and obnoxious. But even here liberals lack the willpower to do something about the allegedly terrible problem. Even if everyone sees An Inconvenient Truth one hundred times, until people start acting to rectify the pending danger, we are still doomed.

This is not to say that conservatives are models of excellence. Even casually supporting such pathetic candidates as McCain, Giuliani, and Romney is itself an act of extreme cowardice. But conservatives still generally recognize the concept of evil, and however misguided they currently are, it's not hard to guess from which idealogical camp would come our saviors in the case of a genuine invasion. I'll bet their apartment that liberals in Manhattan wouldn't stand with the boys from Texas were genuine evil to creep into the United States. Of course this is infinitely worse in Europe where Islam will, in matter of decades, completely engulf what was once Christendom. This is not to suggest that Islam is, ipso facto, evil, that is a matter for another day; but without a resurgence in courage, it's not hard to guess what will become of once mighty Europe.

Western thinking has become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost, there should be no changes. This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see that oceans no longer belong to the West, while land under its domination keeps shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by far not on a world scale, not yet) have meant internal self-destruction of the small, progressive West which has thus prepared its own end. The next war (which does not have to be an atomic one and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization forever.

One of the more fascinating aspects of Solzhenitsyn's speech is his inability to conform to strict idealogical camps. He emphatically condemns Socialism, but does not come close to endorsing the Western way of thinking. He condemns liberalism as the road to Communist hell, pardon the redundancy, but he also correctly equates reactionary conservatism with cowardice.

Lest the reader think I fail to apply the obvious to myself, my conservatism stems, I think, largely from my feelings of the futility of political action. I have ideas, a few of them even contain value, but ultimately all revolutions must be cultural, not political.

I strongly object to the idea that humans are purely materialistic creatures. Capitalism has created levels of prosperity previously unheard of, and for a larger portion of the population, even considering the entire world, than had been done prior. But it has left a spiritual vacuum which conservatism and liberalism cannot fill, even supposing that either camp recognizes the existence of such a vacuum. Conservatives lack the willpower to fill this spiritual vacuum, even as their camp is more likely to take religion seriously. It is perhaps unkind to suggest, but the Evangelical movement seems to attempt to fill the spiritual vacuum by creating one in their heads. The process seems less than fortuitous.

Facing such a danger, with such historical values in your past, at such a high level of realization of freedom and apparently of devotion to freedom, how is it possible to lose to such an extent the will to defend oneself?

I would answer that the shallower one's existence, the more value one places upon it. The saints seemed almost entirely unaware of their saintliness, or at least possessed the good sense to feign unawareness. When one lives in a world wherein the individual is the yardstick whereof all things are measured, the world is a terribly small place. But as small and perhaps even silly as it is, it must be clung to for it is literally all that there is. On the other hand, the saints had the sense that there was something else out there, and death, however horrible, was not the end, and in that sense not necessarily tragic.

Chesterton observed that "Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die." And so it is. But we do not possess a very strong desire to live, and until we find that basic passion for existence which is all but ubiquitous in less cynical times, neither will we possess a readiness to die, though die we certainly shall. This is how pitiful westerners die, not with a bang, but a whimper.

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