Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Soviet Threat Compared

Belmont Club has been talking about Solzhenitsyn and how his words seem so apropos to today's situation in the Middle East. He has excerpted an entire speech in his post. There are as usual many comments, some insightful. I'm struck by how despairing the speech is. Wretchard, who is on the right in his politics, should reflect on how wrong Solzhenitsyn was about our will to resist the Soviet Union.

Here's my Readers' Digest version for you:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn - speech at Harvard, 1978

A Decline in Courage

may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life.

Legalistic Life

Western society has given itself the organization best suited to its purposes, based, I would say, on the letter of the law. …

…If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. …

… 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. 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. …

… A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him, parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. …

… Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil. …

… And what shall we say about the dark realm of criminality as such? Legal frames (especially in the United States) are broad enough to encourage not only individual freedom but also certain individual crimes. The culprit can go unpunished or obtain undeserved leniency with the support of thousands of public defenders. When a government starts an earnest fight against terrorism, public opinion immediately accuses it of violating the terrorists' civil rights. There are many such cases.

Such a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil has come about gradually but it was evidently born primarily out of a humanistic and benevolent concept according to which there is no evil inherent to human nature; …

A Fashion in Thinking

Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. ... a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevent independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. … This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of petrified armor around people's minds. … It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events. …

Shortsightedness

… However, the most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam war. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or communist, self-determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or dothey prefer not to hear? The American Intelligentsia lost its [nerve] and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your shortsighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing pause; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small Vietnam had been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation's courage. But if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small communist half-country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future? …

Loss of Willpower

… 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. …

… 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 … 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.

… Liberalism was inevitably displaced by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism and socialism could never resist communism. The communist regime in the East could stand and grow due to the enthusiastic support from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see communism's crimes. …

… As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness. …

Wretchard also has an excellent post comparing two well-written viewpoints demonstrating the crucial distinction in American thought concerning the Clash of Civilizations.

Posted:

8/17/20064:24 AM

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3 Comments:

At Friday, August 18, 2006 12:36:00 AM, Blogger Frank Warner said...

Good post.

I noticed that Solzhenitsyn said we have to be "ready to die," as opposed to willing to die.

With strong will, we must be willing to live free.

 
At Friday, August 18, 2006 8:55:00 AM, Blogger mal said...

interesting post. What would he have of us? He is critical of the very things that have made us stable and strong. There is always the law of unforseen consequences. Assumptive in his whole statement is that perfection must be inherent to the system. Is that even possible? It is worth tearing up the merely good and risking the bad to attempt perfection? Or are we best waiting for the system to show that its problems exceed its benefits?

Despite his experiences, I wonder if he was not a Utopian?

 
At Friday, August 18, 2006 4:29:00 PM, Blogger jj mollo said...

Well, I agree with most of what he says here, but his solution is different. He wishes for us all the become more spiritual, and to accept the authority of the Church to a much greater degree than we do.

I personally believe that secular government is the way to go, but it has certain blatant incapacities, such as mercy, decency and honesty, and even practicality. Politicians cannot, for instance, ever take action based upon their best judgment. They must sail very close to the wind of public opinion. Unfortunately, public opinion is wretchedly uninformed, especially in these complicated times. At the same time, they always sail with the anchor of special interests dragging them back. Judges also can never choose to do the right thing rather than the legal thing. Congressional guidelines and stupid laws have become more and more restrictive, giving judges less and less leeway to use the good sense we selected them for. In short, we are forced by excessive legalism to follow a somewhat disfunctional algorithm.

Don't get me wrong, its better than the alternatives, as Solzhenitsyn would be quick to agree.

I disagree with Solzhenitsyn concerning the quality of the people. We are just as brave and tough and capable as we ever were. We just disagree with one another so vehemently that we can't take action until there is absolutely no mistaking the unchecked course of events. We are unable to address Global Warming, even after Katrina. We are unable to service the national railroad infrastructure. We are unable to fight for Cuba's freedom. We are unable to counter terrorism adequately. Only 9/11 gave us license to take a few small steps toward the direction of freeing the slaves of Iraq and protecting our own borders.

Think about how we addressed nicotine addiction. It was a very slow process, replete with massive denial of common sense as well as the scientific results. How many people could have been saved by more expeditious action?

What I propose is a change to the government. Leave the structure as it is, but add a fourth branch which could be called the People's Informational Collective. This would be (... oops, have to go. Be back Sunday probably)

 

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