This TV segment is from mid-November, but we’re running it now because of all the news about Solzhenitsyn. It starts with a discussion of the US mid-term elections, and how uncivil the tone is in the US, and then has a very good discussion of Solzhenitsyn.
His famous and prescient 1978 Harvard speech “A World Split Apart” very accurately predicted the current culture clash in the West.
He specifically calls out excessively individualistic ideology in the Western world as one that will lead to future decline and decadence:
“The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless… Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence.”
This decadence can be seen in various clips of vicious fighting in the American mid-term elections. What democracy can endure when such extreme hatred, rather than collaboration, is normalized between the two main political parties of a country?
On Tuesday, the mid-term elections were held in the USA. The bottom line is President Trump strengthened his position in the upper chamber of the American parliament. He gained a majority in the Senate. It means there will be no impeachment. Trump will remain in office.
But in the lower chamber of the Congress, in the House of Representatives, Trump lost his position. Now, he has a minority there. Since it is the Congress that determines the country’s foreign policy, this means that it will be obviously impossible to agree on major issues with Trump. Trump has only a consultative role.
Also, the governors were elected. An interesting fact — among all the governors in the USA, there wasn’t and there still isn’t a single black governor after these elections. Think what you like. Not a single one.
The number of women in the House of Representatives grew — on the wave of the feminist movement. There is even the first openly lesbian from an Indian tribe, which is considered a huge achievement of American democracy. And there’s the first Muslim as well which is also widely discussed as something unusual.
The distinctive feature of the US election campaign was extraordinary fierceness and unrestrained rudeness. There’s an example. CNN’s political observer, Anna Navarro, casually calls President Trump a “racist pig” on air, and this was received calmly as something ordinary.
This style, however, reflects the deep irreconcilability and even hatred which is shown to each other by the two American camps — the Republicans and the Democrats.
Since the bloodthirstiness in the split American elite won’t disappear after the election, the USA will face nothing good with such an attitude of the upper crust. They have no sobering experience of civil conflict.
There are no restraining motives. But the exasperation is growing. There is a situation in the elite when everyone hates and everyone is hated. At the same time, the culture of the political struggle is falling apart.
There’s an important point — Nikolai Berdyaev wrote about the primacy of culture for the sustainability of society.
“In society’s life, spiritual primacy belongs to culture. It’s not politics or economy but culture where the goals of the society are fulfilled. The value and quality of the public are measured by a high-quality cultural level.”
That is, the quality of culture determines the quality of the public. This brings to mind the famous Solzhenitsyn speech at Harvard University. Soon, we will be celebrating Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s centenary.
With the anniversary coming up, I’d like to turn to his thoughts on the symbol of the West, America, that he knew so well, he used to live there while in exile. What was said 40 years ago turned out to be a prophecy, because it sounds relevant, even fresh, and intellectually bold.
Alexander Isaevich spoke then about the “blinding of superiority” and “the fall of courage” as a “sign of the end.” He spoke of the need for moral criteria and that legal restrictions are never enough for the society. At that time, intellectual America applauded to the words.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “I’ve 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.”
Further, correlating the interests of the individual and the society, speaking against anthropocentrism, against the uncouth man as a measure for everything.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless. Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence.”
Harvard listened then with bated breath, after all, Solzhenitsyn spoke about the very core of the ideas of Western democracy.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at the beginning of the journey.
On the way from the Renaissance to our days, we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete 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.”
It was a call to rise to light self-restraint and to be able to leave this life as a being that’s higher than the one at the beginning of the path. Solzhenitsyn called material America and indeed humanity to go to the next as he put it, “anthropological level.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that human life and society’s activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?”
Yes, it is extremely instructive today to consider ourselves in the light of such deep and sublime thoughts of Solzhenitsyn. To consider ourselves and America where Solzhenitsyn sounded so powerful 40 years ago.