As I continue to read through my diary entries of traveling in Moscow and Leningrad the summer of 1976, I came upon something of interest on Day 23 of our 36 day trip. You see, I keep looking for clues of what Solzhenitsyn was referring to when he lambasted the Harvard academics at what is now considered his infamous speech to the 1978 Harvard graduates. Solzhenitsyn’s heart remained firmly fixed in Russia while his physical presence was supposedly transplanted in a much safer U.S. He had some important wisdom to impart to these fledgling, American academicians.
Now after all these years, Solzhenitsyn is considered a “prophet” while others would deride him as a doomsdayer for the future of our democratic country. However, I think from what I observed 32 years ago while traveling such a short time in Russia, Solzhenitsyn was right about many things but perhaps not on target about what he could not possibly understand as a Russian who was NOT immersed in American life. He tenaciously held on to life in his Motherland and looked forward to the day he could return to Russia in 1994. Did Solzhenitsyn as a prophet predict that he would be able to return to Russia and live there for another 14 years in the very place that put him through gulag hell? I wonder.
Columnist Cal Thomas had his remarks about Solzhenitsyn’s passing with his recent article titled “Solzhenitsyn did the work of a prophet.”
“The Russian novelist observed that a ‘decline in courage’ has affected the West and especially, ‘the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society…Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?’…What about America’s emphasis on individual rights? Solzhenitsyn said the result has been to ignore the welfare of the many: ‘The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.
There was more to disturb the self-satisfied intellectual elite. Surely faculty members at Harvard must have gnashed their teeth in the face of this remonstrance: ‘Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror.’ According to Solzhenitsyn, life organized around laws and the individual has shown an inability to ‘defend itself against the corrosion of evil.’”
I really need to find the script of Solzhenitsyn’s speech to Harvard and read it in its entirety. The following is my observation of Russian communist thought as spoken by our tour guide named Olga on May 26, 1976:
“Olga was asked if she liked the monastery (part of our spirituality tour) and she stated that she hated the church because during the Revolution, the church was revolting against the people who accepted the communist regime. She said that they didn’t care about the people and persecuted them, they even burned stars into them and beat them. She thought that the church was far too rich and selfish while the people starved and needed help.
Once when Kathy (my friend in tour) was taking a picture of a cute little boy on a trainer bicycle as about 4 others had done, Olga reproached her. Kathy didn’t know what to say to, “Don’t take that picture, you want to make him think he is a hero?” The whole mindset is for the good of the group, no one is to stand out unless he’s done something bad, then he is punished by peer group displeasure. They also don’t know how to accept praise, Olga was embarrassed when she was complimented on her grammar.”