Wow. My thanks to MK for passing along to me a link to a speech given by famous Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn on June 8, 1978, to graduates at Harvard. His recent death (last Sunday) has placed his name in the headlines once again, but his insightful comments and harsh “tough love” warnings about the direction the West is heading should be considered required reading by those who care about the state of civilization.
Here is a link to the text of the speech, which includes options to listen to the speech (a downloadable MP3 file, and two different embedded audio players) and PDF and Flash documents of the text for downloading:
It would be almost impossible to pick a favorite quote out of such a long, significant, well-crafted speech. But here are two that caught my eye…
“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 than the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.”
(Note: This comment was made concerning our society’s tragic and growing loss of the ability to restrain ourselves and our increasing dependence on legal creations to do the job for us. He is lamenting the lack of “voluntary self-restraint” — actually, he later refers to “voluntary, inspired self-restraint”.)
“There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.”
The comments on either side of the small statement above are also fantastic.
OK, I can’t resist! Here’s one more, in wrapping up his comments about the ultimate consequences of a society based on humanism:
“It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely helpless in front of the trials of our times. Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. 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 man’s 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?”
Argh! There is just too much good stuff in this speech! Forget the snippets — go read the whole thing for yourself. Any of you who read the speech will surely put me to shame with the snippets you may quote that are even more powerful. (And you are free to shame me in this way in the comments if you like!) If the snippets do anything, I hope they tease you into reading the entire thing.
It’s long, but it really is worth a read. It touches a broad swath of elements of our culture: media and fame, the press and the public, religion and humanism, government and politics, ethics and morality — even the impact of applied science and technology… Really, quite a tour de force.
Just click here to head on over to the American Rhetoric website and read it or listen to it for yourself. If what he said was true in 1978, it is only more so today. We need not be students of Bible prophecy to see that — we merely need eyes to see and ears to hear.