Tue, Sep 2 2008
LETU political science professor Dr. Paul Kubricht shared opinions on death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. His op-ed was featured in the Aug. 16 issue of the Longview News-Journal
Just before the Russian invasion of Georgia, some may have noticed the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the famous Russian writer and intellectual who helped expose the horrors of Stalin’s purges and prison camps. He raised his voice at great risk against the misery and cruelty of the gulags and spoke out against totalitarianism and its materialistic philosophy. His impact on the moral collapse of the Soviet Union was immeasurable. A regime without moral authority is doomed.
Aside from a newspaper note, I was wondering who, today, knew anything of his warnings or even cared. The actions of Solzhenitsyn and the discussion of his ideas in the mid-1970s seemed so long ago -- even his speech at Harvard challenging western materialism and humanism seems to have melted into the past. Has anybody remembered his words? Today his warnings seem to be a distant memory if it is a memory at all. I keep thinking that this could happen again.
Then out of the blue a student of many years ago, now a professor at a major university, sent me an email upon the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I had no contact with her for many years, but something about his death prompted her to reflect on what we had studied and discussed after reading one of his most famous works, The Gulag Archipelago over 30 years ago. Somebody was remembering.
The American love affair with Solzhenitsyn began to sour after his Harvard speech when he challenged and criticized the West’s lack of moral authority and “civil courage.” He challenged the welfare state and the materialist premise it was built on—are “things” really the solution to our problems? The West was losing its humanity and experiencing “a tilt of freedom in the direction of evil.”
But intellectuals are supposed to be prophets not politicians, trying to win elections by telling Americans how good they are. Solzhenitsyn challenges us to think about who we are and what our purpose should be.
I am willing to argue that Solzhenitsyn was a prophet and a "truth-revealer"—I appreciated this in the 1970s. Yet, somehow our prophet who could see through the moral and spiritual failures of Soviet communism and a materialistic West, appears to have approved of Putin and disliked Yeltsin (who may have been a "drunk," but he seemed to have more commitment to peaceful solutions than Putin has evidenced).
One writer has compared Solzhenitsyn to Pope John Paul II. Well, maybe, but what about their fruits? The pictures of Russian tanks and bomb damage as it invaded an independent, democratically functioning neighbor are sobering. Where was the prophet in the 1990s as Putin was rising to power? What caused him to see the inconsistencies and challenges of Soviet communism and materialism in the West, yet ignore what was happening in his own country to freedom and liberty as the authoritarian Putin rose to power?
Solzhenitisyn’s call for self-restraint in the West needed to be preached in the East.
Dr. Paul Kubricht teaches history and political science at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.