When the recently-deceased Russian dissident, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, gave his now famous address to Harvard thirty years ago this summer, he warned us that we should not buy into the belief that all nations longed for American style democracy.  But this is precisely the thinking that is behind the philosophy promoted by President Bush at the present moment. It makes the late Solzhenitzyn look even more like a prophet when you read his words these thirty years later.

What Solzhenitsyn observed in the summer of 1978 was a "decline in courage" in America. He noted that this decline had impacted the West deeply. He believed that this had changed "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?" We had turned the "pursuit of happiness" (which did not mean what we now think it means in modern times) into a private goal, resulting in a materialism that replaced our moral and character development. "Today," he added, "well-being in the life of Western society has begun to reveal its pernicious mask."

And for good measure he suggested that our modern stress on individual rights has begun to erode any interest in 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." For good measure he added, "Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as . . . misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime and horror."

He was particularly alarmed at the American notion that everyone is entitled to "know everything . . . We have the right to not stuff our souls with gossip, nonsense and vain talk." And all of this was said before there was a CNN, Fox News or MSNBC to fill us with 24/7 nonsense. I wonder if anyone heard him then. I doubt that more than a few are willing to hear him today, including most Christians who love their private rights and pursuits more than the love of their brothers and sisters.

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  1. jp August 20, 2008 at 8:24 am

    the article on him in the Weekly Standard titled, “Man of Courage” is a must read.
    re: Democracy…2 issues here. first removing a rouge dictator(and Terror Sponsor) like Saddam is a seperate issue from what to do after the regime is removed. Which is basically either let them have a Democracy or instal a pro-Western Dictator.
    then of course you have the examples of Japan and Korea, who at the time everyone said they couldn’t possible have Democracy either, and over time that has been proven wrong., although the American presense I would concede that in effect Oppress the dictorial forces from rising up and seizing power(with guns) is the biggest reason its been a success.
    imperferct world, there aren’t any perfect solutions that the Civil govt. can pursue. Although I don’t think its unreasonable, given the tremendous gains over the last 50 years in japan/Korea, to think it couldn’t be done again. but with an american military presence of course.
    Japan and Germany were very Nationalistic and Militaristic in WW2, after being Defeated absolutely, and what we did afterwards in Reconstruction. I think its interesting how neither of them are a threat today, the way Russia is re-emerging as. The world is wealthier as a result too.

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