I thought this was a good analysis of the life of Alexander Solzhenitsyn Alexander Solzhenitsyn. We're reading "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" this year, so this is a "teachable" moment. I wonder how close his view is to the TOG point of view? This part seems particularly close to some of the TOG philosophy....
When he reached Vermont, the reality of who Solzhenitsyn was slowly sank in. Conservatives realized that while he certainly was an enemy of communism and despised Western liberals who made apologies for the Soviets, he also despised Western capitalism just as much. Liberals realized that Solzhenitsyn hated Soviet oppression, but that he also despised their obsession with individual rights, such as the right to unlimited free expression. Solzhenitsyn was nothing like anyone had thought, and he went from being the heroic intellectual to a tiresome crank in no time. Solzhenitsyn attacked the idea that the alternative to communism had to be secular, individualist humanism. He had a much different alternative in mind.
Solzhenitsyn saw the basic problem that humanity faced as being rooted in the French Enlightenment and modern science. Both identify the world with nature, and nature with matter. If humans are part of nature, they themselves are material. If humans are material, then what is the realm of God and of spirit? And if there is no room for God and spirituality, then what keeps humans from sinking into bestiality? For Solzhenitsyn, Stalin was impossible without Lenin's praise of materialism, and Lenin was impossible without the Enlightenment.
From Solzhenitsyn's point of view, Western capitalism and liberalism are in their own way as horrible as Stalinism. Adam Smith saw man as primarily pursuing economic ends. Economic man seeks to maximize his wealth. Solzhenitsyn tried to make the case that this is the most pointless life conceivable. He was not objecting to either property or wealth, but to the idea that the pursuit of wealth is the primary purpose of a human being, and that the purpose of society is to free humans to this end.
Solzhenitsyn made the case — hardly unique to him — that the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself left humans empty shells. He once noted Blaise Pascal's aphorism that humans are so endlessly busy so that they can forget that they are going to die — the point being that we all die, and that how we die is determined by how we live. For Solzhenitsyn, the American pursuit of economic well being was a disease destroying the Western soul.
He viewed freedom of expression in the same way. For Americans, the right to express oneself transcends the content of the expression. That you speak matters more than what you say. To Solzhenitsyn, the same principle that turned humans into obsessive pursuers of wealth turned them into vapid purveyors of shallow ideas. Materialism led to individualism, and individualism led to a culture devoid of spirit. The freedom of the West, according to Solzhenitsyn, produced a horrifying culture of intellectual self-indulgence, licentiousness and spiritual poverty. In a contemporary context, the hedge fund coupled with The Daily Show constituted the bankruptcy of the West.
Speaking for myself (not for Marcia!), I'd say there are SOME similarities between my view and Solzhenitsyn's but I'd want to identify some BIG differences, too. Here's a short list of the similarities and differences:
I agree that secular western materialism is a problem. It has been well said that nine out of ten Christians pass the test of adversity, but fail the test of prosperity... the affluence of the West may ultimately send more people to Hell than any government-run atheism ever does.
I would not agree that capitalism is evil in the same way that Marxism is evil, however. Democratic capitalism has created so much material prosperity and individual liberty that people think they don't need God. Prosperity and liberty are blessings, not curses.
I want to train up my children to stay true to God whether they live under Marxist tyranny or in capitalist affluence--but if I get to choose which one I'd prefer for them to live under, I'll choose peace and prosperity any day!
Here's an editorial by Cal Thomas. I wonder if the Imperial Russia that Solzhenitsyn loved was closer to the Holy Roman Empire. He rejected both communism and the materialism of the West.
Solzhenitsyn loved America, but said he couldn't recommend it in its present state as a model for his country: "Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive."
Here's his speech at Harvard.