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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Speech on Modernity: Zurich, 1974

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Speech on Modernity: Zurich, 1974

Alexander Solzhenitsyn boards a practice in Vladivostok in 1994. (Reuters)
In a little-known 1974 speech, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn decries the materialism of recent society and requires the institution of a ‘worthy equilibrium’ between humanity’s materials and religious considerations.

Editors’ notice: In 1974, just some months after being banished from the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn delivered an tackle in Zurich to the Italian Catholic Press Union. In its ambivalence towards modernity and its name for a renewal of religious and ethical values, it prefigures his a lot better-known Harvard graduation handle of 4 years later. The Zurich speech, translated by Solzhenitsyn’s son Stephan, seems right here for the primary time in English.

Preface by Daniel J. Mahoney, Vice-President and Chief Educational Officer, The Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Middle:

Within the first quantity of his riveting account of his years of pressured exile within the West, Between Two Millstones: Sketches of Exile: 1974–1978 (College of Notre Dame Press, 2018), Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn consists of an intriguing dialogue of the speech he gave in Zurich on the event of receiving the “Cliché d’Oro” (“Golden Matrix”) prize, awarded by the Italian Catholic Press Union for his actions resisting totalitarianism within the Soviet Union. The date was Might 31, 1974, simply three and a half months after Solzhenitsyn had been forcibly faraway from the Soviet Union, most instantly due to the publication of The Gulag Archipelago, first in Russian in Paris and shortly in lots of Western and world languages. That magisterial ebook had shaken the world and revealed for all to see the violence and lying on the coronary heart of the Soviet state, and of an inhuman Communist ideology. Its publication was, as we now know, a deadly blow to the legitimacy of the complete Marxist-Leninist enterprise, one from which the Soviet Union by no means recovered.

The Italian journalists have been anticipating a political speech, a fiery assault on the Soviet Dragon, as Solzhenitsyn referred to as it. Solzhenitsyn would give that speech on many different events. However in his Golden Matrix speech Solzhenitsyn selected one other strategy, one which addressed the bigger sources of the ills of recent civilization, of what the eminent political theorist Eric Voegelin has referred to as “modernity with out restraint,” a phrase that absolutely resonates with Solzhenitsyn’s personal evaluation of the continued disaster of modernity.

Solzhenitsyn’s speech was not instantly efficient: In reality, it “got here up towards a wall of deafness and a sea of silence” earlier than the viewers of well-intentioned however uncomprehending Italian journalists. But, as Solzhenitsyn himself would later observe, when he provided the identical evaluation in 1978 within the amplified setting of Harvard College, his message resonated around the globe.

The Golden Matrix tackle has sure benefits over the Harvard handle: It’s sparer, much less polemical, and maybe even extra weighty and philosophical. It’s also much less instantly preoccupied with the problems of the day. It’s high-minded in each sense of the time period. Eschewing narrowly political and grossly ideological classes, Solzhenitsyn offers a measured account of the “orbital journey” of recent man and the fashionable venture in each East and West. His tackle is a clarion name for civilized humanity to reject the theocratic temptations of the medieval world in addition to the materialist hegemony of an unbounded modernity. He requires the restoration of stability within the human soul and the human world: One should resist the tyranny of the religious — which forgets the centrality of human freedom to a life nicely lived — but in addition the debilitating opposing declare that Man is the very best measure of the universe. Solzhenitsyn calls on his contemporaries to have the knowledge “to find as soon as once more that man just isn’t the crown of the universe, however that there exists above him a Larger Spirit.” Attentive readers hear the voice of Solzhenitsyn, the conservative inexperienced, the eloquent critic of “merciless trendy tyrannies” and of the accompanying phantasm that socialism, coercive and devoid of upper religious content material as it’s, can restore stability to the human world.

The handle additionally features a luminous critique of “bloody bodily revolutions” (as in France after 1789 and the Soviet Union after 1917). They “lead to not a brighter future, however to worse perdition, to worse violence.” Each right here and within the Harvard handle, Solzhenitsyn suggestively traces the potential of a “ethical revolution” that may transfer past the excesses of modernity, but with out returning to the religious despotisms of the previous. He by no means advocates going again, solely up, from modernity.

This textual content is indispensable for understanding and appreciating the complete religious and philosophical knowledge of the far more well-known Harvard handle. We’re delighted to supply it to the readers of Nationwide Evaluate for his or her consideration and reflection.

— Daniel J. Mahoney 

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An Orbital Journey
Remarks upon receiving the Golden Matrix prize of the Italian Catholic Press Union
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Having acquainted myself with the rules that the Italian Press Union follows in awarding its prize — already for eleven straight years, this yr to me — I not solely categorical to you my gratitude, however should additionally admit a sure feeling of satisfaction in seeing such worthy and brave individuals among the many previous recipients — together with all the Prague youth motion of 1968.

They who impart this award immediately, and he who at this time receives it, have lived their lives as if on separate halves of the planet, in several worlds, totally different methods, purportedly separated by a chasm, reverse in all issues, and mutually unique. Nevertheless, if it have been so, then one couldn’t have recognized the widespread values which may provide the concept to award me this prize. Since such widespread values have been recognized, then maybe we will additionally generate a standard view on what’s transpiring on the earth at the moment, and perhaps even uncover in one another comparable aspirations, an identical resolve.

Dividing the world, primitively, into two techniques is the results of political judgment — a mediocre factor certainly. All political techniques, per se, use ready-made moral (or unethical) precepts, and thus occupy a low rung on the ladder of human consciousness and existence. They break off and alter course ceaselessly, every time the state of affairs modifications. As an alternative of serving to us ponder the state of the world right now, impassioned political labels quite lead us astray. If, then again, we want to grasp the true essence of the human situation in the present day, to gauge humanity’s hopelessness in addition to its hope — a aim which is, certainly, among the many greater goals additionally of the press — then we should rise to a degree properly above political characterizations, formulation, and recipes.

After which we will maybe see — although it should hardly gladden us — that the primary hazard isn’t that the world is cut up aside into two various social techniques, however that each methods are struck by illness, in truth a standard illness, and thus neither of the techniques, with their present worldview, augurs a wholesome end result. This illness has advanced organically over a number of centuries, by means of all of the happenstance of developments in particular person nations, and entered the very material of recent humanity. And if we take a distant vantage level, we will hint its path.

We — all of us, all of civilized humanity — have been seated and fixed onto a single, rigidly interconnected carousel, and have taken an extended orbital journey. Like little youngsters mounted on the carousel’s horses, we thought this journey can be infinite, all the time ahead, solely ahead, by no means sideways or askew. This orbital journey has been — the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, bloody bodily revolutions, democratic societies, socialist tasks. This journey needed to happen as a result of the Center Ages failed, of their time, to carry humanity’s course; as a result of the planting on Earth of the Kingdom of God was forcibly imposed, with important private rights being revoked in favor of the Entire. We have been violently pulled, pressured towards the religious, and so we tore away and dove — headlong and unbounded — into the Materials. Thus started an extended period of humanistic individualism, the development of a civilization based mostly on the precept that man is the measure of all issues, that man is above all.

This entire inevitable journey significantly enriched humanity’s expertise, however it has exhausted itself earlier than our eyes. The foundational errors that have been ignored originally of the journey now take their revenge. Having established man — with all his shortcomings and greed — as the very best measure of all issues, and having given ourselves over to the Materials, immoderately and with abandon, we’ve got now clogged up the works amidst profuse air pollution. We’re mired within the earth’s air pollution. It fills, clogs all spheres of our existence. Within the materials sphere this air pollution is by now all too evident to everybody. It has poisoned the air, water, the settled elements of the land’s floor, and is now spreading to the unsettled elements. It has been the unseemly reward for our mighty industrial endeavors, simply as within the on a regular basis lives of particular person individuals probably the most interesting ads, packaging, and plastics flip into piles of city refuse.

But in addition within the so-called religious sphere, this air pollution bombards and presses us: with heavy lumps unabsorbable by our eyes, ears, chests; with the incessant hammering-out of concepts that appear to resound as all-encompassing and self-evident however in actuality are helpless and shallow; with false science; with affectation in artwork — briefly, with every part that is aware of no duty above Man, that’s, above you and me and other people of our ilk. Our blustering civilization has utterly robbed us of a concentrated inside life, dragged our souls out right into a bazaar, whether or not of commerce or of celebration politics. Within the social sphere our centuries-long journey has introduced us in some instances to the brink of anarchy, in different instances to a secure despotism. In between these two grim outcomes, we see one democratic authorities after one other develop feeble and powerless earlier than our eyes — as a result of communities giant and small haven’t any want to set limits on themselves in favor of the Entire. This concept — that there should, in any case, be one thing Entire, one thing Larger than us, which we now have misplaced someplace alongside the best way, one thing that when positioned limits on our passions and our irresponsibility — now this concept is keenly adopted by merciless trendy tyrannies and duly displayed beneath the label of Socialism. However the show is fake, and the moniker — unexamined. In actuality, the previous 50 years have proven fairly clearly that additionally over there the plenty are however fodder for the prosperity of some people, probably the most nugatory and polluted ones at that.

That’s the reason the journey has turned out to be an orbital one: as a result of we tore ourselves from the maintain of violence, and into the maintain of violence we’ve got returned — not all of us but, however all are threatened, given the weakened will and distorted perspective which might be hallmarks of our widespread sickness. The orbit threatens to shut up ignominiously.

It will seem that human civilization is approaching a historic flip (in on a regular basis life and in worldview), one as vital because the flip from the Center Ages to Trendy Historical past — if solely we aren’t too careless or crestfallen to overlook it. It was your nation, Italy, that was as soon as first on the earth to point out us that earlier historic flip. Maybe now you’re additionally among the many first to really feel the depths of our present predicament. Given your eager sense, maybe you’ll assist us discover the types that may ease our transition to a better orbit, one the place we’ll study to maintain a worthy equilibrium between our bodily nature and our religious nature. Allow us to discover in our souls the stature to find as soon as once more that man is just not the crown of the universe, however that there exists above him a Greater Spirit.

The intimidating rhythm of life at the moment means we may have little time to make sense of this flip and to finish it — a lot much less time than we have been afforded within the unhurried move of the 14th, or 16th, century. In the meantime, the bloody expertise of the intervening centuries signifies that we should discover each finer and better types of transition. We’ve got discovered, already, that the convulsion of nation-states, their violent bodily overthrow, leads to not a vibrant future, however to worse perdition, to worse violence. And if there are to be salvific revolutions in our future, they have to be ethical ones — that’s, a sure new phenomenon, which we’ve but to find, discern, and convey to life.

— translated from the Russian by Stephan Solzhenitsyn, copyright © 2019

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