On the occasion of the death of Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, The New York Times, Sunday August 10, 2008 spoke truth on page 7 of its section on “The World.”
Anne Barnard, in “Today’s Kremlin: Too Elusive for a Solzhenitsyn?” wrote: “From Tolstoy to the poet Anna Akhmatova and the dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, the most respected Russian intellectuals have traditionally functioned not just as cultural figures but as national symbols, moral beacons and speakers of truth. Mr. Solzhenitsyn was one of several titanic figures who staked their lives on that mission – to ‘defeat the lie,’ as he put it – undeterred by exile and imprisonment.” She goes on: “Today, in an atmosphere of far greater freedom in private life than existed in the Soviet period, there are no towering cultural figures who command the respect that Mr. Solzhenitsyn did in his prime. Instead of moral clarion calls, literary novelists write profanity-laced satires of consumerism. Most opposition politicians have faded from the scene rather than push to the limits against growing authoritarianism.” Barnard then goes on to explain that the lack of “towering cultural figures” is due “partly because a new generation of Russians is now awash in the global tide of infinite consumer choice.”
On June 8, 1978, Solzhenitsyn proclaimed at a Harvard class day: “But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. 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. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned are extremely saddening.”
And that is the key that Anne Barnard emphasizes. She quotes Boris Messerer, a famed Bolshoi Ballet designer who remarked: “A great conflict gives birth to great people.” The era of Mr. Solzhenitsyn was “an obvious conflict between people of conscience and the authorities. Today, we don’t have that kind of conflict.”
The supreme danger now is that supreme power is exercised by few but without making martyrs. The cunning of the new situation – in Russia as well as here – is to reduce the absolute of truth such as God and moral value to relativism, increase materialist consumption and political loyalty. She quotes: “Just please by loyal to me and then you will be totally free in what you do with your private life.” Again: “Shreds of ‘truth’ appear in bits and pieces; on independent Web sites…” but that is all. God and the moral absolute are not denied. They are simply made a hobby.