Solzhenitsyn on a decline in courage

Apart from having a vodka or two, giving thanks to God, and spending some time today reading Solzhenitsyn, I wanted to find some other way to honour the life of a man who has taught me so much and with whose story I have journeyed so intimately. [The fact that my paternal grandmother is Russian and has lived under some of the same conditions as Solzhenitsyn brings his words just a little closer to home for me.] So over the next few days, I will post some excerpts from Solzhenitsyn’s famous lecture – ‘A World Split Apart’ – delivered at Harvard University in 1978. The entire lecture can be downloaded here. Here’s Solzhenitsyn on courage:

‘A decline in courage [. . .] may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists. Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?’ – Alexander Solzhenitsyn, ‘A World Split Apart’ (A paper presented at the Harvard Class Day Afternoon Exercises, Harvard University, Thursday, 8 June, 1978).

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