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Solzhenitsyn’s call for courageous voices

At First Things, Robert George recalled the moment in 1978 when he attended the annual Harvard commencement address. “A man with a craggy face and a beard,” a Christian novelist speaking in Russian with simultaneous translation, delivered the speech. His name was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

He was known as a critic of the Soviet Union which had put him in the Gulag. But at Harvard he criticised the West for “its abandonment of its own moral and, especially, spiritual ideals and identity”.

Solzhenitsyn, wrote George, “viewed the West’s weakness, including its weakness in truly standing up to Soviet aggression, as the fruit of the materialism, consumerism, self-indulgent individualism, emotivism, and narcissism – in a word, the immorality – into which we had allowed ourselves to sink.”

Notably, Solzhenitsyn. observed that “A decline in courage may be the most striking feature, which an outside observer notices in the West in our days.”

This was true today, George reflected, when courage is needed to stand up for the unborn, for migrants and refugees, or for the true definition of marriage. But those who speak out face “abuse and defamation. And these days it goes well beyond unpleasantness. To speak moral truth to cultural power is to put at risk one’s social standing, one’s educational and employment opportunities, one’s professional advancement”.

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