Life really does imitate art in the case of two men who visited Harvard: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet novelist, and Charlton Heston, the actor.
As it turns out, these two men spoke to Harvard during the birth years of the millennial generation and what they had to say was nothing less than prophetic.
In 1978, as described in Robert P. George’s paper “Solzhenitsyn’s Prophecy” (Mr. George was then a graduate student at Harvard and now he is a law professor at Princeton), Mr. Solzhenitsyn warned America as we were just beginning of our slide into oblivion characterized by a loss of faith in our country, its institutions, its principles, its culture, and its way of life.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn viewed the weakness of the West’s willingness to stand up to Soviet aggression as the fruit of materialism, consumerism, self-indulgent individualism, emotivism and narcissism. We had become too focused on rights rather than obligations.
We had come to embrace a false idea of liberty, conceiving of it as doing as one pleases, rather than the freedom to fulfill one’s human potential and honor one’s conscientious duties to God and neighbor. At the heart of this moral confusion and collapse was a loss of faith and the virtue of courage.
Mr. George goes on to say that in another speech several years later, Mr. Solzhenitsyn went further in his analysis, indicating that the moral decline in the West had behind it the same factors that produced the horrors of communism, that having to do with the title of his address “Men have forgotten God.” Specifically, they worship themselves, deify their own desires, fall into an idolatry of self, after which a catastrophe always ensues.
His prescription to remedy our otherwise fatal ailment?
What has been forgotten can be remembered.
“Remember God to a world that has forgotten him,” Mr. Solzhenitsyn said. “By the example of your lives, as well as by the words of your mouths, you must be the salt and light that repairs what is broken and points the way to true freedom for those who have fallen into forms of slavery that are all the more abject for masquerading as liberation.”
In 1999, Mr. Heston warned Harvard about the culture war in America, in which, with Orwellian fervor, certain accepted thoughts and speech are mandated. He spoke to them from Martin Gross’s book, “The End of Sanity”: “blatantly irrational behavior is rapidly being established as the norm in almost every area of human behavior …. new customs and rules, and anti-intellectual theories twisted on us and foisted on us from every direction … .turning the mind mushy when it comes to separating truth from falsehood and right from wrong”.
Mr. Heston warned that society telling us what to think has evolved into telling us what to say and that telling us what to do would not be far behind.
Accordingly, he charged “the best and the brightest,” that if their generation that comprised the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation since Concord Bridge continued to validate and abide by these trends, then they were, by their grandfather’s standards, cowards. Hence, he urged them to disobey the trends. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely.
But when told how to think or what to say or how to behave, don’t. Disobey the social protocol that stifles and stigmatizes personal freedom.
He urged them to “disavow cultural correctness with massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives and onerous laws that weaken personal freedom. So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow the hallowed footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God’s grace, built this country.”
Do I hear an amen?
Andy Caldwell is the COLAB executive director and host of “The Andy Caldwell Show,” airing 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays on KZSB AM 1290, the News-Press radio station.