Exiled Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn shocked Harvard graduates during a commencement address on this day in 1978 by censuring the West as stridently as he did the East, "The fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of evil have begun their decisive offensive. You can feel their pressure, yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?"
He went on to assert that "a decline in courage may be the most striking feature that an outside observer notices in the West today." He then ominously exhorted, "Must one point out that from ancient times a decline in courage has been considered the first symptom of the end."
Of course since he gave that great address, the Soviet threat has dissapated and the West has gone on to ever greater heights of splendor, glory, and prosperity. Solzhenitsyn's warnings seem to have gone unneeded as well as unheeded.
This past week however, I reread the entire address, reprinted in Solzhenitsyn's remarkable A World Split Apart. It was published by Harper and Row in 1978, but long ago passed out of print. Thankfully, it is now available online. Once again, I was stunned by its relevance and prescience. With the Islamic threat now looming even more ominously than the Soviet one did just thirty years ago, I have to wonder anew: will we have the courage of our convictions? Will we have convictions of courage? Will the West continue to be the West?