The Russian novelist and historian, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, was no friend of the Soviet Union but he had some hard words for the West as well. The following are few quotes from a commencement speech he gave to the Harvard class of 78′.
If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice, and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames. I have spent all my life under a Communist regime, and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.
And it will be, simply, impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.
Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.
Strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality and there even is considerably more of it than in the pauper and lawless Soviet society.
But it is also demeaning to elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have. After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.
We have more laws on the books than ever – but we have abandoned the Law. As Solzhenitsyn put it, our legal system is focused “on human rights instead of on human obligations.”
If Solzhenitsyn disliked what he saw as “TV stupor, revolting invasion of publicity, and intolerable music” back in 78′ then I wonder what he would say today? Facebook? MTV? 24/7 peddlers of junk news? I wonder if we have the ability to resist the temptation to be entertained when technology has made it immediately available on demand and relatively cheap?