The Day Solzhenitsyn Chickened Out

Gary North – December 12, 2019

Alexander Solzhenitsyn did not fear the Soviet establishment. But he feared a humanist twerp educator, so he remained silent in the face of petty tyranny.
I learned of this only this week. I was astounded at what I’m about report.
This much is well known. In 1978, Solzhenitsyn gave a lecture at Harvard against the humanism of the West and specifically the United States: A World Split Apart. He accused the West of a loss of courage.
Maybe 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. . . . Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end?
He then said this:
In today’s Western society, the inequality has been revealed of freedom for good deeds and freedom for evil deeds. A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly; there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him, parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that every single step of his is well-founded and absolutely flawless. Actually an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set out for him. Thus mediocrity triumphs with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.
Two years later, he faced a test. He then imitated the weak-willed, frightened bureaucrats whom he had criticized at Harvard.
In November 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the presidential election. The following brief story was published in The New York Times almost a quarter century later. It was reprinted on the Free Republic site the next day.
A Cold Morning in Vermont
By JOHN TIERNEY
Published: June 13, 2004
IGNAT SOLZHENITSYN understands why so many people have warm thoughts of Ronald Reagan, but one of his earliest memories is on the frigid side.
In 1980, Ignat was an 8-year-old transplanted to Vermont by his father, the famous chronicler of Siberia’s gulags. As Ignat tells the story, on the morning after the presidential election he got a taste of American political re-education at the progressive private school he and his brothers attended.
In response to the Reagan victory, the school’s flag was lowered to half-staff, and the morning assembly was devoted to what today would be called grief counseling. The headmaster mourned “what America would become once the dark night of fascism descended under the B-movie actor,” recalled Mr. Solzhenitsyn, who is now the music director of the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. “At one point he interrupted himself to inquire if anyone present did not share his gloomy view of the Reagan victory.”
The only students to raise their hands were Ignat and his two brothers, Yermolai and Stephan. After a stony silence, he recalled, they were sent outside, without their coats, to meditate on the error of their ways underneath the lowered flag. Vermont in November was hardly Siberia, but there was frost on the ground, and they spent an hour shivering and exercising to stay warm. Still, Ignat said, their political exile was a relief from sitting in the auditorium listening to the party line.
The American education system from kindergarten through graduate school is dominated by narrow-minded, arrogant, gutless little twerps like the headmaster of that unnamed academy in Vermont. They have run the show since about 1950, and they have behaved, on occasion, just like the petty fondling headmaster. They are gutless wonders, but in dealing with subordinates who are completely under their jurisdiction, they like to push people around. This is nothing new.
What was new was this: the father of these boys remained mute. This story did not reach the public until 2004. Solzhenitsyn died in 2008.
If he had had an ounce of courage in the face of that spineless headmaster, he would have called a press conference. From around the nation, reporters would have come. He then would have told them the story of what the twerp did to his sons. The story would have been reprinted in every major newspaper in the country. I suspect that the TV networks would have been there, too. Then they would have gone to the spineless twerp for an explanation. The spineless twerp, half chameleon and half jellyfish, would have folded. He would have apologized. He would have crawled on his belly in front of the media. If the Board of Trustees had recognized the threat to donations, they would have fired him. But he got away with it. He got away with it because Solzhenitsyn chickened out. Solzhenitsyn crawled on his belly in private. He ran for cover. He would not defend his sons.
He had not buckled to the threat of the Gulag Archipelago, but he buckled in the face of a spineless twerp who was in charge of some unknown, overpriced educational safe haven for rich liberals in Vermont.
If you refuse to defend your young sons, you are lacking in courage. If you can take on the American establishment in a paid speech at Harvard, but you can’t take on a spineless twerp who treats your sons like this, there is something missing in your worldview.
Why didn’t he pull his sons out of that school?
I regard him as probably the greatest single voice of prophetic courage in the 20th century. More than any other individual, he was responsible for undermining the reputation of the Soviet Union in the West, putting the lie to half a century of mild-mannered, halfhearted criticism of the USSR by the American intellectual establishment. Yet when push came to shove where it mattered in the lives of his sons, he ran for cover. He huddled in the corner afraid to say anything.
How can this happen?
It happens because people really are afraid of the American intellectual establishment, whose authority extends downward into the school systems. Parents learn early to shut up, buckle down, and fork over the money. This is true of the public schools; it is also true of elite private schools. People send their children to Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, where their own worldviews are undermined by the faculties. They keep doing it, generation after generation. It began at Harvard in 1805, when Congregational Calvinists sent their children to be educated in moral philosophy by the newly appointed Unitarian who held the position. The practice is still in force.
He ended his Harvard speech with this call to action.
Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society. Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual integrity?
If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.
Yet when push came to shove, he buckled. He paid a small fortune to send his three children to be educated by humanists, and his children paid the price early.
Christians should stop paying this price. They should stop paying humanists to educate their children.
In 2018, a literary magazine financed by the U.S. government published this article: “A Tiny Village in Vermont Was the Perfect Spot to Hide Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.” It may have been perfect for him, but it was not perfect for his sons.

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