Of good and evil: a warning to the West

This is a bit of a continuation to my column last week, “Of wind and waves,” reflecting on the elections in Macedonia and general turn of events.

“In addition to the grave political situation in the world today, we are also witnessing the emergence of a crisis of unknown nature, one completely new, and entirely non-political. We are approaching a major turning point in world history, in the history of civilization. It has already been noted by specialists in various areas. I would compare it only with the turning of the Middle Ages to the modern era, a shift in our civilization. It is a juncture at which settled concepts suddenly become hazy, lose their precise contours, at which our familiar and commonly used words losing their meaning, become empty shells, and methods which have been reliable for many centuries no longer work. It’s the sort of turning point where the hierarchy of values which we have venerated, and which we use to determine what is important to us and what causes our hearts to beat is starting to rock and may collapse. The two crises, the political crisis of today’s world and the oncoming spiritual crisis, are occurring at the same time.” This was written by Soviet dissident, the Russian Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book, Warning to the West, and is part of a speech he gave in America on July 9, 1975.

Sound familiar? “Settled concepts become hazy, lose their precise contours” — think of the institution of marriage, consider the “old” understanding that there are males and there are females, or ponder the thought that there is, indeed, objective truth. “Words lose their meaning, become empty shells…..” The only thing one needs to do to prove this is to turn on the computer, TV or radio, or open a newspaper or magazine and consider what is being said and written. Consider English author, thinker, and poet G. K. Chesterton’s prediction that “We shall soon be in world in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure.” A bit like California prosecuting people who use the “wrong” pronoun. Or, “We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four.” Chesterton, again. And come to think of it, we are already at that point.

Solzhenitsyn continues and while he is speaking and writing about communism (this is 1975), one could easily replace “communism” with other words, be they “secularism,” “progressivism” or “liberal fascism.” He writes: “In the twentieth century it is almost a joke in the Western world to use words like ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ They have become old-fashioned concepts, yet they are very real and genuine. These are concepts from a sphere which is above us. And instead of getting involved in base, petty, shortsighted political calculations and games we must recognize that a concentration of evil and a tremendous force of hatred is spreading throughout the world.” In another section of that speech he writes “Communism has never concealed the fact that it rejects all absolute concepts of morality. It scoffs at any consideration of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as indisputable categories. Communism considers morality to be relative, to be a class matter.” Who, I ask you, is stating these very same things in our world today?

Or consider this: “Among progressive people it is considered rather awkward to use seriously such words as ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Communism has managed to persuade all of us that these concepts are old-fashioned and laughable. But if we are to be deprived of the concepts of good and evil, what will be left? Nothing but the manipulation of one another. We will sink to the status of animals….Not to accept, but to reject this inhuman Communist ideology is simply to be a human being. Such a rejection is more than a political act. It is a protest of our souls against those who would have us forget the concepts of good and evil.” Over 2,600 years ago the Old Testament Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

I am a student of politics and history, but first, I am a student of human nature. Human nature, it must be said, is unchanging. That’s a fact. So when you try to remake mankind in your own image; when you believe in the perfectibility of mankind and institute policies at the government (any government) level to do that; when you use the tools and institutions of the spirit of this age — media, academia, think-tanks and NGOs, culture, and even some institutions of faith — in the service of your forced march to that perfectibility, then beware — you reap what you sow.

Coming back to Macedonia. While all of this bodes ill for Macedonia, the United States, and the West in general, Solzhenitsyn, writing in the 1970s and both before and beyond, wrote to warn us all. He had lived a life in a totalitarian country, in slavery, in an ideology that rejected God and placed Man, with a capital “M,” as god. His warning to us was not to give up or give in. He wrote “It is very dangerous for one’s view of the world when this feeling comes on: ‘Go ahead, give it up.’…..A very dangerous state of mind can arise….give in as quickly as possible, give up as quickly as possible, peace and quiet at any cost.”

Don’t give up! And remember, again, the wisdom of Solzhenitsyn: “A people which no longer remembers has lost its history and its soul.”

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