I just finished reading The Russian Question at the End of the Twentieth Century, written 23 years ago now, and once again I find myself stunned by Solzhenitsyn’s perspicacity and profundity on the topics of modern geopolitics, œconomics and even the climate. He speaks with a moral clarity, urgency and conviction that few in his own day, let alone ours, can hope to match.
Here is what he has to say on the topic of the environment and climate change:
When a conference of the alarmed peoples of the earth convenes in the face of the unquestionable and imminent threat to the planet’s environment and atmosphere, a mighty power (one consuming not much less than half of the earth’s currently available resources and emitting half of its pollution) insists, because of its present-day internal interests, on lowering the demands of a sensible international agreement, as though it does not live on the same earth, then other leading countries shirk from fulfilliing even these reduced demands. Thus, in an economic race, we are poisoning ourselves.On the dangers of capitalist materialism:
The ruble-dollar blow of the Nineties shook our character in yet a new way: those who still possessed the kindly traits of a bygone time turned out to be the least prepared for the new way of life, helpless useless losers, unable to feed their families (a horrible feeling for parents before their own children!), and, suffocating, goggled at a new breed steamrolling over them with a new cry: ‘Booty! booty at any price! no matter if through fraud, rot, depravity or the sale of Maternal wealth!’ ‘Booty’--became the new (and how paltry!) Ideology. A smashing and destructive alteration, which has as yet failed to bring any good or success to our economy and does not promise soon to do so--thickly breathed decay into the national character.And again:
God forbid this decay become irreversible.
We must build a moral Russia, or none at all—it would not then matter anyhow. We must preserve and nourish all the good seeds which miraculously have not been trampled down in Russia. Will the Orthodox Church help us? It was ravaged more than anything else in the Communist years. In addition, it was undermined internally by its three-century-long subordination to the State and lost the impulse for strong social actions. Now, with the active expansion into Russia of well-funded foreign confessions and sects, with the ‘principle of equal opportunities’ for them and the impoverished Russian Church, the process of pushing Orthodoxy out of Russian life altogether has begun. Incidentally, the new explosion of materialism, this time a ‘capitalist’ one, threatens all religion.And still again:
We have allowed our wants to grow unchecked, and are now at a loss where to direct them. And with the obliging assistance of commercial enterprises, newer and yet newer wants are concocted, some wholly artificial; and we chase after them en masse, but find no fulfilment. And we never shall.On the Ukraine:
The endless accumulation of possessions? That will not bring fulfilment either. Discerning individuals have long since understood that possessions must be subordinated to other, higher principles, that they must have a spiritual justification, a mission; otherwise, as Nikolai Berdyaev put it, they bring ruin to human life, becoming the tools of avarice and oppression.
Leaving aside the swift turnabout of Ukraine’s Communist chieftains, we have seen the Ukrainian nationalists, who in the past so staunchly opposed Communism, and in all, it seemed, cursed Lenin, sorely tempted from the first by his poisoned gift: eagerly accepting the false Leninist borders of Ukraine (including even the Crimean dowry of the petty tyrant Khrushchev). Ukraine (like Kazakhstan) immediately set upon a false imperial path.And on the topic of empire generally, from the Letter to the Soviet Leaders:
I do not wish the burden of great power status upon Russia, nor upon Ukraine. I sincerely express the best wishes for the development of Ukrainian culture and distinctiveness, and genuinely love them; but why begin not with the restoration and spiritual strengthening of the national nucleus, not with cultural work within the bounds of the Ukrainian population and territory propre, but with an impulse to become a ‘Great Power’? … Do the current rulers of Ukraine and of her public opinion fully realise what a gigantic cultural task lies before them? A sizeable portion of the ethnic Ukrainian population itself does not even use or have command of the Ukrainian language…
Meanwhile, we read accounts of discrimination against Russian schools and even kindergartens in Galicia, hooligan-like attacks on them; of the suppression in places of Russian television broadcasts; even bans on librarians to converse with readers in Russian—can this truly be the path of development for Ukrainian culture? We hear slogans like ‘Russians out of Ukraine!’, ‘Ukraine for the Ukrainians!’—although numerous ethnicities populate Ukraine. Practical measures have been implemented as well: those who did not become Ukrainian citizens are experiencing constraints in employment, pensions, ownership of real estate, and are not allowed to take part in privatisation—but these people did not come to Ukraine from abroad, they have always lived there…
The aims of a great empire and the moral health of the people are incompatible. We should not presume to invent international tasks and bear the cost of them so long as our people is in such moral disarray.May we learn wisdom from the words of this prophet of our times.