Saturday, 17 July 2010

Solzhenitsyn on humanism

“As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.

"To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating everything on earth.

“Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. (…)

“If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die.

“Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty so that one's life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. (…)

Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism. (…)

“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.

“This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but -- upward.


Alexander Solzhenitsyn – Harvard Commencement Address 1978

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/arch/solzhenitsyn/harvard1978.html

2 comments:

  1. If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die.

    This is a pretty one-liner, but it is not true. Murray's view of humanism is much closer to the truth. For them, man is not born "to" anything. His existence lacks all objective meaning. His existence is the culmination of random chance and impersonal processes, less than the tick of a machine in significance.

    In tension with this, however, is the humanist belief in immanentizing the eschaton. The belief in creating a self-actualizing, self-defining, transcending superman and that all other goals should fall before this one. Transhumanism is only the most demented manifestation of this thrust --- you can see it in Hollywood, where restraints on self-creating expression are everywhere excoriated (c.f. "Footloose") It exists in medicine (or, I suppose more properly, medical ethics) where a "life worth living" is one in which the self-creation can occur and a life not worth living is one in which the self-creation cannot.

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  2. "If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy, he would not be born to die."

    This is a pretty one-liner, but it is not true. Murray's view of humanism is much closer to the truth.

    So you are proposing a different version of humanism than Solzhenitsyn's. This does not make this sentence false.

    Even more, Solzhenitsyn's definition is closer to how humanism is lived. Most secular people think the goal of life is to be happy (see for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moralistic_therapeutic_deism - belief 3). Only some intellectuals disagree but they live their life with happiness as their supreme goal, thus contradicting their intellectual claims.

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