Absolutes or Relativism

In a tribute to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Masha Lipman describes two worldviews:

Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a premodern giant who defied the limits of human ability and the forces of nature. His world was that of ethical absolutes, unshakable values, spiritual discipline and self-sacrificial commitment. . . .

Solzhenitsyn’s life and his writing were an uncompromising war against the communist regime. His grim courage and selfless devotion, comparable to that of early Christians, gave him moral superiority over his communist adversaries. He defeated Brezhnev’s Politburo, and, instead of being killed or jailed, was expelled from the country.

But for all the admiration his books and personality inspired, his teachings sounded too rigorous to his contemporaries, at home and abroad. For his part, he couldn’t accept the relativity and uncertainty of modern life.

Russia’s destiny was more than a literary or a scholarly subject to Solzhenitsyn — it was his mission. The perennial Russian debate of the past 150 years has been between Westernizers and Slavophiles, or those who promote nationalist ideas of Russia’s special path. Solzhenitsyn’s opponent in this debate was the only other man of an equal moral stature — Andrei Sakharov, the academic and human rights activist who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. Both men sought to liberate Russia from communism, and both were almost inhumanly brave in their challenges to the regime. But Sakharov, a Westernizer, saw a solution in “convergence” with the West, which he regarded as a world of liberty and justice, while Solzhenitsyn, a nationalist, looked for Russia’s salvation in its historical, cultural and religious roots.

So there is the choice: absolutes or relativism; premodernism or postmodernism. What the article misses–and perhaps Solzhenitsyn realized–is that relativism and postmodernism can yield a totalitarianism of its own, a realm of absolute, morality-free power. And that Western civilization ultimately rests on the absolutes.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Booklover

    I am in mourning. I told my son, who is in his last year of majoring in history and political science, that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died. He said, “Who’s that?” I lamented this to my husband. He turned from the television and asked, “Who’s that?” I am afraid that my college son has approached too many professors of the ilk typified in a later post, who squelch Christian beliefs, rather than those who teach about men like Solzhenitsyn. There goes our money; but more importantly, there goes our foundation.

  • Booklover

    I am in mourning. I told my son, who is in his last year of majoring in history and political science, that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn died. He said, “Who’s that?” I lamented this to my husband. He turned from the television and asked, “Who’s that?” I am afraid that my college son has approached too many professors of the ilk typified in a later post, who squelch Christian beliefs, rather than those who teach about men like Solzhenitsyn. There goes our money; but more importantly, there goes our foundation.

  • Ryan

    I’m 33, with a master’s degree (history BA, theology Mdiv), never heard of this guy. I feel kinda cheated by my education… but from all Dr. Veith’s posts I’m going to have to look him up.

    “the relativity and uncertainty of modern life”… umm how is modern life more “uncertain” than any other time? Thats a rather absolute judgment for a relativist to make.

  • Ryan

    I’m 33, with a master’s degree (history BA, theology Mdiv), never heard of this guy. I feel kinda cheated by my education… but from all Dr. Veith’s posts I’m going to have to look him up.

    “the relativity and uncertainty of modern life”… umm how is modern life more “uncertain” than any other time? Thats a rather absolute judgment for a relativist to make.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Gene – as to your comment on Masha Lipmann’s piece:
    Exactly.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Gene – as to your comment on Masha Lipmann’s piece:
    Exactly.

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  • Pingback: Recent Links Tagged With "relativism" - JabberTags


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