Everyone from my barber to the hipster kid down the street who thinks he’s watched “the news” when he catches a clip of The Daily Show on his iPad has a take on the government shutdown and perpetual political stalemate in Washington. Whether they have the faintest understanding of what is actually going on, whether I agree with this or that neighbor’s assessment of the situation, the one thing we can all agree on is that the political and economic landscapes facing us today are lackluster, to say the least.
While reading through a series of essays co-written and edited by Alexander Solzhenitsyn titled From Under the Rubble, I was reminded of an all-too-important factor that one must consider when rendering judgment on his or her duly-elected government: the only change that really matters comes from within.
We’re a nation of more than 300 million people, and to keep insisting that one law here or one election there is going to “fix” things is asinine and a lie even the brightest among us tell themselves.
The foreword to From Under the Rubble – a collection of essays written in the 1970’s by Russian scholars who deftly analyzed the flaws of the USSR’s “workers’ paradise” – is penned by the late British professor Max Hayward. He notes in his remarks that a similar assessment of Russian political and cultural life (Landmarks) had been written in 1909. The incredible thing was how similar the two books and sets of national appraisals were. One was written as Russia began its intellectual dissent into Bolshevik ideology, and the other after the country had endured its bondage for more than half a century.
What was this unifying theme?
The authors of these essays called for a return to traditional spiritual values – which for most of them meant those enshrined in Christian teaching – as a necessary condition for regeneration in Russia’s intellectual, cultural and social life. All of them were united by their recognition of the primacy both in theory and practice of spiritual life over the outward forms of society, in the sense that the inner life of the individual and not the self-sufficing elements of some political order is the only solid basis for every social structure.
America is uniquely blessed to have had Founders who crafted the framework of a republican democracy. But to a man they warned that such a system would be of little use in the hands of a careless, greedy, lazy society of free men and women. In fact, they warned that we would no longer be free if liberty and virtue were not linked together.
We need wise and prudent political leaders to fight the necessary battles in Washington, D.C., but even more than that we need a revival of the Judeo-Christian values that forged this nation. We don’t like talking about that because it makes the non-religious among us uncomfortable, and it sounds like some hokey thing Sean Hannity might say. But it’s unavoidably true and it must start with me:
“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” -Alexander Solzhenitsyn