After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was concern in Russia about what political and economic system would replace communism. The United States had heavily influenced Russia in replacing communism with the principles of capitalism. However, after adopting these principles, Russia still lacked the proper order and growth that was needed to repair chaos and unrest from a fallen culture. Today, this dilemma has caused an ongoing debate on finding a middle ground between the two extremes of communism and capitalism.
Yet, a possible solution, absent from both systems, is the incorporation of morality and religious beliefs. It seems, then, that we should look beyond communism and capitalism for our solution to solving this dilemma. If a fallen culture wishes to reconstruct itself and flourish, then it should allow for the free exercise of morality and religion within its daily functions. The means by which to accomplish this cultivation lies with implementing true art and literature, education, as well as the practice of faith in the lives of those human beings wishing to improve their broken culture.
Looking to the Soviet Union as an example of a broken culture hoping to rebuild, the major concern for the Russian people of that time was not only material reformation but also the need for a spiritual reawakening. One of the most influential writers and speakers during this time of reconstruction was Nobel laureate, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In his essays and speeches, Solzhenitsyn seemed to be more concerned with whether or not the adoption of capitalism in Russia would be without morality and religion. He personally believed that a culture flourishes most when it emphasizes the importance of keeping the conscience and faith of a nation. In an essay titled ‘Let us build,’ he writes:
If we are truly to free ourselves from the notion that circumstance and setting determine our consciousness—a primitive, materialistic worldview in which we were raised for decades—we must first understand and accept that our, our children’s, our people’s future depends first and foremost on our consciousness, our spirit, and not on the economy.
Here, Solzhenitsyn argues for the higher need of developing faith and virtue within a culture over the inferior need for materialistic goods. A culture which follows this method should see material goods as the means for achieving higher spiritual goods. Ignoring the need for virtue and faith is to ignore the proper order of things in reality. A person’s soul should be considered more important in conserving than the pursuit of a perfect economic system. More importantly, a government should recognize this truth, providing for the common good and offering the means to enable a culture to grow in virtue and faith.
In closing the same essay, Solzhenitsyn more clearly remarks:
We must not serve our government, but our Homeland. Our Homeland is what produced us all. It stands higher than any ephemeral constitution.
The morality of faith and virtue cannot be implemented within a culture, however, without good and true education. It is through education that the mind can align itself to habitually performing morally good and ethical actions. It is also one of the means to elevate those within a culture out of the depths of poverty. Most within the Russian culture had trouble rising out of their own poverty because their nation lacked true education. The reason Russia lacked the resources for good education was because education was being funded by the government, leaving private institutions out of the discussion. In another one of his essays on education in Russia, Solzhenitsyn simply describes Russia’s current situation and why education was not functioning properly: “A beginning schoolteacher makes the equivalent of twelve dollars per month.” When those educating our future generations are not given the proper means to provide for themselves, how can we expect good teachers to keep their occupation so as to provide higher goods for others? A government that is not looking after the importance of schoolteachers and those who educate is a government not looking after the needs of the common good.
This sense of responsibility is lost when the pursuit of money was seen as a higher good than the actual higher goods of education and virtue. The consequences of Soviet materialism was what Solzhenitsyn saw as the great danger to education: “This active and tense competition comes to dominate all human thought and does not in the least open a way to free spiritual development.” Order and growth were never achieved in Russia’s culture because education was subordinated to the desire for material wealth. Development is only accomplished through education, not through the corruption of governmental affairs.
Since true education is the highest good for which we can aim in public life, it is important to decide upon the truest forms of art and literature that are to be used when educating future generations. To Solzhenitsyn, “The persuasiveness of a true work of art is completely irrefutable; it prevails even over a resisting heart.” Solzhenitsyn is explaining that a work of art which participates in Beauty itself cannot lead us into such falsities as might political, philosophical, or journalistic systems. Therefore, education should be focused on the first principles of what is objectively True, Good, and Beautiful within the world. The above mentioned systems should then be subordinated to the principles inscribed in the transcendentals if a culture wishes to establish healthy development. Furthermore, it is true literature, along with language, which preserves a human’s rational soul. Good literature can use both fiction and non-fiction to stimulate one’s imagination; and at the same time, point to objective Truths. Literature may differ from culture to culture in regards to content; but if it is good literature, it will succeed in passing down the desired message which will help future cultures to steadily develop.
Expanding on this point, Solzhenitsyn says:
Works which have drawn on the truth and which have presented it to us in concentrated and vibrant form seize us, attract us to themselves powerfully, and no one ever—even centuries later—will step forth to deny them.
If good literature—which irrefutably depicts the message of what is True, Good, and Beautiful—is promoted within a society, then no culture will be able to deny that true education achieves the highest good for everyone.
By looking to Solzhenitsyn, we find a great paradigm to follow when trying to resolve and reconstruct a fallen culture. Oftentimes, the need for material goods comes before the need for higher spiritual goods. However, if a culture persists by this method, it will continue to experience perpetual decline. Cultivating morality and religion into the hearts and minds of those people within a culture allows for the attainment of spiritual goods and true education. These concepts are what permit a culture to rise out of its disorderly brokenness. Until a culture decides to adopt morals and faith, instead of broken political and economic systems, it will continue to suffer the consequences.