It has lately been fashionable to speak of the leveling of nations, of the disappearance of individual peoples in the melting pot of modern civilization. I disagree, but a discussion of this problem would be a theme in itself. It is here appropriate to say only that the disappearance of nations would impoverish us not less than if all men should become alike, with one personality and one face. Nations are the wealth of mankind, its generalized personalities; the least among them has its own unique coloration and harbors within itself a unique facet of God’s design.
– Alexandr Sozhenitsyn’s Nobel Lecture
“The profoundest similarity between the individual and the nation lies in the mystical nature of their givenness.
– Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, “Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations” an essay in “From under the Rubble,” 1972
This is the peculiar feature of integrated organisms – that all their parts benefit and suffer alike from the activity of each organ. Even when the majority of the population is quite powerless to obstruct its political leaders, it is fated to answer for their sins and their mistakes. Even in the most totalitarian states, whose subjects have no rights at all, we all bear responsibility – not only for the quality of our governments, but also for the campaigns of our military leaders, for the deeds of our soldiers in the line of duty, for the shots fired by our frontier guards, for the songs of our young people. (Ibid.)
As I watch Americans enduring the political farce that is tragically still likely to determine their fate as a free people, I have been led to revisit the profound insights of the poetic Russian thinker, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. His ordeal at the hands of the Communists ironically exercised his innate capacity for truthful reflection, so that his meditations on the course of human nature in his time sometimes offer startling confirmation of the truth that it is a mirror, of God’s Creation.
I cannot but doubt that it was mere coincidence that I was reading Sozhennitsyn’s essay on national repentance as Mississippians voted to defeat the proposal to make explicit their state’s commitment to the founding principle of the United States, which acknowledges that all humanity shares the consequence of being made in the image and likeness (persona) of the Creator, so that the assault against the lives of nascent children assaults the Creator God whose powerful will is present even, or rather especially, in their outwardly powerless innocence. The saddest aspect of that defeat is the role played by all too many “professional” pro-life leaders and institutions, purblind worldlings whose calculation of political costs and benefits continually outbids their duty before God to bear witness to the simple truth. This includes, of course, many whose pro-life profession purports to arise from their faith in Jesus Christ, the innocent son of God, whose lonely vigil on the cross, not unlike the ordeal of our innocent posterity, included being deserted by so many who claimed to be his true disciples.
In the essay on national repentance quoted above, Solzhenitsyn includes Dostoevsky’s observation that “an ethical idea has always preceded the birth of nation.” Keeping in mind that ethics may be good or bad, the observation has an almost axiomatic character. (Even the thieving, murderous rabble that gathered to populate the famous hills of Rome practiced the ethic that honored the spoils of successful thievery and murder.) But it may be applied with particular truth to the United States of America, whose founders took great pains to present their fight for national independence in terms of a true understanding of just action, righteous in the literal sense that it defined the political good of the nation in terms of God-endowed unalienable rights.
In this respect, repentance is America’s most desperate need of the hour. In almost every critical respect we have tolerated the abandonment of the understanding of justice on which rests our claim to rights and self-government. We have thus renounced the mainstay of our national identity: the sense of conscientious liberty that nurtured and preserved the fruitful exploration and enterprise that accounts for most, if not all, of our material success.
The crop of self-worshipping “fixers” currently usurping the stage of our political life have this in common – that they will not any of them acknowledge the deep, profusely bleeding wound we have inflicted upon ourselves by this renunciation. This was especially highlighted by the demoralizing spectacle of Barack Obama’s pandering obeisance to institutions and forces antithetical to conscientious liberty, as he “apologized” for what he apparently regards as our greatest national sin – i.e., successfully defending and promulgating liberty in a hostile world. But as the Mississippi vote attests, our greatest national sin is the failure of the professed proponents of our founding ideals to stand firmly in battle against the assault on God and right carried out by those like Obama right here at home.
Repentance begins with the acknowledgment of wrong: the willingness to see it for what it is, call it by its right name and let the truth of it break our hearts. This is the straightforward goal of the personhood movement. Americans want to believe that we are not like the purveyors of wholesale slaughter who, in their death camps and killing fields, erected stinking altars to evil, drenched with innocent human blood. If abortion “terminates pregnancy”; if it simply scrapes away or dismembers the “fetus”; if it starves a “fertilized egg” or “destroys an embryo”; then this belief in our basic goodness and decency as a people may endure, like Don Quixote’s helmet, unscathed by reality. But if all our nascent posterity consists of people, just like us; if they are persons, entitled as we are to be respected in our right to live and naturally grow according to God’s intention; if they are our sons and daughters deserving, as our words in the Constitution affirm,to secure and enjoy the blessings of liberty; if all this is true – then we have slaughtered on a scale that competes with the bloodiest execution of the tyrants and totalitarians we defeated in the last century. If it is true, then we can scarce hope for blessings when in our heart of hearts the curses we hear heaped upon us come first and foremost with voices very like our own.
There are people who think that the main goal of the pro-life movement is well served because here and there we staunch the flow of sacrificial blood. They have thus rejected its true and inevitable goal, which is to call the nation to repentance, beginning with our acknowledgement of the mystical nature of our “givenness” – the essence of that life which, coming from the hand of God, will always cry out to be understood by the heart of our humanity – the place wherein the awesome Power that manifests creation gently touches the little moment of our helpless being, humbling Himself so that we may be exalted.