Glimpses Delightful and Rare

One of the root problems facing our beleaguered world is that many of our contemporaries are belaboring the past as a burden, believing that the legacy and traditions of Western Civilization are a millstone around modernity’s neck.  Cast off the shackles of the past, with its outmoded morality and outdated way of doing things, and we shall be free.  Such is the credulity of what Evelyn Waugh called our “deplorable epoch.”  The irony is that such unbelievable nonsense is believable only if we are ignorant of the lessons that the past teaches, an ignorance which is itself the consequence of believing that the past has no lessons to teach and contains nothing worth learning.  Thus, it is intriguing that the West is seen metaphorically by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as a millstone, as is clear from the title of these posthumously published sketches of his first years of exile there following his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1974.  It is perilous, however, to misread the metaphor.  The millstone which the West represents is not the burdensome sort that hangs around the neck but the grinding sort that refines the meal into flour.  Nor is it the “West” of Western Civilization but the “West” of 20th-century geopolitics.  It’s not the West of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; nor is it the Christian West, the West of the Church, the West of Christendom.  It’s...

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