ALEXANDER SOLZHENITSYN'S personal credentials - as one who suffered and survived to bear artistic witness to the suffering of others - compel the closest attention to his public utterances. One cannot read his Harvard commencement address, however, without being reminded that it is not so much communism that is his enemy as the nature of modern man. The Renaissance, he believes, undermined the spiritual foundations of Western society as pervasively (though a bit more benevolently) as communism ravaged his native land. Spiritually, it has been pretty much downhill ever since. One part of the general failing is that the West has been unable to summon the courage to combat communism effectively. Then there is American music, which is "intolerable." The West, the author concludes, is unfit to be a model to "my country," Russia.
Well, Mr. Solzhenitsyn is not the first to detect spiritual flaws in the West. Yet he launches his critique from a position betraying a gross misunderstanding of Western society, which has chosen to organize its political and social and cultural affiars on the basis of a respect for the differences among men. In the vision that drives Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a divine force - or, to be more precise, a prophet such as himself - would provide the unifying inspiration for the whole society. And that force, would have available the authority needed to bring the vision to life.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn's residence - temporary, he hopes - in the West has given him the opportunity to expound his views. But his views remain very Russian: They arise from particular religious and political strains remote from modern Western experience. If they explain anything, it is that there is a vast gap in tradition and perception between Westerners and many Russians - even, or especially, those who, like Mr. Solzhenitsyn, use the tolerance and diversity that are the splendors of the West to attack tolerance and diversity.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn's strictures on the lack of Western resolve will no doubt find their way promptly (and selectively) into the quivers of the American right, which is always searching for authentic witnesses to its own sense of embattlement with communism. But Mr. Solzhenitsyn is an unreliable witness. He appears to validate the common American concern for human rights. In fact, he carries that concern to an unacceptable extreme. It galls Mr. Solzhenitsyn to think that Western societies could contemplate coexisting with Soviet power. But it is precisely because Kremlin purpose that one must emphasize that he is summoning Americans to a crusade.
For the West, respect for diversity has an international dimension as well as an individual one. If Mr. Solzhenitsyn understands this, he does not accept it. He speaks for boundless cold war.