Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty has started reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Achipelago. If it his purpose would likely be better served by reading The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Mr Solzhenitsyn had a number of polemical points he was making in his three volume of the Achipelago . The purpose of the detailed descriptions of NKVD atrocities was in part to establish scope and then to tie historical threads inescapably connecting those atrocities to the figure of Lenin (still revered in parts of Western Academia and the left) with Stalin whom normally gets the brunt of the blame. Post-Stalin Communist and Soviet apologists attempted to fix the blame for the terror on Stalin and exonerate his predecessors including and primarily Lenin. Solzhenitsyn demonstrated clearly that this was a flawed understanding. Yet, another major theme in these books is one of optimism, of the unquenchable human spirit and the value and perhaps the necessity of the Christian faith in the face of such suffering. It is this last theme that Mr Kuznicki will not find as useful. Mr Solzhenitsyn found the problems of East and West rooted in atheism and “the calamity of an autonomous, irreligious humanistic consciousness” … a theme not often found to get a good reception at Positive Liberty.
Solzehnitsyn, born in 1918, was raised and trained in mathematics and he tought for some time. He was a loyal and unquestioning Soviet and fought (and was decorated) in WWII as an artilleryman. He was then caught in Stalin’s web and sent to various work camps, i.e., the gulag. It was there he became Christian (for an excellent example of the epitome of that, this book Father
Arseny is very inspiring). Somewhat like Edith Stein of whom I’ve written before, it was the example of Christians in response to hardship and loss of life that inspired a person to the faith in the modern world.
I offer this in the light of 9/11, note that this was an address to the AFL-CIO and was given in 1975, which I quote from here. I thought the mention of the towers intruiguing.
“Is it possible or impossible to transmit the experience of those who have suffered to those who have yet to suffer? Can one part of humanity learn from the bitter experience of another or can it not? Is it possible or impossible to warn someone of danger?… The proud skyscrapers stand on, point to the sky and say: it will never happen here. This will never come to us. It’s not possible here… Humanity acts in such a way is if it didn’t understand what Communism is, and doesn’t want to understand, is not capable of understanding… The essence of Communism is quite beyond the limits of human understanding. Its hard to believe that people could actually plan such things and carry them out…
“Communism has infected the whole world with the belief in the relativity of good and evil… Among enlightened people it is considered rather awkward to use seriously such words as ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ Communism has managed to instill in all of us that these concepts are old-fashioned concepts and laughable. But if we are to be deprived of the concepts of good and evil, what will be left? Nothing but the manipulation of one another. We will decline to the status of animals.
“That which is against Communism is for humanity. To reject this inhuman Communist ideology is simply to be a human being… It’s a protest of our souls against those who tell us to forget the concepts of good a evil…
“I understand that you love freedom, but in our crowded world you have to pay a tax for freedom. You cannot love freedom just for yourself and quietly agree to a situation where the majority of humanity over the greater part of the globe is being subjected to violence and oppression.
“Yet when one travels in your country and sees your free and independent life, all the dangers which I talked about today indeed seem imaginary. I’ve come a talked to people, and I see this is so. In your wide open spaces even I get a little infected. The dangers seem a little imaginary. On this continent it is hard to believe all the things that are happening in the world. But gentlemen, this carefree life cannot continue in your country or in ours. The fates of our two countries are going to be extremely difficult, and it is better to prepare for this beforehand…
“Two processes are occurring in the world today. One is a process of spiritual liberation in the
USSRand the other Communist countries. The second is the assistance being extended by the West to the Communist rulers, a process of concessions, of détente, of yielding whole countries.
I will add, I think Mr Kuznicki’s program of trying to establish a consequential argument against torture to be flawed in principle as well as in fact. Evidence that the previous Administration was ineffective at getting information from torture is not a good argument. In the early years in Iraq a lot of what we tried to do was ineffective and badly done. A person making consequential argument against Mr Kuznicki has just to reply that “they did it badly” and that Mr Obama’s boys will “do it right.”
Again the better argument is that, torture is wrong. We don’t do it because it is un-American and unethical. We understand that there may be real costs in setting this aside. We have to say that we accept those costs. America is fond of the free lunch. Alas, in the real world, there is no free lunch.
One final note, a politicial thesis of Solzhentisyn has been argued by Mahoney that it is not out of touch with modern Libertarian or Conservative thought:
Mahoney locates a crucial element of Solzhenitsyn’s political teaching in his analysis of Peter Stolypin,
the Prime Minister of Russia from 1906–11. Solzhenitsyn’s appreciation of Stolypin has been largely unknown because it appears in the second
edition of August 1914: The Red Wheel I (1989), which few have read. What Solzhenitsyn claims in the Stolypin chapters is that a
moderate alternative to Tsarist autocracy existed in Russia in the early twentieth century—namely, a peaceful evolution toward a
European–style constitutional monarchy under the enlightened statesmanship of Prime Minister Stolypin.
The main features of Stolypin’s plan were the
preservation of the Romanov dynasty and Orthodox Church, combined with economic and political reforms—reforms that would have given land to
peasants and established local self–governing councils. Tragically, Stolypin was assassinated by terrorists who feared the success of his
plan (which Solzhenitsyn estimates could have created an independent peasantry in twenty years and prevented Communist revolution).
Mahoney’s analysis shows Solzhenitsyn to be a Burkean–style admirer of constitutional mon archy that gradually evolves toward ordered liberty
while preserving his nation’s distinctive traditions.
It is in part from this that my personal ideas of the coming collapse of freedom in this country and the need for localization, the “local self-governing councils” in early 20th century Russia, are required to be started and fostered here or we too will lose our liberty. It can happen here.