Solzhenitsyn’s Warning

This, from Lewis M. Andrews writing in The Federalist, is, to my mind anyway, very good.

The novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, physicist Andrei Sakharov, mathematician Igor Shafarevich, historian Vadim Borisov, and art publisher Evgeny Barabanov—these and other Russian thinkers once admired for their daring criticism of the old Soviet Union are now mostly forgotten. But were they writing in our time, what would they make of American conservativism’s tendency to treat resurgent socialism as a problem of economic literacy, best cured with cautionary references to Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea, and the former USSR?

A look back at the Russian dissidents’ literary legacy suggests a disturbing answer. The growth of socialism, they had come to see, was not essentially an economic phenomenon. A people’s willingness to accept increasingly paternalistic government, argued Igor Shafarevich in his influential essay “Socialism in Our Past and Future,” stems as much from religious skepticism, a dislike of family, the desire to evade personal responsibility, and a rejection of monogamy—in short, from the adolescent fantasy of an impulse-driven life—as it does from any objection to wealth inequality.

Having studied collectivist societies from ancient Mesopotamia and the Inca empire up through the first communal experiments in the Middle Ages and the rise of nineteenth-century Marxism, Shafarevich joined with other writers to warn that socialism is less an economic theory than a symptom of advanced moral decay, especially among self-styled intellectuals. It is, he wrote, not a form of government but an ideology of hatred for traditional values, “a hatred which cannot be explained on economic or political grounds.”

Considering so many contemporary trends, from the decline of church attendance to the avoidance of marriage and childrearing, a surviving Russian dissident would be forced conclude that modern America is indeed fertile soil for the growth of socialism. They would be especially alarmed that even many Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy, in their misguided desire to appeal to the young, have aligned themselves with leftist causes whose leaders clearly despise traditional values.

There’s a lot of truth in that. In fact, it is a good reminder. Back in 2013, while filling in for me at Christmas, Jessica wrote about his 1978 Harvard Commencement address. That article is here, and a few highlights follow.

He saw a society in which:

Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil. 


Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our day there is a free and constant flow. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones. 

That could have been written by almost any conservative in the last week. Solzhenitsyn wrote it in 1978. A shame no one paid much attention.

But the past is prologue, and now so what should we do? The author notes that Solzhenitsyn wrote:


Fighting socialism, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in his essay “The Smatterers,” “doesn’t mean going around preaching the truth at the top of your voice.” It “doesn’t even mean muttering what you think in an undertone.” It simply means not allowing polite passivity to imply consent. In other words, “don’t say or let stand what you don’t really think.”

Their stated reason may be to prevent some aggrieved faction from ever again feeling judged or “unsafe.” But is it not just as likely that the leftist’s real opposition to the bemused smile, the blank stare, the cocked eyebrow, or some other gesture of disapproval comes from an intuitive fear of transformational self-reflection?

As Shafarevich, Solzhenitsyn, and the other Russian dissidents well understood, it is a people’s willingness to defend their moral and spiritual beliefs, however modestly, that ultimately sustains political and economic freedom. In their own time, it helped bring down an entire socialist empire without ever firing a shot.

In short, a house divided against itself cannot stand, it is just as true for an individual as it is for a country. There’s a sneaky little quiet voice in almost every leftist, that tells him just how wrong he is. It is our job to find ways to get them to listen to that voice.

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5 Responses to Solzhenitsyn’s Warning

  1. the unit says:

    I’m not up for a long, drawn out comment today. I’ll see what I can do to cut to the bone and be somewhat on topic.
    Los Angeles Times story that described the MS-13 criminal spree as something that just, sort of, “spilled over”. About kid that had heart cut/ripped out.
    Kinda like somebody somewhere did something that just spilled over at 9/11.
    The following quote is from a AT comment about the ripping that happened.
    Quote sorta fits what all was described in the NEO blog today.
    “If this had happened in America it would have been a horrendous scandal”
    And no joke, it is what is is. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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