Solzhenitsyn at 100

A hundred years ago today Aleksandr Isaievech Solzhenitsyn was born. He is decidedly a man we should read and heed. From Daniel J. Mahoney writing at City Journal.

Solzhenitsyn’s was a long but ultimately rewarding journey. Since early boyhood, he wished to become a writer. One of the key chapters of August 1914 (the first volume of The Red Wheel), depicting the Battle of Tannenberg and the suicide of General Samsonov, was already written in the fall of 1936, before Solzhenitsyn was 18. He dreaded what kind of writer he might have become without the experience of the Gulag. It was in the prison camp in 1945 and 1946, as he describes it in various interviews and in “The Ascent”—his account in the central section of The Gulag Archipelago of how the scales of ideology fell from his eyes—that he was “completely cleansed of any Marxist belief.” His cellmates helped him see the light of truth and the unparalleled mendacity of the ideological lie, the destructive illusion that evil is not inherent in the human soul, that human beings and societies can be transformed at a revolutionary stroke, and that free will is subordinate to historical necessity. Solzhenitsyn’s life is marked by this great paradox: in the camps, cold and hungry, and subject to limitless repression by camp guards and camp authorities, he recovered an appreciation of the purpose of things.

If you understand that paragraph, you will see much evil around you, not as unbound as he did, but evil nonetheless.

Solzhenitsyn wrote with “lucid understanding,” and with no small dose of scorn, about the “Progressive Doctrine,” the inhuman ideology that justified terror and tyranny as no regime or ideological movement had ever justified the killing and repression of real or imagined “enemies of the People.” He showed that the heart of Bolshevism lay in a monstrous coming together of violence and lies that gave rise not to mere dictatorship but to a totalitarianism that transformed betrayal and lying into “forms of existence.”  This totalitarianism demanded fierce resistance, both for the sake of liberty and for the right of the human soul to breathe freely, with the dignity afforded it by God. [,,,]

Solzhenitsyn spoke in the name of an older Western and Christian civilization, still connected to the “deep reserves of mercy and sacrifice” at the heart of ordered liberty. It is a mark of the erosion of that rich tradition that its voice is so hard to hear in our late modern world, more—and more single-mindedly—devoted to what Solzhenitsyn called “anthropocentricity,” an incoherent and self-destructive atheistic humanism. Solzhenitsyn asks no special privileges for biblical religion (and classical philosophy), just a place at the table and a serious consideration within our souls.

In fact, I think he speaks as one with our founders, for an ordered liberty, and as Majoney says, biblical religion. It is not to be inferred though that he thought modern America had it right either, he didn’t.

In a three-part series, starting with The Exhausted West, over Christmas five years ago, my former co-author and my dearest friend, Jessica looked seriously at his Harvard Commencement speech in 1978. It bears review.

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. 

It is hard to see that nearly forty years later, things are any better; here, as elsewhere, Solzhenitsyn  prophesied aright. He identified the reasons for this very well:

Without any censorship, in the West, fashionable trends of thought are carefully separated from those that are not fashionable. Nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally, your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day 

The West was, he said, ‘spiritually exhausted’. The ‘human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.’

I don’t know about you, but here forty years on from that speech, what he says is even more evident to me. Jessica believed, as I do, that the key to the malaise is God, and to use that phrase again ordered liberty, which can translate as liberty under law.

In the last of the series, Sun-lit Uplands, she explicitly compares him pointedly to the prophet Jeremiah, to good effect.

She also quotes this from him, which has much bearing on the present, I think.

A statesman who wants to achieve some– thing important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly: there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him; parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that each single step of his is well founded and absolutely flawless. In fact, an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set for him. Thus mediocrity triumphs, with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.

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Happy Thanksgiving

April 30: George Washington becomes the first ...

April 30: George Washington becomes the first President of the United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, in America is Thanksgiving Day. It is a day of celebration of what we have made of God’s gift to us all. Its history reaches all the way back to our Pilgrim forebearers, who felt called to thank God that they had survived the first year in the Massachusetts Bay.

Now it is a day of parades, football, serious overeating, and sleeping off that overeating by sleeping through the football on TV. But I think we all deep in our hearts do remember to thank “The Big Guy” for all we have, and the freedom to enjoy it.

President Washington certainly knew something about dark days, far darker than ours are today, and he (and Congress) thought it fit to remember the Author of our blessings. So should we.

From the Heritage Foundation

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Issued by President George Washington, at the request of Congress, on October 3, 1789

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:”

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favor, able interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other trangressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go. Washington

That’s the reason for the day put as well as anyone has, ever.

My family’s traditional table grace is this

In the press of daily events, it is not always easy to remember just how good we have it. Perry Metzger at Samizdata sums it up well.

We live lives of such astonishing wealth that we scarcely notice it. Only a fool would rather be an Emperor in 1600 than a poor person living today. Compared to a king of several centuries ago, poor people in the developed world live in astonishing luxury. In the developed world, we eat fresh vegetables in midwinter, our homes are heated toasty warm in the winter and cooled and dehumidified in the summer, we travel in enormous comfort (no wooden wheeled carriages without shock absorbers for us, and indeed, we can fly to the other side of the world for a quite modest sum of money), our medical care is incomparably better, our beds more comfortable, our entertainment options beyond any potentate’s wildest dreams. This is true even of quite poor people, at least in developed countries.

Whence comes this bounty? It is not because of union organizing, or minimum wage laws, or the triumph of the proletariat over the evil factory owners. Indeed, a few centuries ago, there were few mass production factories to triumph over.

No, the source of this bounty is productivity, and the engines of productivity are deferred consumption being invested in improved infrastructure (that is, capital accumulation), improved technology, and specialization. Thanks to our better means of making things and the sacrifices needed to construct those means, productivity per worker is orders of magnitude higher, and thus there’s more stuff to go around.

Read it all, but realize this is the characteristic American achievement, that we have shared with all the world, along with the freedom to enjoy it.

It is indeed meet that we thank our God for our Blessings.

Happy Thanksgiving

Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November

Some of my English friends insist that today is the anniversary of the last man to enter Parliament with an honest purpose. I think it might not be quite that bad, troubling as it is.

Tonight they’ll try to set a bonfire to burn England down. Why? Because back in 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught before he had time to light the fuse on 30 some odd barrels of gunpowder under parliament, in an attempt to destroy Parliament and the King (James I), thereby setting the stage for the restoration of the Catholic Church.

It has long since become nonsectarian although very often an effigy of Guy Fawkes is on the pyre. But mostly it’s a good excuse for a bonfire and fireworks, indeed rather like the 4th of July, where we really don’t rail much about old King George anymore.

It was celebrated here until the Revolution as well, especially in New England, where the effigy of Guy Fawkes was sometimes joined by one of the Pope. It was banned by General Washington while the Continental Army occupied Boston in the Revolution so as not to over inflame the residents, and pretty much never resumed.


Not to much point in talking about politics at this point, which is a relief. It’s now up to us, the sovereign citizens. You all know what I think, so I’ll not bore you again.

Tomorrow is when we match action with rhetoric. We all know how frightful the Democrats have become, so if you haven’t voted yet,

Get ‘er Done.

Paint the country even redder, it’s called winning!

Totenfest, All Saints Day, Heroes and Saints

I see a fair number of you have been reading this, from back in 2012, so let’s bring it forward for the rest. It’s one of the few where I talk about my family, and it goes to the purpose of All Saints Day. Enjoy

I’ll bet Totenfest is a new term for many of you, actually, it’s a corrupted spelling of Todtenfest, what it translates as is “Feast (or festival) of the Dead. It has a bit of that German propensity for calling things what they are, like Krankenhaus (house of the sick) for hospital. It comes from the Evangelical church, that strange Prussian hybrid of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches committed by King Frederick Wilhelm III. Totenfest was instituted to remember the soldiers killed in the Prussian war (unless I’m missing something we’re talking about what the rest of us call the Napoleonic Wars). It soon expanded to remember members of the congregation who had passed in the last year.

When I was young my home church (which was Evangelical and Reformed) read the passed members names with a single bell toll after each. It was a moving service which served in lieu of All Saints Day, which is now commonly celebrated on the first Sunday in November, as The last Sunday in October is Reformation Sunday. When I was a kid, and it was still the E&R before the merger which formed the UCC, every Sunday the first hymn was this, which is nearly always appropriate.

Same purpose really, since we in the Protestant tradition tend to refer to those who have gone before us as saints. It is important to remember our forefathers in the faith for the same reason that we all admire the saints in the Catholic tradition. I think our way perhaps makes it even more personal. On  Friday, Jessica over at The Watchtower said this:

All Souls’ day is a time when I pray for the souls of my parents and other relatives now dead. I know many Protestants who ask me why I do so, as they are now with God, and He alone will judge; do I, they ask, think that somehow my prayers will influence Him. I try to explain that this is not what I believe at all. Yes, I believe God makes the decision, and I don’t believe He will be in the slightest bit influenced by me. But it is an act of piety to my dead parents. They are no longer here in the flesh, but that does not mean I forget them, and praying for them seems to me to be a way of saying that I still love them and still care about them.

I completely agree with her, which is not unusual. This is the time of year when I think a lot about and pray for my parents as well, knowing that God will be just, which is enough for me. But I want the folks to know that I still think of them and care about them, and even that I have remembered the lessons they taught me, about many things. And that’s what I’m going to talk about today, even as Jess talked about her daddy in that post you should read.

I was born when my folks were in their forties, so it wasn’t like dad had time or energy to play with me but, he spent a lot of time with me, or maybe the other way around when I was a kid. Many people think I’m a bit of a hard case, they may well be right. The lessons I learned as a child were all about doing things right always and taking responsibility. Sure I learned about electricity and line work and wiring buildings and a bunch of other skills but, the real lessons were about honesty and justice. With dad you never got unearned praise, in truth not saying anything about what you did was usually all the praise you were going to get, screw up and you heard about it though, guess where I learned the catchphrase, always make new mistakes. Doing it wrong because you just didn’t get it was allowable, doing it wrong again was simply unacceptable, and you learned that quickly. One of the other lessons taught was that bad news is not like wine, it doesn’t get better with age. Learning those two lessons will take you quite a way in this life; there are others.

But, in truth, it’s certainly not about me, and it’s not even about dad, it’s about those who have gone before us in the faith. I find it easier to understand if I personalize, and it’s fun for me to talk about dad. Of all the men I have known in a fairly long life, he more than any of them deserved the title of “Lightbringer” for that is what he did for countless rural families in Minnesota, in the Amana Colonies in Iowa, and in Indiana. From 1935 until he retired in 1969 he was a man of rural electrification.

That was his mission, nearly from the time he held his father in his arms as he died and so became the head of the family as a junior in high school, until he retired, with honor. Because we in the family understood, even his pallbearers were linemen, and executives from rural electrification, including the President of the Statewide coop. There was no glory in the mission, it was always a struggle, and to his dying day, he regretted being essential in World War II. But his work enabled dozens, maybe hundreds, of farm boys to join the service, without reducing food output. But he never thought he did his part. In truth, he was the most righteous man I have ever known. No, I don’t mean self-righteous, he was never in it for himself, he was there to serve. The old REA Co-op motto fit him perfectly: “Owned by those we serve”. He didn’t write it, he lived it, it was the mission

The energization of the first house on Kankakee Valley REMC in 1939; courtesy KVREMC

But you know, it wasn’t only him, ever. here’s one of the very few pictures I have from those days, one of the interesting things about it that in the ’60s, many of those pictured here were still on the board of the co-op. I knew most of them, and I wish they were still with us. They too understood the mission. When the couldn’t get the power companies to serve them, they did the thing that d’ Tocqueville had commented on all those years before- they formed an association to do it for them. And they built a very successful business on what the power companies had said could never be done. That’s part of Dad‘s story, but you have to multiply that by thousands of these associations all over the country to understand the accomplishment. For what they did was nothing less than bring the American farmer into the 20th century. These were men that you could make a thousand dollar deal with on a handshake, and never worry. Their word really was their bond. As I commented on Jess’s post, there truly were giants in the earth.

But we are talking about saints, well that’s not for us to say, is it? Of all the men in that picture, I know nothing of what church, if any, they attended. Given the make up of the area, I would guess most were Lutheran, Catholic, or Evangelical & Reformed, and a few Methodists. But I would also bet that many, like dad, were afraid the church would fall down if they entered, and besides they had work to do. I suspect I could count on my hands the number of times that dad attended church, in my lifetime. The other half of that we children and Mom were strongly encouraged to be active members. In fact of the 3 siblings, we have all been officers of our churches. But James 2 tells us:

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

To me, by that standard, they are saints indeed. I was going to end with a different hymn but can’t find an appropriate version so I will repeat Jess’s choice of one of the great old All Saints Day hymns.

It strikes me that maybe some of you may read this as me bragging about my dad, and I have been known to do that. But what I am doing here is giving you an example of a man, who lived his life as he felt God commanded, and did his duty.

My purpose is to remind you of the saints, in your family, who have gone before us to prepare the way and to remind you how much we all have to live up to if we wish to be worthy of our forebears.

Eighty Years On

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the Munich agreement, where Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of the UK essentially ceded the Sudetenland, a German heritage area (and vital to the defense of Czechoslovakia) to Adolph Hitler.

I have more sympathy for Chamberlin than most do. My analysis says that if Britain (and France) had gone to war in 1938, they would have lost. The British rearmament was just gearing up, and the things that would save Britain in 1939 were not available in 1938.

What has come down to us though, is that it is always unwise to appease a totalitarian. That is often true. It probably was in the case of Gulf War 1, the second Iraq war is not nearly as clear.

There are cases coming up, mostly in the intersections between Russia, China, and Iran in the Eurasian landmass, where like trying to save Czechoslovakia, it might be clearly an overstretch for the United States to interfere.

That does not mean that we must sit back and allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons, or colonize a goodly chunk of the near east.

We too have our vital interests, centering on keeping the maritime trade routes open, and our allies, most of whom, other than Israel are parts of Oceania. One can even make this case for Britain, itself, although what we would have in times past called Christendom, roughly western Europe, is also a vital American interest.

There’s an interesting discussion of this here.

But our own, overriding vital interest is the freedom and liberty of Americans, nothing at all may be allowed to interfere with this interest. Compared to this, all other interests are secondary

In a sense, America holds the ring, keeping the Eurasian conflict confined to Eurasia.

We need to see clearly what is, and what is not, in our vital interest. As Russia and China also recognize, nuclear war is in nobody’s interest, the problem arises with rogue states like Iran and North Korea, who may not understand that calculus, which is why we need to stop them from obtaining nuclear weapons because it is not a given that deterrence will work with them. That is one of America’s most vital interests.

Perhaps these or similar thoughts inspired my friend, the Administrator of All along the Watchtower (and inactive editor here) Chalcedon 451 to recall to us (in a Tweet) a post of his, which has much relevance for us.

[…]In the end, politics is a second order activity. As the third Marquis of Salisbury once said: ‘God is love and the world is what it is. Explain that?’ The answer is that we are a fallen species. At best we can produce Michaelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and St. Francis; at worse, we produce Attila, Alexander Borgia and Hitler. We have the instincts of angels, and of demons. St Paul knew, as our faith knows, that left to ourselves we will veer off and like the dog return to its vomit. Original Sin is the one dogma that can be proven from our own experience of ourselves.

Politics can cure relatively few of our ills. At best there are some good people there who wish to make a difference to the lives of their fellows; the problem comes when they take the short cut of using the resources of others to fulfil that purpose. The intention is good, but the State is not a person and it is generally a mistake to allow its cold charity to replace the instincts of the human heart. It is best if politicians remember they are merely instruments in God’s hand and do not imagine they are that hand, or even God himself. In an era when faith in God is less, it was replaced by faith in politicians and the State; we are coming to the end of the short era in which that appeared to be a viable option to even the politicians.

People want to be told things are going to be all right in the end; children always want a good night story which ends well. That is not how life is. It is easy, tempting and inevitable that I should end by saying we need a Churchill. But we ought to recall that for the whole of the 1930s he was ignored and in the wilderness. The new democracy did not wish to be lectured or told that all was not going to be well. It wanted to believe that there would be ‘peace in our time’; it wanted to believe that Hitler was not evil in human form; it wanted, and got, its good night story. It also reaped the whirlwind.

‘Blood, toils, tears and sweat’, that was what Churchill promised us in 1940. That same democracy which had wanted pretty lies, woke up and took the truth on the chin. Our politicians are wrong to underestimate our capacity for hearing the truth spoken; as they are to underestimate our need for fairy stories.

From Conservatism, and you should read the rest even though I have presumed to grab more than I should.

There is a lot packed into those short paragraphs, and they are valid for us all. As we reflect on what the last eighty years have taught us, I think Chalcedon’s message strikes quite close to the heart of several of history’s messages to us.

The Psalmist reminds us:

Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God:

That is good advice for us all.

Levin on Kavanaugh, and the Future of the Constitution

Mark Levin was on fire last night. He does a great job of showing the history of the way Kavanaugh is being lynched in Washington. He also goes into why it matters so much.

If you didn’t see it, here it is, if you did, watch it again.

Sorry to seem to be stuck on this, but if the Republicans sell us out on this one, there is little point in bothering with any of it, including voting. Because the politburo will be ruling not our representatives.

Hard to believe the Repubs can’t see that, but greed tends to make for tunnel vision.

Shit or get off the pot, Senate Republicans, It’s only the future of the Republic riding on your shoulders. And by the way, screw this up, and I for one, will never vote for you, again.


Well, perhaps on a somewhat more hopeful note, today is also the Feast Day of Our Lady of Walsingham. The two events conflate today in my mind, bringing this to my mind.

Weepe, weepe O Walsingham,
Whose dayes are nightes,
Blessings turned to blasphemies,
Holy deeds to dispites.

Sinne is where our Ladie sate,
Heaven turned is to hell,
Sathan sittes where our Lord did swaye,
Walsingham oh farewell.

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