As the nice anti-totalitarian Russian author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) famous again and again, violence and lies had been the twin pillars, the soul-destroying foundations, of communist regimes in each time and clime, from Moscow to Beijing to Havana. In the phrases of Martin Malia, the creator of the magisterial The Soviet Tragedy, communism had a recognizable nature, one incompatible in any time or place with liberty and human dignity. As for Solzhenitsyn, he knew of what he spoke. He had spent eleven years in jail, camps, and inner exile the place, fortunately, the scales of ideology fell from his eyes. He skilled the ideological Lie from inside. Because of this, he turned one of the most brave and consequential ethical witnesses of the twentieth century.
Via bitter expertise, Solzhenitsyn arrived at this agency conclusion: The communist regime and beliefs had been in decisive respects at odds with the deepest wellsprings of human nature and with the ethical norms that represent a free and first rate society. How can one attain liberty worthy of human beings when personal property is summarily abolished or dramatically curtailed, the conventional household is assaulted and its prerogatives radically circumscribed, faith is cruelly persecuted, and humane nationwide loyalty and traditions are changed by an summary and coercive utopianism based mostly on contempt for the cultural and civilizational inheritance? Opposite to legend, communism was by no means good “in concept” as so many are wont to say immediately (together with virtually all the college students I’ve taught in recent times). The concept itself calls for this violence towards human nature since communism’s 4 “abolitions,” that of property, the household (bourgeois or in any other case), faith, and the nation, are profoundly at odds with the nature and desires of human beings and the very construction of social and political actuality.
However the actually dramatic implosion of European communism between 1989 and 1991 has not led to the “finish of Historical past”(removed from it) and even the cessation of ideological politics. New varieties of ideological lying have risen in the place of the totalitarian Lie exactly as a result of that Lie has by no means been actually and extensively understood or repudiated. This essay will hint the motion from ideological lying in its traditional totalitarian type to the new varieties of ideological despotism that immediately threaten Western liberty, the seek for reality, and the integrity of human souls. As I’ll present, the two varieties of the Lie are certainly not unrelated.
Solzhenitsyn on the Ideological Lie
As Solzhenitsyn himself testified in a single of the most profound and soul-shaking books of the twentieth century, the three-volume Gulag Archipelago, the nice ideological Lie “offers evildoing its long-sought justification and provides the evildoer the crucial steadfastness and justification.” “Macbeth’s self-justifications had been feeble—and his conscience devoured him,” he famously noticed. Of their guilt and ethical derangement, Macbeth and Woman Macbeth nonetheless bowed earlier than the necessities of conscience and actually went mad because of this of their crimes.
However totalitarian ideology negates conscience and dismisses the ethical legislation of which it’s a reflection as an antiquated justification for sophistication oppression, a device of the forces of “privilege” and oppression (rhetoric that once more has change into all too acquainted). On this grotesque transvaluation of values, no matter promotes world-transforming revolution is critical and good, and no matter stands in its approach is by definition retrograde and evil. The age-old distinction between good and evil, proper and fallacious, is changed by the morally corrupting distinction between “progress” and “response.” The motion of Historical past is hardly coextensive with ethical progress. Furthermore, what is true and fallacious doesn’t essentially change from epoch to epoch or from tradition to tradition. The outdated shouldn’t be essentially antiquated and the “new” needn’t entail an ethical advance. Absolutely, the tragedies of the twentieth century must have taught us to query the ideology of inevitable “historic progress” and to reaffirm the have to respect the elementary distinction between proper and fallacious at the coronary heart of all genuine ethical and political judgment.
Progressive ideologies nearer to house draw on the identical combine of ethical nihilism and rage at the limits inherent in human nature, our society, and even the very construction of actuality. Their rage reveals a crude division of the world that localizes evil in a particular (and an completely dispensable) group of class, race, or gender oppressors, in addition to unrelieved contempt for outdated verities, traditions, and factors of view. At Bard Faculty, we now have just lately seen three pupil activists, up to date “Purple Guards,” charged by its administration to “decolonize” the faculty library of books which are ideologically suspect. Such workout routines in the groves of the academy are not distinctive or sudden. Orwellian book-banning in the title of “progress”! That is blatant authoritarianism dressed up as anti-racism and ethical preening. No progress there.
As Solzhenitsyn has indisputably established, the ideological Lie deceives at a really basic stage. Those that understand themselves as “harmless victims,” bereft of sin and any capability for wrongdoing, or as brokers of historic “progress,” change into overvalued with hubris and really feel themselves to be infallible. They change into oppressors with little or no sense of limits or ethical restraint. In Albert Camus’s memorable phrases, we should as an alternative goal to be “neither victims nor executioners.” That’s the path of ethical sanity and political decency really helpful by each the Christian Solzhenitsyn and the unbelieving Camus.
The Nice Crucial to “Dwell Not By Lies!”
On the day Solzhenitsyn was arrested in Moscow, February 12, 1974—and the day earlier than he was forcibly exiled to the West (first to West Germany, then by option to Switzerland, then to settle all the way down to eighteen productive years of writing in scenic Vermont)—he issued a really dramatic proposal to his compatriots by means of samizdat, or underground self-publishing, and in hurried translation in the Washington Submit. That pungent and memorable textual content, “Live Not by Lies!,” since expertly retranslated, was a clarion name for his fellow residents to recuperate civic satisfaction and self-respect even in the absence of a regime of political and civil liberty. Solzhenitsyn argues that nothing however bloodshed, tyranny, and tragedy might end result from the revolutionary illusions of “immodest youths who sought, by means of terror, blood rebellion, and civil conflict, to make the nation simply and content material.” Solzhenitsyn without delay rejects “the vileness of means” that “begets” the “vileness of the end result” (and the different approach round). “For violence has nothing to cowl itself with however lies, and lies can solely persist by means of violence.” The twin pillars of ideological despotism—violence and lies—have to be rejected at their very supply together with the utopian illusions that encourage them. Drugged with ideology, and with the merciless impatience that marks these impressed by utopian illusions, the path of violence and lies leads a whole individuals off the cliff, like the demoniac Gadarene swine so vividly described in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 8:26-39). One other actually humane path ahead have to be discovered.
Solzhenitsyn finds the path to liberation by means of a self-conscious choice by sturdy, self-respecting souls to not take part in lies: “Private non-participation in lies!” as he strikingly places it in the crucial (Václav Havel would reformulate this crucial as “dwelling in reality” in his well-known 1978 essay “The Energy of the Powerless,” an essay the place he favorably cites Solzhenitsyn at least 4 occasions). After all, nobody is morally obliged to scream the reality at the high of his lungs in the public sq.. However individuals of integrity should not knowingly reinforce the net of totalitarian lying. Women and men of good will should not denounce coworkers or neighbors who’re charged with self-evident lies by a lawless state simply as we should resist a cruelly censorious cancel tradition and the intoxication of brutal Twitter mobs. This path of non-participation in lies will entail sacrifices, maybe the loss of jobs or youngsters barred from promising careers, however not the inevitable internment in jail or camp attribute of the Stalin (and even Lenin) years in the Soviet Union. When Solzhenitsyn wrote his searing manifesto in 1974, the edifice of ideological lying was already “flaking,” as he put it, and would quickly be uncovered for the entire world to see. The state of affairs demanded a even handed mixture of private steadfastness, non secular integrity, and civic braveness.
Braveness however not essentially martyrdom (Solzhenitsyn acknowledged that almost all human beings usually are not naturally brave and that “dissent” in post-Stalinist varieties of Soviet-style communism entailed fewer dangers than in the Lenin and Stalin years of traditional totalitarianism). If the camp of those that refused to reside by lies was multiplied to incorporate hundreds, even tens of hundreds, then Solzhenitsyn and different Russians “is not going to acknowledge our nation!” But when Solzhenitsyn’s compatriots as an alternative select the path of passivity, acquiescence, and the ordinary assent to grotesque lies, then they’d certainly reveal themselves to be “nugatory, hopeless,” and deserving of “scorn.” Quoting Russia’s nationwide poet Pushkin, Solzhenitsyn devastatingly provides:
Why provide herds their liberation?
Their heritage every era
The yoke with jingles, and the whip.
One should start at the starting—the private choice to not reside by lies. From that clever and liberating choice, all else will stream.
Talking to Us in a New State of affairs
What, one may ask, does Solzhenitsyn’s noble attraction to non secular integrity and civic satisfaction need to say to us in the United States, an ostensibly free nation confronted by the rising specter of woke despotism? To make sure, ours is a brand new and totally different state of affairs even when parallels might be readily drawn. We don’t reside underneath the yoke of totalitarianism. But, a era in the past, a political scientist reminiscent of myself might readily and rightly declare that the United States was a rustic largely free of extremist ideological politics and events and with no intelligentsia to talk of. A radicalized intelligentsia was as an alternative typical of nations like France and Russia the place a big half of the mental class assented to ethical nihilism and revolutionary politics represented by 1793 and 1917, respectively. This as soon as putting function of American exceptionalism is, alas, no extra. Our intelligentsia (together with radical teachers, skilled activists, journalists who repudiate outdated norms of equity and objectivity, myriad woke-minded individuals in the excessive tech sector, the entire trade devoted to “variety, fairness, and inclusion,” and advocates of socialism and even communism in “progressive” circles) increasingly more resembles the mental class in Russia between 1860 and 1917, one devoted at the identical time to nihilism, ideological fanaticism, and contempt for patriotism and customary morality. In each circumstances, a tradition of repudiation, as the late Roger Scruton calls it, replaces moderation, widespread sense, and gratitude for our obtained inheritance.
Having grievously failed to return to phrases with the Lie at the basis of communist totalitarianism, to go on its classes to the subsequent generations, we are actually reliving the ideological insanity that gave rise to unrelieved human tragedy in the first place. We danger restoring a world of victims and executioners, the very world Camus and Solzhenitsyn so powerfully warned towards. Weren’t the kulaks (the allegedly affluent peasants) in the Soviet Union and the Jews in the Nazi orbit persecuted, harassed, and killed (and in the Nazi case industrially exterminated) much more for who they had been than for something any member of these suspect lessons and races had finished? Wasn’t the bourgeoisie focused for being “privileged” as if industriousness and success had been at all times or normally a product of villainy and exploitation, an phantasm or lie if there ever was one? Is the obsession with race, class, and gender in each stage of training, in virtually all cultural establishments, in journalism, in company America, and sports activities totally different in precept from the outdated totalitarian and ideological obsession with race and sophistication enemies?
I feel not.
As importantly, how can the dignity of each individual underneath God’s creation thrive and even survive if we proceed to suppose and act in such a grossly divisive method? One is led to ask: Have we discovered nothing from the political tragedies of the twentieth century? The place is the sobriety, the ethical realism, that alone can provide rise to mutual respect, free and first rate politics, and practical and sturdy change inside a framework of essential respect for our nation’s admirable achievements? The fevered politics of purity and perfection are in each respect an enemy of the good, of mutual respect, and a shared liberty underneath the rule of legislation. If we don’t acknowledge this elementary reality, and shortly, we will absolutely lose our civilizational soul and maybe our freedoms, too.
Causes for Hope
However there stay appreciable causes for hope. An impartial liberal reminiscent of Bari Weiss, pushed out of the New York Instances at the starting of the woke ascendancy in the summer time of 2020, has self-consciously taken up Solzhenitsyn’s problem to “Dwell Not by Lies!”—citing his 1974 essay as an inspiration on quite a lot of events. In a putting essay in the November 2021 issue of Commentary, Weiss highlights the intimate connection in our new state of affairs between braveness and “the unqualified rejection of lies.” In the spirit of Solzhenitsyn, she impressively outlines the categorical crucial underlying the rejection of woke despotism as all varieties of ideological despotism: “Don’t communicate untruths, both about your self or anybody else, regardless of the consolation provided by the mob,” on Twitter or elsewhere. She offers a number of inspiring examples of Individuals—professors, lecturers, attorneys, dad and mom—who’re doing exactly that with braveness and ethical integrity. Impressed by Solzhenitsyn, Weiss has a sturdy confidence that in the proper circumstances “braveness might be contagious.”
In his e-book Live Not By Lies, printed in 2020, the Orthodox Christian and conservative tradition critic Rod Dreher attracts correctly on Solzhenitsyn’s attraction to civic braveness and non secular integrity with particular emphasis on the menace to spiritual liberty and conventional morality posed by the woke revolutionaries. His considerate and provocative e-book has bought over 150,000 copies regardless of a de facto media embargo by the likes of the New York Instances.
Then there’s the equally inspiring story of the musician Winston Marshall of the world-famous band Mumford and Sons extensively reported by the British press in the spring of 2021. Beneath immense strain from a censorious Twitter mob for retweeting an account of brutal, Antifa violence in Portland, Oregon, he stop the band however refused to again off or apologize for completely honorable convictions. He didn’t need his band to really feel everlasting strain from a mob whose ferociousness refused to present approach. Impressed by the peroration of Solzhenitsyn’s “Dwell Not By Lies!,” a textual content that fortified his will and gave him encouragement and energy, Marshall remained true to his convictions. Between the mob and his “sense of integrity,” he selected his conscience. That is civic braveness that evokes and reinvigorates the soul.
That is yet one more instance of how Solzhenitsyn’s nice injunction to “Dwell Not by lies!” continues to talk to women and men of good will in an period threatened by a brand new and insidious model of the ideological Lie. We don’t need to overstate. Since free establishments usually are not but moribund in the United States, one wish to imagine that this counter-revolution that Solzhenitsyn has helped instigate has greater than a combating probability at succeeding. Allow us to do our greatest to make this cheap hope come true. However brief of final success, what issues at the beginning is sustaining the integrity of our souls.
The Alternative and Problem Earlier than Us
As I have argued elsewhere, following the Czech Catholic dissident Václav Benda, the categorical rejection of the ideological lie is the precondition for the subsequent essential step of civic salvation; constructing a “parallel polis,” a sequence of parallel establishments that reject the hate-filled lies at the coronary heart of each tyrannical and ideological venture that has deformed the late trendy world. Solely establishments that self-consciously reject woke assumptions in the title of reality and liberty are more likely to keep their integrity and autonomy. The constructing and sustaining of such establishments is increasingly more in proof and have to be supported by all individuals of good will. However one should start at the starting—the private choice to not reside by lies. From that clever and liberating choice, all else will stream.
All that’s requested of us is to show ethical integrity and a modicum of civic spirit. If we reject this path, we absolutely deserve the scorn owed Pushkin’s passive and contemptuous herd of cattle who’re all too content material with their enslavement. The selection—so momentous with consequence—is actually ours.
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