August 4, 2008

"It is within the power of writers and artists to do much more: to defeat the lie!"

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has died. One of the giants of human history.
In the autumn of 1961, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a 43-year-old high school teacher of physics and astronomy in Ryazan, a city some 70 miles south of Moscow. He had been there since 1956, when his sentence of perpetual exile in a dusty region of Kazakhstan was suspended. Aside from his teaching duties, he was writing and rewriting stories he had conceived while confined in prisons and labor camps since 1944.

One story, a short novel, was “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” an account of a single day in an icy prison camp written in the voice of an inmate named Ivan Denisovich Shukov, a bricklayer. With little sentimentality, he recounts the trials and sufferings of “zeks,” as the prisoners were known, peasants who were willing to risk punishment and pain as they seek seemingly small advantages like a few more minutes before a fire. He also reveals their survival skills, their loyalty to their work brigade and their pride.

The day ends with the prisoner in his bunk. “Shukov felt pleased with his life as he went to sleep,” Mr. Solzhenitsyn wrote. Shukov was pleased because, among other things, he had not been put in an isolation cell, and his brigade had avoided a work assignment in a place unprotected from the bitter wind, and he had swiped some extra gruel, and had been able to buy a bit of tobacco from another prisoner.

“The end of an unclouded day. Almost a happy one,” Mr. Solzhenitsyn wrote, adding: “Just one of the 3,653 days of his sentence, from bell to bell. The extra three days were for leap years.”

Mr. Solzhenitsyn typed the story single spaced, using both sides to save paper.
Much, much more at the link, but let me add this:
His rare public appearances could turn into hectoring jeremiads. Delivering the commencement address at Harvard in 1978, he called the country of his sanctuary spiritually weak and mired in vulgar materialism. Americans, he said, speaking in Russian through a translator, were cowardly. Few were willing to die for their ideals, he said. He condemned both the United States government and American society for its “hasty” capitulation in Vietnam. And he criticized the country’s music as intolerable and attacked its unfettered press, accusing it of violations of privacy.

Many in the West did not know what to make of the man. He was perceived as a great writer and hero who had defied the Russian authorities. Yet he seemed willing to lash out at everyone else as well — democrats, secularists, capitalists, liberals and consumers.
Here's that Harvard speech. Read it. I'll just excerpt at part about our legal system:
Western society has given itself the organization best suited to its purposes, based, I would say, on the letter of the law. The limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting and manipulating law, even though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames. An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it.

I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses.

And it will be simply impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.

58 comments:

Quayle said...

His Harvard speech was prophetic in its understanding of what we are now experiencing.

Hoosier Daddy said...

What I still find amazing is that I actually know people who still reflexively react with eye rolls and clucking tongues when I mention that the Soviet Union was truly an evil empire.

Then again to them, the only true gulag is Gitmo.

Cabbage said...

Вечная память.

Randy said...

An impressive author and a brave man, yes, but "one of the giants of human history?" Hardly.

Outis said...

Mr. Solzhenitsyn typed the story single spaced, using both sides to save paper.

I remember how astonished I was when I discovered how chronic paper shortages had been in the Soviet Union. I had know that the Soviet Union ultimately collapsed because of its inability to efficiently produce goods and services, and I knew of fuel shortages and food shortages and shortages of heavy durable goods and clothing shortages. But it was the fact that paper was in short supply for decades and decades that finally made me realize just how badly run Soviet society had been. I mean, how common is paper?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.

This is profound and makes me think of two "legal" rulings recently that may be within the so called letter of the law, but are unjust and offensive to the natural sensibilities of what is ethical and right.

Kelo: where any person's property can be taken for no other reason than to make somebody else wealthy

Kennedy: where a child can be brutally cruelly raped, tortured, with no remorse and the perpetrator is allowed to live.

Legal because the unelected for life judges on the Supreme Court say so, but is this really ethical? Do these decisions fit into the spiritual sense of just and right? Not for me.

Roger J. said...

There is an interesting column on Solzhenitsyn's death on Volokh--It mentions Solzhenitsyn's anti-semitism and his apparent preference for Czarist Russia. I say this not in attempt to discredit Solzhenitsyn or his work; just to point out that human beings are remarkably complex people. RIP Mr. Solzhenitsyn.

William said...

Harriet Beecher Stowe, whateever her merits as a writer or person, is beyond criticism. She was instrumental in the end of slavery. I think even Emily Dickinson would bow to her superiority. Solhenitsyn likewise exists in a dimension beyond politics and literary criticism. His courage and character, perhaps more than his artistry, were essential in revealing the true nature of communism and undermining it moral force.....I cannot help but noting how many writers in the west, still of high reputation, helped to establish communism as the high moral force of history. I'm thinking of Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair with their reputations as investigative reporters who failed to note the famines and the death camps. Solzhenitsyn shamed others besides the communists.

Bissage said...

Years ago Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn threw an electronic organizer out the window of a moving car and he hit my sister in the head.

War! What is it good for? Absolutely Nothin’ – WOAH!!!

Kirby Olson said...

His barometer is a very profound Christian one. What an amazing witness.

John Lynch said...

He was a a big C Conservative. And a Russian nationalist. For him, Communism was an alien idea that destroyed Russia's natural development.

To him, Russia was its own civilization. It wasn't Western, and the West was not a guide for its development. He spent a lot of time explaining that Czarist Russia wasn't so bad and would have gotten better in its own way had the revolution not happened. The revolution was not inevitable and could have been avoided.

What bothered him wasn't the communists' violation of human rights in the Western sense, but the destruction of Russia's own history and traditions. They taught the Russians to act the way they did by imposing a foreign ideology. It was alien to Russia in his eyes to act like that.

Contrast with Sakharov, who really was a liberal and a democrat. While both of them fought the Communists, they did it from very different perspectives. Big C Conservatives are critics of liberal democracy as a universal idea. That's where Hume and Burke started, after all. Solzinitsyn was odd because classical Conservatives aren't usually in the spotlight anymore.

vbspurs said...

It mentions Solzhenitsyn's anti-semitism and his apparent preference for Czarist Russia.

That is correct. He was an old-fashioned Russian Orthodox, along the lines of Tsar Nicholas II's tutor, Konstantin Pobedonostsev.

These are not easy men to like or understand, because so much of their Christianity (at once so strict, and self-abnegatory; therefore unmodern) is based on anti-semitism which runs rife in Russian history, regardless of epoch.

But I wonder if Richard Wagner had died in our era, would we mention his own anti-semitism as some kind of stop-gap in our appreciation of his work?

Probably, knowing the internet, we would and we wouldn't even stop there either.

Solzhenitsyn was a prophet. His prophesies of his country's wild veering from Gulag to Oligarch Chaos, have all come to pass.

He wanted to save Russia from itself, but was unable to even on his return to his homeland in the '90s.

They say his television talk show was cancelled because at the end, no one watched.

It's not easy being behind the times, as well as ahead of them.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

Big C Conservatives are critics of liberal democracy as a universal idea.

That was a great reply, John. I agree on the whole with most of it.

But you emphasise too much the political, and not the religious element of his Russian nationalism.

I mean, he wasn't Bismarck or Metternich, Big C Conservative icons, was he.

John Paul II MIGHT also be called a Big C Conservative Christian like Solzhenitsyn, because he criticised a lot of Capitalism's excesses, thinking that greed and materialism were on par with Marxism.

But whereas Solzhenitsyn blamed Marxism for its internationalist (Jewish) tone, in "un-Russifying" Russia, John Paul II embraced Judaism like no other Pope before him.

Cheers,
Victoria

nina said...

I'll not dispute "giants in history." We made him that. A giant needn't be inherently "great." Though Solzhenitsyn was at the very least corageous, provocative, deeply Russian, hardly a prophet but possessed with a sense of history and a very personal understanding of destruction. Perhaps weak on solutions, but then, we should not expect him to be the interpreter of our times here as well.
I'm glad to see his complexity recognized here, in the comments. Too often, Solzhenitsyn was cast in the role of the anti-communist, in the same way that we hear the Soviet Union being summarically dismissed as the evil empire. Are we really that shallow? There's communism the political theory, the economic ordering of things, the post-revolution rhetoric... Are theories based on reordering of the means of production necessarily "evil"?
The commenter who noted that what Solzhenitsyn mourned most was the loss of Russianness following the revolution is, I think, correct. Everything changed -- from family relations to systems of education to the organization of living spaces. But was the gulag inevitable? After the fact, we can say yes. Change leaders and you may have had a different answer. That's the problem with dictatorships -- they're very dictator driven!

As in Poland, there was that chronic shortage of paper. Especially toilet paper. But at least in Poland, the chronic shortages were the beginning of the end for those in power. But then, Poland had almost nothing in common with the Soviet Union or Russia -- a fact that most people here seem not to fully grasp. Russia was, is, like no other country on the planet. Solzhenitsyn knew that. Too well, perhaps.

knox said...

I cannot help but noting how many writers in the west, still of high reputation, helped to establish communism as the high moral force of history. I'm thinking of Lincoln Steffens and Upton Sinclair with their reputations as investigative reporters who failed to note the famines and the death camps

I had a 20th Century American History class in college where we had to read books by both Steffens and Sinclair.... my teacher never noted it either. In fact, none of my teachers throughout high school or college had any interest in telling students what life was like in the USSR. I didn't know how bad it really was til I was somewhere in my 20s. I had heard about things like standing in line for toilet paper but that's about it.

Even now it's really hard to find documentaries or movies that depict what it was like. At least when I've looked on Amazon and Netflix I've not been very successful. Are there any more "Lives of Others" out there?

vbspurs said...

Are theories based on reordering of the means of production necessarily "evil"?

The implementation of the theories certainly were.

Transferring the means of production from private hands to public hands necessitates an almost super-human dedication which, as has been seen from Russia to China to Cuba, translates to the destruction of human lives -- both the physical and livelihood varieties.

To create a "worker's paradise" means constantly thwarting the private impulses of people, their ambitions, their freedoms.

Even if you were to add all of the very great evils of Communism, from the incessant spying on its people by KGB, Securitate, Staasi and other such organs, to the Cult of the Personality dictatorships, as well as indoctrinating their young in mandatory youth groups like the Komsomol/Pioneros, etc. there remains the political philosophy of Marxism itself, which is a swiss cheese of intellectualism, a black hole of insidious values.

So yes, Communism was evil in every way that evil makes sense to humans.

Cheers,
Victoria

ricpic said...

Solzenhitsyn was wrong about restraint. Without the practice of voluntary self-restraint on the part of the overwhelming majority of its citizenry no free western society could function as such. A man's word is his bond is at least as foundational as the rule of law.

Cedarford said...

Randy said...
An impressive author and a brave man, yes, but "one of the giants of human history?" Hardly.


We call people whose thoughts have momentous impact "giants". By that measure, given his galvanizing impact on the West and the dissident movements inside the Warsaw pact, there is no doubt on Solzhenitsyn's place as a giant of history.

===============

Solzhenitsyn has been called anti-semitic. Again, there is little doubt if you define anti-semitism as any criticism of what Jews in power have done, historically.

Solzhenitsyn was a fierce critic of the central role of Jews in early Bolshevik circles (51% of Central Committee at one point despite being 2% of the population.)

Or specifics:

1. Solzhenitsyn claims Jews led the liquidation campaign against the Orthodox Church and it's prominant laymen, while preserving Jewish religious leaders and institutions. Along with, among the 1st laws established by the Soviet, making anti-semitism or denouncing Jews in official posts as counter-revolutionary and as a capital offense

2. Solzhenitsyn maintained Jews were heavily involved in apparatus of state terror (Cheka, GRU, NKVD, slave labor (under Yagoda), death list creators, creation of the Gulag system, courts shift from individual to collective justice) in numbers outside all proportion to their population.
And, in his time, Solzhenitsyn said jews dominated Party selections to elite university positions and appointments to elite Party-controlled jobs.

3. Jews had key security, terror, Kulak collectivisation, grain confiscation positions in 1920s and 30s Ukraine - and bear heavy responsibility for the Holomodor, the genocide of some 4.5 to 5.5 million by execution and deliberate starvation.
Ukrainian Christians.

4. The people that killed the Czar and his family were all Jews in the Ektarina Cell.
Something that Solzhenitsyn found of supreme moral importance. Regicide and then the cold-blooded killing to children to wipe out the royal line the Russian people had for all it's history as a united nation was something Solzhenitsyn believed Russians, even those who wished to try and shoot the Czar himself - incapable of - but something Jews were capable of.

5. His concept of the Jew as the powerful alien within frequently inamicable to Russian peasant and Christian interests, but at the same time the people Russians needed to help them from backwardness to modernity. Going from the Czar's tax collectors to the leaders of several radical movements aimed at destruction of the Russian Empire to the parties behind half the Soviet Democide to the disloyal and overly privileged "Cosmopolitans" of the post-Khruschev days.
Solzhenitsyn saw Jews as having the same love-hate relationship with most Slavic majorities they did with the Jews. At times the Russians did Pogroms, but at times the Jews delighted in economic exploitation or acting as eager executioners of Russians and other groups like Cossacks, Ukraines, Baltic peoples, Poles.
Slavs saw them as necessary modernizers, yet as power and money-thirsty Elites whose interests did not dovetail with the Slavs own.
He wrote two books on the history of the troubled relationship between Jews and Russians going back to medieval times.

6. Solzhenitsyn notes that the notion many Westerners have that "Jews were Stalin's greatest victims" is a lie. Jews were Stalins allies and suffered less than most groups from the Red Terror. After WWII, Stalin relied on a disproportionate number of Jews to staff up his E Europe puppet states and their secret police and courts. Only at the end, when Stalin grew suspicious of Jewish loyalty to the Soviet Union, did he begin to think of Jews as a negative force best removed in large numbers by force into their own autonomous exile region like he had done with Tatars, Chechens, Cossacks. But Stalin died before any substantial persecution started.


Agree with Solzhenitsyn or not, his opinions are not unique. His views are not atypical of Slavs in E Europe and Russia post-WWII, or in the post-communist today, where the complaints have gone to disproportionate jewish involvement in the rackets, corrupt oligarch-owned businesses.

Pogo said...

"Are theories based on reordering of the means of production necessarily "evil"? "

Excellent answer, Victoria.
The answer is, undoubtedly yes, because the end (a reordered means of production) inevitably and inescapably results in the means to achieve it.
Which is coercion.

Although flawed (aren't we all), Solzhenitsyn did a very very good thing. The left hardly knew what to do with him. He was ignored and even demonized by the Western "peace movement".

In 1988 at the Moscow Summit, President Reagan had the temerity to quote Solzhenitsyn about religious liberty on their own soil. What a moment that must have been.

Randy said...

The left hardly knew what to do with him.

True. Neither did Gerald R. Ford for that matter.

Pogo said...

Nixon, too.
Shameful, all of it.

Hoosier Daddy said...

knox said Even now it's really hard to find documentaries or movies that depict what it was like.

Well it wasn't about the USSR but Der Tunnel is a true story about an East German swimmer who defected to the West and then with help from others, dug a tunnel to the East and smuggled out hundreds of other East Germans. Fantastic movie.

A favorite of mine which is actually a comedy is Goodbye Lenin. Very funny stuff.

The Bolshevik Revolution was portrayed as a romantic event, much like the French Revolution. Liberte, Equalitae, Fraternitae and all that. It's just when you looked beyond the glamour of banners and slogans and saw the bodies piling up it lost a lot of its luster. Unless of course you were Walter Duranty and subscribed to the breaking of eggs to make an omelet theory.

Pogo said...

"Even now it's really hard to find documentaries or movies that depict what it was like."

My son's a movie fan. We have discussed topics like this. He asked the same question.

The answer has in part to do with American leftism controlling the film industry.

But it's hard to tell such an horrific tale. The numbers are enormous and numbing. It requires I suspect an epic tale like Lord of the Rings to describe it by analogy. A standard narrative would be, well, unbelievable. Although The Killing Fields did an admirable job.

knox said...

pogo,

you would think that enough time has passed since the collapse that there would be at least some films emerging. And there's certainly never been any shortage of info about the holocaust. Anway, there's a lot of great storytelling there, and Hollywood's ignoring it.

Pogo said...

"there's certainly never been any shortage of info about the holocaust"

Because the left is OK with hating Nazis, since they could lie and claim they were from 'the right'.

It cannot muster even a whimper of protest about 100 million killed in the 20th century by communism, ecept the Killing Fields", but you had to know the back story to have learnt that. It wasn't in the movie.

Why?
Because it would mean admitting they were wrong about the left.

Roger J. said...

Geez, Pogo--you still don't get it: Communism is OK, its just the theory was implemented by bad people--had it been someone like Obama, it would have really been a worker's paradise. Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Minh, Che Guevara--they just didnt do it right. Still, 80 million eggs are a hell of a lot of eggs for an omlete that never happened.

Freder Frederson said...

Because the left is OK with hating Nazis, since they could lie and claim they were from 'the right'.

Oh give it a rest--Fascism was a reaction against communism and was founded to fight against international communism. Yes, Mussolini was a reformed socialist and the Nazis used some socialist rhetoric, but they were definitely right wing movements. Look who supported them in this country and in Europe.

Are you really making the claim that our resident Nazi Cedarford is a leftist?

Kirk Parker said...

knox,

There is a film version of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, though it's out of print and pretty hard to find. (Having seen it once back in '86, I finally got to introdoce the rest of my family to it when my enterprising youngest son requested it through interlibrary loan at his college library.)

Kirk Parker said...

freder,

I'm the one who keeps pushing the theory, only 90% in jest, that C4 is a far-left mole.

Salamandyr said...

The confusion arises in part because in America, the Right is generally associated with nationalism, in addition to old time classical liberalism, the free market, and reactionary puritanism. Since Fascism was a nationalist movement, it somehow gets equated with the defenders of conservatism in America.

It's a rather silly comparison, since outside of nationalism, the American Right has nothing in common with the fascists.

Pogo said...

"Oh give it a rest ...they were definitely right wing movements."

Your ignorance about fascism is inexcusable. Salamandyr is absolutely correct.

blake said...

Are you really making the claim that our resident Nazi Cedarford is a leftist?

I think C4 is, like Solzhenitsyn, oversimplified by his detractors.

Having said that, I've seen him write passionately in favor of nationalized health care.

Reminds me of "Army of Darkness" somehow: "Good, bad, I'm the guy with the gun."

Right, left, he is who he is.

Freder Frederson said...

Since Fascism was a nationalist movement, it somehow gets equated with the defenders of conservatism in America.

It had a lot more in common with traditional conservatism as it extolled traditional ethics and morality and despised the modern--including art and architecture. Both Hitler and Mussolini worshiped traditional values and preached against modern decadence.

Where was the "socialism", other than being part of the name of the Nazi party? Who fought the Fascists in Spain (the longest lasting Fascist state in the world)? Are you really claiming Franco was a leftist?

Germany never achieved anywhere near the level of state control over industry that either the U.S. or Britain did during the war (granted it was probably due more to incompetence than lack of trying). The Nazis didn't nationalize industries. Even businesses confiscated from the Jews were turned over to private entities rather than turned into state enterprises.

blake said...

knox,

4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days is a pretty clear indictment of the regime in Romania.

Hollywood may never make a film that shows Communism for what it was. But the people who used to live under Communist rule will. And have.

And I've seen complaints from Romania that the above movie shows their country in a less than favorable light, and Communism wasn't so bad, etc.

It's dumb to argue about who was where on this left/right political scale. That scale's not a line, it's a circle.

Why not, instead, ask if something promotes freedom (actually, not just theoretically) or inhibits it?

blake said...

Are theories based on reordering of the means of production necessarily "evil"?

Victoria and Pogo have responded well, I think, but I would add the following caveat:

There's nothing evil about imagining a new order. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence was a pretty wild act of imagination.

It's when you start from false premises and use force to try to change the immutable, or to pretend that you have changed it--that's when the evil comes in.

On the positive side, technology has "reordered" productivity, and will continue to do so in positive ways. Means of production are continually being decentralized.

Revenant said...

Oh give it a rest--Fascism was a reaction against communism and was founded to fight against international communism.

So "left-wing" is the same as "pro-communist", Freder? All people opposed to communism are "right-wing", are they? Because its a funny thing... whenever one of the more overwrought conservatives around here calls Obama or Hillary a Communist, you're always one of the first to snivel and whine about it. Why? According to you only right-wingers hate Communists. Are you a right-winger, Freder?

I think your claim is a vicious slander on all the decent men and women of the Left who took a strong stand against communism.

Revenant said...

Hollywood may never make a film that shows Communism for what it was.

"Moscow on the Hudson" did a pretty good job of portraying life in the Soviet Union of the early 1980s, actually.

Freder Frederson said...

So "left-wing" is the same as "pro-communist", Freder? All people opposed to communism are "right-wing", are they?

Brilliant logic. Your comprehension is astounding. Let me see if I follow it correctly.

Ford competes with Chevy. Therefore every car that is not a Ford is a Chevy.

Revenant said...


Brilliant logic. Your comprehension is astounding. Let me see if I follow it correctly.


You ought to be able to, as the logic was entirely your own. You claimed fascism can't be left-wing because it arose in opposition to Communism.

As for your earlier question about what Nazism had in common with socialism: government health care, environmental management, government regulation of agriculture and industry, eugenics programs, massive public-works programs, vilification of free-market capitalism, suppression of government-independent businesses ... and, most importantly, promotion of the idea that the needs of society trump the rights of the individual -- then, as now, the core ideal of socialism.

It wasn't exactly the same, of course. The key difference was that instead of the international socialist "us vs them" of "workers vs. owners", it had the "us vs them" of "our country vs the others". Mussolini's key insight was that Italian workers felt more kinship with Italian employers than they did with Russian workers. The underlying role of government was the same in both ideologies, though.

It had a lot more in common with traditional conservatism as it extolled traditional ethics and morality

Certainly the Nazis sucked up to organized religion during their earlier days, and the Catholic and Lutheran churches (both rabidly anti-Semitic at the time) went along with it largely out of a justified fear of what the Communists would do. But once in power the Nazis abandoned that facade. You could argue that they *pretended* to support moral and ethical traditions in order to achieve power, but once they were IN power their morals and ethics were anything but traditional.

blake said...

"Moscow on the Hudson" did a pretty good job of portraying life in the Soviet Union of the early 1980s, actually.

Robin Williams movies don't count.

(Don't ask me why. This is Trooper York's area.)

Revenant said...

That's too bad, because "Moscow" is the only Williams movie that doesn't make me want to smack him with a rolled-up newspaper. He does a pretty credible Russian accent, too.

William said...

.Some gulags were so shabbily constructed that during winter storms not just the prisoners but also the guards and even the guard dogs perished....When they heard Stalin had died, the prisoners in the gulags cried because they thought that if Stalin had known of their plight, he surely would have freed them.....Seldom has such pervasive evil been wedded to such pervasive incompetence...Hitler was a very bad man but outside of Celine and Riefenstahl and maybe a few others, there were no first rate artists who supported him. It is a great scandal how many first rate intellectuals in the west were willing to give communism the benefit of the doubt and extol its virtues. And even now they are unwilling to examine their value systems to see how they were led into such mistakes. Instead we get movies idealizing John Reed. Someone will probably claim that I'm a mccarthyite for offering this criticism.

ronbo said...

A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses.

Reading that argument, especially in light of Solzhenitsyn's flirtation with classical themes of anti-semitism ("money-grubbing cosmopolitans" not "disloyal, power-hungry Zionists"), made me think immediately of The Merchant of Venice.

Randy said...

Revenant: Whenever I run across one of these arguments, I wonder why almost no one uses the phrase totalitarianism. I guess Hannah Arendt is passé?

vbspurs said...

Top 10 Films Showing Communism at Work:

10. The Killing Fields (Cambodia)

9. East-West (Soviet Russia)

8. Alicia en el pueblo de Maravillas (Cuba)

7. Der Tunnel (East Germany)

6. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Soviet Russia)

5. 1984 (Totalitarianism)

4. 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days (Romania)

3. Ninotchka (Soviet Russia)

2. Memories of Underdevelopment (Cuba)

1. The Lives of Others (East Germany)

One film that more or less shows both "sides" of the story, is Goodbye, Lenin.

One that lefties cream themselves over is Ya Kuba.

And a must-read is Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, which you can read online on Google Books here.

It was a best-seller in the underground Samizdat system, where people took it on themselves to copy (often labouriously by hand) "subversive" or "counter-revolutionary" books to share with other intellectuals and interested parties at the time.

Since they risked imprisonment and even death to do so, if caught, it behooves everyone to remember just what "evil" we're really talking about here.

Cheers,
Victoria

vbspurs said...

The film list, BTW, is entirely mine, subject to my standards of cinematic taste and import given the topic. Nevertheless, I'll stand by it 100%.

ron st.amant said...

Anyone who has not read "One Day..." should do so immediately...brilliant and chilling.

It felt odd to me that he embraced Putin and the current shift to consolidation of power in Russia in his end days.

blake said...

Ninotchka, Ninotchka!

Good call on that one. It sort of suggests that the soviets really just needed to lighten up and have some champagne.

vbspurs said...

It felt odd to me that he embraced Putin and the current shift to consolidation of power in Russia in his end days.

I haven't kept up with him, post-1994, but I'm not surprised if that was the case, Ron.

Putin is a nationalist. Yes, in the traditional Soviet mold of strongman leader from which he hails, but one who puts Russia above all other interests, including other CIS' nations. He fights Chechen rebels in part because they challenge Mother Russia's supremacy in the region, as well as being Muslims. He also sabre-rattles, and talked big of bringing Russia back to its "glory days" (in part, to quell the Communist Party's strength in elections, since that's their entire platform).

Yeltsin was a different political creature. A total muzhik, nonetheless, he was laid-back, rather than suspicious and envious, the traditional landed Russian's characteristics.

People like Solzhenitsyn aren't exactly looking for freedom. They are looking for historical pride, strength through self-awareness, for a renunciation of falsehoods (as they see them).

It's hard to rule Russia save with a whip, as Russians themselves say. I think Solzhenitsyn cared who was doing the whipping.

Cheers,
Victoria

knox said...

Thanks, everybody for the recommendations.

William said...

Victoria: No place on your list for Dr Zhivago?....I take exception to the last scene where the young lady strides purposefully across the mighty power dam. The message being that great tribulations were endured but nonetheless great things were accomplished--i.e here's your omelet.....The people who care enough about the Civil War to write novels about it were generally southerners. We thus get a skewered view of the south. Gone With the Wind is a great movie but really it is pro-slavery. I have the feeling that Mamie had a somewhat different narrative of events....Anyway. I think Zhivago is like Gone With the Wind--a great epic movie but there are other voices.

blake said...

I kind of like Andy Garcia's The Lost City because that really shows that there's no difference between a glorious worker's revolution and any common coup-de-tat.

LutherM said...

How does a Government gocern best, with liberty, compassion, authority and laws?
A very long time ago, in Graduate School, (before Law School), one of the recommended courses was Comparative Government. The Governments studied were (1) Great Britain; (2) France under whatever version of legal framework existing immediately prior to le grand Charles; (3) USSR after Stalin; and (4) Germany during the Weimar Republic. The course included how the Governments, all ostensibly "Democracies", were supposed to function, how they actually governed, and why, in those failures of Democratic ideals, they failed.
One conclusion reached was that the population's adherence to the ideals inherent in what we call Democracy was as important as the actual words of the laws.

Solzhenitsyn writes, " a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either. A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses."
A wonderful thought - but how do you accomplish something better. How do you establish a legal framework which protects those ideals which " have been found to be implicit in the concept of ordered liberty".
Under the extraordinary circumstances of defeat, reparations, partial occupation, inflation, then crushing depression, Weimar failed. If there had been a long history of Democracy in Germany, perhaps it would have survived.
The Government of the United States protects rights, but only because a sufficient number of citizens believe that our Constitution, our ideals are important.

vbspurs said...

Blake, was it you who mentioned Ninotchka earlier? I knew we were kindered spirits. ;)

And of course, The Lost City is magnificent in showing you the wide sweep of a time, but it's flawed. Like Warren Beatty's Reds, who however, received endless accolades.

In fact, perhaps this shows my distaste for romantic epics, since William mentioned that I omitted Dr. Zhivago.

Confession: I have yet to watch it.

Ruth Anne bullied me into watching Spinal Tap at last, and I loved it. Maybe someone can bully me into watching Omar Sharif wooing Julie Christie too.

Cheers,
Victoria

Revenant said...

Whenever I run across one of these arguments, I wonder why almost no one uses the phrase totalitarianism.

People forget that the original meaning of "totalitarianism" was simply that there was no area of for which the government was not ultimately responsible -- that there was no problem or need for which the answer "that's not the government's business" held true.

These days, most people accept totalitarianism -- in its original sense -- as the norm. Pop quiz: name something for which neither of our major parties favors a ban, a subsidy, or a regulatory scheme.

Kirby Olson said...

Denisovitch goes to the gulag for eight years for telling a JOKE against Stalin.

I think it's important to remember that the man HAD a sense of humor, and in some way thought this was crucial to human life.

He's not some kind of Iron Guard throwback as he's been depicted in this thread.

Or, if he is, there are complicating factors. He's in favor of HUMOR.

blake said...

Victoria--

Yes, The Lost City is highly flawed. And it was most certainly buried.

And, yes, Ninotchka (with Melvyn Douglas not Don Ameche) has come up twice in the past couple of days.

bearbee said...

Tenacity.

I read 'Gulag' and 'One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich' many years ago and wondered how anyone could survive such an existence.