Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008

In the sidebar of this blog, I feature an important quote from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
— source:  The Gulag Archipelago (1973)

The quote is regrettably relevant. It needed to be said in the context of the communist U.S.S.R. and it needs to be said in America, post 9/11.

Aleksandr_Solzhenitsyn_1Indeed, Solzhenitsyn was a fierce critic of western capitalism and materialism. He denied that western democracy is a pancea for the world’s ills. But he was lauded for his determined campaign to expose the crimes committed by his own government, at considerable personal risk.
(He had already spent eight years in labour camps for making disrespectful remarks about Joseph Stalin in a letter.)
Solzhenitsyn, who won the Nobel prize in literature in 1970, died on Sunday at the age of 89. Here are some other examples of his wisdom, gleaned from Wikiquotes.

  • A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.
    — unsourced
  • Violence, less and less embarrassed by the limits imposed by centuries of lawfulness, is brazenly and victoriously striding across the whole world, unconcerned that its infertility has been demonstrated and proved many times in history. What is more, it is not simply crude power that triumphs abroad, but its exultant justification. The world is being inundated by the brazen conviction that power can do anything, justice nothing.
    — undelivered Nobel lecture, 1970
  • Let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone:  it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence can only be concealed by a lie, and the lie can only be maintained by violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE.
    — undelivered Nobel lecture, 1970
  • In our country the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.
    The Observer (29 December 1974)
  • You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power — he’s free again.
    — Bobynin, The First Circle
  • One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the marketplace. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to.
    — Shulubin, in Cancer Ward
  • We have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity …. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession:  our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.
    — Harvard University commencement address (1978 )
  • 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.
    — Harvard University commencement address (1978 )

Let me conclude with a brief remark on the topic of patriotism.

There is no doubt that Solzhenitsyn loved Russia; he was a true patriot. He was expelled from Russia in 1974 and spent 20 years in exile in the West. Despite such bitter experiences, Solzhenitsyn returned to Russia in 1994, four years after his citizenship was officially restored.

But Solzhenitsyn’s patriotism did not preclude fierce criticism of the government. On the contrary, the true patriot makes a distinction at this precise point:  he speaks out against the government, as necessary, to promote the best interests of the nation. That is one of the important lessons to be drawn from the life of this great man.

Aleksandr_Solzhenitsyn_2(source: New York Times)


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. juggling mother
    Aug 05, 2008 @ 14:59:05

    A truely great man. I’ve been in 1370 all weekend and missed the news:( But he will live on in his works -both literary & political.


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