Thursday, August 07, 2008

RIP Alexander Isayevich Solzhenyitsin 1918-2008

Few people can boast that they gave a significant contribution to a collapse of an entire empire merely by writing and speaking. Alexander Solzhenyitsin is definitely one of them. His books set the intelectual foundation for the fall of the communist system in Russia and Eastern Europe and dented the romantic image of the USSR many left-wing intellectuals in the West were cultivating. He also did not fall into the trap of blaming all the ills of the Soviet Union on Stalin, but in fact saw the entire system and ideology of communism as faulty thus earning banishment from his home country.

Needless to say, this made him a hero to all opponents of comunism worldwide. Yet, there was a part of Solzhenyitsin we did not know, or rather we were not allowed to know by the so-called western democracy. Apparently, Alexander Isayevich was not very fond of the modern western way of life either, as George Friedman of Stratfor writes, via View from the Right:

In the West, he was seen as a hero by all parties. Conservatives saw him as an enemy of communism. Liberals saw him as a champion of human rights. Each invented Solzhenitsyn in their own image. He was given the Noble Prize for Literature, which immunized him against arrest and certified him as a great writer. Instead of arresting him, the Soviets expelled him, sending him into exile in the United States.

When he reached Vermont, the reality of who Solzhenitsyn was slowly sank in. Conservatives realized that while he certainly was an enemy of communism and despised Western liberals who made apologies for the Soviets, he also despised Western capitalism just as much. Liberals realized that Solzhenitsyn hated Soviet oppression, but that he also despised their obsession with individual rights, such as the right to unlimited free expression. Solzhenitsyn was nothing like anyone had thought, and he went from being the heroic intellectual to a tiresome crank in no time. Solzhenitsyn attacked the idea that the alternative to communism had to be secular, individualist humanism. He had a much different alternative in mind.

Solzhenitsyn saw the basic problem that humanity faced as being rooted in the French Enlightenment and modern science. Both identify the world with nature, and nature with matter. If humans are part of nature, they themselves are material. If humans are material, then what is the realm of God and of spirit? And if there is no room for God and spirituality, then what keeps humans from sinking into bestiality? For Solzhenitsyn, Stalin was impossible without Lenin's praise of materialism, and Lenin was impossible without the Enlightenment.

From Solzhenitsyn's point of view, Western capitalism and liberalism are in their own way as horrible as Stalinism. Adam Smith saw man as primarily pursuing economic ends. Economic man seeks to maximize his wealth. Solzhenitsyn tried to make the case that this is the most pointless life conceivable. He was not objecting to either property or wealth, but to the idea that the pursuit of wealth is the primary purpose of a human being, and that the purpose of society is to free humans to this end.

Solzhenitsyn made the case--hardly unique to him--that the pursuit of wealth as an end in itself left humans empty shells. He once noted Blaise Pascal's aphorism that humans are so endlessly busy so that they can forget that they are going to die--the point being that we all die, and that how we die is determined by how we live. For Solzhenitsyn, the American pursuit of economic well being was a disease destroying the Western soul.

He viewed freedom of expression in the same way. For Americans, the right to express oneself transcends the content of the expression. That you speak matters more than what you say. To Solzhenitsyn, the same principle that turned humans into obsessive pursuers of wealth turned them into vapid purveyors of shallow ideas. Materialism led to individualism, and individualism led to a culture devoid of spirit. The freedom of the West, according to Solzhenitsyn, produced a horrifying culture of intellectual self-indulgence, licentiousness and spiritual poverty.

And it wasn't just the disenchantement with western liberalism which worried the establishment in the west enough to sweep any mention of Solzhenyitsin under the carpet, it was his vision of post-communist Russia that truly invoked apocaliptic scenarios in their minds:

Solzhenitsyn believed there was an authentic Russia that would emerge from this disaster. It would be a Russia that first and foremost celebrated the motherland, a Russia that accepted and enjoyed its uniqueness. This Russia would take its bearings from no one else. At the heart of this Russia would be the Russian Orthodox Church, with not only its spirituality, but its traditions, rituals and art.

The state's mission would be to defend the motherland, create the conditions for cultural renaissance, and--not unimportantly--assure a decent economic life for its citizens. Russia would be built on two pillars: the state and the church. It was within this context that Russians would make a living. The goal would not be to create the wealthiest state in the world, nor radical equality. Nor would it be a place where anyone could say whatever they wanted, not because they would be arrested necessarily, but because they would be socially ostracized for saying certain things.

Most important, it would be a state not ruled by the market, but a market ruled by a state. Economic strength was not trivial to Solzhenitsyn, either for individuals or for societies, but it was never to be an end in itself and must always be tempered by other considerations. As for foreigners, Russia must always guard itself, as any nation must, against foreigners seeking its wealth or wanting to invade.

One can easily see why such ideas give nightmares to the contemporary establishment in the US and the EU. It has nothing to do with alleged agressiveness such Russia might express in it's policy towards the world nor with the supposed threats to democratic institutions and processes. It has, however, everything to do with the vapid and empty culture the establishment has been cultivating in the west for the past 40 years or so. The rise of the "autentic Russia" as Solzhenyitsin saw it would show to the world that there is a different way other then extremist liberalism devoid of morality of the US and the EU. Such development could even lead to the "authentic west" rising from the ashes of that liberalism ideology. And the fact that this vision comes from a man who predicted the fate of communism more accurately then any of the so-called analysts in the west makes it all the more concerning for the powers that be.

The death of Alexander Solzhenyitsin has struck a personal note also. Throughout these years Solzhenyitsin was a staunch supporter of the Serb people, had defended them from demonization and had reprimanded Russian authorities for not doing enough to protect the Serbs. In one of his last publications he bitterly denounced western policies in Kosovo and Metohija and told the Serbs to "be tough". We could do a lot worse then follow his advice, even though things look bleak and dire and little hope is in sight. Just ask yourself how did it look for Alexander Isayevich in one of those gulags in case get thoughts of throwing in the towel.


realist said...

I had no idea that Solzhenyitsin supported Serbia's international aggression against Kosovo.

Deucaon said...

Serbia's international aggression against Kosovo? Are you insane? Get a hobby and stop spamming other people's blogs, realist.

Witch-king of Angmar said...

Since there was no "Serbia's international aggression against Kosovo" Solzhenyitsin could not support it.