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The Best of Solzhenitsyn

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's passing reminds me of my favorite passage from his writings:

But let us be generous. We will not shoot them. We will not pour salt water into them, nor bury them in bedbugs, nor bridle them up into a "swan dive," nor keep them on sleepless "stand-up" for a week, nor kick them with jackboots, nor beat them with rubber truncheons, nor squeeze their skulls with iron rings, nor push them into a cell so that they lie atop one another like pieces of baggage - we will not do any of the things they did! But for the sake of our country and our children we have the duty to seek them all out and bring them all to trial! Not to put them on trial so much as their crimes. And to compel each one of them to announce loudly:

"Yes, I was an executioner and a murderer."
--The Gulag Archipelago

If you can read this aloud without tearing up, you're made of sterner stuff than me.

Alas, three and a half decades after the publication of The Gulag Archipelago, it looks like we'll never see the Russian analog of the Nuremberg trials. But if any writer can make future generations of Russians look on the Soviet era with the horror it deserves, it's the man who stared down the Soviet Union at the height of its power - and outlived it by 17 years.


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
Nathan Benedict writes:

My favorite Solzhenitsyn quote:

"And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you'd be cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria sitting out there on the street with one lonely chauffeur -- what if it had been driven off or its tires spiked. The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin's thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!"

Unit writes:

I'd be curious to know how many people in the US know who Solzhenitsyn is. I don't think it is taught in high-school.

E. Barandiaran writes:

Unfortunately it seems that in Russia people don't know who Stalin was. Read

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/2445683/Could-Josef-Stalin-be-made-a-saint.html

Justin Ross writes:

On a Soviet Reflection, check out the childrens book "The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain" by Peter Sis.

http://www.amazon.com/Wall-Growing-Behind-Curtain-Caldecott/dp/0374347018

It is amazing that this book exists.

N. writes:

Ah, but I think what is probably the most oft-quoted line sums it up the best:

“All you freedom-loving “left wing” thinkers in the West! You left-laborites! You progressive American, German, and French students! As far as you are concerned, this whole book of mine is a waste of effort. You may suddenly understand it all someday – but only when you yourselves hear ‘hands behind your backs there!’ and step ashore on our Archipelago.”

Steve Sailer writes:

Here's an interesting economics question: Why couldn't the world's most famous living author get his most important late work published in America? The first volume of Solzhenitsyn's "Two Hundred Years Together, 1795-1995" appeared in Russia in 2001 and was published in Paris in a French translation in 2002, yet it has never been published by a major New York publishing house.

How come?

Snark writes:
Here's an interesting economics question: Why couldn't the world's most famous living author get his most important late work published in America? The first volume of Solzhenitsyn's "Two Hundred Years Together, 1795-1995" appeared in Russia in 2001 and was published in Paris in a French translation in 2002, yet it has never been published by a major New York publishing house.

Why? Comparatively speaking, the importance of this book and its historical accuracy have been called into question, while its anti-Semitism has not. This quote from a “prominent Jewish leader” appears in a 2003 Free Republic post:

“This is not a book about how the Jews and Russians lived together for 200 years, but one about how they lived apart after finding themselves on the same territory. This book is a weak one professionally. Factually, it is so bad as to be beyond criticism. As literature, it is not of any merit."

Perhaps the major New York publishing houses wish to avoid embroiling the passions of the local Jewish contingent.

Steve Sailer writes:

If anybody is interested in reading a few brief excerpts by the former world's most famous living author that can't get published in New York, look here:

http://tinyurl.com/6gqnf4

AlexH writes:

"And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say goodbye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling in terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand. The organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin's thirst; the cursed machine would have ground to a halt!"
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Cecil Bohanon writes:

My favorite quotes from Solzhenitsyn are one about freedom, and another about good and evil.

Although Solzhenitsyn was not exactly a classical liberal, he strongly emphasized the linkage between personal freedom and personal responsibility. To his thinking freedom in the West developed so as to emphasize rights, without any corresponding development of obligations, and as such was unbalanced. His defintion of freedom as self control is one that I find compeling. Not that freedom requires self-control (although it surely does) but that it is self-control.

"After the Western ideal of unlimited freedom, after the Marxist concept of freedom as acceptance of the yoke of necessity- here is the true Christian definition of freedom. Freedom is self-restriction! Restriction of the self for the sake of others"
- From Under the Rubble (1981) [p. 136]


On the second point: Solzhenitsyn was no moral relativist, he believed in good and evil as absolute categories. Yet falliable humans must never get too arrogant about their own goodness! Gulag outlined incredible evil, yet he states in the work:

"So let the reader who expects this book to be a political expose slam its covers shut right now. If only it were all so simple! 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?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.
Socrates taught us: Know thyself!
Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren't"
- The Gulag Archipelago (1973) [p. 169]

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