Solzhenitsyn Revisited

Cathy Young, writing in Quillette, has caused me to rethink Aleksandr. Solzhenitsyn: The Fall of a Prophet. I have long been an admirer, and even when his nationalism seemed a misplaced traditionalism based on a romanticised view of Russian history, I thought of that as quaint more than dangerous.  She was already making a powerful case that we should be grateful for his actions up until the Gulag Archipelago and his subsequent exile, but after that, no so much.  In addition to his anti-semitism (weakly defended by Sharansky and Wiesel), this caught me up short:

But to many of Solzhenitsyn’s former admirers, his wholehearted embrace of Vladimir Putin and Putin’s neo-authoritarianism in the 2000s was even more dismaying than his views of ethnic conflicts.

I hadn’t known that. It gives one pause.

20 thoughts on “Solzhenitsyn Revisited”

  1. Both Putin and Solzhenitsyn were nationalists. Putin is a violent guy but he is playing a weak hand pretty well.

    Obama gave him a hard start but Bush helped, too, looking into his eyes.

    Oil at $46/barrel is the best response to Putin.

  2. “Oil at $46/barrel is the best response to Putin.”

    Also natural gas. I wonder if the transportation costs of LNG (including the liquification and de-liquification, as well as the actual ship transport) can be substantially reduced from their current levels.

  3. It’s very odd to talk about Solzhenitsyn’s legacy and not even mention the Harvard commencement address.

    He was “just” a man. No one argues he was perfect, but no flaws of his can change the fact that he was a massive figure in the literature and politics of the late 20th century.

    George Washington owned slaves. So what? He’s still arguably the most important figure for good in world of the last 250 years.

    Let’s not go out our way to tear down such men. That’s the way of Cultural Revolution.

  4. I wonder if the transportation costs of LNG (including the liquification and de-liquification, as well as the actual ship transport) can be substantially reduced from their current levels.

    We need more LNG terminals and pipelines, all of which the enviroweenies are opposed to and protesting. They, of course, are also convinced that Putin controls Trump.

  5. Solzhenitsyn never made a pretense of being pro democracy. The Gulag wasn’t an invention of the Soviets, merely an extension and systematization of the work camps and internal exile of the Tsars. His preferred literary form was the sort of historic fiction that’s heavy on glittering balls and light on starving/freezing in hovels. The problem with one man rule, to him, was that the right man hadn’t appeared.

    At one point, constructing an LNG terminal required 30 year commitments for both supply and destination. The first U.S. export terminal was actually built for import. Converting it was non trivial but nothing compared to having to start from scratch with the various regulatory authorities. The terminals being built now seem to be more market based, intending to both buy and sell on an open market or provide just terminal service to sellers and buyers.

    Apropos my first paragraph, I saw where Russia is in the process of commissioning the third “train” at their Yamal terminal in the Arctic Circle. I think they started about three years ago. A train is the collection of machinery and facilities to produce LNG. Development in this country has become an endurance contest between developers and anyone, anywhere that can conceive of an objection.

  6. replace “pluralist” with “diversity”:

    >Their dispute culminated in Solzhenitsyn’s 1983 essay “Our Pluralists,” which blasted his opponents as arrogant Russia-haters fixated on pluralism as “the supreme good.” To Solzhenitsyn, the worship of pluralism inevitably led to moral relativism and loss of universal values, which he believed had “paralyzed” the West. He also warned that if the communist regime in Russia were to fall, the “pluralists” would rise, and “their thousand-fold clamor will not be about the people’s needs … not about the responsibilities and obligations of each person, but about rights, rights, rights”—a scenario that, in his view, could result only in another national collapse.<

  7. Solzhenitsyn was thinking of the Soviet and Russian leaders who preceded Putin. Putin saved Russia from the oligarchs and turned its collapse around. Death rates have fallen dramatically, the economy has rebounded and the military has been modernized. He would have achieved more had not the West systematically sabotaged Russia.

    Russia is once again a counterweight to American imperial ambitions and a stabilizer of the international order. Whereas the US routinely violates international law and treaties, just because it can, Russia works to support them. The MENA is a good example of American terrorism and aggression. The world needs a new UN to contain the US.

  8. The MENA is a good example of American terrorism and aggression. The world needs a new UN to contain the US.

    I assume this is satire or Russian bots are back.

    You could ask Hungarians or Czechs about “American Imperialism.”

    That said, we had to respond to the prospect of a guy like Saddam controlling most of the world’s oil supply.

    That situation no long applies so there is far less reason for us to be heavily involved.

    Putin is doing what he can to extend Russian power but he has a weak base.

  9. Solzhenitsyn also became something of a mystic. A common affliction of Russian writers. It was probably better for his mental health that perpetual victimhood.

    My rule for evaluating U.S.-Russia policy is: The louder the Russians squeal the more likely we are moving in the right direction. Outside of their nuclear weapons, they have near 0 capability to project power beyond walking distance of their border. Their presence in Syria is probably close to the limit of their capacity and exists on the sufferance of us and the Israelis. Their naval deployments are limited by the number of tugs they can send out to support the war ships. They can meddle on the edges and tweet.

  10. That is a very strange article by Kathy Young. It leaves a troubling feeling that words mean something different to her than to other people.

    Her main thesis seems to be that Solzhenitsyn was guilty of doubleplus ungood wrongthink by failing enthusiastically to learn during his exile the Politically Correct shibboleths of his Western hosts. Really, what is wrong with a giant of Russian letters loving his native land, warts & all? Ah! But in Cathy’s world, that is “nationalism”, and “nationalism” is beyond the pale. None of the Davoise could ever endorse anything so low-class as a child loving his less-than-perfect parent.

    Cathy seemed particularly upset by some of Solzhenitsyn’s later observations, such as “He also reiterated his belief that there should be less talk of human rights and more of “human obligations.” “. How dreadful! Didn’t the old man realize that in the Politically Correct world, there are no human obligations — well, certainly not for those in privileged minorities — only human rights (which are inescapable obligations on the sub-humans who are not part of Cathy’s selected groups).

    So the end result was that not many people went to Solzhenitsyn’s funeral. But if the number of people who go to a funeral is an unassailable measure of human worth, then slutty selfish Princess Di deserves to be much higher in the pantheon than a mere Russian scribbler — just think about the uncounted wailing Brits who lined the streets for her funeral!

    No, I think this article tells us more about Cathy Young and Political Correctness than it does about Solzhenitsyn and Russia.

  11. Sinyavsky also pointed out that the supremacy of obligations over rights was classic Soviet rhetoric

    Yikes, if talking about the duties of citizens in contrast to their rights, bestowed by God by the way, is Soviet rhetoric then a lot of us are guilty of feeding the Red Menace.

    Even Jefferson, our most liberal founding father and progenitor of modern libertarians, said in his first inaugural address, that rights couldn’t exist without obligations such as “the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man.”

    Those sound supreme to me.

    I don’t have any problem with Solzhenitsyn’s support of Putin. Big deal.

    What I do think is that whatever his intentions, Two Hundred Years Together was stupid and clumsy. More typical of a small crank than a literary giant. That gives me pause. These bigoted fantasies are what turns me off to much of traditionalists or neo-reactionaries or whatever you want to call them.

    Here is the thing, though. When I’m faced with judging anachronisms or discerning revisionisms my rule of thumb is always, what did they do instead of what did they say? Solzhenitsyn’s second wife was Jewish.

  12. She wrote that Solzhenitsyn seemed like a mystic.

    Perhaps he thought of Putin et al as icons of of the authority of Mother Russia.

    I still don’t have a good intuitive handle on how icons are used, but I gather that the ruler is sometimes considered an icon of God–perhaps a nation could be too? Icon use risks attributing the perfection and power of God to the icon–easily avoided when the icon is paint, but maybe not so much when the icon is the ruler or the abstract “Mother Russia.”

  13. Interesting James. Icons are often called ‘windows to heaven’ and are believed to give a glimpse into deep, dogmatic truths. I don’t think Solzhenitsyn was in jeopardy of violating the 2nd commandment, but in light of some other Orthodox doctrines you might be on to something.

    They have a concept called symphonia that the Russians have been particularly interested in lately. In the past it has been used to conbine civil law and ecclesiastical law and give legal basis to the national autocephalous churches. It would not take a giant leap of faith to view Putin as possessing some religious or spiritual significance under this doctrine.

    There is also the Russian concept of Sobornost. It can vaguely mean social solidarity, but the theological meaning is much deeper. It means emptying your soul – having to do with another obscure theological concept called Kenosis – and giving it over to the community in Christ-like fashion. It’s easy to see how that could be perverted by Bolshevism.

  14. not many people went to Solzhenitsyn’s funeral. But if the number of people who go to a funeral is an unassailable measure of human worth, then slutty selfish Princess Di deserves to be much higher in the pantheon than a mere Russian scribbler

    Your comment reminds me of Pat Buchanan’s book, “Nixon ‘s White House Wars,” which is excellent. Pat loved VP Agnew and had a lot of fun with him on the campaign trail. Agnew, of course, was disgraced when it was learned that his old Baltimore practice of accepting cash tokens of esteem from political supporters continued into the White House.

    Nancy Pelosi is descended from Baltimore politicians who were more careful; or lucky.

    Pat was one very few mourners at Agnew’s funeral in Palm Springs.

  15. So Natan Sharansky whose last words before being sentenced by a Soviet Court were “Next Year in Jerusalem” is a lame defender of Solzhenitsyn against charges of anti-Semitism? Sharansky is not the only credible Jewish witness to defend the great writer. Saying that Jews were more active than most groups in the highest ranks of the Communist revolutionaries is an historical fact. It is also true that Jewish leaders from the Prime Minister of Israel, to Jews in Russia, are supporters of Mr. Putin. To argue that Solzhenitsyn’s contribution to humanity ended with the writing of Gulag is a wildly uniformed opinion. His critique of Western decadence is as important as his expose of Communist barbarism.

  16. The real tragedy of Solzhenitsyn was his embrace of the Russian Nationalism which itself is quite problematic. There is nothing wrong in Nationalism as such, it is a natural form of love for one’s own people which is a natural thing, too. The problem here is not Nationalism, but its subject: Russian people. I new several really fine Russian people, but they were very rare exceptions. And absolute majority of Russians are ignorant, stupid, vulgar and amoral. All horrible crimes of Bolsheviks and Stalinists would be impossible if absolute majority of Russian people were not willing accomplices in these crimes. The same logic applies to German people as accomplices in Nazi crimes: they supported war and genocide (with a few exceptions). But Germans understood their sins and repented: Russians did not. Now imagine a sincere German Nationalist after Auschwitz: a false, morally impossible position. But this was exactly like position to which Solzhenitsyn committed himself. Or imagine a single mother whose only son is obnoxious psychopath with sadistic traits and criminal behavior. She can not cease to love him and forgive him everything, but it means that all her life is a lie.

  17. All horrible crimes of Bolsheviks and Stalinists would be impossible if absolute majority of Russian people were not willing accomplices in these crimes.

    This claim is not provable. Furthermore, the entire country was governed as a police state where millions upon millions were slaughtered by the government. Is an accomplice with a gun to his head still an accomplice? No, he is a hostage.

  18. I’ve read the first two volumes of the red wheel trilogy, the last is hard to get a hold off, he likely saw putin, like Stolypin, who thought might have forestalled the Russian revolution, with this velvet fist in an iron glove reforms, he suggested the okrana, saw him as a threat, and at the least didn’t take proactive steps to protect him from assassins like bugaev.

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