Saturday, October 30, 2004

Saving Solzhenitsyn

Recently, a friend of mine recommended Solzhenitsyn to me. Said he was not just a great novelist, but a man who stood up to the Communist machine when it was in full force. In a subtle way, I'm told.

I like subtlety in matters political. Voltaire, for instance, was far from obvious in his criticisms. He probably didn't expect everyone to get his comments, but, getting it, it is twice as forceful. Especially if those who are the butt of the joke don't. It's likely that Candide did more to squelch the idea that we live in the best of all possible worlds--a popular opinion back in those days having much to do with God, and how He wouldn't have deigned to create a second-best world--than did a mountain of other philosophers and historians. Ridiculed to death. Shamed into speechlessness.

And so it is, he said, with Solzhenitsyn. I brought along 'Cancer Ward' with me from Canada, and have been reading it intermittently along with David Copperfield by Dickens (London, after all, is the best place in the world to be reading Dickens). But there is some controversy about Solzhenitsyn. It isn't altogether clear what he believes, exactly. Some say he's a great individualist, others say he's a big collectivist and, worse, an anti-Semite.

Daniel Mahoney has had enough of it. He thinks Solzhenitsyn's character has been impugned too much. He says all this right here. Says that, far from being anti-Semitic, he stood up for jews publicly. Far from being some sort of proto-communist, he was, in fact, a kind of individualist. Without being a libertarian.

Reason magazine writer Cathy Young (who also wrote "Ceasefire: Why Men and Women need to join forces to achieve True Equality"--or something with a title like that--which I read on the advice of my Marxist-feminist Philosophy professor. She really kicks ass. That professor, that is, although Cathy does too. Anyways:) rips into Solzhenitsyn here. Mahoney's piece is largely a response to Cathy. Which is why he is quick to point out that Solzhenitsyn is no libertarian. Here's that bit: "As any charitable reader of the Gulag will discern, Solzhenitsyn is no collectivist. But neither is he a “libertarian” who ignores the indispensable moral foundations of human liberty."

"...ignores the indispensable moral foundation of human liberty"? Now what is that, pray tell? He doesn't say, exactly. It's one of those throw-away lines you get away with in polite company, since few have gone to all the bother of reading up on the moral foundations of libertarianism. Which wouldn't have been difficult. They could have consulted a simple encyclopedia entry and read, say, the first paragraph. I guess it must be more complex than "keep your hands off of me and off my shit (unless I say it's okay)," which, I think, is both the essence of libertarianism as well as its moral foundation. That sounds like human liberty to me. Surely, things must be more complex than just that.

But it's still nice to see a guy take a stand for Solzhenitsyn. And I'm impressed with his response, so much so, that I'm convinced he was no anti-Semite, and no collectivist. Which is a good thing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

>>Which is a good thing.>>

F$%# Solzhenitsyn, save Martha!

1:48 a.m.  

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