“Live Not By Lies,” Part 1

Solzhenitsyn as exile in Kazakhstan, 1953

I.

I begin this series on Rod Dreher’s Live Not By Lies by examining a nearly fifty-year-old essay that inspired the title of Dreher’s book: Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Live Not By Lies,” dated February 12, 1974, the same day the KGB broke into Solzhenitsyn’s apartment and arrested him, seizing a draft of his Gulag Archipelago (already published and circulating through the West) as a pretense for his arrest. The operation was planned by then-KGB chief Yuri Andropov, who would go on to become the Secretary General of the Communist Party. In a stunning case of bad judgment, the Soviet government stripped Solzhenitsyn of his citizenship and and exiled him to Frankfurt, West Germany. Solzhenitsyn had previously been arrested as a political prisoner by SMERSH in 1945 for criticizing Josef Stalin in a private letter to his friend; he had remained in prison, and then exile in Kazakhstan, until 1956. By choosing this time to exile Solzhenitsyn to the West, Andropov created a political celebrity with a ready-made audience—inside as well as outside the Soviet Union—with the freedom to attack the Soviet government with impunity. Solzhenitsyn became the locus of anti-Soviet activism, uniting Westerners from across the political spectrum, and the face of the 18 million Soviets who had suffered in the gulags under Stalin.

“Live Not By Lies” describes Solzhenitsyn’s political ethos as it developed in the years between his internal exile in Kazakhstan and his exile to the West in 1974. During this period he taught at a high school and frantically wrote and read самиздат (samizdat), or underground resistance literature, the genre to which “Live Not By Lies” belongs. The essay has become popular in certain politically-active Orthodox circles and, more recently, among right-leaning critics of political correctness, “Woke” activism, and cancel culture. Bari Weiss has said she sends the essay to aspiring journalists as a kind of credo for the discipline.

Why has this essay gained such currency in circles outside the Soviet Union and three decades after its collapse? What does this essay mean to modern-day critics of cancel culture? Why do Weiss and Dreher implore us to heed Solzhenitsyn’s words in 2021? What are the lies Solzhenitsyn was resisting and what are the lies these modern-day critics ask us to resist? These are questions I want to explore before turning to Dreher’s book. Solzhenitsyn’s essay begins:

At one time we dared not even to whisper. Now we write and read samizdat, and sometimes when we gather in the smoking room at the Science Institute we complain frankly to one another: What kind of tricks are they playing on us, and where are they dragging us? Gratuitous boasting of cosmic achievements while there is poverty and destruction at home. Propping up remote, uncivilized regimes. Fanning up civil war. And we recklessly fostered Mao Tse-tung at our expense—and it will be we who are sent to war against him, and will have to go. Is there any way out? And they put on trial anybody they want and they put sane people in asylums—always they, and we are powerless.

Soviet propaganda was notorious for its boastful and bald-faced lies: about production levels, about famine and its absence in Communist societies, about progress in its various wars, about its reputation abroad, and about its standing vis-à-vis the United States. Soviet propaganda and ideology has been cited in recent discussions of everything from “alternative facts” to transgender identity. Solzhenitsyn’s essay continues:

Things have almost reached rock bottom. A universal spiritual death has already touched us all, and physical death will soon flare up and consume us both and our children—but as before we still smile in a cowardly way and mumble without tongues tied. But what can we do to stop it? We haven’t the strength?

We have been so hopelessly dehumanized that for today’s modest ration of food we are willing to abandon all our principles, our souls, and all the efforts of our predecessors and all opportunities for our descendants—but just don’t disturb our fragile existence. We lack staunchness, pride and enthusiasm. We don’t even fear universal nuclear death, and we don’t fear a third world war. We have already taken refuge in the crevices. We just fear acts of civil courage.

We fear only to lag behind the herd and to take a step alone—and suddenly find ourselves without white bread, without heating gas and without a Moscow registration.

This is a bleak, and accurate, description of the life of the individual in the Soviet Union from the so-called “thaw” under Khrushchev through the iron-fisted Brezhnev regime. Where do Solzhenitsyn’s modern conservative admirers believe we stand in relation to contemporary propaganda and contemporary ideology? To hear their accounts, we’re at the tipping point, ready to fall over the edge into Soviet-style ideological oppression.

Stop Being Shocked!” So Bari Weiss admonished us in Tablet, in a widely-cited article from last year. Responding to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (admittedly silly and ignorant) condemnation of the legacy of Yitzhak Rabin, Weiss wrote: “I share with the majority of American Jews’ disgust toward Trump and Trumpism, which has normalized bigotry and cruelty in ways that have crippled American society. That truth doesn’t detract from another: There is another danger, this one from the left. And unlike Trump, this one has attained cultural dominance, capturing America’s elites and our most powerful institutions. In the event of a Biden victory, it is hard to imagine it meeting resistance. So let me make my purpose perfectly clear: I am here to ring the alarm. I’m here to say: Do not be shocked anymore. Stop saying, can you believe. It’s time to accept reality, if we want to have any hope of fixing it.” Later in the essay, she wrote:

American liberalism is under siege. There is a new ideology vying to replace it.

No one has yet decided on the name for the force that has come to unseat liberalism. Some say it’s “Social Justice.” The author Rod Dreher has called it “therapeutic totalitarianism.” The writer Wesley Yang refers to it as “the successor ideology”—as in, the successor to liberalism.

At some point, it will have a formal name, one that properly describes its mixture of postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality. Until then, it is up to each of us to see it plainly. We need to look past the hashtags and slogans and the jargon to assess it honestly—and then to explain it to others.

The new creed’s premise goes something like this: We are in a war in which the forces of justice and progress are arrayed against the forces of backwardness and oppression. And in a war, the normal rules of the game—due process; political compromise; the presumption of innocence; free speech; even reason itself—must be suspended. Indeed, those rules themselves were corrupt to begin with—designed, as they were, by dead white males in order to uphold their own power.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” as the writer Audre Lorde put it. And the master’s house must be dismantled—because the house is rotted at its foundation.

The beating heart of this new ideology is critical race theory. […] Critical race theory says there is no such thing as neutrality, not even in the law, which is why the very notion of colorblindness—the Kingian dream of judging people not based on the color of their skin but by the content of their character—must itself be deemed racist.

And so it comes back to race. For Dreher, the future of Christianity hinges on discourse about…race. For Weiss, the future of liberalism hinges on discourse about…race.

A “new ideology” of race theory is the “beating heart” of the problem: this is an old idea. In my nearly forty years as a United Statesman, in every political era I’ve witnessed, I have heard conservatives stake the health of the Republic on how we talk about, think about, and respond to race. The first presidential election I remember was 1988, when our ability to maintain law and order was mysteriously tied to race. Then came welfare reform and the Clinton decade, when the viability of a fair and democratic society—and the ability of a Democratic candidate to consolidate a moderate political base—demanded a critique of Sistah Souljah. During the Bush years, the thin line separating us from the Islamist abyss required that TSA agents racially profile brown people at airports. The very fact of Barack Obama’s presidency transfigured anti-tax rhetoric into a racialized fury: the TEA party, with its placards of hammers and sickles alongside images of the president dressed as a fearsome jungle warrior, bone in the nose and everything. Then came Trump….

This is not even the first time the Soviet Union has been invoked in the United States’ ongoing cultural civil war around race. Before my time, victory in the Cold War depended on keeping black and white publics separate; on preventing interracial marriage; on suppressing the black vote.

Therefore, as objectionable as I find certain aspects of Ibram X. Kendi’s political programme or the impersonal focus of much critical racial theory, I cannot help but be suspect when conservatives cry The Russians are coming!!! and the subject at hand turns out to be, once again, race.

Solzhenitsyn in prison, 1948

II.

Let’s return to Solzhenitsyn. “Live Not By Lies” continues:

We have been indoctrinated in political courses, and in just the same way was fostered the idea to live comfortably, and all will be well for the rest of our lives. You can’t escape your environment and social conditions. Everyday life defines consciousness. What does it have to do with us? We can’t do anything about it?

But we can—everything. But we lie to ourselves for assurance. And it is not they who are to blame for everything—we ourselves, only we. One can object, but cannot imagine what to do. Gags have been stuffed into our mouths. Nobody wants to listen to us and nobody asks us. How can we force them to listen? It is impossible to change their minds.

This is the situation that conservatives see when they peer around the corner into Biden’s America. “Indoctrinated in political courses.” “Everyday life defines consciousness.” Lies we tell ourselves “for assurance,” “to live comfortably.” “Gags have been stuffed into our mouths.” Add a line about “cancel culture,” and you have a speech by Josh Hawley. The idea that this oppression has been forced upon us and simultaneously adopted by us is also a frequent conservative talking point. Solzhenitsyn continues:

It would be natural to vote them out of office—but there are not elections in our country. In the West people know about strikes and protest demonstrations—but we are too oppressed, and it is a horrible prospect for us: How can one suddenly renounce a job and take to the streets? Yet the other fatal paths probed during the past century by our bitter Russian history are, nevertheless, not for us, and truly we don’t need them.

The difference between the Soviet situation and the modern American situation is once again stark: the Soviet citizen was denied elections and the right to strike and protest safely. Nor did popular revolt seem like a viable option, given the history of 1917. How different is this from the situation conservatives (who control half the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Supreme Court, who until recently controlled the presidency) face. But within the conservative imagination, this is precisely the situation they face. Look at their many complaints about 2020: mass gatherings are banned because of the coronavirus. The election was stolen and its results falsified. The January 6 attack on the capitol was unsuccessful. In their own minds, they have no democratic or popular means of protest. They read Solzhenitsyn and see the contemporary scene mirrored in his words.

Solzhenitsyn continues:

Now that the axes have done their work, when everything which was sown has sprouted anew, we can see that the young and presumptuous people who thought they would make our country just and happy through terror, bloody rebellion and civil war were themselves misled. No thanks, fathers of education! Now we know that infamous methods breed infamous results. Let our hands be clean.

Unlike Solzhenitsyn, many conservatives do not oppose revolution or flinch at the prospect of civil war. The heavily armed protectors of private property who appeared at every Black Lives Matter protest, including the wholly peaceful and benign BLM march in my small South Dakota town, indicate that much. Even the moderately conservative anti-Trumper David French, much beloved by liberals these days, is on the record with essays about the second amendment stating that guns actually foster a greater sense of democratic community and more guns lead to more freedom. As much as they admire Solzhenitsyn, modern conservatives do not share his wariness about political violence.

Violence, and its relationship to lies, is the subject of the next several paragraphs in Solzhenitsyn’s essay:

The circle—is it closed? And is there really no way out? And is there only one thing left for us to do, to wait without taking action? Maybe something will happen by itself? It will never happen as long as we daily acknowledge, extol, and strengthen—and do not sever ourselves from the most perceptible of its aspects: Lies.

When violence intrudes into peaceful life, its face glows with self-confidence, as if it were carrying a banner and shouting: “I am violence. Run away, make way for me—I will crush you.” But violence quickly grows old. And it has lost confidence in itself, and in order to maintain a respectable face it summons falsehood as its ally—since violence lays its ponderous paw not every day and not on every shoulder. It demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies—all loyalty lies in that.

And the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me.

One of the things that bothers me about contemporary leftist discourse is the equation of speech with violence. Obviously the term “violent speech” is not nonsensical, and words can obviously have violent effects. But through a kind of magical thinking on the left, “violence” becomes something that cannot be committed against property or other non-animate objects (so go the defenses of burning down a Wendy’s during a “peaceful protest”), but language can commit acts of violence. Is this true? These issues are complex and not really the subject of this post. But I find these easy dismissals of obviously violent behavior to be troubling.

We see a similar maneuver taking place on the right, adopted from Solzhenitsyn’s astute observation about how the Soviet Union could maintain a totalitarian state without always resorting to violence. Participation in lies becomes participation in a kind of “violence without violence.” After a while, one begins to imagine that participation in lies is participation in violence. And when the content of those lies falsifies agricultural figures or denies the existence of a massive nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, lies do become violence. But these are not the sort of lies conservatives in 2021 are talking about. They’re talking about such supposed lies as, “Trans women are women.” Which, the question of whether that’s even a lie is contested. And even if a scientific consensus formed to determine that, yes, actually, trans identity doesn’t work that way, and trans women aren’t women, would resistance to that consensus actually constitute violence?

Back to Solzhenitsyn:

This opens a breach in the imaginary encirclement caused by our inaction. It is the easiest thing to do for us, but the most devastating for the lies. Because when people renounce lies it simply cuts short their existence. Like an infection, they can exist only in a living organism.

We do not exhort ourselves. We have not sufficiently matured to march into the squares and shout the truth our loud or to express aloud what we think. It’s not necessary. It’s dangerous.

But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

This is our path, the easiest and most accessible one, which takes into account out inherent cowardice, already well rooted. And it is much easier—it’s dangerous even to say this—than the sort of civil disobedience which Gandhi advocated.

Our path is to talk away from the gangrenous boundary. If we did not paste together the dead bones and scales of ideology, if we did not sew together the rotting rags, we would be astonished how quickly the lies would be rendered helpless and subside.

That which should be naked would then really appear naked before the whole world.

The final sentence in this section alludes to every conservative’s favorite fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The key line from this section, however, is “let us refuse to say that which we do not think.” To which I must respond with a question:

What are conservatives saying that they do not think?

Or: What are conservatives thinking that they dare not say?

I see two possible answers to these questions. The first is, “Nothing.” From Donald Trump’s venomous rhetoric about immigrants to commonplace conservative claims about transgender people and critical race theory, nothing exists which conservatives in the United States, and the West more generally, are not free to say. Cancel culture, which is not non-existent, most often affects people with liberal-to-leftist political beliefs in liberal and leftist spaces (e.g., the Democratic pollster who fretted about the effect of protests on the 2020 election, and was subsequently dumped by his company). I’m willing to believe that many people on the left tip-toe around unwritten speech codes for fear of upsetting their friends and colleagues to their left. But personal and professional consequences for typical conservative speech are virtually null. What struck me as so embarrassing about Bari Weiss’s resignation from the New York Times is that it felt like a concession: she was hoping to be fired for her beliefs, and the Times wouldn’t oblige her. Jordan Peterson, despite the chaos in his personal life right now, is still gainfully employed at the University of Toronto. Dave Rubin is more popular as a right-wing contrarian than he ever was as a left-wing commentator. The “intellectual dark web” never actually resided on the dark web (as Soviet dissidents would have been forced to do), but out in the open on popular platforms that my apolitical teenage sister uses. Trump was only banned by Twitter after he incited a riot at the capitol, and that decision by Twitter remains controversial.

The second possible answer to the above question is that conservatives do harbor beliefs that they dare not speak and do say things they don’t actually believe. To which I reply: What beliefs are so verboten in polite society today that one dare not utter them? Opposition to gay marriage, opposition to trans identity, opposition to critical race theory, opposition to mass immigration and open borders? Those positions are widely held and widely expressed. So which political beliefs are forbidden? Which views do we suppress in such a way as to warrant the creation of the term “soft totalitarianism”? The only beliefs that comes to mind are outright support for fascism, for Nazi racial ideology, for old-fashioned Jim Crow blanket anti-black racism. And even those views have their platforms, on Twitter or Facebook or (for the really juicy stuff) via a not-too-rigorous Google search. Pat Buchanan wrote a Hitler-friendly book in recent memory, and he was a regular commentator on MSNBC for pete’s sake!

To be clear, I’m not accusing Weiss or Dreher of harboring fascist thoughts. I am, however, trying to understand what, exactly, is being suppressed by the soft totalitarianism of our era. I lean toward the former answer—”Nothing”—and generally believe that conservatives who cry “cancel culture!” are actually decrying the platforming of millions of new voices and the diminished monopoly of conservative or traditional views in society. And one can, I believe, reasonably decry this diminished monopoly or argue for the good ol’ days! But don’t confuse a diminishing monopoly with persecution, particularly of the kind that Solzhenitsyn and millions like him suffered.

Solzhenitsyn in the United States.

III.

One need not imagine, as Dreher does (and as Weiss presumably does), what Solzhenitsyn would say about our Western civilization and its unique maladies. He wrote extensively about the West, its unique brand of secularism, and its spiritual decay. His was not the critique of a conservative or a liberal but the critique of an Orthodox Christian traditionalist and Russian nationalist. I have perhaps downplayed the extent to which Solzhenitsyn, particularly later in life, echoed Rod Dreher’s concerns about the role of a secular culture on traditional Christianity (in this, he also echoed Russia’s current president). Solzhenitsyn maintained the strained and distant relationship that many Russians of his generation had with Orthodox Christianity, although in a post-exile interview, he stated:

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

Such words could have been spoken by Dreher himself. It’s telling, therefore, that nowhere in Solzhenitsyn’s voluminous critiques of Western society or in his two books criticizing modern-day Russia does he warn of anything resembling totalitarianism. Solzhenitsyn lived until 2008: in those long years living in the West and in post-Soviet societies, he derided capitalist modernity for its corruption and its spiritual and moral weakness. He did not warn of something like a “soft” Soviet-style ideology encroaching upon the human imagination. Nor did he presume to offer the West its own “Live Not By Lies”; he did not return to this tract and its language when criticizing the culture of the West. Throughout his life, Solzhenitsyn distinguished between the severe political challenges faced by Soviet dissidents and the qualitatively different spiritual challenges faced by those living in capitalist societies.

Let us return to the 1974 essay. Solzhenitsyn writes:

So in our timidity, let each of us make a choice: Whether consciously, to remain a servant of falsehood—of course, it is not out of inclination, but to feed one’s family, that one raises his children in the spirit of lies—or to shrug off the lies and become an honest man worthy of respect both by one’s children and contemporaries.

He then offers a list of actions that one who wishes to live honestly should not commit:

And from that day onward he:

– Will not henceforth write, sign, or print in any way a single phrase which in his opinion distorts the truth.

– Will utter such a phrase neither in private conversation not in the presence of many people, neither on his own behalf not at the prompting of someone else, either in the role of agitator, teacher, educator, not in a theatrical role.

– Will not depict, foster or broadcast a single idea which he can only see is false or a distortion of the truth whether it be in painting, sculpture, photography, technical science, or music.

– Will not cite out of context, either orally or written, a single quotation so as to please someone, to feather his own nest, to achieve success in his work, if he does not share completely the idea which is quoted, or if it does not accurately reflect the matter at issue.

– Will not allow himself to be compelled to attend demonstrations or meetings if they are contrary to his desire or will, will neither take into hand not raise into the air a poster or slogan which he does not completely accept.

– Will not raise his hand to vote for a proposal with which he does not sincerely sympathize, will vote neither openly nor secretly for a person whom he considers unworthy or of doubtful abilities.

– Will not allow himself to be dragged to a meeting where there can be expected a forced or distorted discussion of a question. Will immediately walk out of a meeting, session, lecture, performance or film showing if he hears a speaker tell lies, or purvey ideological nonsense or shameless propaganda.

– Will not subscribe to or buy a newspaper or magazine in which information is distorted and primary facts are concealed.

Of course we have not listed all of the possible and necessary deviations from falsehood. But a person who purifies himself will easily distinguish other instances with his purified outlook.

This is an admirable list of actions to avoid. Who in the United States cannot easily avoid such actions?

In my own experience, as a Ph.D. candidate in a decidedly left-wing humanities field in a left-wing American university in a left-wing American city, I sometimes felt pressured to act or speak in ways contrary to my belief or desire for reasons of political conformity. Such pressure was largely social and hardly tantamount to totalitarianism, even of the soft variety; much of the pressure originated in me and my desire to be accepted, and did not occur from any kind of systematic oppression of non-leftist viewpoints. And this pressure occurred in large part because of my own left-wing sympathies. But had I been a principled conservative, I would have discovered a readymade community of like-minded people (on campus, no less!) with whom I could resist my urge to sign such-and-such a position or open letter and through whom I could publicly mock the conventions of politically correct speech and beliefs.

Compare the social discomfort and friends I might have lost had I openly declared my support for George W. Bush or Sarah Palin during my graduate school years to the actual consequences a Soviet dissident faced:

No, it will not be the same for everybody at first. Some, at first, will lose their jobs. For young people who want to live with truth, this will, in the beginning, complicate their young lives very much, because the required recitations are stuffed with lies, and it is necessary to make a choice.

Losing one’s job over an indiscreet tweet is the epitome of cancel culture. Whenever someone loses their job for political speech, clamor about soft totalitarianism reaches a fever pitch. For Soviet dissidents, this is only the first step in the totalitarian regime’s reprisal against dissent. Solzhenitsyn continues:

But there are no loopholes for anybody who wants to be honest. On any given day, any one of us will be confronted with at least one of the above-mentioned choices, even in the most secure of the technical sciences. Either truth or falsehood: Toward spiritual independence or toward spiritual servitude.

And he who is not sufficiently courageous even to defend his soul—don’t let him be proud of his “progressive” views, don’t let him boast that he is an academician or a people’s artist, a merited figure, or a general—let him say to himself: I am in the herd, and a coward. It’s all the same to me as long as I’m fed and warm.

Even this path, which is the most modest of all paths of resistance, will not be easy for us. But it is much easier than self-immolation or a hunger strike: The flames will not envelope your body, your eyeballs, will not burst from the heat, and brown bread and clean water will always be available to your family.

A great people of Europe, the Czechoslovaks, whom we betrayed and deceived: Haven’t they shown us how a vulnerable breast can stand up even against tanks if there is a worthy heart within it?

You say it will not be easy? But it will be the easiest of all possible resources. It will not be an easy choice for a body, but it is the only one for a soul. Now, it is not an easy path. But there are already people, even dozens of them, who over the years have maintained all these points and live by the truth.

So you will not be the first to take this path, but will join those who have already taken it. This path will be easier and shorter for all of us if we take it by mutual efforts and in close rank. If there are thousands of us, they will not be able to do anything with us. If there are tens of thousands of us, then we would not even recognize our country.

These are the words of true bravery in the face of political oppression. Solzhenitsyn rallies the Soviet people to his cause and declares that their actions are, after all, “the easiest” path of resistance. He shames his fellow citizens by referencing the Prague Spring of 1968, reminding them of how much others had done to resist Soviet totalitarianism and, in the end, how little they need to do: Just. Stop. Lying. Above all, stop lying to yourself.

It’s a little embarrassing, then, that this polemic has been appropriated by modern-day conservatives in the United States, who until recently enjoyed unprecedented political power and even a remnant of cultural influence (the New York Times still sweats and scrambles to offer “balance” on its editorial pages). But conservatives really do imagine that Solzhenitsyn’s words resonate with our current situation.

In the end, all of this serves to show how much even the puniest resistance to conservative ideas manifests itself, in the conservative imagination, as oppression. Thus did Rod Dreher advise conservative Orthodox Christians, at a prominent speech in the most prominent Orthodox seminary in the United States, not to engage in dialogue with “progressive” Orthodox Christians (who, insofar as they exist, are a minority within a minority within a minority). Such dialogue is always a trap, he reasoned. Better to avoid it altogether. Such is the face of classical liberalism he would present to us. But as I’ll make clear in my upcoming posts on Live Not By Lives, there is something disturbingly weak about Dreher’s liberalism and his Christianity. I don’t mean that Dreher’s actual faith in Christ is weak; far from it. But his faith in his faith, and its ability to overcome so small a threat as an angry Twitter mob, is vanishingly small.

I’ll conclude with the final paragraphs of Solzhenitsyn’s essay:

If we are too frightened, then we should stop complaining that we are being suffocated. We are doing this to ourselves. If we bow down even further and wait longer, our brothers the biologists may then help to bring nearer the day when our thoughts can be read and our genes restructured.

And if we get cold feet, even taking this step, then we are a worthless and hopeless people, and the scorn of Pushkin should be directed to us:

What use to the herds the gifts of freedom?
The scourge, and a yoke with tinkling bells
— this is their heritage, bequeathed to every generation

Solzhenitsyn’s tone here is so admirably Russian. Imagine believing that the United States is a nation of conservatives living in fear of voicing their beliefs, a nation of Christians living in fear of defending their faith, a nation of oppressed people who need to be told, “Either speak the truth or submit to suffocation!” With whom does such a vision resonate? It does not resonate with reality. Two blocks down from my house, a neighbor brazenly flew a Trump flag well past election day. It read, “Trump 2020: No More Bullshit!” This was not merely a humorous phrase but an invective hurled against the few Biden supporters who live here: “Your views are bullshit. Your beliefs are bullshit. You are bullshit. You control too much as it is. No more of you!” Is this the kind of resistance to totalitarianism that Solzhenitsyn imagined?

Such flags flew, and some continue to fly, all over my community. What beliefs, I wonder, are those who raise such flags holding back?

2 comments

  1. […] In my last post, I examined the essay by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that inspired the title of Dreher’s newest book. One thing I hesitated to say about Solzhenitsyn in that post: he was a tremendous grouch. Like many dissidents from Russia and eastern Europe during the Communist years, Solzhenitsyn was not a lot of fun at parties. He was stubborn, austere, sanctimonious, critical, and—particularly as he aged—suspicious of anything with even the faintest whiff of the Communist culture he had fought against (so long as it emerged from the Left and not, say, from Vladimir Putin’s government). […]

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