viernes, 4 de septiembre de 2015

Daniel J. Mahoney's The Other Solzhenitsyn is a much needed .... 31st International Meeting of THE ERIC VOEGELIN SOCIETY, 2015



Daniel J. Mahoney’s The Other Solzhenitsyn is a much needed reappraisal of the Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s place as a writer, philosopher, and political thinker in the English-speaking world where he is caricatured as a Russian nationalist, religious zealot, and political authoritarian. In nine chapters, Mahoney portrays a different Solzhenitsyn than perceived in the West as someone who is a thoughtful patriot, possesses a sensitive religious conviction, and an advocate of grass-root democracy. The book concludes with two appendixes: the first provides a historical and archival context of Solzhenitsyn’s work; the second is a reproduction of the introduction to The Gulab Archipelago written by Solzhenitsyn’s widow.

In the first chapter, Mahoney explains that Solzhenitsyn’s The Red Wheel, The Gulag Archipelago, and Letter to the Soviet Leadersare a repudiation of the ideological foundations of the Soviet Union in its attempt to remake human nature and society in its own image. Instead of the ideological lies of communism, Solzhenitsyn supports a thoughtful patriotism that provides both a love of country and an acknowledgement of its past crimes. In Letter to the Soviet Letters, The Russian Question, Russia in Collapse, and The Little Grain Between the Millstones, Solzhenitsyn articulates a patriotism that steers a path between the extremes of anti-patriotism and self-loathing of intellectuals and the delusions and fantasies of radical nationalists. Solzhenitsyn’s patriotism is a national recovery of memory, both its achievements and its depravities. Only after this is accomplished can Russia look towards its own traditions, as well as to the West, for a way forward in learning self-government.

To recover national memory, one must not only look at the crimes of the past but also acknowledge that human agency and not historical determinism plays a decisive role in the shaping of the individual and collective destinies of human beings. In the next two chapters, Mahoney shows that for Solzhenitsyn the failures of Emperor Nicholas II serves in stark contrast to Prime Minister Pytor Stolypin’s attempt to reform Russia as two models of human agency of how to confront evil. Stolypin was a conservative reformer who started a moderate path of social development for the common good which created enemies both on the political Left and Right. His assassination stopped his project of social and civic restoration, leaving a weak and pusillanimous monarch who was incapable of effectively confronting evil.

Chapter Four explores Swiss Russianist George Nivat’s “three pillars” of Solzhenitsyn’s thought: the literary investigation into the truth of the Soviet camps in The Gulag Archipelago; the dramatized historical account of the Russian Revolutions of 1917 not as predetermined but contingent on human agency in The Red Wheel; and the philosophical search for truth in The First Circle. Mahoney spends most of this chapter on this “third pillar” to counteract Western perception that Solzhenitsyn is primarily a writer and not really a thinker. In his detailed and compelling analysis of the characters in The First Circle, Mahoney shows that Solzhenitsyn is a serious philosophical thinker that is preoccupied with the questions of truth, morality, and hope. In his search for these values and in exposing the lies of individuals and society, Solzhenitsyn should be seen as both a writer and thinker of the first rank from whom we can learn.

In the next chapter, Mahoney categorizes Solzhenitsyn’s account of totalitarianism as one fundamentally based on lies with the role of literature to provide truth if the regime does not. The key characteristics of the totalitarian state for Solzhenitsyn are constant fear; secrecy and mistrust; complicity in a network of repression; betrayal, corruption, and lie as a form of existence; and class cruelty and slave psychology. The task of the writer, such as Solzhenitsyn, is to remember everything that has transpired in the totalitarian state and do nothing to obfuscate the truth about it. The twin pillars of the Soviet Union were violence and lies that created an ideological despotism where the integrity of the person was washed away with the millions in the gulags. The remembrance of these crimes is the first restorative step for Russia to take in order to rehabilitate itself from its totalitarian past.

Mahoney compares Solzhenitsyn’s criticism of the ideological lie of the Soviet Union with Raymond Aron’s critique of communism. Aron himself met Solzhenitsyn and consequently wrote about the Russian writer. For Aron, Solzhenitsyn is more than a writer: he represents an unconditional spiritual commitment to truth and liberty. Although Aron rejects the specific political and religious ideas of Solzhenitsyn, he appreciates that Solzhenitsyn is writing for the future, when a new generation of pragmatic and civic-minded leaders would be willing to break from ideological thinking. Like Solzhenitsyn, Aron believes that the legitimacy of Soviet leaders resides in their ideology and not in any connection to the pre-revolutionary past of Russia. Both thinkers oppose historical determinism and instead advocate human agency as the motor that moves history.


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