02 November 2015

Зеленый-коллективистический-охранительный христианский персонализм Солженицына

I just finished reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Letter to the Soviet Leaders. As with everything Solzhenitsyn writes, it is truly a pleasant surprise, and he reminded me much more strongly of Wendell Berry or Edward Abbey than anyone else, or of the Chinese Confucian philosopher Jiang Qing. In common with the last, his primary outlook is a conservatism that is informed at the deepest possible level by an ecological conviction, a profound and abiding suspicion that his beloved country is despoiling and destroying itself through its ideological commitments to endless economic growth, to limitless technological mastery and to a spiritually-deadening consumerism. His detestation of the Soviet system is primarily a detestation of its ideology, and the way in which that ideology is poisoning ‘the soil and the waters and all of Russian nature’ – as well as the human ecologies of the family and of the society.

Three charges he levels at the Soviet ideology: firstly, that it is barrelling toward a needless and catastrophic war with China (one which by God’s grace never happened!); secondly, that it is pursuing a model of industry which is harming Russia’s natural environment while leaving vast swathes of Siberia underdeveloped; thirdly, that it is wasting the talents and the spiritual character of its people, particularly its women and children, in useless and degrading endeavours. And above all these charges he issues a much broader attack on the Soviet ideology, and the way in which it blankets all inquiries in a thick miasma of lies. Solzhenitsyn doesn’t have a problem – and indeed, he takes considerable pains given the polemical thrust of his Letter to make clear that he doesn’t have a problem – either with collective farming or with an authoritarian mode of government. He merely insists, true to the Slavophil roots of his ideas, on the older forms of collectivism, some voluntary (the village, the town) and some less-so (the family). He even champions the original intent of the local soviet, and asks that they be given the authority which they had been promised from the start.

If this Letter is on one side a broadside against Soviet overreach, against the ideological make-the-world-anew zeal which dumps toxic industrial and nuclear wastes into Russia’s lakes and rivers whilst fomenting revolution abroad, on the other side it is a patriotic call for the Russian town and the Russian village. It is a conservationist plea for the Russia whose towns were ‘made for people, horses, dogs—and streetcars too… humane, friendly, cosy places, where the air was always clean, which were snow-clad in winter and in spring redolent with garden-smells’. Rather than being merely a jeremiad against Soviet authoritarianism, it is also a plea for the elder Russia, whose ‘authoritarian order possessed a strong moral foundation’, that of ‘Christian Orthodoxy’. Over and against the Soviet emphasis on regimenting the lives of its women and children, Solzhenitsyn desires to liberate women from the degradations of the workplace, and children from the regimentation of an inhumane school system which, not allowing any room for personality in the child, also allows no room for the natural respect which schoolteachers are rightly due.

The attentive reader will be struck by the twin edges of his thrusts. There is ample reason for the West to have begun to distrust Solzhenitsyn, because practically all of the critiques he levelled first and most powerfully against the Soviets, could indeed be turned again and levelled against the modern West. Solzhenitsyn’s Letter makes only this explicit reference to the West: that in losing a war to North Vietnam, it has lost its confidence and moral courage, and has ‘grown weak and effete’. But forty years later, with the Soviet Union gone and one sole superpower left standing victorious, what part of the Ideology Solzhenitsyn decries, what part of the faith in Progress, can we not own? True, we are not Marxist. But do we not risk war with China over ideological differences? Do we not neglect our own countryside and spend our efforts in shipping arms and revolution abroad? Do we not choke our air with emissions and befoul our waters with the byproducts of fracking? Do we not make dual-earner households a necessity of the family’s economic survival? Do we not invade every home with television, laden with lies and propaganda?

The economic and political elites of the West all but disowned Solzhenitsyn because he would not fall in line with the dogmas of democratic capitalism. But now it is more necessary than ever to listen and to heed his green, cooperativist, conservationist and Christian personalist epistle to his homeland.

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