Richard Reinsch reviews Between Two Millstones, Book 1

Over at Law & Liberty, Richard Reinsch reviews Between Two Millstones, Book 1.

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Solzhenitsyn remained a Russian patriot. His literary mission was the restoration of his homeland to a condition of liberty and flourishing that Leninist-Stalinism destroyed. This is the ultimate truth of the recently released English edition of Book 1 of Between Two Milestones, which is Solzhenitsyn’s account of his forced exile in the West in 1974.

And by noting that atheism is the animating core of Marxism and its persecution of Christians in Russia, Solzhenitsyn touched a different nerve: that of the unofficial atheism in the chattering classes of Western capitals.

His opposition to a full tilt capitalist industrial economy should have earned him at least style points with his detractors. Except that he didn’t exactly frame it in the messianic environmental language they preferred. Solzhenitsyn spoke of self-limitation and curbing appetites and desires as much as he spoke of ecological harm. The environmental and human devastation wrought by Soviet industrial policy must have played a role in his thinking. How could it not?

From his adopted home in Cavendish he wrote prodigiously, and upcoming editions of the Notre Dame Press catalog will bear witness to it, including Book II of his exile memoirs. Upon returning to a fledgling post-communist Russia in 1994, he thanked the people of Cavendish at, where else, their town assembly. There is genuine gratitude expressed by Solzhenitsyn in this short address for the freedoms and flourishing enjoyed in the Green Mountain State. His children had grown up strong. The Solzhenitsyn’s had found their measure in Vermont, in America. Perhaps the Russian patriot touched the best of our own country while here.

Stephen Kotkin on Solzhenitsyn

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Historian and author Stephen Kotkin of Princeton University and Stanford University's Hoover Institution talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the historical significance of the life and work of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Solzhenitsyn's birth.

Many people believe the Soviet system had redeeming features. For example, Hitler—Nazism—was absolutely beyond redemption. The Holocaust and what Hitler did made it seem that if you said anything nice about the Nazi system, you were apologizing for it. In the case of the Soviet Union, people imagined that there was a better revolution inside the Stalin regime, somehow. That 1917 was a purer, better form of Socialism that had been usurped or degraded by Stalin’s rule. Solzhenitsyn proved the contrary. Not only did he prove the contrary, but he did it in a way that tens of millions of people were interested to read. So, that’s an incredible accomplishment now on his centenary.

Christopher Caldwell review of Between Two Millstones, Book 1

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In the forthcoming National Review, Christopher Caldwell reviews Between Two Millstones, Book 1.

Solzhenitsyn had become convinced that, far from being a reliable defender of others’ liberty, the West was at risk of fumbling away its own. He saw in the rich nations a “blindness of superiority,” a “decline in courage,” relativism, litigiousness, and a sense of responsibility to God that was growing “dimmer and dimmer.” The [Harvard] speech was a turning point in the Cold War, redrawing all its lines in a way that would anticipate the conflicts of our own time. Indeed it was with this speech during the Carter administration, not with the Putin ascendancy in the first decade of this century, that one first began to hear the progressive complaint that “the true Russia, as opposed to the Soviet Union, is a far greater danger to the West,” as Solzhenitsyn lamented. That foolish but durable view is the cornerstone of elite Western thinking about Russia today.
— Christopher Caldwell

Brand-new translation: Solzhenitsyn's "Golden Matrix" speech

National Review website has just published a brand-new translation of Solzhenitsyn's "Golden Matrix" speech, delivered in Zurich on 31 May 1974 in accepting the Italian journalists’ “Golden Matrix” prize. This thoughtful speech, prefiguring many of the key themes of the Harvard Address, has never before appeared in English. Happy reading! (Bonus: see short clip below of the prize ceremony from that day.)

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn receives the “Cliché d’Oro” (“Golden Matrix”) prize on 31 May 1974 in Zurich.

David Walsh in Voegelin View

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David Walsh with a thoughtful essay at VoegelinView on Solzhenitsyn’s thought and life.

Yet limitless cruelty could not succeed in its most important goal. It could not kill the human spirit. That is Solzhenitsyn’s legacy to world history.

It surely ranks with the greatest medical or technological breakthroughs of our era. None of the latter succeeded in conquering the mortality that is the fate of every living being. Yet Solzhenitsyn did accomplish just such a remarkable feat. He uncovered what is indestructible in a person. Religion and philosophy had always talked about the immortality of the soul, but few had so clearly lived it or, if they did, articulated it so deeply. For Solzhenitsyn, immortality was not a vague notion of another life but that part of himself that could not be destroyed.

BBC Forum: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

The BBC’s flagship discussion program, The Forum, has run a 44-minute episode entitled Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Revealing the Gulag. According to its website:

The Russian author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a towering literary figure whose novels, chronicles and essays have lifted the lid on the horrors of the Soviet gulag network, which over several decades incarcerated millions of often innocent prisoners. Born a hundred years ago, Solzhenitsyn survived the brutal conditions of a gulag in Kazakhstan and it was this harrowing experience that provided the impetus for his best-known works, starting with his novella, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and culminating in The Gulag Archipelago, a multi-volume history of the Soviet forced labour camps from 1918 to 1956. 

Bridget Kendall is joined by two Solzhenitsyn scholars: Professor Daniel Mahoney from Assumption College in the United States and Dr. Elisa Kriza from Bamberg University; and by Professor Leona Toker of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, an expert on labour camp literature.

Go here to listen online or download the entire episode. And here below is a 2-minute excerpt:

Jay Nordlinger on Solzhenitsyn: A life and an Example

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Over at National Review, senior editor Jay Nordlinger reflects on Solzhenitsyn’s legacy.

In 2001, I interviewed a woman named Youqin Wang, a lecturer in Chinese at the University of Chicago. She had a life project: to memorialize the victims of the Cultural Revolution.

She had been inspired by two writers: Anne Frank and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. When she was a girl in Beijing, she read Anne’s diary and started to keep one of her own. She even addressed it “Dear Kitty,” as Anne had.

It was illegal to keep a diary. You could be killed if caught with one. This was in the middle of the Cultural Revolution. But Youqin kept a diary — destroying each page, shortly after she wrote it.

At Beijing University, she found a copy of Cancer Ward. She thought she was reading about her own experience. How could this Russian understand her so well? Youqin was so excited, she couldn’t sleep. Later, she read The Gulag Archipelago, and her life was set: She knew she had to commemorate the murdered, just as Solzhenitsyn had. They should not be forgotten.

Little Anne Frank was arguably the foremost witness to Nazism. Solzhenitsyn was arguably the foremost witness to Communism. Those are the twin evils of the 20th century (and lingering, of course). Think of Youqin Wang, with those two people, Anne and Solzhenitsyn, at her back.
— Jay Nordlinger

Wall Street Journal review of Between Two Millstones, Book 1

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Bertrand M. Patenaude in today’s Wall Street Journal reviews Between Two Millstones, Book 1.

From the moment he leaves the Soviet Union and takes residence in Europe, the famous exile feels overwhelmed by unwanted attention and demands on his time, including beckoning letters from Sens. Jesse Helms and Henry Jackson. “America, the consumer of everything new and sensational, was awaiting me with open arms,” he writes. He feels torn between his urge to withdraw from public view in order to write and his desire to speak out about the dangers posed to the unwary West by détente. He is besieged by reporters hounding him for a quote and photographing his every move. “You are worse than the KGB!” he explodes.

First Things: Review of Between Two Millstones, Book 1

Ryszard Legutko in the forthcoming January 2019 issue of First Things reviews Between Two Millstones, Book 1.

It is to Solzhenitsyn’s credit that he was able to look at Western society with a sharp eye, unaffected by the homegrown clichés that lulled many Westerners into complacency. He took none of those clichés for granted—that truth and goodness are authoritarian, that we must distinguish between morality and legality, that a modern society is inherently pluralistic, and several others—and having confronted them with an elementary experience, he discovered not only that they were wrong, but also that the opposite may be closer to the truth.

"Russia. The West. Ukraine" out in Russian

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CoLibri Books have just published a new collection of Solzhenitsyn’s thoughts, entitled “Россия. Запад. Украина” (“Russia. The West. Ukraine”), compiled by Natalia Solzhenitsyn. This is a beautifully presented slim 5x7 hardback of 176 pages. It opens with a 4-page introduction from the compiler, followed by a 110-page section entitled “Россия и Запад” (“Russia and the West”). This section, presented in chronological order, is comprised of 21 selections excerpted from Solzhenitsyn’s speeches, press-conferences, interviews, and essays, beginning with the Walter Cronkite/CBS interview of June 1974, and ending with the Der Spiegel interview of July 2007. There follows a 39-page second section entitled “Об Украине” (“About Ukraine”), comprised of 11 selections, again presented chronologically, from the prophetic part V, chapter 2 of the Gulag Archipelago (written in 1967), to the author’s Izvestiya article from March 2008, just months before his death. The book is rounded off by a 9-page “Краткие пояснения” (“Brief explanatory notes”) that place each selection in context and provide precise bibliographical information about earlier publications across various languages.

This book, timed for the centenary of Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, collects his thoughts about the true meaning of Freedom, about Russia and the West’s false conceptions of each other, and about new dangers that threaten modern civilzation.
A separate section is devoted to a Slavic tragedy—the writer’s “perpetual sorrow and pain”—to Ukraine, about relations with whom he had written already a half-century ago, and until his very last days.
— from the publisher

"Remembering – and still learning from – Solzhenitsyn"

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Douglas Kries at The Catholic Thing with an appreciation of Solzhenitsyn.

Marxism not only misunderstood the origin of evil, but likewise misunderstood what is to be done with its effects – with suffering. Solzhenitsyn came to realize that while there was no correlation between what he and the other political prisoners in the camps were charged with and what they were made to suffer, the Christians within the archipelago – at least the best of them – learned how to make suffering redemptive. That is, they knew how to turn their suffering into a continuous penance stemming from a continuous confession.
— Douglas Kries

Fearless Prophets: Martin Luther King Jr. & Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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A few days ago Princeton University hosted a panel discussion entitled Fearless Prophets: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, commemorating the 50th Anniversary of King's Death and the Centenary of Solzhenitsyn's Birth, and featuring:

Daniel Mahoney, Augustine Chair in Distinguished Scholarship, Assumption College;
Eugene F. Rivers, III, Founding Director, Seymour Institute for Black Church and Policy Studies;
David L. Tubbs *01, Associate Professor of Politics, The King's College.

It was moderated by Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University.

See the video of the event here.

Kirk Kolbo: Solzhenitsyn at 100

Over at Ricochet, Kirk Kolbo looks back on Solzhenitsyn’s life and thought.

What his critics never understood is that for Solzhenitsyn, politics was never the main thing. Over the course of a lifetime, as he explained to his biographer, he had moved “ever so slowly towards a position … of supporting the primacy of the spiritual over the material,” a philosophy to which all his works are a testament.

As with his literary forebears, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, Solzhenitsyn’s writings are rooted in Russian history and culture, but the themes are universal. Awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, his speech addressed literature and its relationship to culture and the human spirit: “Art inflames even a frozen, darkened soul to a high spiritual experience.” A self-described optimist, Solzhenitsyn was convinced that “[i]n the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! … One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.”

Historians generally agree that the moral force of Solzhenitsyn’s writings, particularly The Gulag Archipelago, contributed significantly to the fall of the Soviet Union, the collapse of the non-Russian Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, and in the West an end to the idolization by many of Soviet communism. When it occurred, and all his writings were allowed to be published there, Solzhenitsyn returned with his wife to Russia in 1994, where he died in 2008.