Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Alexander Solzhenitsyn: On Being Bought So Cheaply

In his childhood, youth, and early adulthood, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was a devout Communist. Exceeding his peers in enthusiasm, he even dove into the primary sources of his society’s new religion to understand and embody it more thoroughly. Jesus nonetheless gave him a passion for truth which freed him from this idolatry. The powers that be did not allow this to go unpunished. They sentenced him to eight years in the Gulag, four as a mathematician at a labor camp specializing in scientific research.

Solzhenitsyn based his book, In the First Circle (1968), on his experiences at that research camp. He described the challenges facing seekers of truth living in a totalitarian society through the words of one engineer imprisoned there to another:
“In Old Russia there were conservatives, reformers, statesmen; now there are none. In Old Russia there were priests, preachers, bogus holy men in rich households, heretics, schismatics; now there are none. In Old Russia there were writers, philosophers, historians, sociologists, economists; now there are none. And of course there were Revolutionaries, conspirators, bomb throwers, rebels; they, too, are no more. There were artisans wearing headbands, and there were tillers of the soil with beards down to their waists, peasants in troikas, daredevil Cossack horsemen, hoboes roaming free . . . none of them left, none at all! The shaggy black paw [of the powers] raked them all in during the first dozen years [after the 1917 revolution] . . . But while the plague raged, living water still filtered through . . . and its source was ourselves, the scientific elite. Yes, engineers and scientists were arrested and shot, but fewer of us than of other groups. Because any mountebank can churn out ideological drivel for them, but physics obeys only the voice of its master. We studied nature, whereas our brothers studied society. We’re still around; our brothers are no more. So who inherits the unfulfilled destiny of the elite in the humanities? Perhaps we do? If we don’t take a hand, who will? And who says we can’t manage it? Though we’ve never laid hands on them, we’ve weighed Sirius B and measured the kinetic energy of electrons; surely we can’t go wrong with society? But what are we doing instead? Making them [the powers] a gift of jet engines! Rockets! Scrambler telephones! Maybe even the atomic bomb! Anything, just so long as we live comfortably. And—interestingly! What sort of elite are we if we can be bought so cheaply?”

Copyright © 2021 by Steven Farsaci. 
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