New Warhorn Media post by Tim Bayly:
What quote did you read? Out of curiosity.
I picked up a cheap paperback of ‘ The Gulag Archipelago’ at Von’s books in Lafayette and read it the summer I finished seminary. I was so proud of myself as I neared the end…till I realised it was only volume one of three! Took me nearly a decade to get to the whole set.
Here it is. It’s about twenty percent into the first volume, right after he describes his wicked pride as an officer after first being arrested and demanding his captor require a German fellow captive carry his suitcase (if you remember that). I’ve just finished the first and second volumes of his “Between Two Millstones.” He’s been one of my heroes forever, especially after reading Scammel’s bio of him back in the eighties.
BTW, I should mention Juergen doubts that the figure is more than a quarter of what Solzhenitsyn estimates as the number of Germans tried in their courts (86,000). I’d like to find out what AS’s source is, since AS is meticulous in his research, but the footnote there doesn’t provide one.
Plow through, men; it only keeps getting better. It’s the best sermon I’ve never heard from any Reformed men on original sin, total depravity, and the Fall.
I’d just finished spending a week exposing Pastor Keller’s deceptions when I read this. What a blessing it was! How ready for it I was. Couldn’t help thinking about how “missional,” “gospel,” and “evangelism” have been the “ideology” reformed and evangelical men have used the past half-century to justify every last lie they’ve told, starting with deleting words from God’s word.
\Woke up in the middle of the night (3 AM) Sunday morning before preaching, and couldn’t stop reading it in bed. Then I woke Mary Lee up at 6 AM and tried to describe it to her.
One final thing; I’m sorry, but the words Solzhenitsyn puts in italics are not retained. Many of the occurences of “ideology” are, though. Love,
So let the reader who expects this book to be a political expose slam its covers shut right now. If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil. Socrates taught us: Know thyself! Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren’t. If Malyuta Skuratov had summoned us, we, too, probably would have done our work well! From good to evil is one quaver, says the proverb. And correspondingly, from evil to good.
From the moment when our society was convulsed by the reminder of those illegalities and tortures, they began on all sides to explain, to write, to protest: Good people were there too—meaning in the NKVD-MGB!
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago [Volume 1] (p. 168). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Or is it that even blackness must, every so often, however rarely, partake of the heavens?
It would be beautiful to think so. But when one learns, for example, the nature of Yagoda’s striving toward the sacred . . . An eyewitness from the group around Gorky, who was close to Yagoda at the time, reports that in the vestibule of the bathhouse on Yagoda’s estate near Moscow, ikons were placed so that Yagoda and his comrades, after undressing, could use them as targets for revolver practice before going in to take their baths.
Just how are we to understand that? As the act of an evildoer? What sort of behavior is it? Do such people really exist?
We would prefer to say that such people cannot exist, that there aren’t any. It is permissible to portray evildoers in a story for children, so as to keep the picture simple. But when the great world literature of the past—Shakespeare, Schiller, Dickens—inflates and inflates images of evildoers of the blackest shades, it seems somewhat farcical and clumsy to our contemporary perception. The trouble lies in the way these classic evildoers are pictured. They recognize themselves as evildoers, and they know their souls are black. And they reason: “I cannot live unless I do evil. So I’ll set my father against my brother! I’ll drink the victim’s sufferings until I’m drunk with them!” Iago very precisely identifies his purposes and his motives as being black and born of hate.
But no; that’s not the way it is! To do evil a human being must first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his actions.
Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble—and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb too. The imagination and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology.
Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations.
Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed. How, then, do we dare insist that evildoers do not exist? And who was it that destroyed these millions? Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.
There was a rumor going the rounds between 1918 and 1920 that the Petrograd Cheka, headed by Uritsky, and the Odessa Cheka, headed by Deich, did not shoot all those condemned to death but fed some of them alive to the animals in the city zoos. I do not know whether this is truth or calumny, or, if there were any such cases, how many there were. But I wouldn’t set out to look for proof, either. Following the practice of the bluecaps, I would propose that they prove to us that this was impossible. How else could they get food for the zoos in those famine years? Take it away from the working class? Those enemies were going to die anyway, so why couldn’t their deaths support the zoo economy of the Republic and thereby assist our march into the future? Wasn’t it expedient?
That is the precise line the Shakespearean evildoer could not cross. But the evildoer with ideology does cross it, and his eyes remain dry and clear.
Physics is aware of phenomena which occur only at threshold magnitudes, which do not exist at all until a certain threshold encoded by and known to nature has been crossed. No matter how intense a yellow light you shine on a lithium sample, it will not emit electrons. But as soon as a weak bluish light begins to glow, it does emit them. (The threshold of the photoelectric effect has been crossed.) You can cool oxygen to 100 degrees below zero Centigrade and exert as much pressure as you want; it does not yield, but remains a gas. But as soon as minus 183 degrees is reached, it liquefies and begins to flow.
Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good and evil all his life. He slips, falls back, clambers up, repents, things begin to darken again. But just so long as the threshold of evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains, and he himself is still within reach of our hope. But when, through the density of evil actions, the result either of their own extreme degree or of the absoluteness of his power, he suddenly crosses that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, the possibility of return.
From the most ancient times justice has been a two-part concept: virtue triumphs, and vice is punished.
We have been fortunate enough to live to a time when virtue, though it does not triumph, is nonetheless not always tormented by attack dogs. Beaten down, sickly, virtue has now been allowed to enter in all its tatters and sit in the corner, as long as it doesn’t raise its voice.
However, no one dares say a word about vice. Yes, they did mock virtue, but there was no vice in that. Yes, so-and-so many millions did get mowed down—but no one was to blame for it. And if someone pipes up: “What about those who . . .” the answer comes from all sides, reproachfully and amicably at first: “What are you talking about, comrade! Why open old wounds?”21 Then they go after you with an oaken club: “Shut up! Haven’t you had enough yet? You think you’ve been rehabilitated!”
In that same period, by 1966, eighty-six thousand Nazi criminals had been convicted in West Germany.22 And still we choke with anger here. We do not hesitate to devote to the subject page after newspaper page and hour after hour of radio time. We even stay after work to attend protest meetings and vote: “Too few! Eighty-six thousand are too few. And twenty years is too little! It must go on and on.”
And during the same period, in our own country (according to the reports of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court) about ten men have been convicted.
What takes place beyond the Oder and the Rhine gets us all worked up. What goes on in the environs of Moscow and behind the green fences near Sochi, or the fact that the murderers of our husbands and fathers ride through our streets and we make way for them as they pass, doesn’t get us worked up at all, doesn’t touch us. That would be “digging up the past.”
Meanwhile, if we translate 86,000 West Germans into our own terms, on the basis of comparative population figures, it would become one-quarter of a million.
But in a quarter-century we have not tracked down anyone. We have not brought anyone to trial. It is their wounds we are afraid to reopen. And as a symbol of them all, the smug and stupid Molotov lives on at Granovsky No. 3, a man who has learned nothing at all, even now, though he is saturated with our blood and nobly crosses the sidewalk to seat himself in his long, wide automobile.
Here is a riddle not for us contemporaries to figure out: Why is Germany allowed to punish its evildoers and Russia is not? What kind of disastrous path lies ahead of us if we do not have the chance to purge ourselves of that putrefaction rotting inside our body? What, then, can Russia teach the world?
In the German trials an astonishing phenomenon takes place from time to time. The defendant clasps his head in his hands, refuses to make any defense, and from then on asks no concessions from the court. He says that the presentation of his crimes, revived and once again confronting him, has filled him with revulsion and he no longer wants to live.
That is the ultimate height a trial can attain: when evil is so utterly condemned that even the criminal is revolted by it.
A country which has condemned evil 86,000 times from the rostrum of a court and irrevocably condemned it in literature and among its young people, year by year, step by step, is purged of it.
What are we to do? Someday our descendants will describe our several generations as generations of driveling do-nothings. First we submissively allowed them to massacre us by the millions, and then with devoted concern we tended the murderers in their prosperous old age.
What are we to do if the great Russian tradition of penitence is incomprehensible and absurd to them? What are we to do if the animal terror of hearing even one-hundredth part of all they subjected others to outweighs in their hearts any inclination to justice? If they cling greedily to the harvest of benefits they have watered with the blood of those who perished?
It is clear enough that those men who turned the handle of the meat grinder even as late as 1937 are no longer young. They are fifty to eighty years old. They have lived the best years of their lives prosperously, well nourished and comfortable, so that it is too late for any kind of equal retribution as far as they are concerned.
But let us be generous. We will not shoot them. We will not pour salt water into them, nor bury them in bedbugs, nor bridle them into a “swan dive,” nor keep them on sleepless “stand-up” for a week, nor kick them with jackboots, nor beat them with rubber truncheons, nor squeeze their skulls in iron rings, nor push them into a cell so that they lie atop one another like pieces of baggage—we will not do any of the things they did! But for the sake of our country and our children we have the duty to seek them all out and bring them all to trial! Not to put them on trial so much as their crimes. And to compel each one of them to announce loudly:
“Yes, I was an executioner and a murderer.”
And if these words were spoken in our country only one-quarter of a million times (a just proportion, if we are not to fall behind West Germany), would it, perhaps, be enough?
It is unthinkable in the twentieth century to fail to distinguish between what constitutes an abominable atrocity that must be prosecuted and what constitutes that “past” which “ought not to be stirred up.”
We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people have the right to repress others. In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations. It is for this reason, and not because of the “weakness of indoctrinational work,” that they are growing up “indifferent.” Young people are acquiring the conviction that foul deeds are never punished on earth, that they always bring prosperity.
It is going to be uncomfortable, horrible, to live in such a country!
Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. The Gulag Archipelago [Volume 1] (pp. 173-178). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.