August 4, 2008

On Solzhenitsyn

Heroism is a horribly overused word these days. We live in an age in which politicians actually use the word “heroic” to describe the most ordinary casts of mind and behavior — loving your kids, for example, or going to your job every day. It has been the inestimable good fortune of the world’s population these past five decades to have shared the Earth with one of the greatest heroes in history, the foremost example of intellectual courage of the 20th century.

Thus does John Podhoretz begin his Contentions tribute to Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

See also Peter Wehner at Contentions, and an obit from The Economist.

And from a balanced piece by Christopher Hitchens comes this savory paragraph:

To have fought his way into Hitler's East Prussia as a proud Red Army soldier in the harshest war on record, to have been arrested and incarcerated for a chance indiscretion, to have served a full sentence of servitude and been released on the very day that Stalin died, and then to have developed cancer and known the whole rigor and misery of a Soviet-era isolation hospital—what could you fear after that? The bullying of Leonid Brezhnev's KGB and the hate campaigns of the hack-ridden Soviet press must have seemed like contemptible fleabites by comparison. But it seems that Solzhenitsyn did have a worry or a dread, not that he himself would be harmed but that none of his work would ever see print. Nonetheless—and this is the point to which I call your attention—he kept on writing. The Communist Party's goons could have torn it up or confiscated or burned it—as they did sometimes—but he continued putting it down on paper and keeping a bottom drawer filled for posterity. This is a kind of fortitude for which we do not have any facile name. The simplest way of phrasing it is to say that Solzhenitsyn lived "as if." Barely deigning to notice the sniggering, pick-nose bullies who followed him and harassed him, he carried on "as if" he were a free citizen, "as if" he had the right to study his own country's history, "as if" there were such a thing as human dignity.
Posted by dan at August 4, 2008 8:59 PM