Solzhenitsyn’s “Live Not by Lies!”

, I wrote about the mixture of coercion, persuasion, and authority that establish a goverened people. My thinking was that a state is established and defended by some combination of active coercion and persuasion, but that a mature state may maintain itself mostly through authority, which I described as being something like momentum or as “a mixture of coercion and persuasion that is held in reserve: an energy that is potential, rather than kinetic — like a battery.”

I was reminded of this recently while reading “Live Not by Lies!” — Alexandr Sol­zhe­ni­tsyn’s farewell message to Russians as he was exiled from the Soviet Union in .

In this brief message, Sol­zhe­ni­tsyn advocates a single, fundamental form of civil disobedience: declining, passively, to help maintain the web of lies that the Soviet state relied on and that Sol­zhe­ni­tsyn identified as the regime’s “most vulnerable point.” He wrote:

When violence bursts onto the peaceful human condition, its face is flush with self-assurance, it displays on its banner and proclaims: “I am violence! Make way, step aside, I will crush you!” But violence ages swiftly, a few years pass — and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally — Lies. For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence. And it is not every day and not on every shoulder that violence brings down its heavy hand: It demands of us only a submission to lies, a daily participation in deceit — and this suffices as our fealty.

And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!

This seemed to me to be a parallel way of explaining the same sort of evolution, with political authority explained as being a variety of lie that is popularly maintained and nests along with violent coercion.

I’ve been skimming The Sol­zhe­ni­tsyn Reader, but it’s not growing on me much yet. I skipped ahead to some of his later essays & speeches and I see how he came to be thought of as kind of an annoying crank. He chastizes “the West” for our “intolerable music” and our television and our refusal to buckle down and defeat the Vietnamese and our un­will­ing­ness to ban Monty Python’s blasphemous Life of Brian. Modern art is self-indulgent, journalists pry into private affairs and reveal state secrets with impunity, God is mocked and ignored, people’s whimsical fancies are the closest thing to a lodestone in their lives, and… you kids get off my lawn!


This looks like an interesting idea — something worth keeping an eye on:

The common security club model was born out of work done in the last few years by people struggling with overwhelming indebtedness. Participants spend some time discussing the root causes of the economic crisis, drawing on readings and materials provided by the network. But they mostly focus on what they can do together to increase their economic security and press for policy changes.


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