August 12, 2008
THE CONFUSION OF MEANS AND ENDS:
Solzhenitsyn and the Battle for the Human Soul (Robert P. Kraynak, August 12, 2008, First Things)
[I]f Solzhenitsyn is going to be truly valued by future generations, his life and art will have to be studied for the enduring lessons they teach about the moral and spiritual dimension of politics, which Solzhenitsyn always saw as a battleground for the dignity and perfection of the human soul.
This perspective is alien and frightening to contemporary people in the West, because they think about politics primarily in terms of human rights—about whether a government protects the rights and liberties of its citizens or represses them. But Solzhenitsyn never thought that the categories of Western liberalism about human rights were a sufficient guide to politics, and he upset his Western friends and admirers by stating that human rights were not the full measure of a just or healthy society. In his famous Harvard Address of 1978, he attacked communist regimes for destroying freedom, but then he criticized Western democracies for their emphasis on legalistic rights without moral self-restraint and religious foundations. He joined forces with his fellow Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov, in resisting Soviet leaders, but then he harshly criticized Sakharov’s “human rights activism” for its naïve liberalism. Solzhenitsyn also said jarring things like, “Human rights are a fine thing, but how can we be sure that our rights do not expand at the expense of the rights of others. . . . Human freedom includes voluntary self-limitation for the sake of others.”
Statements like these led many in the West to view Solzhenitsyn as an enemy of political freedom and democracy who sympathized with reactionary causes, like Tsarism, theocracy, and authoritarian nationalism. These portraits are unfair, however, because Solzhenitsyn had a deep appreciation for political freedom and democracy, even though he insisted that political institutions must serve the highest good of developing the human soul in all of its moral, artistic, and spiritual dimensions. To remember Solzhenitsyn properly, we have to appreciate his insistence on restoring the human soul to the center of politics while viewing political freedom as the necessary and indispensable means—but only a means—to the development of the soul.
Vital here is the corollary, that where the end that freedom renders is the stunting of souls it is an illegitimate means. As Professor Kraynak says, in his own exceptional book, "[W]e must face the disturbing dilemma that modern liberal democracy needs God, but God is not as liberal or as democratic as we would like Him to be."
Posted by Orrin Judd at August 12, 2008 9:54 AM