Book Reviews

The ‘Evildoer’ Of The Modern Age Is A Humanitarian? (Reflections from Solzhenitsyn, Part I)

A Secular society always envisions itself as fundamentally moral, humane, and considerate of those in the periphery. And we in said society pride ourselves on caring for those different than us – providing evidence of the ever-growing list of positive rights for the ‘marginalized’ in our countries. But this is precisely the issue in secular society, as revealed in the hypocrisy of the actions of enlightened men of the 20th century: without our religious cultural identities undergirding the political enterprise, we are (historically speaking) incapable of discovering the ‘evildoer.’ How could we believe there are such things in the age of progress, where the past is scorned and the present is ‘winked’ at?

“We know better than Stalin, Hitler, or even those racists in the colonies,” they say with pride. The question remains: Do we, really?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn — in his three-part work detailing to atrocities of Soviet Russia, telling stories from those who suffered this ‘humane’ re-education in the Gulag — articulates this vision of the modern man and man’s obsession with “humane” violence:

“Just how are we supposed 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 can not 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 Nazi’s, 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, there would have been no Archipelago.*”

In other words, a society undergirded by secularism is more prone to wrought violence upon its own people, for their own sake. “Poor little fools caught up in the wave of progress.” they often say, “if they were better people this wouldn’t be necessary.”


*Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: Part I, 173-174



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