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When I Was A Young Conservative (Reflections from Solzhenitsyn, Part II)

“Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.’ Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: ‘Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened [1].'”

When Solzhenitsyn first penned these words, he had been through more than the average person will ever have to go through; cancer, incarceration, worker camp, etc. He was a former leftist and decorated USSR officer, who was turned into a free-speech and free-expression juggernaut, who eventually rejected his youthful communism for more of a moderate nationalism, and a splash of classical liberalism. His moment of conversion occurred in the Gulag where he realized that the harsh leadership of Stalin was not a corruption of Marxism, but its logical conclusion. Of course, my Marxist friends will cringe after reading that, but unlike them, Solzhenitsyn didn’t have the luxury of living in a free society that is not so concerned with ideological purity, thus not as necessary for you to sacrifice for your values.

The epigraph above seemed to be a confirmation of common wisdom, things which the average person thinks is obvious, and something the intellectual easily forgets. On this side of my first degree, I am reminded of some common wisdom that I had somehow forgotten that I can’t deny are almost 100% true.

So in the spirit of remembering things we were told when we were younger that were true, here are a few things my dad told me when I was a young conservative:

  1. You are considered ideologically impure, so don’t be afraid of the rage and smugness that others view towards you.
  2. Leftists will make a statement, and if you push back once (maybe twice) they will usually resolve to name calling.
  3. You will be called every name under the book, so make sure you have evidence to best represent what you believe.
  4. Progressives always think oppressive regimes are the corruption of their treasured ideology.
  5. Progressives always think that when they get power they would do things differently than their comrades across history.
  6. You are not a victim, so read as much as you can and as widely as you can.

The odd thing about all of this advice is that I eventually left the conservative movement for “leftist” waters, and found myself horrified by the logic of weaponized victimhood. Surely, it’s not all just racism and bigotry! That interpretation of the problem is far too narrow and unscientific. and if you disagree with the prevailing ideology, it is equivalent to heresy, worthy of the shaming that many suffer from those who don’t mind ending a career, even if they lack all of the context and intelligence to navigate those waters. And if you are a Christian merchant, especially one who bakes cakes, this might be the apocalypse for you.

“Others had repeated this unthinkingly and come to believe it [2].”

It’s not as though I have returned to a conservative streak, but given how illiberal today’s “left” is, it is forcing many of us who feel like moderates to the “right.” Unless of course, it is a conservative value to believe in freedom of expression, and freedom of speech, in the hopes that the mechanism of speech can purify our life together – the only other option is violence which is something the majority of us refuse to take part in.

As a criticism of the “right,” I have found the conservative coalition to be far too capitulating to the hyper-individualism and consumerism that has colonized our churches and plagued this generation. Therefore, I have gone down more patristic pathways, leading to more of a liturgical lifestyle and a feverish investigation of the subconscious tendencies I have to please myself. What this has become is a more “neo-traditionalist” bent to my faith and has made a huge impact on my level of political engagement.

I want to know what I have come to believe as all too obvious. Are you with me? Good. It will take all of us.

Jon

 

[1] Ericson, Edward E. Jr. (October 1985) “Solzhenitsyn – Voice from the Gulag,” Eternity, pp. 23–24

[2] from his novel, In The First Circle

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