Solzhenitsyn on Our Evil

Since I have not prepared a proper post, I will commit the highest act of admiration, and I will give an extensive quotation from Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago a piece where he discusses human evil.

 

Do such people really exist?

We would prefer to say that such people cannot 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 inlfates 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 picture. 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 lese that it’s a well-considered act in conformity with the natural law. Foruntately, it is in the nature of the human being to seek 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 curse but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by rae; 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 would have been no Archipelago.

Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, Volume I. Pg. 173-174

Your Humbled Servant, C. McDonald

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