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The Samizdat Remains the Same

"Was the Fall of the USSR a Good Thing? -- University of Chicago Professor Brian Leiter isn’t so sure," David Bernstein notes at the Volokh Conspiracy.

35 years ago, propping up the Soviet Union was par for the course in academia, as Tom Wolfe spotlighted in this passage from his article, "The Intelligent Co-Ed's Guide to America," published in 1976:

With the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and the invasion of Czechoslo­vakia in 1968 it had become clear to Mannerist Marxists such as Sartre that the Soviet Union was now an embarrassment. The fault, however, as tout le monde knew, was not with socialism but with Stalinism. Stalin was a madman and had taken socialism on a wrong turn. (Mis­takes happen.) Solzhenitsyn began speaking out as a dissident inside the Soviet Union in 1967. His complaints, his revelations, his struggles with Soviet authorities—they merely underscored just how wrong the Stalinist turn had been.

The publication of The Gulag Archipelago in 1973, however, was a wholly unexpected blow. No one was ready for the obscene horror and grotesque scale of what Solzhenitsyn called "Our Sewage Disposal System"—in which tens of millions were shipped in boxcars to con­centration camps all over the country, in which tens of millions died, in which entire races and national groups were liquidated, insofar as they had existed in the Soviet Union. Moreover, said Solzhenitsyn, the system had not begun with Stalin but with Lenin, who had im­mediately exterminated non-Bolshevik opponents of the old regime and especially the student factions. It was impossible any longer to distinguish the Communist liquidation apparatus from the Nazi.

Yet Solzhenitsyn went still further. He said that not only Stalinism, not only Leninism, not only Communism -- but socialism itself led to the concentration camps; and not only socialism, but Marxism; and not only Marxism but any ideology that sought to reorganize morality on an a priori basis. Sadder still, it was impossible to say that Soviet socialism was not "real socialism." On the contrary -- it was socialism done by experts!

Intellectuals in Europe and America were willing to forgive Solzhe­nitsyn a great deal. After all, he had been born and raised in the Soviet Union as a Marxist, he had fought in combat for his country, he was a great novelist, he had been in the camps for eight years, he had suf­fered. But for his insistence that the isms themselves led to the death camps -- for this he was not likely to be forgiven soon. And in fact the campaign of antisepsis began soon after he was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974. ("He suffered too much -- he's crazy." "He's a Christian zealot with a Christ complex." "He's an agrarian reaction­ary." "He's an egotist and a publicity junkie.")

Solzhenitsyn's tour of the United States in 1975 was like an enormous funeral procession that no one wanted to see. The White House wanted no part of him. The New York Times sought to bury his two major' speeches, and only the moral pressure of a lone Times writer, Hilton, Kramer, brought them any appreciable coverage at all. The major tele­vision networks declined to run the Solzhenitsyn interview that created such a stir in England earlier this year (it ran on some of the educa­tional channels).

And the literary world in general ignored him completely. In the huge unseen coffin that Solzhenitsyn towed behind him were not only the souls of the zeks who died in the Archipelago. No, the heartless bastard had also chucked in one of the last great visions: the intellec­tual as the Stainless Steel Socialist glistening against the bone heap of capitalism in its final, brutal, fascist phase. There was a bone heap, all right, and it was grisly beyond belief, but socialism, had created it.

As Orrin Judd writes today, "Nixon was negotiating the terms on which the West would live with a permanent Iron Curtain. Reagan was negotiating the end of that particular evil." Curious that these days, a surprising number of academicians find themselves on the side of Nixon on a host of issues.