Contrary to popular belief, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who died last week at 89, told the world nothing that it did not already know, or could not already have known, about the Soviet Union and the Communist system. Information about their true nature was available from the very first, including photographic evidence of massacre and famine. Bertrand Russell, no apologist of conservatism, spotted Lenin’s appalling inhumanity and its consequences for Russia and humanity as early as 1920. The problem was that this information was not believed; or if believed, it was explained away and rendered innocuous by various mental subterfuges, such as false comparison with others’ misdeeds, historical rationalizations, reference to the supposed grandeur of the social ideals behind the apparent horrors, and so forth. Anything other than admission of the obvious.
Solzhenitsyn’s achievement was to render such illusion about the Soviet Union impossible, even for its most die-hard defenders: he made illusion not merely stupid but wicked. With a mixture of literary talent, iron integrity, bravery, and determination of a kind very rarely encountered, he made it impossible to deny the world-historical scale of the Soviet evil.
. . . And when he reminded us that the line dividing good from evil passes through every human heart, he said something that no human being should ever forget.
We need more Solzhenitsyns, more than ever in this illusion-obsessed age of the willingly, willfully self-deluded. "He made illusion not merely stupid but wicked." Indeed. Illusion isn't that far from collusion, after all.
And here I am in Nerdworld, watching "useful idiots" blithely march around wearing Communist-chic T-shirts as if millions of people hadn't suffered and died under those same images.
UPDATE: On the way home from campus today, I ran right into somebody wearing a CCCP jacket. It was unmistakable. And nothing drives me mad quite like Commie-chic. Ignorant young puppy.