Politics & Policy

Understanding Solzhenitsyn

Editor’s note: This William F. Buckley Jr. “On the Right” column appeared in the April 14, 1976, issue of National Review.

Time Magazine has never quite got over being the last word on all subjects, in a world about which very much can be more safely said than that a) U.S. leadership has by and large followed the trendy advice of Time, Inc.; and b) that the world is in an advanced stage of decomposition. Most recently it accosted the problem of Solzhenitsyn.

That problem recently struck again in a BBC television broadcast, presented in America under the auspices of my own program, Firing Line, which rocked Great Britian, and was called by the Wall Street Journal “one of the most important pieces of TV journalism ever, and spellbinding besides.” The attempt to disparage it through misunderstanding and superciliousness is an aspect of the problem Solzhenitsyn is talking about.

He is most allegeric, as others are who seek to understand him, to the argument that the only alternative to following the ocurse of détente is nuclear obliteration. Unerringly, Time Magazine concludes its brief analysis with the sentence, “If he was right in his broadcast, the only alternative is the Apocalyse.”

Well, this isn’t true. Solzhenitsyn is not advocating nuclear war. Nor is he advocating policies that would lead to a nuclear war. He is advocating policies that would save the west from the attrition of its power and prestige. As regards nuclear arms, Solzhenitsyn states specifically that he doubts they would ever be used by the Soviet Union. Because the “Soviet Union does not even need nuclear arms; you an be taken with bare hands.”

It is with bare hands that the Soviet Union espies victory in Italy, followed by victory in France. In its most important salient in Portugal last year, a total of six people were killed, and the westernmost member of NATO very nearly slipped into the Soviet camp. That is what Solzhenitsyn means by the use of bare hands. The reflection is not on the strength of the Soviet Union, but on the weakness of the west.

Time Magazine, seeking to undermined the effect of Solzhenitsyn’s broadcast, appeals to Authority. “Most sober observers of world affairs are not likely to fall under his spell. Example: Sovietologist Richard Lowenthal has sorrowfully expressed his amazement at Solzhenitsyn’s ‘utter disaccord with the facts of recent international history.’ Lowenthal points out that not all defeats for the West, as for instance in Indochina, are caused by surrender … but can be the result of local forces.”

To bring on Sovietologist Richard Lowenthal to confute the vision of Solzhenitsyn is on the order of invoking Naziologist Walter Winchell to dispose of a speech by Winston Churchill. It is as obvious that many defeats are caused by internal conditions, as it was obvious to Churchill that Europe had to fear the strength of Hitler only in context of the weakness of France and Great Britain. No doubt the French, adequately prepared, fired bya more galvanizing vision, would have stood up to Hitler, rather than capitulate; indeed, would have stood up to Hitler before it became necessary to capitulate. The disease of the thirties afflicts us yet again, Solzhenitsyn is saying. And all the more strongly because the moment we seek to resist the trend we are made, by such as the editors of Time Magazine, to taste atomic cinders in our mouths.

Solzhenitsyn does not believe one should refuse to communicate with the USSR, as it is being suggested. He believes that these communications ought not to encourage the Soviet Unions in its growing obsession to dominate the world, and obliterate dissent.

Time says of Solzhenitsyn that “as a prophet he has a vision so simple, single-minded and absolute that it cannot cope with a real and complex world.’ People who have less simple, less single-minded, less absolute visions have done very poorly in coping with a real and complex world. A generation ago the Soviet Union was a threat only to its own citizens. Now it is master in Angola, and petrifier of the thought and vision of the worldly editors of the most cosmopolitan magazine in the world.

Solzhenitsyn’s vision is as simple as Cato’s; as naïve as Churchill’s. The great effect of his worlds is that, on listening to them, those of the Lowenthal’s blur instantly from memory.


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