My first mentor, the late great Dr. Luke William McCann told me how his tenure at Columbia Universities comparative literature department was riven to engage Russian literature, especially Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. It seems the theological, moral unpinning of Russian aesthetics was beyond the pale. Militant secularists just couldn’t bring themselves to defend the moral reserve advocated by John Paul II. So they ignored it.
Having been blinded by ideology, they became unwilling accomplices in shaping the aesthetic framework of many leading scholars. Sadly, Father McCann revealed how most lost themselves in feverish pitch and became unable to respond effectively to the moral challenges of our time.
Even Solzhenitsyn remarked how the chief divide animating differences among American political parties is their view of the human person. For Solzhenitsyn, both Communism and Capitalism have identical ends: ameliorated people, easy prey for demagogic revolutionaries. They key was to ground public policy in the growth of civil society.
This insight brought two great leaders, both John Paul and Solzhenitsyn to re-discover the work and insights of a great Roman Catholic, Alexis Tocqueville. It should surprise no one that Tocqueville lined the book shelved headboard of each man’s bed. Tocqueville was Arnold Toynbee’s mentor for the 12 volume prodigy A Study of History, he’s also responsible for shaping the thought of Marshall McLuhan. More on that another time.
Why read Solzhenitsyn, or even Tocqueville?
Both men advocate a rare truth. Only a return to realism can the fraught lines of intellectual engagement be rescued from satanic assertions of utopia. This ought to shape the immediate future Reformation Islam so badly needs. It can also prevent the Democratic party, especially its progressive wing from destroying this great Republic upon the alar of the criminalization of political differences.
That’s why you should try The House of the Dead: Siberian Exile Under the Tzars by Daniel Beer, in it you’ll witness how penal codes, the very social institutions that Tocqueville sought to study in the United States, we’re usurped by the Bolshevik’s in the Russian Revolution and put to use in the name of Mother Russia. Here we witness new sources of depravity tied to enlightened despotism that underwrote Christian monarchy up to World War I. It is this satanic reality of frontier life beyond the Urals that shaped the imagination of Russia’s greatest artists. Its what fortified the perverse ethics of Anna Karenina’s suicide and the monomania of the underground man.
In the end though, it collapsed like czarist autocracy while it fed the very moral sources that brought solidarity. If we seek the renewal of the west by mining a moral reserve, we begin with those who survived the pit of hell itself.