- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2001

By Daniel J. Mahoney
Rowman & Littlefield, $65, $21.95 paper, 181 pages

The literary legacy of Alexander Solzhenitsyn is so monumental and multidimensional that it might (and should) be considered from different perspectives. Daniel J. Mahoney's "Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: The Ascent From Ideology" is not a biography and not an analysis of the artistic value of Mr. Solzhenitsyn's works. The author, a political theorist, looks at Mr. Solzhenitsyn in the context of Western political philosophy. Mr. Mahoney establishes Mr. Solzhenitsyn's much deeper connection with Western political and moral thought than has been anticipated so far. For example, he finds parallels between Mr. Solzhenitsin's ideas and those of Alexis de Tocqueville, and shows that some of them are rooted in teaching of Aristotle.
Mr. Mahoney defines Mr. Solzhenitsyn's political vision as "liberal conservatism." He dismisses as groundless the allegations of some critics that certain trends in Mr. Solzhenitsyn's writings seem anti-democratic, monarchist, and anti-Semitic. But what Mr. Mahoney forgets is the fact that Mr. Solzhenitsyn predominately belongs to the Russian cultural tradition. An attempt to analyze his ideology outside of this tradition is certainly interesting, but has strict limitations.
Mr. Solzhenitsyn's writings could roughly be divided into two parts, approximately equal in size, but not in their significance. His novels "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," "The Cancer Ward," "The First Circle," together with the three-volume nonfiction masterpiece, "The Gulag Archipelago," are great achievements of creative genius. They not only secured a prominent position for the author in world literature, but also made him one of the greatest moral authorities. Mr. Solzhinitsyn's appeal "to live without lie," supported with his personal courage, inspired an entire generation of Soviet intellectuals and, in the end, became a major factor in dismantling the Communist monster.
The series of historical novels, "The Red Wheel," compose another part of Mr. Solzhenitsyn's legacy. The very first of these novels, "August 1914," published more than 30 years ago, was colorless and endlessly long, with shadows instead of lively characters and a very confusing message. Mr. Solzhenitsyn accepts that the revolution in Russia had been an effect of political and moral bankruptcy of the czar's autocratic regime. But, at the same time, he often describes pre-Revolutionary events from the point of view of the czarist autocracy. This became especially clear after the second edition of "August 1914" was printed, with almost 300 additional pages dealing with the assassination of Pyotr Stolypin, Russia's prime minister, fatally wounded in Kiev on Sept. 1, 1911.
Stolypin's goal was to take back or restrict most political freedoms wrestled from the czar during the first (1905) revolution. He dismantled two democratically elected State Dumas (parliament) and then, in violation of the Constitution, arbitrarily changed the electoral law to get a more obedient legislature. Under court-marshal law introduced by Stolypin, thousand of people most of them innocent were sentenced to death within 48 hours after their arrest and shot or hanged within the next 24 hours. Yet Mr. Solzhenitsyn portrays the iron dictator as a moderate reformer and humanist. Creating Stolypin's "cult of personality," he tremendously exaggerates his political significance and presents him a would-be "savior" of Russia.
It seems that Mr. Mahoney's knowledge of Stolypin comes mostly from Mr. Solzhenitsyn's novel, so he takes for granted that Stolypin was "one exceptional statesman, her [Russias] greatest in perhaps two centuries;" that he "combined repression of revolutionary terrorism with far-reaching reforms and tried to govern in conjunction with society's representatives in the elected Duma."
Stolypin's assassin, Dmitry Bogrov, is presented accordingly both in Mr. Solzhenitsyn's novel and in Mr. Mahoney's comments. The real Dmitry Bogrov was a young anarchist and a clandestine accomplice of the secret police not an unusual combination at that time. There are serious reasons to suggest that the authorities, with silent approval of the czar, orchestrated Bogrov's terrorist act. (Stolypin fell out of favor long before the assassination).
In Mr. Solzhenitsyn's novel, the most important aspect of Bogrov's action is his Jewish origin. The real Bogrov belonged to an assimilated family and did not maintain ties with the Jewish community, but Mr. Solzhenitsyn's "Mordko" Bogrov has the feeling that "the Jews of Kiev were his own flesh and blood." He commits the murder drawn by "the sure voice from three thousand years back."
"Mordko" hates Russia and kills her "savior" because he "is too good for this country" (rather than too bad!). In other words, "Mordko" does not distinguish between Russia and the Russian despotic regime. Mr. Solzhenitsyn does not make this distinction either: "Mordko's" shots decided "the fate of the government," "the fate of the country," "and the fate of my people."
To Mr. Mahoney, this manifestation of collective guilt accumulated within 3000-year Jewish history is "a balanced analysis of Bogrov's motives." He finds that Mr. Solzhenitsyn is "even doing justice to his undoubted, if misguided, heroism."
Mr. Mahoney is very consistent in his judgement. Again and again, he refuses to recognize that at least some ideas and sentiments expressed is Mr. Solzhenitsyn's works stem from Russian anti-Semitic subculture not from Alexis de Tocqueville or Raymond Aron.
Ironically, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn has recently has done a bad service to his apologetic admirers. In his latest work, "Two Hundred Years Together (1795-1995): Russian-Jewish Relations," (the first of two volumes was published in Moscow a few weeks ago), he reinforces the most odious ideas of "The Red Wheel." Mr. Solzhenitsyn claims, of course, that his new book is a strictly objective and balanced survey, but most reviewers disagree. As one of them stated, "Solzhenitsyn wrote the entire book to demonstrate unquestionable evil of the Jewish people on the background of tolerant and even solicitous czarist policy toward them and kind attitude to the Jews of the Russian people."
I think that from now on it will be even more difficult to defend Mr. Solzhenitsyn's "liberal conservatism," than it used to be.

Semyon Reznik is a historian, author, and journalist. He writes extensively on Russian politics, history and culture. He is the author of 13 books, the latest being "Seduction by Hate: Blood Libel in Russia" (in Russian). He works for the Voice of America's Russian service.

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