Excerpted from an essay Solzhenitsyn released the day he was arrested. The next day, Feb. 12, 1974, he was exiled to the West. The essay can be found on pp. 556 to 560 of The Solzhenitsyn Reader.
I reprint these words here, for a similar version (from his essays in From Under the Rubble) sounded a constant tone in my mind for many years – particularly as the essay meditates on a world constructed of lies. The essay haunted me for years as I made my way through the various bureaucracies, press releases, study documents, and empty words of my former denomination. I am sure that I am not alone in that feeling, and that even within more than a few corners of any Church some may feel something of the same thing. No one has a corner on lying. But the brilliant beauty of Solzhenitsyn’s own life was his living witness that lies, no matter how large or small, no matter how insidious or covered in violence, are simply weak and empty. Like everything evil, there is no substance to a lie. In the light of God’s good day, it shrivels away and becomes nothing.
No thank you, fathers of enlightenment! We now know that the vileness of the means begets the vileness of the result. Let our hands be clean! …
When violence bursts onto the peaceful human condition, its face flush with self-assurance, it displays on its banner and proclaims: “I am Violence! Make way, step aside, I will crush you!” But violence ages swiftly, a few years pass – and it is no longer sure of itself. To prop itself up, to appear decent, it will without fail call forth its ally – Lies. For violence has nothing to cover itself with but lies, and lies can only persist through violence. And it is not every day and not on every shoulder that violence brings down its heavy hand: It demands of us only submission to lies, a daily participation in deceit – and this suffices as our fealty.
And therein we find, neglected by us, the simplest, the most accessible key to our liberation: a personal nonparticipation in lies! Even if all is covered by the lies, even if all is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way: Let their rule hold not through me!
Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies! Having seen where lies begin… step back from that gangrenous edge! Let us not glue back the flaking scales of Ideology, not gather back its crumbling bones, nor patch together its decomposing garb, and we will be amazed how swiftly and helplessly the lies will fall away, … exposed as such to the world.
Yes, at first it will not be fair… But there is no loophole left for anyone who seeks to be honest… And as for him who lacks the courage to defend even his own soul: Let him not brag of his progressive views, boast of his status as an academician or as a recognized artist, a distinguished citizen or general. Let him say to himself plainly: I am cattle, I am a coward, I seek only warmth and to eat my fill.
Not an easy choice for the body, but the only one for the soul.
But if we shrink away, then let us cease complaining that someone does not let us draw breath – we do it to ourselves! … and it is of us that Pushkin asks with scorn: “Why offer herds their liberation? Their heritage each generation – the yoke with jingles, and the whip.”’