Liberty, Justice, and Expediency

… главное во всяком судебном процессе не так называемая вина, а — целесообразность….

За исключением считанных парламентских демократий в считанные десятилетия вся история государств есть история переворотов и захватов власти. И тот, кто успевает сделать переворот проворней и прочней, от этой самой минуты осеняется светлыми ризами Юстиции, и каждый прошлый и будущий шаг его — законен и отданудам, а каждый прошлый и будущий шаг его неудачливых врагов — преступен, подлежит суду и законной казни. [ 328.]

…what was important in every trial was not the charges brought, nor guilt, so called, but expediency…it was expedient to finish them off….

With the exception of a very limited number of parliamentary democracies, during a very limited number of decades, the history of nations is entirely a history of revolutions and seizures of power. And whoever succeeds in making a more successful and more enduring revolution is from that moment on graced with the bright robes of Justice, and his every past and future step is legalized and memorialized in odes, whereas every past and future step of his unsuccessful enemies is criminal and subject to arraignment and a legal penalty. [Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, Vol. 1, Ch. 9 “The Law Becomes a Man,” 355.]

В благополучном и слепом нашем существовании смертники рисуются нам роковыми и немногочисленными одиночками. Мы инстинктивно уверены, что мы в смертную камеру никогда бы попасть не могли, что для этого нужна если не тяжкая вина, то во всяком случае выдающаяся жизнь….

Наша судьба угодить в смертную камеру не тем решается, что мы сделали что-то или чего-то не сделали, — она решается кручением большого колеса, ходом внешних могучих обстоятельств. []

In our happy, blind existence, we picture condemned men as a few ill-fated, solitary individuals. We instinctively believe that we could never end up on death row, that it would take an outstanding career if not heinous guilt for that to happen….

Whether our destiny holds a death cell in store for us is not determined by what we have done or not done. It is determined by the turn of a great wheel and the thrust of powerful external circumstances. [G.A., Ch. 11 “The Supreme Measure,” 440-441.]

It is understandable, given the endless crimes of the Soviet state against Solzhenitsyn, that he might have concluded that a “great red wheel” of fate rolls mercilessly over mankind; more fortunate in our comfortable democracies, we in the West may, in these years between great global wars, choose to believe that we control our fates. Perhaps we have demonstrated that in theory we might, but the evidence that in practice we are not is overwhelming: the case at least is unproven. One thing is clear: citizens of a democracy who do not wish to lay their bodies down before that great red wheel must stand up and take action.

Just as the loss of liberty begins with subtle shifts in our views of morality and justice–a process brilliantly and mercilessly documented by Solzhenitsyn, “action” as well starts in subtle ways: first, thinking; next, expressing dissent; then, exchanging opinions. Solzhenitsyn notes that as early as the mid-1920s:

 Глухая закрытость уже уверенно формировала нашу историю. [423]

Silence was already confidently shaping our history. [465]

–an individual error that promptly resulted in a critical victory for the forces of repression:

…не было в стране общественного мнения!

…there was no public opinion in the Soviet Union. [473.]

Nothing vanishes faster than liberty undefended.


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