Honey-Mouthed Politicians

Li Linfu, powerful chancellor of Tang dynasty China from 734 to 752, was renown for his devious ways and honeyed voice, evidently an early master of political correctness. Employing his skills to personal advantage, he ruled by backstabbing all potential competitors (which naturally included all patriotic officials intent upon serving their country) while his emperor focused on the development of new forms of music. Continue reading

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Truth vs. Lying

In his mid-70s analysis of Soviet socio-political conditions, dissident Marxist historian Roy Medvedev quoted an essay called “Think” by another Soviet dissident, Boris Shragin (Lev Ventsov) saying that the basic conflict in Soviet society was not one of:

political doctrines, ideology, parties and classes, but something quite different, much more deep-rooted, more deep-rooted than anything else–it is a conflict between truth and lying as a matter of expedience; between honesty and self-seeking of the worst kind; between a sense of justice, warm human sympathy, and cruelty rabid in its cowardly vindictiveness; between a sense of law and the total lack of it; and finally between an awareness of personal dignity and a feeling of one’s own insignificance raised to a principle of life. This historical clash of values takes place inside every individual, and everybody who has the capacity to do so is faced by the need to make his own choice. The scales of history are tipped by all those individual choices. [Roy Medvedev, On Socialist Democracy, 74.]

If anyone has a source for Shragin’s original essay, in Russian or English, please let me know. I trust the relevance of his remarks today is obvious.

Responsibility

Solzhenitsyn [Солженицын] wrote great works of history and literature, but beyond that even his live comments contain gems, for example the interview response below, which he gave to Der Spiegel [7/23/07]at the astonishing age of 88:

Every people must answer morally for all of its past — including that past which is shameful. Answer by what means? By attempting to comprehend: How could such a thing have been allowed? Where in all this is our error? And could it happen again? It is in that spirit, specifically, that it would behoove the Jewish people to answer, both for the revolutionary cutthroats and the ranks willing to serve them. Not to answer before other peoples, but to oneself, to one’s consciousness, and before God. Just as we Russians must answer — for the pogroms, for those merciless arsonist peasants, for those crazed revolutionary soldiers, for those savage sailors.

Solzhenitsyn’s point, as is clearer in the context of the full interview, is not to call for blaming anyone but to call for self-assessment so that a society can rise above its past mistakes.