For what do we live? 17

Two giants of our civilization, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, prescribed Christianity – specifically Russian Orthodox Christianity – as The Solution to the moral maladies of the human race.

The moral malady Dostoyevsky wrote against in his novel The Possessed (also translated as The Devils or The Demons) was the mood of anarchist rebellion, underlain by nihilist despair, that was spreading through Russia in his time. His last novel The Brothers Karamazov implicitly prescribes Orthodox Christianity as the great alternative to existential despair and universal moral turpitude.

Russia ignored Dostoyevsky’s prescription – the Orthodox Christian way to national salvation – so it was not tested (yet again). Rather, the rebellious mood, infecting Russian society high and low, fomented vicious acts of terrorism, harbingers of the revolution that would condemn the country to seventy-three years of Communism.

Solzhenitsyn was one of the millions of victims of the Communist regime.

He wrote this at the end of his story Matryona’s House, indicating what moral failings he most despises and implicitly prescribing his preferred alternative:

She [Matryona] made no effort to get things round her. She didn’t struggle and strain to buy things and then care for them more than life itself.

She didn’t go all out after fine clothes. Clothes, that beautify what is ugly and evil.

She was misunderstood and abandoned even by her husband. She had lost her husband, but not her sociable ways. She was a stranger to her sisters and sisters-in-law, a ridiculous creature who stupidly worked for others without pay. She didn’t accumulate property against the day she died. [Only] a dirty-white goat, a gammy-legged cat, some rubber plants. …

We had all lived  side by side with her and never understood that she was that righteous one without whom, as the proverb says, no village can stand.

Nor any city.

Nor our whole land.

Solzhenitsyn is praising Matryona, a poor, humble, kind, cheerful, self-sacrificing person, as an exemplar of the most virtuous, most praiseworthy person possible or imaginable. An indispensable type who justifies the existence of the human species. Rare, but a model for all of us. That is, “in the eyes of God” – he intimates. The “proverb” he mentions is an obvious euphemism for the Christian message. Repeatedly in his works he blames the wretchedness of Russia on Russians “forgetting God”.

And all his works excoriate Socialism and Russia’s Socialist regime. “Socialist” or “Communist” – the regime used the terms interchangeably.

He does not seem to notice that the type he holds up as a model and the virtues he praises, are the very type and the very virtues that Communism holds to be the highest and the best, and that Communist regimes require and demand. 

The Matryonas of our world are the models of both the perfect Christian and the perfect Communist.

Such people are valued by their fellows wherever they occur. Who would not value, who does not want someone in their family, or their neighborhood, or at least on their speed-dial, who will always help, always give whatever she’s asked for, even all that she has, including her life? Such people are useful among us. But are they models for us? Should all human beings be Matryonas? Would such a race build monuments of thought and skill and beauty, discover what the universe is made of, provide the drama and the laughter that we cannot do without? Is the Dostoyevsky-Solzehnitsyn-Christian-Communist way the best way to go or not?

Another Russian, Ayn Rand, protests most emphatically that the Matryona virtues are not virtuous at all. Her model is the man or woman who says (in Atlas Shrugged):

“I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.”

Ayn Rand had no children. Parents can feel that their child is worth living for; can love the child’s life more than their own. And others too can hold another life more precious than their own. But in general, Ayn Rand’s anti-Christian anti-Communist message – that living first for ourselves and only in that condition contributing to our society – is a triumphant affirmation of the individual’s moral right to self-esteem and all the choices of freedom.

 

Jillian Becker   June 17, 2021

Posted under Christianity, communism, liberty by Jillian Becker on Thursday, June 17, 2021

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