August 1914 (Solzhenitsyn)


Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr. August 1914. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972.

See here for a good introduction to Solzhenitsyn’s method.

This is Solzhenitsyn’s counter to Tolstoy’s view of history.  Actually, it’s a counter to everything Tolstoy believed. Solzhenitsyn arranges his philosophy of history around a series of “nodes” or “knots” that describe the fall of Russia.  Particularly fine is his brutal, yet fair and realistic critique of both liberalism and blind monarchism. How do I know he is being fair? If you can find yourself in the critique and say “Ouch,” then you know he is being fair to all sides.

Both liberals and Russian monarchists today think Solzhenitsyn was a pure Russian nationalist.  He might have been in his private life, but that doesn’t come through in his writings. He is very critical of the Tsar and in other writings (e.g., The Russian Question) he thinks every war Russia fought was a bad idea.  

And his take on the Jews is more balanced than people on either side realize.  He mocks the anti-Jewish attitude of conservative Russians just before the Revolution. One of the characters had the name Isaaki (named after St Isaac), so the University thought he was Jewish and wouldn’t let him in.  He proved he wasn’t Jewish and then realized, “His acceptance rested on his having proved that he did not belong to the nation through which Christ had come into the world” (Solzhenitsyn 20).

Solzhenitsyn is aware of the existential danger that Russia faced, and not just from Satanists like Lenin.  Russia had lost two big wars, Crimea and Japan. She could not afford another loss (112). Even worse, Russia had failed to listen to Dostoevsky and form an eternal alliance with Germany.  Such would have protected her against the Bolsheviks (and forever doomed the British banking clans). Neither scenario, however, would be realized. Russia was doomed before the war began.

What Russia Should have Done

1) Tell France to go pound sand.

2) Expand the invasion of East Prussia beyond the Maurian lakes.  Amputate the whole thing (208).

3) Following Dostoevsky’s instructions, Russia should have formed an “eternal alliance” with Germany (114). Indeed, “peace between Germany and Russia was far preferable to this disastrous alliance with those circus artistes from Paris” (348).

Nota Bene:

a) German General Hermann von Francois was of Huguenot descent (214).

b) “It was one of those moments in war when time contracts to an explosion, when action must be instantaneous and nothing can be put off” (191).

c) There is a fun scene where an old man finds out that Sanya and Kotya are Tolstoyan and Hegelian, respectively (399-401).  As someone who used to be a pure Hegelian, I enjoyed this part. It also reveals that a Hegelian affirms the existence of the state.  This means a Hegelian can’t be a Marxist. It’s important to make this basic distinction, otherwise conservatives come off as conceptually inept.

The whole section is a wonderful critique of ideology. We shouldn’t impose a government from top down as a way to “fix” society (409).  Rather, the people of a country should focus on developing its soul. An example of this is the misguided attempt to “make the world safe for democracy.” That is the essence of Revolution and Bolshevism.

d) One is often struck by the similarities of the Russian “intelligentsia” and the “Woke” Americans of today.  Both sneer at the idea of a nation’s history. Indeed, both sneer at the idea of nations. Both are socialistic.  Some characters in the book are accused of being part of the “Black Hundreds,” an ultra-nationalist (and probably xenophobic) paramilitary group in Russia. If someone is a patriot, then he is a Black Hundred by definition.  It’s similar to today when anyone who loves America is an evil nationalist and probably a member of the KKK.

That’s another lesson today’s conservatives should learn from Solzhenitsyn.  Revolutionary socialists want you dead. You cannot reason with them. You cannot tell them “No, I am not a racist or ______.”  They are only waiting to line you up against the wall.



One thought on “August 1914 (Solzhenitsyn)

  1. Pingback: November 1916, meditation one | Churchly Piety

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