Angry Pygmies

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was one of the few giants of our age, a courageous witness against the irremediable evil of Communism and a prophetic voice against the dangers of amoral Western materialism.

He also used to be a hero of American conservatives.  But the sort of men who now are exalted in “mainstream conservatism” have a somewhat different take on the Russian giant: They freely acknowledge his greatness, while forcefully denying his ideas have any relevance for us. Christopher Hitchens, in Slate, blasts the “ayatollahlike tones of his notorious Harvard lecture” and dismisses Solzhenitsyn as a “classic Russian Orthodox chauvinist,” takes him to task for opposing NATO’s war against Serbia, and implies he may have been anti-Semitic.  (Hitchens also describes what Solzhenitsyn opposed as a “Stalinist system,” passing over what Solzhenitsyn proved: that Soviet Communism was evil from the beginning, and that the mass murder and terror began with Hitchens’ heroes Trotsky and Lenin).

Hitchens’ intellectual colleague, Victor Davis Hanson, also wrote about Solzhenitsyn’s passing, though he managed to say somewhat less about Solzhenitsyn than he did about the more burning issue of whether Obama is “the Hannah Montana candidate.”  About the great Russian, Hanson noted that “many Reaganite supporters of democracy grew to be more worried that he sounded ever more the ultra-Russian nationalist—with all the baggage that entails, from religious fundamentalism to anti-Semitism,” and claimed that Solzhentisyn felt that “the proper antidote to both totalitarianism . . . and Western-style free market capitalism and individualism [is] a proud Czarist Orthodox, all-powerful state—something akin to what is fossilizing in Putin’s Russia.”  (Hanson is obviously unfamiliar with Solzhenitsyn’s oft-expressed admiration for local self-government).

So there you have the neocon worldview: Orthodox Christianity is bad, as is any suggestion that materialism is not the answer, much less opposition to forcibly spreading “the global democratic revolution” around the globe.  Hitchens and Hanson’s venting of their own grievances against Solzhenitsyn reminds one of nothing so much as angry pygmies fulminating against a giant, and the fact that these men now enjoy so much prestige among self-described conservatives tells us all we need to know about the intellectual vitality of “mainstream American conservatism” today.

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