Does Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago have relevance to the present American political situation?
The fabric of American society and politics is fraying. Although the usual fracas is described as a war between left and right political parties, I wonder if there isn’t a more relevant juxtaposition: authoritarian vs libertarian approaches to government and society.
This could be boiled down to the following oversimplified question: do you have the right to force others to agree with you?
It is increasingly clear to me that authoritarian tendencies are ascendant on both the left and the right. If we do not wish to see our country, so beautifully conceived and courageously fought for, metamorphose into a malignant totalitarian regime, I believe it is incumbent upon us as Americans to at least study the rise of authoritarianism in other countries so that we may be intellectually armed against it.
I am familiar with the infamous Nazi regime from my jewish childhood, but the history and dynamics of the communist CCCP is less familiar, and to be truly transparent: I personally see a greater danger to the United States in the pernicious left wing authoritarianism which is currently on the rise.
The knowledge of your own innocence leads to inaction
This rests on the faulty assumption that the organs of state are funcitoning in a just, logical and humane fashion. The actual fact of any citizen’s innocence is completely irrelevant to their treatment at the hands of the state. This leads to people to fail to resist or act, consumed by the vain hope that the strength of their character and the obviousness of the innocence will shelter them from arrest and inprisonment.
Authoritarian abuses are finely calculated and deployed as a carefully progressing set of steps, each one of which is hard to justify resisting
If a citizen allows an abuse, even if it seems small and irrelevant, this sets up a dynamic in which it becomes increasingly harder to justify fighting back. Solzhenitsyn illustrates:
At what exact point, then, should one resist? When one’s belt is taken away? When one is ordered to face into a corner? When one crosses the threshold of one’s home? An arrest consists of a series of incidental irrelevancies … and yet all these incidental irrelevancies taken together implacably constitute the arrest. (13)
Silence and lack of attention are key elements of authoritarian control