Solzhenitsyn Saw Cancel Culture

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gray wooden house burning
Photo by Simon Berger on

“A left-wing newspaper can print the most subversive of articles, a left-wing speaker can deliver the most incendiary of speeches—but just try pointing out the dangers of such utterances and the whole leftist camp will raise a howl of denunciation.”

Solzhenitsyn & the Engine of History by Robert D. Kaplan

I was pretty stoked when my first issue of The New Criterion showed up. (I don’t know if I was more excited about the issue, or a book that coincidentally arrived the same day, Willie Mosconi’s 1965 classic, Winning Pocket Billiards, which was a mainstay of my youth.)

I was even more excited when I saw that one of its six feature essays is by Robert D. Kaplan, whose 2005 Balkan Ghosts has been grabbing my attention (albeit off-and-on) for the past month and keeps getting better and better. I mean, I thought the chapter on Croatia was excellent, and then Serbia was even better. And now that I’m on Rumania, the land of prostitutes and Dracula? I’m having a hard time putting it down at night.

(Did you know Bucharest has about as much metropolitan history as Chicago? It’s a very new city.)

Well, Kaplan’s essay on Solzhenitsyn didn’t disappoint. I curled up in my library last night and read it straight-through, relishing the non-pixelated print.

He provided an overview of Solzhenitsyn’s massive work, The Red Wheel, and used it to draw comparisons between the Rise of the Soviet Union and the United States today.

Yeah, the essay is a bit chilling, as evidenced by Solzhenitsyn’s words about leftist publications in the opening quote above. He was writing in the 1970s (or thereabouts) about the Communist Revolution (in the mid-1910s) . . . way before cancel culture and technological censorship.

Like I said, chilling.

I especially liked this observation by Kaplan: “The opposite of anarchy is hierarchy.”

I never thought of it like that, but he’s right.

And the elimination of mediating institutions, as Robert Nisbet never tired of pointing out, is a serious problem, just for that reason.

Without hierarchy, those institutions between central government and the individual, anarchy comes. It’s the church, family, neighborhood associations, service clubs, and the like that provide order. Once the hierarchy implicit in those institutions is destroyed, anarchy arrives.

And then you need a more powerful State.

Which is just what the State wants. The centralized State relentlessly seeks to destroy mediating institutions that stand between it and its citizens. In the process, it destroys hierarchy. And when anarchy starts to arise, it justifies grabbing even more power to put it down.

Chilling indeed.