Wednesday 4 August 2010

System and self-restraint - Solzhenitsyn

"Western society has given itself the organization best suited to its purposes, based, I would say, on the letter of the law.

"The limits of human rights and righteousness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. (...)

"Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the supreme solution.

"If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd.

"One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames.

"An oil company is legally blameless when it purchases an invention of a new type of energy in order to prevent its use. A food product manufacturer is legally blameless when he poisons his produce to make it last longer: after all, people are free not to buy it.

"I have spent all my life under a communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.

"A society which is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very scarce advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society.

"Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man's noblest impulses."

Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard Class Day Afternoon Exercises, Thursday, June 8, 1978



No system is adequate - not law, not the economy (whether command or market), nor any bureacracy. All systems require self-restraint (= the virtue of humility).

Any system can swiftly be subverted, made evil, by lack of self-restraint: by pride.

To believe in the virtue of system, to believe that virtuous individuals are unnecessary; is to open wide the door to corruption, lies, selfishness, short-termism and ugliness - to open wide a door to all these while blinding oneself to their existence.

Modern secular elites regard pride as a virtue, not a vice (they call it self-respect); and they cannot be humble, since humility is properly in reference to God.

Instead they equate humility with submission to the group, especially an out-group. To demostrate utter disinterestedness and pure altruism they sacrifice their well-being and own survival to the percieved needs of a necessarily *different* sex, age group, race, species - or maybe to the supposed well being of the whole planet... The more 'other' the greater is the disinterestedness.

And there is no limit, no self-restraint in implementing the desired system: extreme lifestyle libertarians will demostrate their impartiality by supporting zealous theocratic Muslims.  

Thus they oscillate between individualist hedonism and propitiatory self-destruction.

Self-restraint is alien to this world view: what we get instead is unrestrained hedonism and unrestrained cultural suicide.

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