Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Solzhenitsyn’s Brilliant Boys

Here’s a moving and most informative interview with Solzhenitsyn’s two sons on the occasion of the release of ISI’s SOLZHENITSYN READER (edited by Ed Ericson and Dan Mahoney). This is a huge, beautiful, and altogether amazing collection of the writing (much previously unpublished) of one of the three most profound thinkers of the 20th century. Solzhenitsyn is also, of course, among the most courageous and truthful human beings of all time. I would link the book, but I don’t want to make the tough call for you on whether you should buy it off amazon or the ISI website.

Discussions - 13 Comments

Who are the other two?

Good question. Discuss among yourselves.

Strauss and ... Walker Percy?

I’d put Strauss and Raymond Aron up for consideration.

Presumably natural scientists aren’t part of the sweepstakes??

Apropos to #4: Why not? We’d then have to discuss criteria and achievements, which could be a good way to spend some afternoon time - after I teach my class on Fr. Fortin on Augustine’s political thought.

I’d recommend leaving natural scientists and mathematicians out, since (I’m assuming) for most of us their accomplishments or profundities are hear-say. That would leave literature, philosophy, historical writing, economics... what else? Even here, commonly applicable and acceptable critieria would be difficult to develop.

Perhaps Peter can tell us on what grounds he has already made one of his choices.

I can now reveal that the "three most" was an utterly arbitrary assertion--and not based on any study that showed anything. But in terms of human beings, there are three strands of thought distinctive to the 20th c. One can be traced back to Heidegger, another to Strauss, and the third dissident, authentically postmodern strand can be traced to Solzhenitsyn in Europe and Walker Percy and Flannery O’Connor in America. The third possibility involves the recovery of "Christian realism" or Thomism (through putting together European existentialism and Anglo-American empiricism to once again describe a whole human being) in the dissident experience described, say, in Solzhenitsyn’s GULAG or Percy’s THE LAST GENTLEMAN. (Everything I just wrote is pompous and provocative and is mainly meant to keep the thread threading.)

For their originality and the way in which their thought has reoriented the way people in their discipline and beyond look at the world, my nominees would be Albert Einstein in the natural sciences and Alvin Plantinga in philosophy.

Peter: your humble confessions are disarming. As for criteria, I’d suggest: 1) someone who kept his intellectual sanity during the intellectual and political turmoil of the century; 2) who contributed "the most" clarity to the situation; 3) and who made the most enduring contributions to our understanding of man, society, and politics (I include in that trifecta economics, but I don’t think merely being an economist merits the highest accolades). It seems to me that Heidegger is disqualified because of #1 & #2 at least. (Frankly, if I had to make the comparison, I’d put Aurel Kolnai ahead of Heidegger in terms of truthfulness about man’s moral condition and the political options of the 20th century. I’d probably even put Husserl ahead of Heidegger, as a "pure" philosopher.) But I originally proposed Strauss and Aron. Why? Strauss and Aron were remarkably original thinkers, in the sense that they thought themselves out of the regnant currents of thought of their times and places and both resurrected forgotten forms of thought and came up with their own distinctive perspectives and emphases; they understood modernity and politics better than anyone else in/of their days and ages; and both made enduring contributions to political science/political philosophy, to an architectonic understanding of man, society, history, and politics. Anyone else?

Looking to the angels......Josef Pieper. And, in a sad, farcical race to the bottom......James Carville.

Peter: As an addendum....It’s not even close: order the book from ISI. They’re supporting the authors and the work; they deserve the business.

Gary Seaton is a wise man (so is Peter).

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