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Daniel J. Mahoney reviewed Michael Zantovsky’s 2014 book Havel: A Life in the City Journal last week, calling it “a remarkable book about a complex and genuinely admirable human being.”

Václav Havel was a Czech writer, philosopher and dissident who served as the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia and then the first president of the Czech Republic. Zantovsky’s “moving and intelligent book guarantees that Havel’s monumental achievement will not soon be forgotten,” Mahoney writes.

As Zantovsky shows, Havel was “one of the more fascinating politicians of the last century” even as he was much more than a politician. He ably explores Havel’s multiple roles as writer, dramatist, moralist, dissident, and anti-totalitarian theoretician. The book also captures Havel’s myriad “contradictions,” which were never too far from the surface. …

Havel’s genius was to locate the specific features of the “post-totalitarian regime”—ideological to the core but no longer relying on mass violence in the manner of a classic Leninist-Stalinist regime. Like Solzhenitsyn before him, Havel saw the ideological lie as the glue holding together a totalitarian or post-totalitarian regime. …

The Czechoslovakian dissident movement pursued the path of truth with Charter 77—a courageous document that called upon the authorities to live up to obligations agreed to in the 1975 Helsinki accords and even in Czechoslovakia’s mendacious constitution. Its original signatories were few, but they spoke for the self-respect of a submerged civil society. Its spokesmen, such as Havel and the great Czech philosopher and phenomenologist Jan Patočka, were men of undeniable courage and integrity. Their movement was informed by solidarity, dignity, and resistance to the lie.

The full text of Mahoney’s review can be found here.

Mahoney is a professor of political science at Assumption College who has been a faculty member at Acton University and a participant in events hosted both by the Acton Institute and Istituto Acton. Mahoney’s own books, The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings 1947-2005 (2006, ISI Books) and The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order (ISI, 2010) have been reviewed in the Acton Institute’s publication Religion and Liberty.



Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, a high ranking bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church, commented on a new poll that showed a growing number of Russians are viewing the rule of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in a positive light. Hilarion’s comments amount to a verbal cup of black coffee for those intoxicated with Stalin (1878-1953), one of the most murderous dictators in history. Stalin, who blew up Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior in 1931, was described by historian Robert Conquest as a man who combined ruthlessness, deception and terror in the extreme. The historian quoted a Russian scholar who said of Stalin’s dictatorship: “We wiped out the best and brightest in our country and, as a result, sapped ourselves of intelligence and energy.”

Metropolitan Hilarion:

“I think that to sober up, some need to go to the Butovo firing range on the outskirts of Moscow,” Ilarion said during a program aired by Channel One on Monday, according to media reports.

Butovo was the site of the largest number of political executions in the Moscow region under Stalin. “The firing range has a museum, photographs of people, it tells you what was happening there: Every day they brought in and shot 200, 300, 400 people,” Ilarion was quoted as saying. “There were 15-16-year-old children. Why were they shot?” (more…)

There will be some twists and turns here, so hold on. Earlier this month, the BBC highlighted what it called “YouTube sensation ‘I, Russian Occupier'” the hit propaganda film that “feels more like the opening sequence of a big budget Hollywood movie than a homemade political message.” So far, it’s racked up 5.6 million views and more than 31,000 comments. (“likes” are outpacing down votes by a 5-1 margin. The video also “attacks Western values, dropping in visual references to same-sex parenting, and rounds off by ‘sending’ the entire message to US President Barack Obama.”

The BBC identified the creator of the video as Evgeny Zhurov, a 29-year-old motion graphics designer from Russia, who claimed he was not paid for the work. “A full-scale information war is being waged against Russia. I’m just taking part in the war on Russia’s side,” Zhurov told the BBC. “My goal is high-quality pro-Russian propaganda.”

Or were the creators working for Russians at the highest level? The Age, an Australian newspaper, reports that the video was actually funded by the Russian Orthodox Church. Nick Miller, citing Russian website and a broadcast report, identifies producers from a studio called My Duck’s Vision (MDV) who “confessed” it was their work. When pressed, the producer said: “It was an order from [the] Russian Orthodox Church. It was not our idea.” He added that, “it was an order we’ve been paid, but still for us it’s just a stupid script, we’ve made [it] for fun.” (more…)

A Note to Readers: The Acton Institute is presenting a special screening of the film Rockin’ the Wall on November 20 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The event features a talk by Larry Schweikart, who worked closely with the film’s producers and is featured prominently throughout the documentary. To register, click here.

Back in my college days, my friends and I debated the merits of military spending by the then-current administration. As this was the 1980s, featuring two terms of President Ronald Reagan, we took somewhat opposing views on whether the United States could outspend the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics until it – and its odious ideology – collapsed into the dustbin of history. This argument – believe it or not – was adopted by my friend Ron. My friend John – coincidentally named after the president on whose inaugural he was born, John Kennedy – argued that the revolution would come from within the Iron Curtain rather than without. Eastern Europe and the Soviet states wanted Calvin Klein jeans, jazz and rock and roll music, he asserted, and he was convinced that comrades of the Soviet states and its satellites would tear down oppressive regimes to attain artifacts of Western culture. (more…)

RaceSaveCentury-finalforrealthistimeWe are only 14 years into this century, and things are grim…but not hopeless. That’s the message of the book, The Race to Save Our Century: Five Principles to Promote Peace, Freedom and a Culture of Life. The book is a collaboration between Jason Scott Jones and John Zmirak. Jones is a human-rights activist and filmmaker (his works include Bella and Crescendo.) Zmirak is a prolific author, known best for his theologically accurate but tongue-in-cheek books on Catholicism, such as The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Catechism: A Faithful, Fun-Loving Look at Catholic Dogmas, Doctrines, and Schmoctrines.

The Race to Save Our Century is a slim volume, but not a quick read. There is much to mull over here. With chapters like “Total War” and “Utopian Collectivism,” it’s best to take this book slowly. You don’t want to miss any of the good stuff. (more…)

ChaosTheoryCareers[Note: This month hundreds of thousands of young people will be graduating from high schools and colleges across America. Because I’ve had an unusual vocational path, I thought I’d offer them some unsolicited career advice. Admittedly, its not ground-breaking guidance. But I figure someone might benefit from hearing that they don’t have to have their career path already planned out in order to be successful.]

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s a question that people begin asking you around the age five and will haunts you until adulthood, when it transmogrifies into, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

To avoid the disappointing and scornful glances that come from answering truthfully (“To be honest, I have no absolutely no clue.”) we learn to respond with a pat occupational objective. But as Jeremy Dean of PsyBlog once noted:

 Most of us like to think that we have chosen our occupations, rather than them choosing us. We have reasons for what we are doing, visions of where we want to get to. We have career planning, career goals – the feeling of control.And yet if you ask people about their career decisions, almost 70% report that they have been significantly influenced by chance events. The two Australian psychologists who carried out this research, published [February 2007] in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour , believe they have provided further support for the Chaos Theory of Career Development.

Vocational researchers examining “chaos theory” tend to emphasize not the consistent, orderly nature of career patterns, but rather the importance of initial conditions and the impact of seemingly random perturbations on career development, that somewhat disrupt the ultimate trajectory of individual careers.

Some of these “random perturbations” include:

RussellDMoore-lowRussell Moore talks and writes about a lot of topics as president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He even writes about the legendary Johnny Cash. “Cash always seems to connect,” says Moore. When it comes to leading and speaking about religious liberty, the same can be said for Moore. There are few as engaging and persuasive as Moore in the public square today. He’s interviewed on this important topic in the issue of Religion & Liberty . In the editor’s notes, I speak a little bit on the impact of Moore’s character and integrity.

“Shades of Solzhenitsyn” is the feature essay and Kevin Duffy offers a critical analysis on some of the similarities between Pope Francis and Alexander Solzhenitsyn. A world starved by a lack of moral clarity is in desperate need of the best thoughts from both men.

Dylan Pahman reviews Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks by well-known Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann. I review Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets by Peter Schweizer. We all are or should be aware that our leadership in Washington is a disaster and a cesspool of corruption. But it’s even worse than that according to Schweizer. The system is best understood by comparing it to organized crime. Schweizer was interviewed in the Winter 2013 issue of Religion & Liberty.

“Christian Environmentalism and the Temptation of Faux Asceticism”
by Fr. Michael Butler and Andrew P. Morriss is an excerpt from Creation and the Heart of Man: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Environmentalism . That work is invaluable for a more responsible environmental framework with God at the center of creation.

It may be surprising, especially to many of our Reformed readers, that Richard Baxter has never been profiled for “In the Liberal Tradition.” Max Weber called Baxter the embodiment of the Protestant work ethic and Baxter’s thought and prolific writings are still widely utilized and studied. We’d all be better off if we took the time to read How to Do Good to Many.

If you’d like to read our executive director’s thoughts on Acton’s battle with the city over our property tax exemption, there is no better statement on this issue than Kris Mauren’s frequently asked questions segment.

Blog author: dpahman
Monday, February 24, 2014

Today at Red River Orthodox, I offer a brief introduction to the liberal tradition for Orthodox Christians living in the West:

Liberalism, historically, is a broad intellectual tradition including a large and disparate group of thinkers. The epistemological differences between John Locke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant do not stop them all from being liberals. In economics the range extends from Friedrich Hayek to John Maynard Keynes. In political philosophy, from John Rawls to Robert Nozick. For that matter, both the American and French Revolutions have liberal foundations, though often (and rightly) contrasted.

I conclude by encouraging a more nuanced engagement with the West than is sometimes the case in the East:

[F]or a responsible, “liberal engagement” with the West from an Orthodox Christian perspective, it will not do to dismiss anything we don’t like as Western and liberal and, therefore, wrong. As Solzhenitsyn put [it], “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” And if that is true, then both East and West, including Western liberalism, have plenty of good and evil to go around.

How might Orthodox Christians better evaluate one of the many liberalisms that make up the water in which we swim in the West today?

To give an example, I would positively recommend to my fellow Orthodox Christians the German ordoliberal school of economic thought for the following reasons: (more…)

defiantIn an age where words like “courage” and “bravery” are often tossed about casually, a new book captures the immense heroism and resolve of 11 American POWs during the war in Vietnam. Alvin Townley closes his new book Defiant with these words, “Together, they overcame more intense hardship over more years than any other group of servicemen and families in American history. We should not forget.” Townley easily makes that case by telling their stories and expanding on previous accounts by including the battle many of their wives waged to draw attention to their plight back home.

Defiant focuses on the Alcatraz 11, captured servicemen who were isolated by the communist North Vietnamese in a prison they nicknamed “Alcatraz.” Like many early POWs, these men were tortured. But they faced unimaginable cruelty with steely resistance. Before they were moved to Alcatraz, they were all pivotal leaders at Hoa Lo Prison, reinforcing the Code of Conduct and communicating through the tap code. At a staged propaganda news conference in 1966, Naval pilot Jeremiah Denton was able to blink out in Morse Code the letters T-O-R-T-U-R-E, allowing the American government to know for the first time the horrific conditions inside the prison. The aviators were beaten with fan belts, kept in stocks and leg irons, tortured with medieval rope devices, and locked away in isolation for years. In his book, When Hell Was in Session, Denton proclaimed, “We can add our testimony to that of great heroes like Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov, who have vividly related what Communism is really about.”

Townley’s book does a masterful job of weaving the stories of these men together to portray how their courage and resistance exemplified, to the highest degree, the principles of freedom. James B. Stockdale, the senior officer of the 11, like other tortured prisoners, was permanently crippled by his captors. His defiance continually inspired those imprisoned with him. Stockdale quoted Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim about the men under his command, “A certain readiness to perish is not so very rare, but it is seldom that you meet men whose souls, steeled in the impenetrable armour of resolution, are ready to fight a losing battle to the last.” (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Solzhenitsyn and the Russian Renaissance
Andrew Doran, First Things

“The entire twentieth century,” Solzhenitsyn observed in his 1983 Templeton Lecture, was “sucked into the vortex of atheism and self-destruction.”

Why Jesus and Comic Books Need Each Other | Book of Revelation Graphic Novel
American Orthodox Institute

An interview on FOX News with Fr. Mark Arey of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese on transforming the book of Revelation into a graphic novel.

Loving God’s Law: the Key to A Flourishing Society?
Gabrielle Jackson, Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics

Love plays a significant role in how we build social structures such as the family, the church, our business, and our economy. But what does love have to do with the law? And if the rule of law is an essential pillar of a flourishing society, how should Christians think biblically about law?

How to Help Fast-Food Workers
Sheldon Richman, Reason

Raising the minimum wage will hurt, not help.