“In the struggle against lies, art has always won and always will. Lies can stand up against much in the world but not against art.” - Solzhenitsyn
“The Power of Propaganda”
The differences of true art and propaganda art are exemplified many ways and times in popular writings. Two such examples are Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ “ The Communist Manifesto,” and Harry Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.. No question, they both had enormous appeal and influence. Marx still has some appeal in academic circles, but the systems he helped to spawn through Communist ideology are now in the “ash heap of history”. No communist revolution was brought off in the Marxist way, and his prophecy of “the withering away of the state “ was always absurd.
Stowe’s work is a somewhat different case. If there is such a thing as great propaganda art, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is it, but it does not tell the true story of slavery in the South. ( A current,more reliable account is Nathalie Dessins, Myths of the Slave Plantation,2003, or see W.J. Cash, The Mind of the South,1941.)
Following her quick climb to celebrity status, Stowe was invited to visit the Scottish Highlands at the time of the Clearances. While seeing more of Scotland than she did of Kentucky, she was unwittingly suborned by the Scottish aristocracy and became an accomplice in an evil on par with slavery. She wrote Sunny Memories as an account of her visit. Her utter naivete and blindness to the terrible cruelties afflicted on the Highlanders at the hands of their own clan chiefs--certainly as bad or worse than Southern slavemasters-- is graphically captured in John Prebble’s The Highland Clearances, 1963.
As we sometimes say of people we like, “Mrs. Stowe had a good heart and her righteousness was worthy.” But she had no talent for finding the truth. It is astonishing to realize that her single work is still considered by some college faculty as great literature, as I discovered in a conversation that rated Uncle Tom’s Cabin as a greater novel than Melville’s Moby Dick.
Ephemeral though it may be, propaganda is sometimes compelling indeed! In today's mass media and information systems it is a constant ferocious driver of self- and public deception.
With artists such as those presented here we ought not to fear: so long as they are free, we may believe in John Milton’s Areopagitica:
“Though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play
upon the earth, we do injuriously by licensing and
prohibiting to doubt Her strength: let Truth and Falsehood
grapple; whoever knew Truth put to worse in a free and open
NOBEL LAUREATES UNITED
ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN is perhaps best known for his long and courageous description of the horror of concentration camps in the Soviet Union, Gulag Archipelago. His Nobel Address, “One Word of Truth,” is clearly one of the most profound and stirring documents on universal freedom ever written.
Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Address, 1970 (Excerpts)
“One Word of Truth”
Translated by F.D. Reeve
In recent decades, mankind has imperceptibly, suddenly, become one, united in a way which offers both hope and danger. Mankind has become one, but not in the way the community or even the nation used to be stably united, not through accumulated practical experience, not through its own, good-naturedly so-called bad eye, not even through its own well-understood, native tongue, but, leaping over all barriers, through the international press and radio. A wave of events washes over us and, in a moment, half the world hears the splash, but the standards for measuring thee things and for evaluating them, according to t he laws of those parts of the world about which we know nothing, are not and cannot be broadcast through the ether or reduced to newsprint. These standards have too long and too specifically been accepted by and incorporated in too special a way into the lives of various lands and societies to be communicated in thin air. In various parts of the world, men apply to events a scale of values achieved by their own long suffering, and they uncompromisingly , self-reliantly judge only by their own scale, and by no one else’s.
If there are not a multitude of such scales in the world, nevertheless there are at least several: a scale for local events, a scale for things far away; for old societies, and for new, for the prosperous, and for the disadvantaged. The points and markings of the scale glaringly do not coincide; they confuse us, hurt our eyes, and so, to avoid pain, we brush aside all scales not our own, as if they were follies or delusions, and confidently judge the whole world according to our own domestic values. Therefore, what seems to us more important, more painful, and more unendurable is really not what is more important, more painful, and more unendurable but merely that which is closer to home. Everything distant which, for all its moans and muffled cries, its ruined lives and, even, millions of victims, does not threaten to come rolling up to our threshold today, we consider, in general, endurable and of tolerable dimensions.
What on one scale seems, from far off, to be enviable and prosperous freedom, on another, close up, is felt to be irritating coercion calling for the overturning of buses. What in one country seems a dream of improbable prosperity in another arouses indignation as savage exploitation calling for an immediate strike. Scales of values differ even for natural calamities: a flood with two hundred thousand victims matters less than a local traffic accident. Scales differ for personal insults: at times, merely a sardonic smile or a dismissive gesture is humiliating, whereas, at others, cruel beatings are regarded as a bad joke.
Scales differ for punishments and for wrongdoing. On one scale, a month’s arrest, or exile to the country or “solitary confinement” on white bread and milk rocks the imagination and fills the newspaper columns with outrage. On another, both accepted and excused are prison terms of twenty-five years, solitary confinement in cells with ice-covered walls and prisoners stripped to their underclothing, insane asylums for healthy men, and border shootings of countless foolish people who, for some reason, keep trying to escape. The heart is especially at ease with regard to that exotic land about which nothing is known from which no events ever reach us except the belated and trivial conjectures of a few correspondents.
For such ambivalence, for such thickheaded lack of understanding of someone else’s far-off grief, however, mankind is not at fault: that is how man is made. But for mankind as a whole, squeezed into one lump, such mutual lack of understanding carries the threat of imminent and violent destruction. Given six, four, or even two scales of values there cannot be one world, one single humanity: the difference in rhythms, in oscillations, will tear mankind asunder. We will not survive together on one Earth, just as a man with two hearts is not meant for this world. . . .
WHO WILL COORDINATE THESE SCALES of values, and how? Who will give mankind one single system for reading its instruments, both for wrongdoing and for doing good, for the intolerable and the tolerable as they are distinguished from each other today? Who will make clear for mankind what is really oppressive and unbearable and what, for being so near, rubs us raw---and thus direct our anger against what is in fact terrible and not merely near at hand? Who is capable of extending, such an understanding across the boundaries of his own personal experience? Who has the skill to make a narrow, obstinate human being aware of others’ far-off grief and joy, to make him understand dimensions and delusions he himself has never lived through? Propaganda, coercion, and scientific proofs are all powerless. But, happily, in our world there is a way. It is art, and it is literature. . . .
The Spirit of Munich has by no means retreated into the past; it was not a brief episode. I even venture to say that the spirit of Munich is dominant in the twentieth century. The intimidated civilized world has found nothing to oppose the onslaught of a suddenly resurgent fang-baring barbarism, except concessions and smiles. The spirit of Munich is a disease of the will of prosperous people; it is the daily state of those who have given themselves over to a craving for prosperity in every way, to material well-being as the chief goal of life on earth. Such people---and there are many of them in the world today---choose passivity and retreat, anything if only the life to which they are accustomed might go on, anything so as not to have to cross over to rough terrain today, because tomorrow, see, everything will be all right. (But it never will! The reckoning for cowardice will only be more cruel. Courage and the power to overcome will be ours only when we dare to make sacrifices.
In this cruel, dynamic, explosive world on the edge of its ten destructions, what is the place and role of the writer? We send off no rockets, do not even push the lowliest handcart, are scorned by those who respect only material power. Would it not be natural for us, too, to retreat, to lose our faith in the steadfastness of good, in the indivisibility of truth, and merely to let the world have our bitter observations, as of a bystander, about how hopelessly corrupted mankind is, how petty men have become, and how difficult it is for lonely, sensitive, beautiful souls today?
We do not have even this way out. Once pledged to the WORD, there is no getting away from it: a writer is no sideline judge of his fellow countrymen and contemporaries; he is equally guilty of all the evil done in his country or by his people. If his country’s tanks spill blood on the streets of some alien capital, the brown stains are splashed forever on the writer’s face. If, some fatal night, his trusting friend is choked to death while sleeping, the bruises from the rope are on the writer’s hands. If his young fellow citizens in their easygoing way declare the superiority of debauchery over frugal labor, abandon themselves to drugs or seize hostages, the stink of it mixes with the writer’s breathing.
Will we have the impudence to announce that we are not responsible for the sores of the world today?
I am however, encouraged by a keen sense of WORLD LITERATURE as the one great heart that beats for the cares and misfortunes of our world, even though each corner sees and experiences them in a different way. . . . .
As I have understood it and experienced it myself, world literature is no longer an abstraction or a generalized concept invented by literary critics, but a common body and common spirit, a living, heartfelt unity reflecting the growing spiritual unity of mankind. State orders still burn crimson, heated red-hot by electric fences and machine-gunfire, some ministries of internal affairs still suppose that literature is “an internal affair” of the countries under their jurisdiction, and newspaper headlines still herald, “They have no right to interfere in our internal affairs!”
Meanwhile, no such thing as “ Internal Affairs” remains on our crowded Earth. Mankind’s salvation lies exclusively in everyone’s making everything his business, in the people of the East being anything but indifferent to what is thought in the West, and in the people of the West being anything but indifferent to what happens in the East.
Literature, one of the most sensitive and responsive tools of human existence, has been the first to pick up, adopt, and assimilate this sense of the growing unity of mankind, I therefore confidently turn to the world literature of the present, to hundreds of friends whom I have not met face to face and perhaps never will see.
My friends! Let us try to be helpful, if we are worth anything. In our own countries, torn by differences among parties, movements, castes, and groups, who for ages past has been not the dividing but the uniting force? This, essentially, is the position of writers, spokesmen of a national language, of the chief tie binding the nation, the very soil which the people inhabit, and, in fortunate circumstances, the nation’s spirit too.
We will be told: What can literature do against the pitiless onslaught of naked violence? Let us not forget that violence does not and cannot flourish by itself; it is inevitably intertwined with LYING. Between them there is the closest, the most profound and natural bond: nothing screens violence except lies, and the only way lies can hold out is by violence. Whoever has once announced violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose lying as his PRINCIPLE. At birth, violence behaves openly and even proudly. But as soon as it becomes stronger and firmly established, it senses the thinning of the air around it and cannot go on without befogging itself in lies coating itself with sugary oratory. It does not always or necessarily go straight for the gullet; usually it demands of its victims only allegiance to the lie, only complicity in the lie. The simple act of an ordinary courageous man is not to take part, not to support lies! Let that come into the world and even reign over it, but not through me. Writers and artists can do more: they can VANQUISH LIES! In the struggle against lies, art has always won and always will. Conspicuously, incontestably for everyone, Lies can stand up against much I the world, but not against art.
Once lies have been dispelled, the repulsive nakedness of violence will be expressed---and hollow violence will collapse.
That, my friends, is why I think we can help the world in its red-hot hour: not by the nay-saying of having no armaments, not by abandoning oneself to the carefree life, but by going into battle!
In Russia, proverbs about TRUTH are favorites. They persistently express the considerable, bitter, grim experience of the people, often astonishingly:
ONE WORD OF TRUTH OUTWEIGHS THE WORLD
August 3, 2008
Alexander Solzhenitsyn died in Moscow today at age 89. In his last years, he somehow reconciled with the current government of Russia led by Vladimir Putin, former KGB official.
Although some of his final statements are perplexing, it is not too difficult to understand the historical context in which he set his argument.
The Harvard historian, Crane Brinton, framed a theory of the stages of revolution that shows the last stage as a dialectical return to the state that had existed historically. To recognize the hold of history does not refute or contradict the idea of spiritual freedom existing bi-laterally with authoritarian tradition.Of course, it remains to be seen what Putin will do.
Naguib Mahfouz (1911--2006) is an Egyptian novelist often called, “The Son of Two Civilizations” (Egyptian and Islamic). In 1959 he was accused by leaders of the Islamic University Al-Azhar of heresy and blasphemy. Due to his fame as an author and historian, this controversy was overcome. However, in 1988, the yearin which he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” was published. This event raised again the question of Mahfouz’s own blasphemy and calls for his death.
Mahfouz defended Rushdie and the freedom of speech as a holy right of humanity in this way:
“I have condemned the fatwa to kill Salman Rushdie as a breach of International Relations and as an assault on Islam as we know it in the era of apostasy. I believe that the wrong done by Khomeini towards Islam and the Muslims is no less than that done by Rushdie himself. As regards freedom of expression, I have said that it must be considered sacred and that thought can only be corrected by counter-thought. During the debate, I supported boycott of the book as a means of maintaining social peace, granted that such a decision would not be used as a pretext to restrain thought.” However, this did not end the matter. In October, 1994, Mahfouz was stabbed in the neck and was seriously injured, but survived. He died peacefully in 2006.
If we are to avoid the cataclysmic “clash of civilizations” (Western and Islamic) we desperately need spokesmen like Naquib Mahfouz in the Muslim world.
Following are excerpts from his Nobel Address (1988):
You may be wondering: This man coming from the Third World, how did you find the peace of mind to write stories? You are exactly right. I come from a world laboring under the burden of debts whose paying back exposes it to starvation or very close to it. Some of its people perish in Asia from floods, others do so in Africa from famine. In South Africa millions have been undone with rejection and deprivation of all human rights in the age of human rights, as though they were not counted among humans. In the West Bank and Gaza there are people who are lost in spite of the fact that they are living on their own land; and of their fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers. . .
Yes, how did the man coming from the Third World find the peace of mind to write stories? Fortunately, art is generous and sympathetic. In the same way that it dwells with the happy ones it does not desert the wretched. It offers both alike the convenient means for expressing what swells up in their bosom. In this decisive moment in the history of civilization it is inconceivable and unacceptable that the moans of Mankind should die out in the void. There is no doubt that Mankind has at last come of age, and our era carries the expectations of entente between the Super Powers. The human mind now assumes the task of eliminating all causes of destruction and annihilation. And just as scientists exert themselves to cleanse the environment of industrial pollution, intellectuals ought to exertthemselves to cleanse humanity of moral pollution. It is both our right and duty to demand of the big leaders in the countries of civilization as well as their economists to affect a real leap that would place them into the focus of the age.
In the olden times, every leader worked for the good of his own nation alone. The others were considered adversaries, or subjects of exploitation. There was no regard to any value but that the superiority and personal glory. For the sake of this, many morals, ideals and values were wasted; many unethical means were justified; many uncounted souls were made to perish. Lives, deceit, treachery, cruelty reigned as the signs of sagacity and the proof of greatness. Today, this view needs to be changed from its very source. Today, the greatness of a civilized leader ought to be measured by the universality of his vision and his sense of responsibility towards all human kind. The developed world and the Third World are but one family. Each human being bears responsibility towards it by the degree of what he has obtained of knowledge, wisdom, and civilization. . .
In spite of all what goes on around us I am committed to optimism until the end. I do not say that Good will be victorious in the other world. Good is achieving victory every day. It may even be that Evil is weaker than we imagine. In front of us is an indelible proof: Were it not for the fact that victory is always on the side of Good, hordes of wandering humans would not have been able tin the face of beast and insects, natural disasters, fear and egotism, to grow and multiply. They would not have been able to form nations, to excel in creativeness and invention, t conquer outer space, and to declare Human Rights. The truth of the matter is that Evil is a loud and boisterous debaucherer, and that man remembers what hurts more than what pleases. Our great poet, Abul-Alaa-Al-Ma’ari was right when he said:
“A grief at the hour of death
is more than a hundred-fold
Joy at the hour of birth.”
PRESIDENT OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC, ON THE OCCASION OF THE NATIONAL DAY OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Vaclav Havel’s fame is both as a writer and political leader at the time of the upheaval of the Communist system in Eastern Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union. He is a distinquished playwright. He is also the last president of Czechoslovakia (1989—1992) and the first president of the Czech Republic (1993—2003).As a passionate non-violent activist he led the Velvet Revolution, which brought an end to Communism in Czechoslovakia in 1989.
Prague, October 22, 2002
Since the time when massive floods destroyed houses, outbuildings workshops, stores, businesses, gardens and fields belonging to thousands of our fellow citizens and devastated a piece of the homeland shared by us all, I have been asking myself with renewed urgency what we actually mean when we think of home.
What is it that constitutes our home?
In the most general terms, we might perhaps say that home means simply that which is closer to us than whatever lies beyond.
If we want to be more specific we will perhaps state that our home is the place where we live. Our apartment or house is closer to us than the house of our neighbor, our Mayor or our Senator. The street where our house stands is certainly closer to us than some unknown street on the other side of town. Our street is more familiar, it is the place that we are attached to, where we are anchored and whose life we understand better. By the same token, the village, town district, city or region where we were born, where we grew up or where we have lived for a longer period of time is closer to us than other parts of our country. And our country as a whole, even though we may have never seen great parts of it, and perhaps prefer traveling abroad instead, is still closer to us in the end than some far-away lands with a very different landscape, very different climate and very different life.
Even our national anthem answers the question of where our home is by describing the land where we live. And yet, a place, when we think about home, is probably not its most important or ultimate feature. That is constituted, beyond all doubt, by the human beings who have shaped that place in the course of centuries and who continue to mold it at present, those who inhibit it and with whom we share it.
In the latter sense of the word, our home is made up first and foremost of various circles narrower or wider, of the people and human communities who surround us, such as our family, our friends, our neighbors, the people we work with or our fellow believers, those people for whom we have personal feelings, whom we know personally and with whom we are united by bonds of affinity and by shared experiences, values, opinions and pursuits.
But there are also wider communities that are close to us than others. For example, none of us are personally acquainted with all the citizens of the Czech Republic, nor with all those who have found a new home here, but they are still closer to most of us than citizens of other States. The reason for this is clear. We share a common history, we speak the same language, we have a common culture, common traditions, common archetypal models of behavior, habits, symbols, favorite places, a common sense of humor and the same focal points of spiritual self reflection.
And this is still not all. In a number of ways, we probably understand the Slovaks, as the nation that is closest to us; the Austrians, the Poles or the Germans, as our neighbors, or the French or the British, as Europeans, more than we understand the Chinese or the Somalis.
So where does closeness end and distance begin; where is the end of our home and the beginning of that which wesee as foreign?
It is obvious that home has no distinct and explicit borders nor does it have any absolute beginning or absolute end. Home consists of multiple layers and in perception always depends primarily on our point of view or on the scale that we apply.
All this is especially true at the present time, in an era when the advancement of civilization in the past few decades has blurred borders of all kinds and when the world is becoming increasingly open.
Therefore, just as our house is firmly settled on our street and its occupants share the life of that street with its other inhabitants, and, just as our street constitutes an organic component part of our city, interconnected with its other parts through the same basic nervous system, the same veins enabling its blood circulation and the same metabolism so is our State a component part of a broader human community. Even our entire continent no longer represents a world in itself or unto itself, because such closed worlds no loner exist. This was not always so I the past history of humankind, maybe it has not been that way ever before. But in the world of today, in which information articles, achievements, ownership, money, habits, cultural values and, of course, people travel far and wide through millions of channels, this planetary dimension of home must be recognized as well.
What follows from all this?
One thing that I find of great importance is that we cannot merely take pleasure in benefiting from all the advantages offered by the contemporary development of our civilization. We must also assume an increased measure of our co-responsibility for our co-responsibility for the overall state of affairs and boldly project this co-responsibility into our deeds. The recent floods released a great force of solidarity that lies dormant in our society, but comes to light from time to time on a scale that often surprises even ourselves. But these floods also revealed something else: a great potential of international solidarity and the fact that help can come unprecedently fast even from relatively distant lands.
We are truly grateful for this help. However, we should not see it merely as an expression of somebody’s compassion or good character but as part of a greater process aspiring toward an all-embracing solidarity among human beings---the only course that is left for the contemporary world if it is not to end badly.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 - 1968)
In America we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. formally every year in January and constantly beyond that in our civic dialogues. Pleae see Value Note on celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr.
Following are excerpts from his many speeches and letters on his faith in America and the power of love and truth to overcome hatred and injustice.