More on Solzhenitsyn: Law


When Solzhenitsyn gave his 1978 address at Harvard, he could not have known that the number of lawyers per person in America would more than double from 1970 to 2002. What he could know, and did know, however, is the cost to a society that increasingly relies on law and litigation to maintain order. It’s a society that is showing strain in the sinews that hold it together.

The radical libertarian, so far as he will accept any law, will accept that law only as a necessary evil; the anarchist, of course, categorically rejects any outside authority, including the authority of law. Neither of those is the perspective of Religion in the Balance. The Christian religion, by nature and for example, honors outside authority: a worthy Higher Power invites our allegiance and obedience, and we willingly seek that Will.

So it is not that any outside authority, including law, is in itself a bad thing. What Solzhenitsyn (and others) have identified, is that law is only one means of ordering social relations, AND IF  law (i.e., coercion or the threat of sanction) becomes the only way to order them, then we are one short step from societal breakdown. Beneath the veneer of civilization always will lurk the dark heart of our blood lusts. If those blood lusts have no moral restraint; if they have no way to be expressed in creative work or contained in social convention (basic politeness, anyone?), then all that remains to maintain order, is the clumsy-handed grip of law.

Solzhenitsyn puts it more positively than I do: “Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.”

via Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008. – Slate Magazine.