Violence and the Lie:

By Alexander Solzhenitsyn
From Number 129

We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with THE LIE. Between them exists the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence has nothing with which to cover itself except the lie, and the lie has nothing to stand on other than violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose the lie as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only participation in the lie.

And the simple step of an ordinary courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support THE LIE! Let the lie come into the world, even dominate the world, but not through me. But writers and artists can achieve more: they can CONQUER THE LIE! In the struggle with falsehood, art has always been victorious, always wins out, openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.

And as soon as the lie is dispersed, the repulsive nakedness of violence will be revealed, and violence will collapse in impotence.

That is why, my friends, I believe that we are able to help the world in its white-hot hour of trial. We must not reconcile ourselves to being defenseless and disarmed; we must not sink into a heedless, feckless, life – but go out to the field of battle.

Proverbs about TRUTH are well-loved in the Russian language. They express enduringly the immense folk experience, and are sometimes quite surprising:


And it is here, on an imaginary fantasy, a breach of the principle of the conservation of mass and energy, that I base both my own activity, and my appeal to the writers of the whole world.

[Editor’s Note: The LIE is any threat or violence which causes a person to go against his or her individual conscience. In my anthology, I MUST SPEAK OUT (p. 201), Solzhenitsyn answers the question: “What does it mean, not to lie? … It simply means: not saying what you don’t think, … “; not supporting what you don’t really support; in other words, not giving out false appearances. These excerpts are from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, THE NOBEL LECTURE ON LITERATURE (1970), New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1972. From Section 7 (Concluding Remarks), pp. 37-38; freely paraphrased and combined from the translations by Thomas P. Whitney and others found on the worldwide web. Also see Os Guinness, TIME FOR TRUTH, Grand Rapids: Hourglass Books, 2000, p. 19.]