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Friday, March 02, 2007

The Letter of the Law

I used a Christmas gift card and was finally able to take 'The Solzhenitsyn Reader' of my wish list. Two months later, I'm finally cracking open the cover to read about the man of whom Day said,
"I will have to go again later this spring if only to drive to Cavendish, a pilgrimage to pay silent tribute to one of the greatest writers of our day -- Alexander Solzhenitsyn. [snip]
From the time I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich I have been fascinated by this author, who, to my mind, stands with Chekhov, Tolstoi and Dostoievsky."

It is a lovely hardbound book, (I usually stock up at library sales) and so I hesitate to underline or mark pages as I usually do. As I read interesting passages, I will pass them along to you so that we all can learn a thing or two from his insight. For a brief bio of Solzhenitsyn try here.
Enjoy this passage from his 1978 Harvard commencement speech.
"Western society has chosen for itself the organization best suited to its purposes and one I might call legalistic. The limits of human rights and rightness are determined by a system of laws; such limits are very broad. People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law (though laws tend to be too complicated for an average person to understand without the help of an expert). Every conflict is solved according to the letter of the law and this is considered to be the ultimate solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required, nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint or a renunciation of these rights, call for sacrifice and selfless risk:This would simply sound absurd. Voluntary self-restraint is almost unheard of: Everybody strives toward further expansion to the extreme limit of the legal frames. [snip]
I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is also less than worthy of man. A society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take advantage of the full range of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold an formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates and atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man's noblest impulses."
Harvard commencement speech, June 8, 1978 TSR pgs 565-566