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Russians take positions to the extreme. As a result, Russian intellectual history shows us where ideas may lead—and in Russia’s case, really did. The English prided themselves on moderation and suspicion of radical abstractions, but Russians regarded anything short of ultimate positions as cowardice or, at least, as uncharacteristic of Russians. Restraint, compromise, prudence—these were for Westerners.

Dostoevsky observed that if a European theory fascinated Russians, they discovered a “Russian aspect” that utterly transformed it. Specifically, Russian intellectuals took European ideas as springboards for radical action. Their extreme conclusions were “drawn only in Russia,” Dostoevsky said with a mix of alarm and admiration. “In Europe . . . the possibility of these conclusions is not even suspected.”

It is no wonder, then, that Russia invented the system we have come to call totalitarianism and that its greatest writers explored totalitarianism and its antecedents. Russia is also where modern terrorism, the focus of Dostoevsky’s novel The Possessed, began. Dostoevsky also invented the prison camp novel with Notes from the House of the Dead. In the early Soviet period, Eugene Zamyatin wrote the first dystopian novel.

Among the words we get from Russian are populism and intelligentsia, which in Russia meant not intellectuals as a class but adherents of a specific revolutionary ideology. That ideology varied, but it always included some form of anarchism or socialism. Above all, an intelligent (member of the intelligentsia) had to be an atheist and an uncompromising materialist. As Dostoevsky observed, Russians do not become atheists; they believe fervently in atheism.

Russians dwell in abstractions and aren’t very good at producing actual things (apart from weapons), which is one reason their economy always lags behind. Think for a moment: Do you ever buy anything marked “Made in Russia”? Even Stolichnaya is distilled in Latvia now. The intelligentsia adopted materialism, but it was materialism as an idea, not actual material objects, that enchanted them.

Whatever philosophy they might adopt, Russia’s intelligents would claim that it solved all complex questions of ethics, meaning, politics, and social life at a stroke. Theories attracted followers most strongly when they totally abolished uncertainty and doubt. Call such thinkers “certaintists.” In her memoirs, the terrorist Vera Figner recalls that as a girl, she lost all respect for her father when he answered one of her questions with “I don’t know.”

The great Russian writers professed the opposite of such certainty. God’s world is too intricate and mysterious for people to understand perfectly, they believed. Whereas intelligents proclaimed the simplicity of things, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Chekhov revealed their complexity. They were people of wonder who deepened our understanding of questions without providing final answers. They despised the radical intelligentsia. In 1909 the influential critic Mikhail Gershenzon famously observed that the surest gauge of the greatness of a Russian writer was the degree of his hatred for the intelligentsia.

Events in the following epoch proved the great Russian writers all too right. In 1917 Bolshevik intelligents seized power and put their ideas into practice. No longer did writers have to speculate as to the consequences of fanatical ideology; those consequences—mass executions, labor camps, ruthlessly enforced ideological uniformity—were all around them. Some writers, from either conviction or cowardice, adhered to official prescriptions. Continuing the tradition of the pre-revolutionary radical intelligentsia, they composed ideologically conformist and aesthetically worthless works. Others, who identified with Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, and all those who cherished intellectual freedom, refused to conform. They composed their literary masterpieces in secret (“wrote for the drawer”) or smuggled them abroad.

Ultimate questions were asked in ultimate conditions. The poet Osip Mandelstam died on the way to the Gulag. Isaac Babel was shot. Many writers disappeared. The lucky ones found themselves in exile. Witnessing murder and cruelty on a hitherto unimaginable scale, they naturally thought: So this is where atheism and materialism lead! And isn’t that a good reason to embrace faith? One still astonishing fact about militantly atheist Soviet culture is that three of its greatest literary masterpieces—by Pasternak, Bulgakov, and Solzhenitsyn—were avowedly Christian, and a fourth, Life and Fate by the Jewish writer Vasily Grossman, was equally spiritual.

No complex of ideas fascinated the pre-revolutionary intelligentsia as much as the scientistic combination of atheism, materialism, and determinism. From the start, the key question was where morality came from, if there was nothing but natural laws. “If there is no God, all is permitted”: This formula of what materialism entails—voiced by Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment and Ivan in The Brothers Karamazov—became proverbial. If there is no absolute right and wrong, and if all moral norms are mere conventions, then there is no limit to what people are morally permitted to do—and once they fully grasp this conclusion, there is no limit to what they will do. Cruelty is sure to become boundless, Dostoevsky’s characters predict, and events proved them right.

Raskolnikov finds human cruelty so unbearable that he cannot accept that people live with it. “Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel,” he declares. We usually think of adaptability as a virtue, but for Raskolnikov it demonstrates a dull moral sense.

To escape his horror at immorality, Raskolnikov entertains complete amorality, as if he could assure himself that he need not worry about evil because it is only a social construct. “And what if I am wrong?,” he asks himself. “What if man is not really a scoundrel? . . . Then all the rest is prejudice, simply artificial terrors, and there are no barriers and it’s all as it should be”—because there is no ought, only is.

Think of it this way: If I drop a pencil, it falls at 9.8 meters per second squared. Is that moral or immoral? The question makes no sense, but if people are only more complex material objects, then to ask about their morality makes no more sense. Your liver is healthy or unhealthy, not moral or immoral. Everything is as it is, and that’s all.

As a student of natural science, Ivan Karamazov accepts this argument intellectually, but it repulses him because he is so sensitive to human suffering, especially that of children. He has collected cases of sadistic child abuse—they were all real—and, his scientism notwithstanding, he cannot refuse to condemn child abuse morally. He cannot live with this conflict, which is still very much with us. Eventually, it drives him mad.

Raskolnikov and Ivan are reacting to the dominant ideology of the day, as voiced by its most influential radical, Nikolai Chernyshevsky. Chernyshevsky’s utopian novel What Is to Be Done? was the most widely known literary work of the pre-revolutionary era, something resembling a Bible (or, as was often said, a Qur’an) for the atheist intelligents. One professor remembered that he had never met a young person who had not read it, or who did not at least claim to have read it. Lenin himself affirmed that it had made him a revolutionary. Chernyshevsky, like the hero of his novel, maintained that everything people do is actually accomplished by natural and social laws acting through them, so that our experience of choice is an illusion. Crime is caused not by criminals but by the social environment, and so, Chernyshevsky argued, “one ought not to blame people for anything at any cost.” These and similar exculpations found an appreciative audience. Dostoevsky, who was also one of the world’s greatest crime reporters, was appalled when on this basis juries really did acquit terrorists and child abusers.

Not just free will, but objective morality, too, was judged illusory. Moral norms, the argument went, simply reflect the needs of those in power—another argument that is still with us—and are relative to social conditions. When Dmitri Karamazov hears this scientistic axiom from the intelligent Rakitin, he cannot sleep. Rakitin also voices the opinions of neurophysiologist Ivan Sechenov, including the conclusion that everything is motivated and carried out not by us as moral agents, but by neurons, by “reflexes of the brain” (the title of Sechenov’s book). And so, Sechenov famously concluded, what we call a “soul” is “the [mere] product of the functioning of the brain.”

In longstanding Russian fashion, Bolsheviks drew the ultimate conclusions. They entirely rejected the idea of human dignity—neurons have no more dignity than acids—as well as what Trotsky sneeringly called “the sanctity of human life.” Although “bourgeois” thinkers claim that there is an objective morality, Lenin explained, there is only the morality of one or another class. Bolsheviks, he asserted, reject “any morality based on extra-human or extra-class concepts . . . there is no such thing as a morality that stands outside human society; that is a fraud.” Other radicals maintained that it is acceptable to kill people if you have to, but Lenin found even this position too humanitarian. He called it “moralizing vomit.” The qualifier “if you have to” concedes the sanctity of human life. If you care about human life at all, Lenin and Trotsky held, you are a religious believer. Or at least a Kantian, which in the last analysis amounts to the same thing.

Murder was not only permitted but morally compulsory if it served the interests of the Party, which constituted the only (not just the highest) moral standard. The same was true of slavery. From the start, Lenin and Trotsky had no qualms about advocating an economy based on forced labor—Trotsky forthrightly called it slavery—since, as he explained, there was no alternative to the market except coercion.

Thus, if a Bolshevik official wanted to avoid charges of covert religion, it paid to be cruel. When Stalin demanded mass arrests by quota, local officials prudently asked to arrest still more. God help those who didn’t. “When we are reproached with cruelty,” Lenin declared, “we wonder how people can forget the most elementary Marxism.” The prosecutor Nikolai Krylenko observed that in the regime’s early days, when surrounded by enemies, the Bolsheviks mistakenly showed not unnecessary cruelty, but “unnecessary leniency and unnecessary softheartedness.”

As a character in Vasily Grossman’s novel Forever Flowing observes, Soviet ethics was based on a reverse categorical imperative: Always use people not as ends but as means. And a reverse golden rule, too: Always treat class enemies as you would not want to be treated. I know of no other country in which schoolchildren were taught that compassion and pity are vices. After all, such feelings might lead one to spare a class enemy!

If one enters into this kind of thinking, the answer to a problem that has perplexed historians becomes clear. What sense did it make to arrest millions of innocent people? Why send a scientist in whose education enormous resources have been invested to Siberia to dig frozen earth? And why employ countless interrogators to extract by torture obviously false confessions, which no one would ever know about, when you could easily just shoot people? Why arrest not just opponents, but the most loyal people as well? That was something they did not do in Nazi Germany. In Stalin’s Russia, the secret police was constantly arresting its own members! And why, when war was obviously on the horizon, purge almost 90 percent of the top army and naval officers? There is something preposterous about Soviet behavior, which has puzzled historians.

I think historians have been asking the wrong questions. In the USSR, it was not cruelty and violence that required an explanation, but leniency and kindness. Cruelty was the default. One needed a reason not to torture.

Tsarist Russia was considered Europe’s most repressive country, but it seemed like a paradise compared to the Soviet Union. As Solzhenitsyn memorably observed,

If the intellectuals in Chekhov’s plays who spent all their time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or forty years had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings; that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath; that they would be trussed up naked to be bitten by ants and bedbugs; that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (“the secret brand”); that a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp, not one of Chekhov’s plays would have gotten to its end because all the heroes would have gone off to insane asylums.

The theory that wrongdoers are not responsible for their crimes might sound humane, but it turned out to be the very opposite. If no one is guilty, no one is innocent, and the only standard for state action is expediency. Why not punish people who are likely to commit crimes? Why wait until they do so? Such reasoning entailed arresting “class enemies,” and class, like race for the Nazis, was a heritable trait, so that the grandchildren of bourgeois or aristocrats or kulaks were automatically class enemies, no matter their own condition. Nationality could also qualify people for preemptive punishment. At different times, entire ethnic groups were deported as potential enemies, particularly if—like Koreans and Poles—they might have loyalty to people abroad.

In 1918 the secret police leader M. I. Latsis instructed revolutionary tribunals dispensing summary justice: “Do not seek in your accusations proof of whether the prisoner rebelled against the Soviets with guns or by word. First you must ask him to what class he belongs, what his social origin is. . . . These answers must determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning of the Red Terror.” In other words, Soviet criminal procedure investigated and punished potential crimes. Accordingly, one crime was “Suspicion of Espionage”—espionage itself was treated under a different article of the code—and, taking this reasoning one step further, “Contacts Leading to Suspicion of Espionage” was also a crime! As Krylenko explained, “we protect ourselves not only against the past but also against the future.”

If someone was arrested, “protecting against the future” entailed arresting his friends and relatives. The infamous Order 00486 specified that wives “of traitors of the motherland” were to receive a sentence of five to eight years. And, according to Soviet logic, if a wife was also accused of a crime—such as “non-denunciation” of her husband—she could get a harsher punishment. She could even be accused of “non-denunciation” of an ex-husband, whom she had divorced decades ago. There was even a special camp for wives of traitors to the motherland. Their children of fifteen years or older were automatically potential offenders, individuals who might contemplate revenge, and so they, too, were sent to labor colonies.

The word “conscience” disappeared from Soviet discourse and was replaced with “consciousness,” meaning the class consciousness that recognized morality as one thing only: whatever served the interests of the Party (a doctrine known as partiinost’ or “Party-mindedness”). In her memoirs, Evgeniya Ginzburg recounts how an interrogator tried to persuade her to denounce others who, he said, had already denounced her. When she answered, “That’s between them and their consciences,” the interrogator demanded: “What are you, a Gospel Christian or something?” When she answered, “Just honest,” he gave her a lecture on the Marxist-Leninist view of ethics, according to which “honest” means “useful to the Party.” As a good Leninist herself—she questioned only Stalin—Ginzburg had to agree. Nadezhda Mandelstam recalled that “kindness” was regarded as old-fashioned, and its proponents were considered as extinct as the mammoth.

Is it any wonder, then, that once the implications of materialism and atheism became clear, some writers came to profess absolute morality, the soul, individual responsibility, Christian virtues, and even belief in God? Even those who remained atheists, like Ginzburg, could not help noticing that Communists who found themselves in prison were the first to betray others. After all, if there is no non-class morality, why not? As Varlam Shalamov noted in his Kolyma Tales—Kolyma was where the worst camps of the frozen north were located—in camp “the intellectual becomes a coward and his own brain provides a justification for his own actions. He can persuade himself of anything, attach himself to either side in a quarrel,” as interest dictates. The people least likely to behave this way, Ginzburg concedes, were believers. What kind of believers they were, or to which religion they belonged, did not seem to matter so long as they believed in God.

When Ginzburg fell into despair, she recalls, she was comforted by a woman she describes as “a fanatical Seventh-Day Adventist,” a German woman who showed “extraordinary human kindness” and the pity rejected by Marxist-Leninist ethics. The German believer quoted from the Book of Job, and “this broke the spell.” Ginzburg “fell to sobbing in the arms of this strange woman, from a world unknown to me. She stroked my hair and said, again and again in German, ‘God protects the fatherless. God is on their side.’”

Like other memoirists, Ginzburg was impressed that some believers simply would not do what was wrong. She recounts how, in one frozen Gulag labor camp, some semi-literate believers refused to work on Easter. They were made to stand barefoot on the ice as other prisoners watched. They kept on praying together. “I don’t recall how long the torture, physical for the believers, moral for us, lasted,” Ginzburg explained, but the rest could not help asking themselves: “Was this fanaticism, or fortitude in defense of the rights of conscience? Were we to admire them or regard them as mad? And most troubling of all, should we have had the courage to act as they did?”

When the children of arrested parents wandered the streets, educated people were too afraid to take them in, but old ladies from the countryside did so out of sheer compassion. Was there an inverse relationship, then, between sophistication and basic decency? (I might as well say that, in my own experience, there is.)

Solzhenitsyn concurred: No one behaved worse when arrested than prominent, educated Bolsheviks. The victims of the Bolsheviks never behaved “so despicably as the leading Bolsheviks when the lightning struck them. If you study in detail the whole history of the arrests and trials of 1936–38 [the Great Purges],” Solzhenitsyn maintained, “the principal revulsion you feel is not against Stalin and his accomplices, but against the humiliatingly repulsive defendants—nausea at their spiritual baseness after their former pride and implacability.”

Solzhenitsyn knew that for a well-educated person to become truly decent, he must overcome what high culture regards as sophisticated—in Russia and, he later discovered, in Europe and America, too. That isn’t true always and everywhere; sophistication and decency aren’t necessarily in an inverse relation. Sometimes one finds no relation between them at all. (I think that’s as good as it gets.)

One of the three great Christian prose works I mentioned is Solzhenitsyn’s novel In the First Circle, the title an obvious allusion to Dante’s Divine Comedy. It tells the story of Innokenty Volodin, a highly placed communist official who leads a life of luxury utterly unimaginable to average Russians. Volodin has thoroughly absorbed the regime’s prime ethical command: It is the result that counts. All that matters is the Party’s success. He adapts this philosophy to his private life, where it is just as simple: All that matters is his own pleasure. As he sometimes says, he is a thoroughgoing Epicurean. But when he finds himself under arrest, his philosophy seems unspeakably shallow. “It was all very well philosophizing under shady boughs,” but in the face of Soviet interrogation, “the great materialist’s worldview seemed like the prattle of a child.” Volodin had always agreed with Epicurus that “our inner feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction are the highest criteria of good and evil,” but now he can’t help asking: Stalin loved killing people, so should he have regarded it as good? Volodin thinks: “How wise it all seems when you read these philosophies as a free person!” But now good and evil seem to him not relative but absolute.

The novel’s hero, Gleb Nerzhin, an imprisoned scientist, argues with his friend and fellow prisoner Rubin about these questions. Rubin is a Marxist and, despite his imprisonment, a supporter of the regime. When Nerzhin argues for objective goodness and “the inviolability of the person,” Rubin asks how he could accept such “class-conditioned ideas!” Nerzhin counters that “justice is never relative . . . it is the cornerstone, the foundation of the universe.”

Nerzhin recognizes that if, as Marx and Engels insisted, “being determines consciousness,” including ideas of good and evil, then “there is no need to spell ‘good’ and ‘evil’ with capital letters.” To the contrary, the artist Kondrashov answers, “Every man is born with a sort of inner essence . . . his essential self. No ‘being’ . . . can determine him.” What’s more, that self carries “an image of perfection, which is never dim and sometimes stands out with remarkable clarity! And reminds him of his chivalrous duty!” Don’t laugh at such a medieval concept, he continues. In the Middle Ages there was no gas chamber, no Gulag.

Kondrashov has sketched a picture showing “the moment any man may experience when he first catches sight of the image of perfection”—in this case, “the moment when Parsifal first caught sight of the . . . castle of the Holy Grail.” Parsifal stands in rapt wonder at the radiance suffusing the sky, emanating “perhaps from the sun, perhaps from a still purer source, concealed by the castle. . . . Rising to a needle point in mid-heaven at the top of the picture, hazy and indistinct . . . yet discernible in all the details of its unearthly perfection, ringed in a blue-gray aureole by the invisible supersun, stood the castle of the Holy Grail.”

Would any Western writer today include such a passage, one celebrating a medieval image of holiness? Would any Westerner conclude a novel with a series of mostly Christian poems, as Pasternak did in Doctor Zhivago? One poem, “Star of the Nativity,” represents the moment when that star appeared, in much the same spirit as Kondrashov’s picture. Suddenly a miracle happens and eternity is present. The wise men stare in wonder:

And all the things that were to come after
Sprang up in the distance as a strange prevision:
All the thoughts of the ages, all the dreams, all the worlds,
All the future of galleries and museums,
All the pranks of goblins, all the works of the workers of miracles,
All the yule trees on earth, all the dreams of small children,
All the warm glow of tremulous candles, all chains,
All the magnificence of brightly hued tinsel. . . .
The frosty night was like a fairy-tale . . .
Through the same countryside, over the same highway
Some angels walked among the throng of mortals.
Their incorporeality made them invisible
Yet each step they took left the imprint of a foot.

These words about incorporeality come from the land of militant materialism. There is more than the physical world, after all. Though we cannot see the immaterial, it leaves its imprint, like the footprints of an angel.

Solzhenitsyn’s greatest achievement, The Gulag Archipelago: An Experiment in Literary Investigation, is more than a brilliant account of everything concerned with Soviet arrest, interrogation, transport of prisoners, forced labor at fifty degrees below zero, hunger that lasts for years, and death after dehumanization. It is also an account of the author’s own journey to faith. When it begins he is a Soviet officer who, even when arrested, imagines himself superior to the orderly who arrests him. Gradually, amid the suffering he endures and witnesses, his Soviet worldview dissolves.

The crucial moment, I think, comes when he encounters the Jew Boris Gammerov. Newspapers have just published a prayer offered by President Roosevelt, and Solzhenitsyn, following the official line, says that, of course, it is hypocritical. A trembling Gammerov replies vehemently: “Why do you not admit the possibility that a political leader might sincerely believe in God?” Stunned at such a comment, especially from someone born after the Revolution, “I merely asked him: ‘Do you believe in God?’” Solzhenitsyn recalls that he could have given the prescribed answer to Gammerov’s question, “but right then it dawned upon me that I had not spoken out of conviction but because the idea [that all forms of prayer are either naive or cynical] had been planted in me from outside.”

Dostoevsky also described this phenomenon, common among intellectuals: They absorb a series of prescribed beliefs and, over the years, take them for granted. But those beliefs, to use Dostoevsky’s word, resemble a “uniform.” In ages of prescribed opinion, and in contexts where one never hears anything else, this phenomenon becomes almost universal. I think of this passage frequently when speaking with my colleagues and students. I want to ask: Do you really believe what you are saying? Hasn’t something been planted from outside? When did you consider counter-arguments? Are you even willing to hear them? But those very questions cannot be heard by intellectuals whose personal identities are bound up with the dogmas they’ve embraced.

Once Solzhenitsyn realized that he did not believe what he was about to say, he began re-evaluating his other beliefs. Eventually he arrived at his Castle of the Holy Grail. He was not the only one. Russia’s most recent winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Svetlana Alexievich, had the uncanny ability to get people to voice thoughts and feelings that they had suppressed and didn’t even know they had. From these confessions she assembled her innovative and moving books. In The Unwomanly Face of War, she uncovers women’s experience of World War II. A female anti-aircraft gunner during the Nazi invasion reflects on the people she killed: “I left for the front a materialist. An atheist. I left as a good Soviet schoolgirl, who had been well taught. And there . . . There I began to pray.” She continues to pray because she cannot forget that she killed people. Not class enemies, not Germans, but people. Soviet ethics notwithstanding, she recognizes that she has a conscience. She reflects, “I’m old now, I pray for my soul. I told my daughter that when I die she should take all my medals and decorations, not to a museum, but to a church.”

Solzhenitsyn came to realize that there is a key moment in every Gulag prisoner’s life, the moment of choosing. Do you resolve to “survive at any price,” even if it means doing in others? You would if you followed the great dictum of Soviet ethics, which says that only the material result counts. Or do you cherish something higher than self? “This is the great fork of camp life. From this point the roads go to the right and to the left. . . . If you go the right—you lose your life, and if you go to the left—you lose your conscience.”

If you choose conscience, as Solzhenitsyn did, you realize that “it is not the result that counts—but the spirit.” You discover that imprisonment has transformed you in unexpected ways. Instead of judging people readily, you recognize your own weakness, and can therefore understand the weakness of others. “Your soul, which formerly was dry, now ripens from suffering.” In slavery you learn for the first time what genuine friendship is. You recognize that though you were arrested falsely, you are guilty of many other things. You grasp that “the meaning of earthly existence lies not . . . in prospering, but in the development of the soul.”

Solzhenitsyn realized that he had not understood his life. He had mistaken evil for good and the meaningless for the meaningful. He also recognized something about evil that I wish more educated people today would learn:

In the intoxication of youthful successes I had felt myself to be infallible, and I was therefore cruel . . . In my most evil moments I was convinced that I was doing good, and I was well supplied with systematic arguments. And it was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line between good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties [nor between groups of any sort]—but right through every human heart.

This is what religion teaches and what revolutions deny. Without prison, Solzhenitsyn realizes, he would not have learned all this, and so “I say without hesitation: ‘Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!’”

People who do evil things almost always think they are doing good. As I tell my students, they do not resemble Spider-Man villains who rub their hands with glee as they dedicate themselves to evil. Some ideology has persuaded them that mutilating women and torturing babies is virtuous. They imagine the line between good and evil passes between themselves and others, whereas it passes through every human heart, including their own.

In prison Solzhenitsyn wrote a poem about his conversion, which concludes:

I look behind me with a grateful tremor
Upon the life I have lived.
Not with good judgment nor with desire
Are its twists and turns illumined.
But with the even glow of the Higher Meaning
Which became apparent to me only later on.
And now with measuring cup returned to me,
Scooping up the living water,
God of the Universe! I believe again!
Though I renounced You, You were with me!

The tradition continues. “The fact is that I am a Christian,” the late Alexei Navalny explained. “I was once quite a militant atheist myself . . . But now I am a believer, and that helps me a lot in my activities.” Westerners wonder where Navalny found the spiritual fortitude to endure a Russian “punishment cell” and even joke about it, or why, having been poisoned, he returned to Russia, where he was sure to be arrested. These questions make sense if one views life as all about oneself, as so many Westerners do today, but Navalny learned, as Solzhenitsyn, Natan Sharansky, and many others did, that it is the God of the Universe who gives us the living water to nourish our souls. And it is our soul, not our life, that matters most.

Gary Saul Morson is the Lawrence B. Dumas Professor of the Arts and Humanities at Northwestern University.

Image by Bert Verhoeff for Anefo, licensed via Creative Commons. Image duplicated, cropped.

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