CULTURE WARS by Brian ComanNews Weekly
Samizdat and the internet
, March 11, 2017
Polish philosopher and social commentator Leszek Kolakowski once wrote an important essay entitled “Politics and the devil”. In that essay he imagines a cosmic contest between the forces of good and evil – God and the devil – and how such a contest has played out in the history of the West. Like a chess game, you must imagine that for every move made by God to advance the Good, the devil has some countermove. And, of course, vice-versa.
An example would be the early rise of Christianity where, sensing that God has the upper hand, the devil employs the Roman Empire to persecute Christians. However, God has an effective countermove epitomised in the saying “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Later, the devil is able to introduce the great Schism and other difficulties for Christianity. Each time, however, God has an effective countermove. And so the battle continues, right up to our own times.
Many religious believers in the various faith communions see the internet as an instrument of the devil. After all, its phenomenal rise has facilitated the spread and consumption of pornography and other social pathologies. But perhaps God has an effective countermove. In an age when traditional religious belief is undergoing subtle but very powerful forms of oppression, perhaps the internet, largely free from the oppressive hand of government and of a biased, anti-religious mainstream media, can afford opportunities for real resistance.
We have a very good historical example of just how such an approach might work. During the Soviet era, dissenters in the USSR were ruthlessly repressed and their writings banned. What they did to evade the authorities was to produce samizdat – underground and self-published literature. In the famous words of Vladimir Bukovsky: “Samizdat: I write it myself, edit it myself, censor it myself, publish it myself, distribute it myself, and spend jail time for it myself.”
The crudest form of samizdat might consist of hand-copied or carbon-copied typewriter text, but illegal printing houses also operated. Many famous books and essays appeared in samizdat form, including Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch. There was also a long-running samizdat journal, A Chronical of Current Events, which recorded instances of persecutions, especially religious and ethnic persecution, and other state-sponsored atrocities. Samizdat literature played no small part in the eventual demise of the oppressive Soviet regime and gave force to the old saying that “the pen is mightier than the sword”.
So, those of us who feel that our traditional beliefs and lifestyles are under threat could look upon the internet as an opportunity to publish our own samizdat. The whole modern phenomenon of networking means that like-minded people can link together, share information and resources and, in short, become a very effective counter-movement to the pathologies of the modern liberal-democratic state.
It is worth remembering, too, that some of those same dissidents who suffered under Stalinism and produced or read samizdat have expressed their deep concern as to the direction in which the West is now heading. Two such people were Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Ryzard Letgutko.
Unlike the dissidents in the USSR, our opportunities to produce and disseminate samizdat are much simpler and much quicker. Moreover, the potential audience is huge. Recent figures from America suggest that some 47 per cent of Americans now listen to some form of online radio and that figure is much higher for young people.
Online radio, of course, includes a very large component of “homemade” broadcasts called “podcasts”. According to an article in the Washington Post, over a billion podcast subscriptions were purchased in 2013. You must add to this an enormous interest in blog websites, e-zines and the like.
In fact, there is already a large presence on the internet of those people who call into question the whole notion of an unrestricted freedom of the individual – a freedom without any of the traditional boundaries. One such group are the so-called Neo-reactionaries (NRx) and their most famous representative, perhaps even founder, is a blogger with the pen-name Mencius Moldbug. In real life, he is Curtis Yarvin, a computer guru working in Silicon Valley. Like many young and well-educated Americans, he believes that the current form of liberal-democratic politics is degenerating rapidly, and he is searching for alternatives. The whole NRx movement has its fair share of crackpots and extremists but, looked at very broadly, one can see it as a genuine questioning of the current social and political scene.
Although the movement does include some religious traditionalists, it is basically a political movement, attempting to come to terms with what H.L. Mencken once described as “the basic delusion that men may be governed and yet be free”. Moldbug himself is an atheist and I mention him simply to show how the ideas of one individual, persuasively presented on a blog site, can have a huge impact.
One of the oft-repeated dicta of B.A. Santamaria was that “ideas have consequences” and that “we are engaged in a battle of ideas”. That is as true today as it was at the height of the Cold War. The one difference, perhaps, is the nature of the enemy. Today, the enemy is what American commentator Joel Kotkin has aptly dubbed “the Clerisy” – an unholy alliance between today’s policy, media and academic elites (The New Class Conflict, 2014). When you have a mainstream media entirely hostile to Tradition, the battle of ideas must move underground. We need a method whereby ordinary citizens can both obtain unbiased information and contribute to an important debate.
Perhaps the internet is God’s next move in Kolakowski’s cosmic chess game. Except, of course, it is not a game. This is a colossal struggle for the survival of a spiritual order as old as civilisation itself. The notion that humans answer to a freedom higher than that of merely supplying the desires of the senses goes back to ancient Greece and, in Eastern cultures, even further.
News Weekly itself already has an internet presence and, no doubt, that presence will grow in the future. There are huge opportunities here, not just for conveying a message, but for joining with like-minded organisations through web linkages and reciprocal hosting of material. Among the young, particularly, there is a huge potential audience. And it is the young who are searching for some sort of intellectual homeland, something permanent in this age of flux.
I am not known for my fondness of modern technology, but in this case, I must defer to the obvious. Like Martin Luther who, in his choice of hymn music, quipped, “why should the devil have all the good tunes?”, we might similarly ask “why should the devil command the internet?” Perhaps the internet is the battleground of the future and it is here that we must direct more of our efforts.
And there is one drawback associated with the older form of samizdat that we will not have to endure – unlike Bukovsky, we will not be jailed for what we do. Not yet, anyway! About the future of our freedom here, I can make no promises. But even in the worst circumstance, God has other moves.
Not for nothing is the motto of Monte Cassino Abbey Succisa virescit (“Cut down, it grows ever stronger”). It was destroyed by the Lombards circa 585, by the Saracens in 884, by the Normans in 1046, by an earthquake in 1349 and by the Americans in 1944. Each time it has been rebuilt.
Now that’s resistance for you!