The truly free and faithful person cannot live by lies. Everyone who chooses to do so, for whatever reason, is not truly free…nor morally strong. As Solzhenitsyn said many decades ago, such a person must admit, “I am part of the herd and a coward.”
At the precise moment of his arrest and exile from Soviet Russia in 1974, the celebrated literary dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn released a document that was as powerful as it was brief: Live Not By Lies.
At the precise moment when so many are speaking plain truth today—saying 2+2=4—and getting kicked off popular social media platforms for doing so, Solzhenitsyn’s words are deeply relevant and essential.
It was the great novelist’s simple and profound answer for how his people could resist the soul-crushing tyranny under which they lived. It is our answer today as well.
Communist ideology re-fashioned basic reality in a way the masses knew to be false; giving established words new meaning for political and ideological purposes. Dissent from the new order was not tolerated. Citizens were required, through excruciating political, economic, and ideological pressure, to speak and give assent to a carefully constructed, but wholly false reality. The people wrongly believed they controlled no real levers of power.
Does this sound like anything you recognize in culture today?
But Solzhenitsyn told his fellow citizens, and us today, they possessed the greatest power of all: the individual choice to refuse to live by lies. This is what this short, regime-toppling document explains, and it is worth us reading again today and taking to heart.
Solzhenitsyn explained the simple fact that the ideological system they were suffering under “demands from us only obedience to lies and daily participation in lies.” Thus, he told his countrymen,
The simple and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation is this: personal non-participation in lies.
Read that statement again for emphasis and reflect upon it. This truth is equally simple and profound. Resolving to refuse to speak or assent to what you know to be false is one of the greatest revolutionary acts a human can perform. Solzhenitsyn explained,
It is the easiest thing for us to do and the most destructive for the lies.
Because when people renounce lies, it cuts short their existence. Like parasites, they can only survive when carried by a person…Our way must be: Never knowingly support lies…and we will be amazed how swiftly the lies fall away, for that which should be naked will be exposed as such to the whole world.
Lies have no life if we all refuse to let them live in our own words. Simply stop serving as their host. This remarkable insight served to give a humble and seemingly powerless people the moral courage necessary to bring down one of the most dehumanizing systems in modern times. Their example is instructive to us in our age.