We didn’t love freedom enough

In the opening chapter of the Gulag Archipelago, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn recounts how the Bolshevik security “organs” arrested millions of Russian citizens by secret midnight raids. The arrests rarely happened in the light of day. Nor did they round up all their targets at once. 

People were picked off one at a time. “Blue caps” would burst into an apartment in the dead of night and spend hours rifling through personal possessions looking for whatever they thought useful to gin up charges against the unfortunate target. They would leave before dawn with the arrested individual in tow. 

No guns or shackles would be visible as they walked down the corridor. After being terrorized for hours the target would meekly walk past neighbors without any sign that he was being taken by force. Neighbors might know it. They might have heard the midnight crash of the door across the hall. But, to a man, they fearfully averted their eyes and pretended not to know. 

Terror was the tool. Many, accused of crimes against the state, were randomly allowed to walk free. But they lived in constant fear of re-arrest. So, also, family members left behind never knew when the door might burst open again for another search of the apartment and another person to disappear into the maw of the secret prison system.

These arrests filled the prisons and labor camps of the Soviet Union and robbed family after family of mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. With each person carted off to the camps, the people’s ability and will to resist was further drained.

After recounting this pattern of events, Solzhenitsyn penned a remarkably moving passage marveling at the universal lack of resistance. “And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand?”

What is it about the human heart that prevented this most reasonable of responses? Why is it that nobody thought of it until they were in the camps and it was too late? From our comfortable vantage point, we can easily call them foolish. But would we do any better? More to the point, are we?

When the enemies of freedom come, they cannot devour an entire people by direct power. They must first divide before they can conquer. Division can be created in two ways: hatred and fear. 

Hatred is created by inventing ever-new categories of people, and setting them against one another. That’s the essence of identity politics. The motto printed on every American coin, e pluribus unum (out of many, one), is what built America. To tear down any society, it must first be divided.

Once stripped of unity, people are easier to manipulate with fear. When every man is for himself, all that is needed to maneuver people into silence is a threat against their income or good name coupled with the vague promise that if they don’t make a fuss, they will not be bothered.

“Making a fuss” is then defined as defending your fellow citizen against unjust accusations. Those intent on tearing down a society cannot tolerate one citizen defending another. They must make public examples of a few people, so that the rest will be too afraid to stand together. That’s the recipe for a reign of terror. All it takes to counter the terror is the simple resolve to be united. 

“If...if...,” Solzhenitsyn continued. “If only we had stood together against the common threat, we could easily have defeated it. So, why didn’t we?” He answered, “We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more – we had no awareness of the real situation.... We purely and simply deserved everything that happened afterward.”

“We didn’t love freedom enough,” and for that reason, “deserved everything that happened.” These are powerful words. They challenge us today. Do we love freedom enough? How much are we willing to risk to defend it?

There are two elements necessary to address this question. First, there is the valuation of freedom; second, there is the price of defending it.

One of the reasons that freedom is devalued today is that it has been redefined. If freedom is nothing more than the selfish pursuit of doing “whatever I want,” how can that be valuable enough to defend? 

But freedom, true freedom, has never been about doing whatever you want. True freedom is the capacity to do what is right, what is noble, and what is just. Freedom is about living up to the highest ideals of your own humanity. It is not about wallowing in the mud of selfish and self-serving desires.

That is why true freedom is worth dying for. Who, in their right mind, would die for the freedom to be lazy and cowardly, disloyal and intemperate? But the freedom to raise a family and build a lasting and just civilization has the capacity to inspire people gladly and willingly to pay the highest price.

So, what are you willing to pay for this kind of freedom? How much money? How much time? How much social capital? 

Are you willing to invest serious money in your children’s education? Are you willing to teach them at home and attend school board meetings—even run for the school board—to improve their education?

Are you willing to spend serious money to support candidates that will fight for true and noble freedoms against those who would debase our culture and enslave us further to debt and vice? 

Recently Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA, spoke in Gillette and gave a simple challenge to his audience. Imagine what could be accomplished if every American spent as much on electing worthy officials as he spent on coffee. On average, that amounts to $10 per day. Imagine that amount multiplied by 100 million citizens. That simple act, alone, could offset the corporate moguls that skew our elections.

What if… What if…? Solzhenitsyn asked? What if we “had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand”? He concluded that it would have changed the world and prevented the misery and deaths of millions.

Will we be asking a similar question years from now? What if… What if… we had spent as much money on good rulers as we spent on coffee? What if we had spent as much time on educating our kids as we spend on entertainment? What if we had spent as much energy on loving our neighbor as we spend arguing with strangers?

The value of freedom is infinite. Today, the cost is a bargain. Let’s invest in freedom today, before the cost is prohibitive.