THE CHALLENGE OF THE SPIRIT by Boris Shragin

THE CHALLENGE OF THE SPIRIT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Reflections on the unique, liberating mission of the Russian intelligentsia in a society seen as despotic by nature, inured to lies and violence, habitually submissive, and now, under Soviet rule, wholly victimized: ""Is so-called socialism anything but serfdom in the name of the state?"" Shragin, of course, is still another exiled dissident who rejects Solzhenitsyn's view of the past 60 years as an aberration, and his discursions circle round and round the dual themes of arbitrary power and individual responsibility. In his interpretation of recent history, Khrushchev failed because he was comical, ordinary, active--and indecisive: ""Intellectuals have pleasant memories of his time,"" but ""the farcical nature of [his] government estranged the public and fostered its sense of being put upon."" Under Brezhnev, by contrast, total regimentation induces total passivity: ""Failures are announced as victories, and by that very fact they become so."" Drawing parallels from the past (""an empire of facades""), Shragin sees Russia as without a history--and the longing for history as a desire for self-determination. Thus, the specifically Russian intelligentsia: ""people who have matured spiritually to the point where they feel obliged to make sense of their lives, and can no longer submit unthinkingly to the lies and hypocrisy of Soviet life."" But this intelligentsia, now levelled down and devoid of guilt, no longer needs, either, to idealize the People--and so we come round again to the problem of freedom of choice, stymied, still, by ""the primacy of the collective over the individual."" The new dissidents, however, have demanded and claimed their rights, they have ""broken the spell of doublethink,"" they are asserting ""a moral imperative that even the state cannot ignore."" And they deserve Western support. Ruminative, suggestive, broadly informing.

Pub Date: March 17th, 1978
Publisher: Knopf