The Line Between


I’m currently reading The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (the abridged version). While a gruelling read at times, it’s certainly a worthwhile one. His writing manages to hold together within it so much dark and light. Sometimes it even makes you laugh:

Marx … declared with equal conviction that the one and only means of correcting offenders … was not solitary contemplation, not moral soul-searching, not repentance, and not languishing … but productive labor. He himself had never in his life taken a pick in hand. To the end of his days he never pushed a wheelbarrow, mined coal, felled timber, and we don’t even know how his firewood was split – but he wrote that down on paper, and the paper did not resist.

But it was this passage that I was recently struck by:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

I think this is a lesson we need to re-learn in our present times. Increasingly we seem to police one another’s speech and thought against the modern heresies, and we are only too quick to excommunicate. The motivation is what it has always been: to root out evil. But the mistake is also what it has always been: to measure the demarcation according to affiliations – good and evil defined by what party you support, whether you voted leave or remain, by your moral or religious beliefs.

The struggle is one in which we all need to be engaged, but each of us needs to recognise that we have an allegiance to both sides.