The Banality of Evil

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

“So let the reader who expects this book to be a political exposé slam its covers shut right now.

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and sometimes it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One and the same human being is, at various ages, under various circumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil.

Socrates taught us: Know thyself!

Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all only because of the way things worked out that they were the executioners and we weren’t.”


Ed note: When you see the state in its full glory as reflected in Solzhenitsin’s Gulag Archipelago, there will be a faceless bureaucrat saying, “I’m sorry, I was only doing my job. I’m just a drone and there isn’t much I can do about it.” That is a very scary reality. It means there is some faceless creature at the top, some bureaucratic executive somewhere, who “signs a piece of paper to arrest someone to shut them up”. And then all these bureaucrats follow through and even though they know it’s bullshit they do it anyway. Solzhenitsin called this the “banality of evil.” Are you an “order follower“?


The Gulag Archipelago, 1918-1956

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