A sideways look

The scene: It is August 1914 and two young men have travelled to Moscow to enlist and fight for Russia against the Germans, but before doing so they meet Varsonofiev, an enigmatic old man they have previously seen in a library, who invites them for a beer at a nearby Inn. 


” ‘I’m beginning to think that you are no enthusiast for people’s power.’ Varsonofiev gave him a sideways look. ‘How ever did you guess?’


“So you don’t think that the rule of the people is the best form of government? ‘No, I do not,’ Varsonofiev said quietly but weightily.


What form of government do you propose then? Kotya had recovered his almost childish high spirits.


‘Propose? I wouldn’t presume to do that.’ The dark eyes gleamed at Kotya, at Sanya from the cavernous depths. ‘Who is so rash as to believe that he can invent ideal institutions?


Only those who suppose that nothing valuable existed until the present generation came along, who imagine that whatever matters is only just beginning, that the truth is known only to our idols and to ourselves, and that anyone who doesn’t agree with us is a fool or a scoundrel.’


He seemed to be getting angry, but immediately took himself in hand. ‘Still, we mustn’t blame our Russian youngsters in particular, it’s a universal law: arrogance is the main symptom of immaturity. The immature are arrogant, the fully mature become humble.’ “


From, August 1914, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.




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