For these times: Reflections on some things in particular, and everything in general

Patrick B. McGuigan

In November of last year, commentator Neil Patel (affiliated with Creators, a service providing opinion pieces to American newspapers and online media organizations), had a reflection that caught my attention. It was this:

“In recent decades, the differences the right and left fight about have often been marginal. Debating a top tax rate of 35% versus 39% is not inconsequential, but it’s not existential either. That’s not the sort of thing the left is talking about these days. They are talking about structural changes to alter our system forever and a full march to the left in numerous policy areas.” 

In the course of recent days, events have captured my attention and then drove me into a sense of … not despair, but unusually deep reflection. Not really brooding and not quite depression, but what an earlier generation called “mulling things over.” 

After a couple of days, I reached a conclusion. This is it: 

Patel’s words are certainly apt for the times in which we are living. 
It seems clear to me that restricting or banning a broad categories of citizens, based on their beliefs, from having the ability (or access to portals) to communicate their beliefs with other citizens can reasonably be considered a structural change intended “to alter our system forever.” 
As it accelerates, close collusion between parts of the common government and private sector actors to achieve such a systemic altering marks a profound moment in the history of any nation  …,  but to be clear, this is about our nation. 

I have not yet been able to devise profundities to match Patel’s few words, and I probably never will. 
Still, I found something to share. As is often the case, I found the right words – from the greatest Russian patriot of the Twentieth Century. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was not a perfect human being or one always easy to consider, but the greatest modern intellect I have encountered in the printed word. 
In fact, his words bear witness to truths that extend across time. Rooted in the Russian experience, his reflections made him one of the most important voices for human reason in all of the world since … well, since forever. 

In ‘The Gulag Archipelago,’ his masterful examination of the most methodical prison system yet devised, Solzhenitsyn wrote:

“Power is a poison well known for thousands of years. If only no one were ever to acquire material power over others! But to the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limitations, power is not necessarily fatal. For those, however, who are unaware of any higher sphere, it is a deadly poison. For them there is no antidote.” 

For a time at least, my time of deep reflection has receded, replaced about certainty that for our generation, referencing Thomas Paine words in the years before 1776 or Valley Forge: “These are the times that try men’s souls.” 
And Charles Dickens: “The best of times … and the worst of times.”  

That’s where we are.