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Home » Transcript: Existentialism via Solzhenitsyn and the Gulag by Jordan Peterson

Transcript: Existentialism via Solzhenitsyn and the Gulag by Jordan Peterson

This is the transcript of Jordan Peterson’s Personality lecture titled “Existentialism via Solzhenitsyn and the Gulag”. In this lecture, Jordan explores the dreadful socio-political consequences of the individual inauthentic life: the degeneration of society into nihilism or totalitarianism, often of the most murderous sort, employing as an example the work/death camps of the Soviet Union.


Dr. Jordan B. Peterson – Psychologist

So, I want to tell you about a book today. The book is called The Gulag Archipelago. You ready? The book is called The Gulag Archipelago and it’s by a Russian author, a Soviet author named Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was in the Gulag Archipelago concentration camp system for a very long time. He had a very hard life. He was on the Russian front when the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in the early stages of World War II.

Now, Hitler and Stalin had signed a non-aggression pact. And Hitler invaded the Soviet Union anyway. And from what I’ve been able to understand, the Soviets had prepared an invasion force for Europe at that point, but were not concerned with having to defend their territory and so they were caught completely unawares by Hitler’s move. And the conditions on the Russian front were absolutely dreadful, and Solzhenitsyn was a soldier on the Russian front.

And he wrote some letters to one of his friends which were intercepted complaining about the lack of preparation and using bitter dark humor to describe the situation. And the consequences of that was that he was thrown into a work camp. The Soviet system relied on work camps, and so those were large labor camps of people who were essentially enslaved, many of whom were worked to death, often froze to death working in conditions that were so dreadful that they’re virtually unimaginable.

Solzhenitsyn spent a very large number of years in these camps, sometimes in a more privileged camp, because he was an educated man and sometimes in worse camps. He also developed cancer later, and wrote a book about that called Cancer Ward which is a brilliant book. So he had a very hard life. There’s just no way around that to be on the front and then to be in a concentration camp and then to have cancer. That’s pretty rough.

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