The former refusenik, and former head of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky recently released a widely circulated video giving advice on weathering quarantine, based on his own experiences in solitary confinement in KGB prisons. To Matthew Continetti, this video is yet another example of the variegated nature of its creator’s abilities and accomplishments. Reviewing Never Alone, a recent book by Sharansky and the historian Gil Troy, Continetti writes:
Sharansky’s career resists summary. It offers lessons in courage, freedom, justice, belonging, and hope. What makes his example especially relevant is his insistence that freedom and identity, liberty and tribe, are not just compatible but codependent. “To have a full, interesting, meaningful life,” he writes in Never Alone, “you have to figure out how to be connected enough to defend your freedom and free enough to protect your identity.” The same puzzle confronts nations. “Benefiting from the best of liberalism and the best of nationalism, together we can champion the joint mission to belong and to be free as both central to human happiness.”
Governments establish the conditions of liberty. But identity must come from below. The most positive and enduring sources of identity are not found in politics. They are located in civil society. The institutions of family, faith, and community tell us who we are, what we want, where we should turn.
People are antecedent to government. And they must remain so, if democracy is to survive. This is the unforgettable teaching of Natan Sharansky, hero and champion of freedom.