Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A man worthy to be remembered whose writings changed the world.

Source: Religion and Liberty

One word of truth shall outweigh the whole world.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Toward the close of his 1970 Nobel Prize lecture, Alexander Solzhenitsyn affirmed the power of literature “to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is, notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people and parties.“ In this, the great man affirmed the power of literature to communicate the moral truths of our lives, our societies, across all national and ethnic boundaries. Solzhenitsyn, perhaps known by most as a Soviet dissident, was nonetheless an artist of great distinction who heroically exposed the lies at the heart of Marxism-Leninism and the near destruction of traditional Russian society and faith communities at the hands of the Soviets.

Solzhenitsyn took a sledgehammer to the crumbling foundations of the Soviet system and, more than any other single person, was responsible for its collapse. Indeed, his artistic mission was to chronicle—in works such as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward, The First Circle and The Gulag Archipelago—the catastrophe that the Bolshevik revolution and Soviet repression wrought on Russia. Solzhenitsyn never forgot the injustice of his own imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag and the stories of those he met there.

In his works, their sacrifices would not be forgotten. As he said in his powerful Nobel lecture (smuggled out of the Soviet Union in 1972 and published to a sensational reception all over the world), violence—both physical and spiritual—cannot ultimately stand against the truth. “And no sooner will falsehood be dispersed than the nakedness of violence will be revealed in all its ugliness—and violence, decrepit, will fall,“ he wrote. Exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974, Solzenitsyn soon settled in the United States. But the Western liberal elites, feeling the writer’s withering condemnation, were quick to turn on him. Scholars Edward E. Ericson and Daniel J. Mahoney recounted how journalist Jeri Laber, who in 1972 had praised Solzhenitsyn as a person and a writer, in 1974 declared his art dull and his politics reactionary. Her memorable generalization: “He is not the ’liberal’ we would like him to be.“

What would she have thought of Solzhenitsyn’s famous 1978 commencement address at Harvard where he catalogued the West’s failings, including rampant materialism, the superficiality of the media, and the moral cowardice of intellectuals? Standing before the cream of the Cambridge intelligentsia, Solzhenitsyn accused the West of leaving behind “the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice.“ He took the political and intellectual elites to task for cowardice, a “lack of manhood“ in its dealings with international aggressors and terrorists. He lamented the “boundless space“ that the West had provided for human freedom without making any distinctions for human decadence. “The West has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man’s responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer,“ Solzhenitsyn told the Harvard crowd.

As a boy, Solzhenitsyn was deeply influenced by his Aunt Irina, who instilled in him a love of literature and of Russian Orthodoxy. But he drifted away from the Christian faith under the spell of state indoctrination in Marxism-Leninism. It was his experience with the realities of the labor camps that brought him to his metanoia, the change of mind that put him on the road to repentance. “He returned with adult thoughtfulness to the Christian worldview of his rearing,“ Ericson and Mahoney wrote. “Solzhenitsyn’s mature articulation of Christian truths was deeply informed by his experience in the prison camps. There he witnessed human nature in extremis and learned about the heights and depths of the human soul.“


  1. Well, I wish he were here writing about the new Marxism over taking the Western world. It would seem we are living in a pacifist dream.

  2. Fr. Johannes Jacobse :

    The defeat of Communism was a Christian revolution of the first order and confirms how the power of a word spoken in truth (the prophetic character of the Gospel) works to overthrow the principalities and powers of this world. Solzhenitsyn provided the moral clarity needed see Communism for what is was: Godless and thus inhumane, capable of brutality on a scale that dwarfs the efforts of any tyrant earlier in history. In short order the “Gulag” series decimated the Marxist intellectual establishment in Europe and moral renewal became possible.

    Then, soon after, rose Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher. All three had a native understanding of the deep inhumanity at the center of the materialist myth, the deepest repugnance at the brutality it unleashed, and the courage to fight its defenders to the last man. Perhaps most important was that each of these leaders knew the struggle was primarily a moral one which explains that despite great opposition they persevered — and won.

    We witnessed a bloodless revolution that freed half of Europe. World War II ended the day the Berlin Wall fell. I was in seminary at the time and remember that I wished I was a wealthy man so I could fly to Berlin and see this end first-hand.

    The moral courage Pope John Paul gave to the Poles will be seen by history as the turning point of the Communist regime, the day that the foundation started to crumble. “Be not afraid!” he exhorted his countrymen. They listened and in the face of this courage the corrupt began to flee. He was a great man.

    But so too Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. I’m privileged to have as a friend one of Ronald Reagan’s advisers. He tells me stories and the one that impressed me was what Reagan did after losing Iowa. After Reagan’s loss, when it looked like his campaign lay in ruin, he pulled his closest confidants together and promised them that if he won, his highest priority would be to free the people of Eastern Europe. “Were they on board?” he asked them. To a man they said yes.

    You see, they too read Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn’s words shaped, framed, and informed their native sense of obligation to their fellow man in a way that great good could be done. And they accomplished the great good.

    Much of this history is still clouded in the press of everyday events. When the dust settles and historians go about the business of making sense of the last four decades, the defeat of Communism will be seen as the great moral victory that it was.

    As for grad school students and professors, the joke is that the only place you find a committed Marxist today is in an American university. Only the coddled still believe the myth.

  3. cynthia curran :

    Well, I think a some group of anabaptists introduce the modern world to communistism when they seized control of a German Town. Also, there was a communist movement I believe back in the Perisan Empire. Communists is popular when economic condition weaking, hence my fear of a long rescession now in this country which is more urban and has a modern welfare state.

  4. Nancy Forderhase :

    He was an amazing man and eloquent spokesman who spoke of the horrors of totalitarianism. I know people (a former student of mine) whose lives were changed because of his writings. He moved beyond the facile assumptions of most Americans about the nature of the Soviet union. Unfortunately, many Americans still have not grasped the significance of the left in politics, and treat them as a benign influence in the world. How do we brush aside the horrors of the Soviet Union and the atrocities in other communist countries. Seems easy for academics to do and to repeat the same cliches they learned in graduate school. Sorry for the rant.


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