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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Exile, Artist, Prophet

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Exile, Artist, Prophet


You’ve probably heard of the “Gulag” before, that Soviet agency whose labor camps were responsible for the oppression and death of millions during communism’s reign.

It’s less likely that you’ve heard of the man who introduced the West to the terrors of the Gulag: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Born in 1918, Solzhenitsyn enthusiastically supported Marxism and the Soviet Union as a teenager and young adult. While serving in the Soviet Red Army in World War II, he began corresponding with a friend about mismanagement of the war, and in 1945 Solzhenitsyn was arrested for writing a letter in which he cryptically criticized Joseph Stalin. From 1945 to 1953 he was a political prisoner. During this time Solzhenitsyn rejected Marxism and, most important, converted to Christianity.

Following his imprisonment, Solzhenitsyn embarked on a prolific literary journey. He wrote novels and short stories, poems and memoirs, works of political analysis and historical scholarship. Published in 1962, his novella One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was revolutionary: the first published depiction of Stalinist oppression and Soviet prison life. In 1970 Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. Then, in 1973, his landmark book The Gulag Archipelago was published in the West, offering an eyewitness narrative of the expansive and dehumanizing Soviet prison-camp system.

With the collapse of Soviet communism, it might seem tempting to regard Solzhenitsyn as a figure of a bygone age whose warnings have little relevance to our world. This couldn’t be further from the truth. He wrote on man’s ­capacity for both good and evil, on the stifling power of the omnicompetent state on human flourishing, and on the dangers confronting an increasingly secular West. He charges all of us who care about preserving ordered liberty and Western principles to restore the moral fabric of civilization.

Here are just a few examples of Solzhenitsyn’s timeless wisdom.


Materialism and the Soul

The human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced as by a calling card by the revolting invasion of commercial advertising, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.

—“A World Split Apart,” commencement address delivered at Harvard University, June 8, 1978


God and Economics

Untouched by the breath of God, unrestricted by human conscience, both capitalism and socialism are repulsive.

—Interview with Joseph Pearce, 2003



On Good and Evil

If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

—The Gulag Archipelago


Nihilism: The Root of Atrocity

If I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

—Interview with Joseph Pearce, 2003


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