History, Politics, recent, Russia, World Affairs

Solzhenitsyn: The Fall of a Prophet

The 100th anniversary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth on December 11 was an occasion for many tributes. A decade after his death, Solzhenitsyn remains one of the past century’s towering figures in both literature and public life. His role in exposing the crimes of the Soviet regime is a historic achievement the magnitude of which can hardly be overstated. But his legacy also continues to be the subject of intense debate among people who share his loathing of that regime—and those controversies, which have to do with freedom, traditional morality, and nationalism, are strikingly relevant to our current moment.

Solzhenitsyn was once my childhood hero. Growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1970s, in a family of closet dissidents, I knew him as the man who defied the system and told the truth about its atrocities—the man idolized by my parents, especially my father, himself the son of gulag survivors. I was eleven when Solzhenitsyn was arrested and expelled from the Soviet Union; our Stalinist political instructor at school bellowed that he should have been shot as a traitor. A year or two later I heard excerpts from The Gulag Archipelago on foreign radio broadcasts; then, the coveted book appeared for a short while in our home.

Later, after my family emigrated to the United States in 1980, Solzhenitsyn’s heroic halo gradually began to lose its luster in our eyes. We were hardly alone; as the years went by, many of his erstwhile admirers came to believe, with bitter disappointment, that Solzhenitsyn could no longer be seen as a champion of freedom and justice.

None of that lessens what Solzhenitsyn accomplished. One of millions who survived the infernal machine of Stalin-era “correctional labor camps,” he turned that ordeal into literature. His short novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich appeared in the Soviet magazine Novy Mir in 1962, its publication greenlit thanks to Nikita Khrushchev’s push for de-Stalinization. Its effects, both at home and abroad, were explosive: while Stalin’s Great Terror had been discussed before, its victims had never been so powerfully brought to life.

But Solzhenitsyn was just getting started. Changing tides in the Kremlin, where Khrushchev was deposed and the new leadership under Leonid Brezhnev was quick to slam the brakes on liberalization, cut off all avenues for publication at home. Finding a platform abroad, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 “for the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature.” That was three years before the appearance of the masterwork forever associated with his name, the nonfiction epic The Gulag Archipelago, based in large part on the thousands of letters to Solzhenitsyn and to Novy Mir with first-person accounts by former prisoners. The gulag—the name of the Soviet agency in charge of the camps, an abbreviation for “chief administration of correctional labor camps”—became internationally known as a symbol of totalitarian evil.

Solzhenitsyn not only denounced the ghost of Stalinism; he also made a compelling case that the evil was in communist ideology itself and that Stalinism was merely the logical conclusion of Leninism, which treated human beings as material for social engineering.

In exile, Solzhenitsyn turned to harsh criticism of the West, not just for failing to stand up to the Soviet regime and fully confront its malevolence but for the sins of excessive materialism, personal and sexual liberation, and irreligion. Increasingly, his polemical zeal was also directed at ex-Soviet dissidents who were to his left ideologically—a few Marxists of the “Soviet socialism isn’t real socialism” variety, but mostly advocates of Western-style liberal democracy and markets who criticized not only communism but pre-communist Russia’s authoritarian traditions. Their dispute culminated in Solzhenitsyn’s 1983 essay “Our Pluralists,” which blasted his opponents as arrogant Russia-haters fixated on pluralism as “the supreme good.” To Solzhenitsyn, the worship of pluralism inevitably led to moral relativism and loss of universal values, which he believed had “paralyzed” the West. He also warned that if the communist regime in Russia were to fall, the “pluralists” would rise, and “their thousand-fold clamor will not be about the people’s needs … not about the responsibilities and obligations of each person, but about rights, rights, rights”—a scenario that, in his view, could result only in another national collapse.

The essay went virtually unnoticed by American and European audiences but drew strong reactions in Russian émigré intellectual circles. A 1985 rejoinder by writer and former political prisoner Andrei Sinyavsky assailed Solzhenitsyn for positioning himself as a prophet of “God’s truth” and trying to replace one form of groupthink with another. (Sinyavsky also pointed out that the supremacy of obligations over rights was classic Soviet rhetoric.) An even more scathing letter from dissident Lev Kopelev, once a close friend of Solzhenitsyn’s—sent only to a few people besides Solzhenitsyn himself and not made public until 1993, several years after Kopelev’s death—lambasted Solzhenitsyn as a “true Bolshevik” of a different stripe.

The following year, Solzhenitsyn’s war with the “pluralists” made him the target of a savage satire by another ex-Soviet writer forced out of the country for defying the regime, Vladimir Voinovich. Voinovich’s 1986 novel Moscow 2042 featured an easily recognizable Solzhenitsyn alter ego—the exiled writer Sim Karnavalov, a reactionary Slavophile with messianic pretentions who takes daily practice rides on a white horse to rehearse his return to Russia as the nation’s savior. That dream comes true at the end of the novel, when Karnavalov gets himself crowned Tsar and sets out to make Russia medieval again, issuing decrees that mandate floggings and forbid men to shave.

When Moscow 2042 was published, few could imagine that Solzhenitsyn’s actual return to Russia (sans white horse) would take place less than a decade later. But change was coming. Solzhenitsyn’s Soviet citizenship was restored in 1990, at the same time that his pamphlet, How We Should Rebuild Russia, was published as a special supplement to two major newspapers, the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda and the weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta. Four years later, Solzhenitsyn returned to а post-Soviet Russia, where he lived the rest of his days.

The final act of Solzhenitsyn’s life could be viewed as an impossible, miraculous triumph of good over evil (which is how Jordan Peterson sees it in his foreword to the new abridged Penguin edition of The Gulag Archipelago). The once-reviled exile was welcomed back to Russia with high honors; he and his wife settled in a country house near Moscow next to homes once occupied by members of the Soviet Politburo. He established an annual literary award, the $25,000 Solzhenitsyn Prize (financed with royalties from sales of The Gulag Archipelago). After his death in 2008, a major street in Moscow—previously Big Communist Street—was renamed Solzhenitsyn Street, circumventing a law under which recipients of such honors must be deceased for at least a decade. (Nearby Communist Lane has kept its name, creating the cosmic irony of a corner of Solzhenitsyn Street and Communist Lane.)  Two years later, an abridged version of The Gulag Archipelago was added to the national school curriculum. For the centennial, a monument to Solzhenitsyn was unveiled in downtown Moscow, and an opera adaptation of A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich opened at the Bolshoi Theater.

And yet, in too many ways, it was a triumph that wasn’t. By the time Solzhenitsyn came back to Russia three years after the fall of communism, most of the Russian public reacted with a shrug. His final novel, the latest installment in the “Red Wheel” multivolume epic that was supposed to cover the entire history of the Russian revolution but reached only up to April 1917, was a flop. So was the prime-time biweekly talk show he got on Moscow television in the fall of 1994, which started out as conversations with guests but later shifted to one-man monologues; it was canceled about a year later due to low ratings. Solzhenitsyn’s 1998 book Russia in Collapse, a collection of essays on public affairs, sold about 2,000 copies. His funeral was attended by then-President Dmitry Medvedev; but only a few hundred people came to pay their respects.

No less importantly, it’s unclear whether the Russian establishment’s embrace of The Gulag Archipelago as school reading has done anything to boost the historical memory of communism’s crimes in Russia. Writing for Novaya Gazeta, one of Russia’s few surviving independent newspapers, journalist Sergei Baimukhametov notes that few high school students actually read Solzhenitsyn, assigned in their final year when they are focused on studying for college entrance exams. In a recent poll, nearly half of Russians aged 18 to 24 said they had never heard of Stalin-era repressions.

*     *     *

In 2018, Solzhenitsyn’s hostility toward Western-style democracy and secular universalist liberalism may find much broader resonance than it did in his twilight years. When Solzhenitsyn asserted in a 2006 interview with Moscow News that “present-day Western democracy is in a grave crisis,” that statement could be easily dismissed as a maverick’s wishful fantasy. Today, it sounds startlingly prescient. In an age when nationalist/populist movements are on the rise in Europe and the Americas and the liberal project is increasingly seen as outdated, Solzhenitsyn might be seen as a man ahead of his time.

But one could also make a compelling argument for the opposite: that Solzhenitsyn’s life and career are a case study in the perils of choosing the path of nationalism and anti-liberalism, a path that ultimately led him to some dark places.

For a start, Solzhenitsyn’s focus on national and ethnic identity has led to persistent and troubling questions about a streak of prejudice in his work, including antisemitism. This accusation, which has caused fierce controversy over the years, goes back to Gulag Archipelago passages that selectively stressed the Jewish names of some camp administrators. It was further fueled by the expanded 1985 edition of the historical novel August 1914, in which the assassin of Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin, Dmitry Bogrov—an anarchist from a family of converted Jews—was portrayed, with no factual basis, as a Russia-hating Jewish avenger. Solzhenitsyn’s two-volume history of the Jews in Russia, Two Hundred Years Together, published in 2001 and 2003 and undertaken in part to defuse the accusations, did little to help. In a 2002 essay in the magazine Russkiy Zhurnal (Russian Journal), Natalia Ivanova, a non-Jewish critic who defended Solzhenitsyn against some attacks she considered unfair, nonetheless caustically wrote that in his account of history, “the foolish Russians have spent two hundred years trying to talk sense to [the Jews], to free them, and to help them in every way, for which the Jews have always paid back with black ingratitude and treachery.”

Solzhenitsyn always indignantly denied the charge of bigotry, and it should be noted that his defense has been taken up by prominent Jewish figures including the late human rights activist Elie Wiesel and former Soviet dissident Nathan Sharansky. Yet the defenses sometimes sound more like strained apologetics: Solzhenitsyn is not antisemitic, he simply shows “insensitivity … to Jewish suffering” (Wiesel) or “resents the intrusion of foreign influences into Russian life” (Harvard historian Adam Ulam). In a Front Page Magazine symposium on Solzhenitsyn’s passing, Sharansky regretfully acknowledged that in Two Hundred Years Together, Solzhenitsyn often minimizes or even excuses the oppression and persecution of Jews in Tsarist Russia—but asserted that this tendency stems from being “biased in favor of Russia,” not against Jews.

I have written more extensively elsewhere on the question of Solzhenitsyn and antisemitism. But some of Solzhenitsyn’s comments about other groups are equally troubling. In his 1973 essay, “Repentance and Self-Limitation As Categories of National Life,” he suggested Russians’ moral responsibility for Soviet crimes against Hungary and Latvia was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Hungarian and Latvian nationals were actively involved in the Red Terror after the Russian revolution, while the shame of the ethnic cleansing of Crimean Tatars was lessened by their status as “chips off the Horde,” the Mongol khanate that violently subjugated Russia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. And, while Solzhenitsyn often asserted that his Russian patriotism was grounded in respect for the self-determination of other nations, he was vehemently hostile to Ukrainian and Belarussian independence.

But to many of Solzhenitsyn’s former admirers, his wholehearted embrace of Vladimir Putin and Putin’s neo-authoritarianism in the 2000s was even more dismaying than his views of ethnic conflicts.

After his return to Russia, Solzhenitsyn became a vocal critic of Boris Yeltsin’s presidency. There were, of course, entirely valid reasons to criticize Yeltsin’s often erratic leadership and the state of Russia in the 1990s, when the country was beset by economic hardship and social upheavals (although the criticism should also take into account the unique challenges of the transition from totalitarian communism to a market economy and a civil society, however flawed). But in the next decade, Solzhenitsyn had no harsh words for Putin—not when Putin restored the Soviet anthem with new words and the Soviet red banner as Russia’s military flag; not when he launched an assault on the independent media; not when political prosecutions returned.

Perhaps the most comprehensive expression of Solzhenitsyn’s politics in the final years of his life can be found in a 2006 interview he gave to Vitaly Tretyakov, then editor in chief of the weekly Moskovskiye Novosti (Moscow News). In it, he lashed out at both Mikhail Gorbachev and Yeltsin for discarding “the very concept and consciousness of gosudarstvennost”—a hard-to-translate Russian word that is sometimes rendered as “statism” or “statehood” but actually means something like the political and moral authority of the state—and for making “numerous capitulations and thoughtless concessions in foreign policy.” He praised Putin for reversing those trends with efforts to rescue the authority of the state and conduct a “wiser and more farsighted foreign policy.” While praising democracy via local self-government, he dismissed the idea of multiple parties as an expression of “collective selfishness” with no roots in Russian tradition. He also reiterated his belief that there should be less talk of human rights and more of “human obligations.” And, while assailing the West for seeking to promote “the ideology and forms of modern Western democracy” around the globe, he struck a remarkably conciliatory note toward radical Islam, describing it as an understandable reaction to Western secularism and inequalities of wealth.

In 2007, Solzhenitsyn, who had previously turned down awards from both Gorbachev and Yeltsin, not only accepted a State Award for humanitarian achievement from Putin but received Putin in his home. The coziness between the former chronicler of the gulag and the former KGB officer was jarring to many people. Yet, when asked about this shortly afterward in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, Solzhenitsyn defended his stance, pointing out that Putin had not been “a KGB investigator” of political offenses or “the head of a camp in the gulag” but had served in foreign intelligence, a respected career in other countries: “George Bush Sr. was not much criticized for being the ex-head of the CIA.” (This is, of course, precisely the kind of moral equivalence anti-Communists once lamented.) He made no mention of Putin’s consistent praise for the KGB as an honorable institution; he also pointedly refused to condemn Putin’s comments about the need to stop “masochistic brooding” over the Soviet past.

Solzhenitsyn’s meeting with Vladimir Putin, 2007

Depressingly, the man who exposed the full horror of Stalin’s rule had nothing to say about the creeping rehabilitation of Stalin on Putin’s watch.

According to polling data, the share of Russians who expressed an entirely negative view of Stalin dropped from about 60 percent in 1998 to 22 percent in 2012; in recent years, more than half of Russians have said that Stalin’s role in Russian history was entirely or mostly positive. The Putin regime’s role in this revival has been at best ambivalent. While Stalin’s crimes have been acknowledged (as the praise for Solzhenitsyn indicates), the official line has increasingly emphasized Russia’s past achievements and national greatness, whether under the Tsars or the Communists.

In 2007, а controversy erupted in Russia over a new, officially approved manual for history teachers, The Modern History of Russia: 1945-2006 by Aleksandr Filippov, in which the question of whether Stalin was a bloody tyrant or a highly successful leader was treated as a “both sides” debate. While the textbook acknowledged the “cruel exploitation of the populace” and “several waves of repressions” under Stalin, it also credited his “grandiose” achievements: industrializing the economy, restoring the Russian empire, winning a great war and rebuilding a war-torn country, creating “the world’s best educational system,” advancing science, and conquering unemployment. The repressions and purges were described as a “rational” strategy to force rapid development and create an efficient, loyal “managerial class.”

The author of The Gulag Archipelago stayed silent about this controversy. But he did speak out on some issues. On April 2, 2008, the daily Izvestia ran his short article titled “Pitting Kin Against Kin?”, which denounced the Ukrainian government’s push for the international recognition of the Holodomor, Stalin’s terror-famine of 1932-33, as a genocide of the Ukrainian people. (While Kazakhstan and some regions of Russia were also devastated by the famine, most historians believe Ukrainians were indeed targeted to break their resistance to Soviet rule.) In rhetoric reminiscent of Soviet-era propaganda, Solzhenitsyn thundered that “the provocational outcry about ‘genocide’ was born … in stale chauvinistic minds filled with malice against the ‘moskali,’” a Ukrainian anti-Russian slur.

The Izvestia article drew a shattering rebuke from Solzhenitsyn’s erstwhile ally Father Gleb Yakunin, a dissident priest defrocked by the Russian Orthodox Church under the Soviet regime and then again in post-Soviet years for exposing the collaboration between the church and the KGB.  “For over 40 years, your public statements, your heroism and your talent were a revelation and inspiration to me and my peers,” wrote Yakunin in an open letter. “And now it turns out that you, along with the Duma politicians and the pundits who secretly adore Stalin as an ‘effective manager,’ are essentially covering for Stalinism and for imperial nationalism. … You are attacking the first state in [former Soviet] space to condemn communist genocide. … It is painful to see the fall of a prophet. How did you end up in the ranks of the very people against whom you fought so bravely and selflessly for so many years?”

Solzhenitsyn never responded. “Pitting Kin Against Kin?” turned out to be the last thing he published in his lifetime.

*     *     *

In a centennial tribute to Solzhenitsyn for the City Journal, Catholic scholar and author Daniel Mahoney writes that “how one evaluates Solzhenitsyn tells us much about how one ultimately understands human liberty”—as a gift from God or a product of “irreligious humanism.” But, as Father Yakunin’s example shows, religion is not necessarily the dividing line. In the 2008 Front Page symposium on Solzhenitsyn, his harshest critic was another dissident priest, Father Yakov Krotov, who argued that Solzhenitsyn’s role in bringing about the fall of the Soviet Union had been exaggerated and that Solzhenitsyn rejected the evil of communism only to endorse “the evil of anti-humanism, militarism, [and] expansionism.” Other participants, conservative and liberal, argued that Solzhenitsyn’s contribution to the dismantling of totalitarian communism was paramount; moderator Jamie Glazov quoted French philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, who wrote that the publication of The Gulag Archipelago caused “a worldwide earthquake” and that “[t]he Communist dream dissolved in the furnace of a book.”

Just how enduring Solzhenitsyn’s legacy will be, only time can tell—though any fair-minded observer would have to agree that this legacy is tainted by his support for Russia’s new authoritarianism and his failure to condemn neo-Stalinism. While Solzhenitsyn’s conservative nationalism is more current today than it was in 2008, it is also true that the defeat of the communist dream does not seem nearly as final now as it did then. Could it be that, in an era when anti-liberal movements are surging on both the Right and the Left, Solzhenitsyn’s journey should be seen primarily as a cautionary tale?


Cathy Young is a Russian-born American journalist and author. She is a columnist for Newsday and a contributing editor for Reason magazine and ArcDigital. Her work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the Weekly Standard, Foreign Policy, and Slate. You can follow her on Twitter 


    • Scroto Baggins says

      Blimey this was dumb.

      “Troubling” my black ass.

    • Ivan Leonov says

      “Can’t wait to hear Peterson’s bloody response.”
      LOL ))))
      I have a lot of respect for Peterson, but the way he practically idolizes Solzhenitsyn is disturbing. To many, Solzhenitsyn seems like the nation’s conscience, the pinnacle of honesty and integrity – but evidence shows that it was largely a public role he played. His contribution to the anti-Soviet struggle notwithstanding, he was all too human – prideful and at times dishonest.

      • @Ivan Leonov. I don’t understand what you’re saying. He was human, so therefore his books are tainted and to admire him is ‘disturbing’? Please explain. So what are your metrics then? If not the worth and value of the work itself, then what? But if the artist or philosopher is human, then all work is going to be ‘disturbing.’ Where do you then draw your line? And how do you know what goes on in a person’s heart or mind or life? Who are you to judge?

  1. codadmin says

    if the West wasn’t in decline, it would be easy to dismiss him. But, he was right..

    It’s no wonder he held the positions he did. Nationalism is a normal position to take,

    • JackBeThimble says

      No western country is declining half as fast as russia is my friend.

      • @JackBeThimble Where is your evidence of this? You sound like a typical mindless Russia basher.

    • scribblerg says

      Indeed. We too have been forced into a pluralism that has destroyed and already polyglot American identity. Solzhenitsyn was also reflecting a Russian history this author seems to have chosen to ignore or perhaps hasn’t focused on? Russia was never on the same socio-political track as the West. It had no feudal times – hugely important in the development of Western nations. The Tsar owned everything. They had no Enlightenment, and the Orhodox Church was a different shard from Catholocism and Proestantism.

      Why then should the presumption of the superiority of classical liberal order be imposed on Solzhenitsyn’s analysis and ideas? The Russians do not share the U.S.’s political or social values.

      I also find the characterization of the Putin regime as “Neo-Stalinist” absurd. As one who’s read deeply on Putin and Stalin, all I can say is that in terms of bloodshed, there is no comparison. Yes, Putin is a political thug – Stalin was a mass murderer and torturer and oppressor on a scale simply orders of magnitude larger and more evil. I guess that’s what the “cool kids” in Russia are doing now. In the West Naioinalists are called Nazis, so sure, why not call Putin “Neo-Stalin”?

      Author completely lost me with that smear. As for Solzhenitsyn – I read him when I was 11, in like 1973. It forever shaped how I saw the Cold War and East-West conflict. It was a beautiful and terrible, awe-inspiring work of love and sweat and tears and blood. It changed the world. This author? Who is she? Some second tier “journalist” working for libertarians and leftist whackjobs at Reason and Newsday. Some creds…Lol.

      The entire article was so “try-hard”, like Ms. Young so badly wants to be taken seriously. But in the end she’s got a lot of “one the one hand, but on the other” and injects her clear biases on trivial matters compared to Solzhenitsyn’s greatness. Oh well, he was impolitic about Jews. He was right about Yeltsin and probably backed Putin in the breech. These aspects are noise compared to his impact on world communism and the Soviet Empire. One is trivial, the other earth shattering…

      • I agree with your assessment of this article. I’ve been working on my undergraduate thesis in history for a little over 6 months now and have been focusing on Stalinist ideology in historiographical writings. The sheer extent to which the Soviet state was able to control and influence the educational system, academia, and public culture is unmatched by any state before or since except maybe the Nazis and even the Nazis were much less effective because of how short-lived their regime was. Stalin ran the USSR by his model in earnest after 1928 and until 1953. By the time of his death, an entire generation of Soviet adults had known nothing but Stalinism. To compare the current Russian government to the Stalinist one is a historical faux-pas bordering on lunacy. Sure, Putin likes to play strong man and pose for photographs, but he has no state ideology or slave camp system. He’s an ex-bureaucrat thug with the personality of a wet noodle running a country which didn’t have a coherent national identity until the Stalin era imposed one on it.

        And the article’s whole revulsion to nationalism is odd. I subscribe to Benedict Anderson’s articulation of nationalism as an analytical framework for articulating the way in which modern nation-states and the communities that inhabit them, derive their legitimacy. Nationalism in Europe is a nineteenth century concept strongly tied to the development of liberal-democracies. I’d argue that without the concept of a nation, you can’t have a democratic system of government: if you read Schmitt or Kantorowicz, you know that medieval and early-modern European states derived their legitimacy through a complex political theology that invoked dividing the King’s role into the political and material. The King’s body politic was divine and as a result granted him and his successors sovereignty; the ability to create and enforce a social contract and exert power when such a social contract failed. Wrestling power out of the hands of monarchs required replacing the old concept of sovereignty with a new one derived from a broader public community. Hence, liberalism, but that that community was articulated as the nation. Nationalism isn’t as much an ideological stance as it is a framework for articulating the ultimate popular sovereignty of the nation as a replacement for the divine sovereignty of kings. In the contemporary west, we tend to equate nationalism with authoritarianism and fascism, which is disingenuous. Marxism was supposed to facilitate the replacement of the nation as the unit of sovereignty with the global working class and was post-nationalist in principle. Whether our contemporary revulsion to the label “nationalist” is a result of successful left wing agitprop against the term or a concerted effort by the Europeans to integrate into a post-national entity and Americans’ lack of need to ever have articulated this concept (because the country was founded on it) is a question I can’t answer.

        With regards to Solzhenitsyn’s brand of Russian “chauvinism”, he was appealing to a mystic tradition in Russia that long predates the formation of Russian national identity in the Stalin years and he was anti-materialist because dialectical materialism was the philosophy of the Soviet government. Paralleling contemporary capitalist ideology to the materialism of the Marxists is not an entirely futile enterprise, especially in the late 1970s and 80s when the free-market was hailed as the materialist panacea for all of our social and economic woes. Markets are the most efficient system of economic exchange, but that does not make them perfect or something that can fulfil cultural and social needs that require a strong sense of community. The Thatcherites, Reaganites and neo-liberals focused too much on economics to entrench a lasting sense of community in those years and although Marxist materialism failed spectacularly, capitalist materialism did not “end history” or cement itself as the ideal system for all societies on Earth. The upsurge of Islamism in parts of the Middle East that had once been on a path towards liberalization is enough an indicator of that.

        • scribblerg says

          So interesting, thanks for the thoughtful reply. A few comments, in no particular order:

          – Didn’t the Tsar impose a single national identity and culture? Did not Muscovy dominate? While I agree, the nation state as a political entity was different pre-classical liberalism and the post-Westphalian order, but there still were nation-states. Yes?

          – Are you finding that the feudal periods in the West was important in developing towards the rule of law and distribution of royal power? Fyi, I’m not a historian, so I’m curious here. I’m starting to believe that feudalism was much more crucial in the development of modernity than I realized.

          – Stalinism – It was terrifying and unprecedented in scope, although I’d have to say that the Chinese seem to be perfecting it and doing so with technology now. But the omnipresent, vicious and violent state was an ever-present reality. Putin is better seen as the head of a vast, corrupt oligarchy that is comprised of a military or mafia style hierarchy staffed by folks from the police state. Whether KGB or others, 70% or more of Russian govt officials, elected and others, are part of this network. Putin controls it, and every layer gets a cut of the action, including him.

          That’s what feels so vile about Putin. And yes, he is unafraid to use the levers of political power from the dark side, and is accustomed to it. He was essentially the banker of the KGB and in post Soviet Russia, he built that network up out of those people. But what many people forget is that at the time, he was also seen as fighting against criminals and Russian organized crime, gangsters who were looting the country. Putin looted it differently, and wasn’t a gangster. He also understood just how dazed and confused Russian society was post Soviet Union. He has created a new nationalist vision, and one that is a bit imperial but still, the Russians needed something.

          He also demonizes and hates the U.S. and the West. He uses us to distract his people. But even then, many Americans seem to not get that we were the provocateurs in Georgia and the Ukraine. Anyone who believed that Russia would let all of the Ukraine go into the EU or NATO was just kidding themselves. The part of Ukraine that left is largely Russian ethnically and speak the language as their native tongue. Putin has pleny of bad things to demonize him about, but in these areas he’s not being seen evenhandedly at all by Western press.

          He does jail his opponents politically and has had journalists and others killed for political reasons. He’s not a morally good man nor is his regime morally clean. But there is more than meets the eye, and Americans would do well to do some deeper thinking about Russia. I’m not sure why we need to keep helping them make us the big bad enemy, but I think we could do something different with them over time if we tried. How many global enemies do we need?

          • “I lived among the Russian people for half a century and over the course of that time I never saw or heard even once any manifestation or expression of this notion of patriotism within the great breadth of the true Russian people… I frequently heard the most serious and respectable men from among the people express the most utter indifference or even contempt for every kind of patriotism.” – Tolstoy

            The Tsar set about an “official nationality” policy in the 1830s, but it never caught hold amongst the Russian population. Only the intelligentsia and nobility bought into it at all. The Soviets essentially had to force the creation of a national identity onto the Russian populace and much effort was made by Stalin to direct and control the writings of academic historians who, along with AGITPROP, were the main channels for creating a coherent national narrative.

            As far as Putin goes, I have no need to make apologies for him, but I’m tired of our press going out of its way to make a totalitarian boogeyman out of what is really just a crook.

          • Наталья Чудова says

            You are wrong about Putin not being a gangster: indeed, he is, and there is little daylight between criminal psychology of an ordinary bandit and of a KGB operative. The latter are worse having the whole force of state to cover their crimes, which makes them completely amoral and corrupt. Otherwise, no real difference. And, of course, Putin is a Stalinist, he just lives in the time when Stalinism is not anymore possible, so he cannot restore it to its former glory. He is simply an impotent seeing himself in his wet dreams as an alpha-male.

  2. Grant says

    There’s no doubt that Solzhenitsyn contributed greatly to the fall of the Soviet Union. He likely inspired greater player like Reagan and Pope John Paul II. Solzhenitsyn’s nationalism seems a bit ironic in hindsight as Poland was the heart of the revolution, and a Polish pope, backed by a very plain talking American president, was the spark. The failure of the Soviet Union to violently quell uprisings in Poland, was its downfall.
    I spent the summer of 84 in Poland and Romania and all I heard about was Reagan and John Paul and never about Chernenko. Russians were considered occupiers and outsiders.
    Like many men who changed history their contributions where focused and timely, but most were ineffective or anachronistic very shortly after those changes. Solzhenitsyn was one of these people, and his work and it’s effect on history, must be venerated.

    • Lydia says

      I agree with you about Poland. I was drawn to snippets in news about their struggle in high school and read all I could throughout college when Reagan was elected. We would call them nationalists or populist, today.

      Later, I realized when it came to Russia they have no history or experience with the concept of, “self government” and look to the powerful whether church or govt. America is unique in this respect because our Gov was an ocean away and personal independenceand self reliance a necessity. We had experience with it.

      What bothers me about this piece is the idea we can’t appreciate historical figures for their efforts that are good. Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus. John Adams signed the Alien Sedition Act. Both horrorible mistakes that should be analyzed by context. Many were fooled by Putin.

  3. augustine says

    Thank you for a fascinating article. The arguments over “the supremacy of obligations over rights” seem to strongly correlate with conservative vs. liberal ideas pertaining to the individual in society. Reflecting on this, it seems that history shows that while our “rights” swing wildly from era to era and from place to place, our obligations remain constant. Perhaps Solzhenitsyn believed that an emphasis on obligations over rights would always serve people well, however far they were removed from freedom in life or however great their suffering.

    • Stephanie says

      @augustine, great point. It seems to me that a functional society pays for their rights with obligations. Rights without responsibility leads to entitlement, obligation without rights leads to tyranny.

      Something I tell my Aboriginal friends is that if they want independence and statehood, they should follow Israel’s example and take on as much responsibility for themselves as they can. Build their own society, provide each other with services (police, charity, housing, ect) independent of the government, and from that recognition as their own state, and the rights will naturally follow.

      • Evander says


        Are you referring to Australian Aborigines? The establishment of a black state would be the worst political development in the history of our continent. Leftwing protest on behalf of Aborigines before the 1960s focused on equal treatment; Jack Patten and the Aborigines’ Progressive Association wanted the barriers between white and black society torn down. Post 1960’s the agenda has been predominantly separatist and bad, bad, bad.

        The idea of a black state in Oz is a racist, parasitic, culturally hypocritical, economically unviable pipe-dream that would do deep damage to my country.

        • Stephanie says

          @Evander, I meant for Aboriginal people across the world, but I’m fully aware that as is they would do a very poor job of accomplishing that goal. I am new to Oz, but the state of Aboriginal society is not substantially different from that in Canada, and in both cases some decades of nation-building is required before they can realistically build themselves up to nationhood, but what is the alternative? Surely western civilization throwing money at them is not effective, or leads to the desirable solution? And they reject assimilation.

          I’d be eager to hear what you think the alternative might be.

          • Evander says

            The Australian blacks differ from all other primitive cultures at the time of first contact with the Europeans in that they had zero cultural exchange with foreigners of any stripe pre-settlement. The Neolithic revolution never made it to our shores – due to radical geological isolation – before the British, who arrived steeped in civilisation. Hence, the unprecedented mismatch in religion, technology, values, social practices and not least importantly in immune systems. Living together has been tricky from the start.

            Most blacks have voted with their feet in heading for the capital cities for work and all the comforts of modern society, integrating well. But for trad Abbos, some ideas include:

            1) get honest with the past. Left wing historians since Reynolds in the 70’s have pumped out so much bs. Mistreatment has been highlighted and everyone is aware of black struggle for equality and a fair go. That said, the Brits did a magnificent job in innumerable ways. A more positive, empowering and unifying narrative needs to be advanced; a centrist one.

            2) zero tolerance of heinous crime. The stories coming out of Alice Springs are horrific. Cultural relativism has been given a go and it sucks. Police need to get stuck in there. Grog and porn needs to be banned / strongly curtailed. Legal cultural customs are obviously fine, but we have one Common law.

            3) create economic opportunities. Twiggy Forest gave the blacks mining jobs. Make minerals great again, contra green narrative – everyone wins. Tourism is another biggie up in Qld. More pathways.

            4) encourage trad blacks to join mainstream society, but help them carve out space for trad elements. Don’t know exactly what this looks like but the zero-sum arrangement isn’t a good one.

            5) support Christian mission. This is the best thing for all society everywhere, but it radically transforms completely dissolute communities. I travelled around the outback in 2010 visiting missionaries in black communities. The only time I saw an Aboriginal man affectionately hug a child was in a church run by Aborigines. They preached against social ills and were taking responsibility for themselves. The Gospel transforms lives.

          • That’s funny Stephanie, in the NL it’s the other way round. The Dutch are the Aboriginals (more than 2000 yrs already in same territory, though with small imports, that uptil now quickly intermarried and assimilated) and the problematic groups are the new immigrants, with their own roots, religion, dress, food habits and morals. It doesn’t look they will assimilate quickly, it looks like they even go back to their own roots. Our government doesn,t know well what to do with all this. The last upheavals: we are criticizing the supermarkets for presenting in their expensive X-mas ads only white and Dutch speaking Dutch on their Christmas tables. Without even asking the new immigrants what they themselves would prefer, because, that’s not the issue, it’s all on the ideals (of journalists, intellectuals and others) of an equal citizenship(in rights and plights). I fear, the future will turn out differently. Same challenge in Putin’s Russia, like Stalin he likes to see all minorities (Caucasus and elsewhwere) to fuse and assimilate into one new superior culture, the new Russian. Not precisely what new guru Alexandr Dugin is after (kind of lookalike of Solzjenitzyn), though they both are more or less pan-slavists.

  4. M. D. says

    “Could it be that… Solzhenitsyn’s journey should be seen primarily as a cautionary tale?”
    People get old and out of touch. Senile, demented, straight up slowing-down of the mind. It’s easy to shit on the elderly and easier still to do it to the dead.
    Cathy, I have to ask, what was the point of this article? It is well researched and well written. Other than the needlessly evocative title and that clarion call of anti-semitism (oy vey! shut it down!) it also seems pretty balanced. Is it an expose of the controversies that affected Solzhenitsyn in his lifetime? Because it looks to me like the culture of critique striking again – attack the individual who dared express them as a means to attack the ideas, rather than attacking the ideas through discourse.
    Just my two cents, I’m not a literary or writing figure by any means. Thanks for the article.

    • Tome708 says

      Thanks MD. Ok with a critical article but why does every critique have to include “racist” “bigot” “anti Semite” “mysoginist” etc etc. It does not add credibility. Defeat ideas with better ideas. We all can be guilty of having wrong ideas without necessarily having some form of “hate” in the heart.

  5. For people, thinking that Solzjehitsyn is anti communist: he adored Marx and praised his lively and apt description of the poverty and suffering of the British working class. The problem is: the communist dream runs parallel (though with different taints) of the pan-slavic dream, the one of Putin, but also of many Russian intellectuals (the ones that stayed at home, so Cathy and Ayn fall off) and orthodox clerics.

    • Evander says

      Adored Marx the historical materialist? Solzhenitsyn slammed the Soviet and Liberal systems because of their atheistic anthropologies; one treats you as a malleable object for the greater good, the other sees you primarily as a consumer fulfilled through spending to satisfy impulses. Man is a spiritual creature as well – that was the point of his Harvard address.

      • I checked it again Evander, the right term Solzjenitzyn used was “eloquently described the poverty and suffering”, so, not the romantic and novelist style of Dickens, but, most likely, same compassion and christian emotions.

    • grrr says

      “Marx and praised his lively and apt description of the poverty and suffering of the British working class.” And he was correct. It was lovely and apt description. The problem with Marx-ism and Communism in general is not a description of than contemporary conditions. It was in their proposed ways to change those conditions. Just read “The communist manifesto”. Its “interpolating” part does reflects reality while their “extrapolating” part is cartoonish and manifestly wrong.

  6. Joaquim C says

    ”A decade after his death, Solzhenitsyn remains one of the past century’s towering figures in both literature and public life. His role in exposing the crimes of the Soviet regime is a historic achievement the magnitude of which can hardly be overstated.”

    So why you say ”remains”?

  7. Alphonse Credenza says

    Well done, worthwhile reading. Now, please, Robert Conquest.

  8. Martin28 says

    Thank you. It’s such a relief to get a balanced, well-researched and well written article on an important figure. That’s so hard to find these days in the pretentious media. I like to see Quillette publish articles like this, in addition to the polemical content. If I am to admire Solzhenitsyn, and I do, I must be aware of the other side.

    • I thoroughly agree. Please, O editors of Quillette, publish more thoughtful in-depth articles like this one.

  9. Ben C says

    Interesting and thoughtful take. A few thoughts:
    – his views on liberty and human rights can be useful as a balance. It’s hard to argue that his criticisms of the west were not apt, and only magnified themselves after the collapse of the USSR. That’s not to say his views and solutions were completely right, but we do need to rebalance how we view rights vs obligations in the west, as we do have a outsized focus on one and not the other. Virtue is required to maintain a free society, and virtue places obligations on people. So I see Solzhenitsyn’s criticisms and solutions (partially) as a way to maintain liberty, although I’m sure he’d disagree on the end state.

    – his support of Putin needs to be put in context. There can be a habit of seeing Putin of 2007 as the Putin of 2018. Although there was the beginnings of disturbing trend lines, Putin was not as dictatorial as he is now. That’s not to whitewash Solzhenitsyn’s support, which was wrong, but to better put it in context. Mind you some things can’t be clarified with context, such as his disregarding and whitewashing of Putin’s career in the KGB.

    • Charlie says

      You are ignoring basic realities. If you bright and fit you were offered a job in the KGB , those who refused became dissidents and ended up in the Gulag.

  10. Aylwin says

    Fascinating. Thanks.

    I’d suggest that this tale is a cautionary one about idolatry and idealism over inevitably messy reality. Solzhenitsyn seems to have been a heroic individual in his efforts against a tyranny. But to then assume the rest of his thinking would stand up as exemplary is to fall into the same trap that gave rise to communism, Marxism, and Stalinism. What matters is the relentless back and forth of argument between intellectually honest and open minded masses – not slavish adherence to an idea, a myth, a movement, a cult figure, etc. The trouble is, it is too easy to get credence points by dropping a name, or stating affiliation with an -ism, a faith, or a movement, rather than making a well founded argument or living an exemplary life.

  11. A. D. White says

    Men are known as “great” because of the impact they have made on life in the world, not necessarily because they were moral or immoral giants. Napoleon was a great man as was Ghengis Kahn and Churchill and Hitler and Stalin. But some were also entirely evil in their greatness. Stalin and Hitler and a few others fall into that category.

  12. Simon Newman says

    I agree it is ironic that ‘Great Russia’ nationalists should embrace Stalin, a Georgian anti-nationalist who murdered millions of Russians. It’s not clear that Solzhenitsyn actually did this, but clearly he had good relations with those who do.

    • Not any less ironic than anti-Stalin critics who argue that he wasn’t a “real socialist” precisely because his typical “Russian nationalist/imperialist” ambitions and anti-semitism.

  13. Stephanie says

    Fantastic article. I only heard of Solzhenitsyn recently from Jordan Peterson, so I really appreciate the context and discussion of his place in the world after Gulag Archipelago. This article represents Quillette as it’s best as far as I’m concerned.

    Solzhenitsyn’s criticism of the West certainly seems prescient, but I was SHOCKED that Islam wasn’t the epicenter of his concerns on pluralism. Likelihood of communist infiltration aside, Chinese immigrants do great in Western countries. So do most other (legal) immigrants. It’s really only those with an ideology incompatible with Western values and even the concept of coexistence that ruin the ideal of a pluralist society with their gang rape, extraordinary criminal rates, and visible symbols of anti-Westernism. If it’s not Islam that’s the problem, than what in Solzhenitsyn’s mind was the problem?

    Without looking at it more closely, I’ll agree with Elie Wiesel. People are a product of their times, and while those opinions are unpalatable today (unless you are on the left, in which case calling Jews termites is a-okay), Russia wasn’t really any more anti-Semitic than other European countries at the time. Solzhenitsyn’s claim that Russia gave Jews lots of chances was incorrect, though, with Jews confined to the Pale of Settlement unless they could pay huge sums of money. That isn’t exactly much of a chance! Not to mentioned state-sanctioned progroms.

    Solzhenitsyn’s reaction to Putin is dismaying, but I can’t say I’m overly surprised. We should have learnt after the Treaty of Versailles gave Germans the legitimate grievances that lead to the National Socialists, we should keep in mind that people do NOT like to be punished for things they didn’t do. After several drinks with Germans, it becomes clear they’re deeply resentful for being made to feel guilty over WWII. I imagine Russians are similarly getting sick of apologizing for Communism, and are itching to reassert some pride as a nation. Who can blame them? NATO and the EU has been encroaching on the traditional Russian sphere of influence in a way that would obviously produce a backlash.

    • Jules Sylver says

      Stephanie: “unless you are on the left, in which case calling Jews termites is a-okay”

      The association lies with the person who made it.

    • DonM says

      The “traditional Russian sphere of interest” was a series of atrocities, as are Russian invasions of Crimea/Ukraine and Georgia.

  14. Jason Cooper says

    “To Solzhenitsyn, the worship of pluralism inevitably led to moral relativism and loss of universal values, which he believed had “paralyzed” the West. He also warned that if the communist regime in Russia were to fall, the “pluralists” would rise, and “their thousand-fold clamor will not be about the people’s needs … not about the responsibilities and obligations of each person, but about rights, rights, rights”—a scenario that, in his view, could result only in another national collapse.”

    Anyone going to suggest that this isn’t happening?

    • Jason Cooper,
      It appears the heart of the criticism is that Solzhenitsyn was unlike the left, that he was not an internationalist utopian. This should not be unexpected, it is not a “but”, rather, it is a natural consequence of his moral clarity on the point of Soviet Totalitarianism. Self determination of peoples must be overridden by oligarchs – as is happening in countries across the western world. It will not unwind well or smoothly or bloodlessly – and once again Solzhenitsyn will prove prophetic.

    • Lydia says

      I was wondering the same. I have no problem with an equal focus on rights/responsibility. The latter is just about lost yet I am required to pay for others “rights” but don’t get a seat at their free speech table. Thinking of universities and the gov from which they are mostly funded!

  15. Solzhenitsyn saw farther than most, and wrote eloquently of what he saw. When he turned his eye on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, he was the darling of the American establishment. When he turned his eyes on the decay of the United States, the American establishment quickly moved on to Sakharov, because he wasn’t so embarrassing. And when he looked at ethnic history in Russia, well, they just rolled their eyes and pulled out all the Slavophile stereotypes to torpedo him.

    Its like its funny to see the other in the mirror in an unflattering way, but when the mirror is turned on us, its not funny, and we insist that is not how we really look. Its too bad he didn’t live long enough to see Social Justice (at least of the non-Stalinist kind). He would really appreciate intersectionality.

    • James Lee says

      Good comment KD. I also want to thank you for turning me onto the evolutionary anthropologist Peter Turchin.

      I read Solzhenitsyn’s commencement speech at Harvard and found it to be extremely prescient. I also agree that Western liberals have a hard time accepting his foresight about their decaying society.

      Patrick Deneen’s book on Why Liberalism Failed is a must read.

  16. Red Allover says

    Contrary to what Ms Young remembers, Solzhenitsyn claimed that the Gulag Archipelago was based on the testimony to him of 227 fellow prisoners whose identities he would someday reveal. However, except for a few prisoners, he never identified any of these persons. As to the thousands of letters received by Novy Mir after the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, these letters, if they existed, have never been made available for scholars to evaluate. The thousands of pages of lurid crimes charged to the Communists in his Gulag books (including the overnight arrest of one-third of the population of Leningrad, which as the pro-Solzhenitsyn New York TIMES admitted, “could not be taken at face value” i.e., was fictional) including the claim that 64 million(!) died in the labor camps–were backed up zero genuine documentation. The man was a fraud in his personal life as well. Upon receiving the Nobel prize and becoming a millionaire from his books, he informed his wife of decades that he had impregnated a 25 year old fan and intended to marry her. When his wife recovered from her suicide try, he divorced her. But the great moralist married wife number two in a Russian Orthodox ceremony! He was a hack writer and a total fraud. . . .

    • Maybe some resemblance with the book and movie PAPILLON, where also the author said that he really lived trhough all those escape and jail stories, until, at the end, had to admit that he just used the events of others. or had cooked things up. Sometimes, things cooked up are more truthful than reality. But, in a jury or jurisdiction, of course, not permitted and even criminal.

  17. Gordon Smith says

    He was flawed with contradictions, limitations and hypocrisy. Just like you and me. So was Gandhi, Mandela, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther.
    Suggestions that this lessons his writing or impact should be dismissed as part of an intellectual malaise.

    • A C Harper says

      Alternatively you could argue that Solzhenitsyn was just a very effective whistleblower – although he exposed the wrongdoings of communism he still valued the aspects of it that appealed to him.

      Whistleblowers have many different motivations, not all of them noble, but sometimes result in worthy changes.

      • A timely whistleblower, yes, that’s what he mainly was, I agree with that A.C.. With Marx as the super whistleblower, not knowing what he would initiate as a prophet for the East. But the adaptations in democratic socialism and new jurisdiction in Mid and West Europe, also due to this whistling, was not that bad altogether.

  18. His critics say he positioned himself as a prophet of “God’s truth”. I think the problem in his later years may have been that he identified “God’s truth” with the Russian Orthodox Church. One other famous Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, would I think definitely style himself as a prophet of “God’s truth”. Tolstoy even in his time recognized that the Russian Orthodox Church sacrificed its ideals to embed itself in the State.

    There was of course a hiatus of the close association between Church and State in Russia during the Soviet years, but the Church once again finds itself aligning with the state in modern Russia. Putin is very close to the Church. Perhaps that closeness is what led Solzhenitsyn to warm up to Putin. Solzhenitsyn was obviously a great admirer of religion, like Tolstoy. Also like Tolstoy, he thought religion would save humanity from totalitarian governments. Unlike Tolstoy, however, it seems Solzhenitsyn was not as ready to point out the hypocrisies of the Church, which got Tolstoy’s writing criticizing the Church banned and ultimately resulted in the Russian Orthodox Church excommunicating Tolstoy.

    I think, being a prophet of “God’s truth”, Solzhenitsyn was able to make predictions that look especially prescient today. But, as the prophets and Paul in the Bible show, you have to also cast the light of God’s truth inward, on the Church and the State.

  19. Robert Sheaffer says

    True, Solzhenitsyn was a “reactionary,” a religious man. I don’t agree with him on that. But he contributed mightily to bringing down the Soviet state, one of the most oppressive in modern history. For that he should be honored.

  20. I hear echoes of Hobbes and Wellington in Solzhenitsyn; seeing the decay of the west into the gutter and realising that the mob needs discipline and order imposed upon it or they fall upon each other in rut and murder.

  21. ‘In his 1973 essay, “Repentance and Self-Limitation As Categories of National Life,” he suggested Russians’ moral responsibility for Soviet crimes against Hungary and Latvia was somewhat mitigated by the fact that Hungarian and Latvian nationals were actively involved in the Red Terror after the Russian revolution, while the shame of the ethnic cleansing of Crimean Tatars was lessened by their status as “chips off the Horde,” the Mongol khanate that violently subjugated Russia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.’

    So murdering people isn’t so bad if their ancestors did something wrong decades or centuries before!? A child could see through such primitive and lazy thinking.

    • That’s a very Cathy Newman generalisation you did there. He didn’t say anywhere it wasn’t bad to kill people. He made an argument why it made no sense to assign collective guilt for Soviet crimes exclusively onto the Russian people.
      Or do you believe in collective guilt? Has your country ever done anything reprehensible? Do you think you should be held responsible for that?

  22. This ‘Putin was in KGB’ argument is getting really old. He was a low level officer hardly in control of anything important. George Bush was the director of the CIA and would undoubtedly oversee many of their operations.
    Solzhenitsyn appreciated Putin for the same reason most Russians do. That’s also the reason why he didn’t like Yeltsin.
    This article basically blames Solzhenitsyn for sharing his views with the majority of Russians instead of the western elites.

  23. Steve Sailer says

    After all these years, Solzhenitsyn’s last book, Two Hundred Years Together, still hasn’t been published in an English translation in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

    • I wonder if Steve Sailer has actually read in full Two Hundred Years Together? If there was anybody on the planet who knew the power and reach of samizdat, it was Solzhenitsyn, and maybe he thought that that publication mode sufficed for an inflammatory thesis that was bound to be misinterpreted. Several of Solzhenitsyn’s main characters are Jews —some more admirable than others— and this recent anti-Christmas pearl clutching, or worse, by Cathy Young and Julia Ioffe is exactly the kind of thing so exasperating to thoughtful gentiles who are otherwise inclined to be sympathetic to the Jews…and indeed to plenty of thoughtful Jews as well. That episode and this article illuminates superbly how the infamous British aphorism, “an antisemite is somebody that dislikes Jews more than absolutely necessary” is mistakenly regarded as itself as emblematic of antisemitism.

  24. The author makes this claim: “Solzhenitsyn could no longer be seen as a champion of freedom and justice.”

    But her arguments don’t support the claim.

    Her first argument seems to be that Russian intellectuals disagreed with him because of his thesis about pluralism:

    “To Solzhenitsyn, the worship of pluralism inevitably led to moral relativism and loss of universal values, which he believed had “paralyzed” the West. He also warned that if the communist regime in Russia were to fall, the “pluralists” would rise, and “their thousand-fold clamor will not be about the people’s needs … not about the responsibilities and obligations of each person, but about rights, rights, rights”—a scenario that, in his view, could result only in another national collapse.

    The essay went virtually unnoticed by American and European audiences but drew strong reactions in Russian émigré intellectual circles.”

    Leaving aside whether you agree with his thesis – I think it’s strikingly prescient – I fail to see how this thesis makes him “no longer a champion of freedom and justice.” He’s not a champion because intellectuals disagree with him? Why do they disagree with him anyway? Because he makes a rather interesting argument about pluralism? Precisely how does that make him no longer a champion of freedom and justice? He is in fact arguing that this disease of pluralism will *lose freedom and justice,*.

    Then she seems to argue that he is “no longer a champion of freedom and justice” because when he returned to Russia, people weren’t too impressed with him – according to her, asserted without evidence – and some school children didn’t read his books: “And yet, in too many ways, it was a triumph that wasn’t. By the time Solzhenitsyn came back to Russia three years after the fall of communism, most of the Russian public reacted with a shrug.”

    Then she gets to her real point: That by arguing that pluralism has risks, Solzhenitsyn ipso facto is somehow pro-nationalist in the way a fascist is; and therefore – using very sloppy reasoning- he is Bad and Against Democracy. Her fundamental assumption is that nationalism = populism = fascism = lack of democracy and lack of freedom. She presumes this to such and extent that she doesn’t even question it; she merely asserts it. This is why she starts talking about his anti-semitism (I speak as a Jew.) It’s a sort of guilt by association that obliquely makes him seem like a nazi ‘fascist.’ She never addresses his actual point or when she does, she misunderstands his own thesis about pluralism. Pluralism as he defines it is what the Left wants right now; to my mind it indeed is causing a collapse of democracy since to sustain it, one must go against the wishes of the people, and resort to totalitarianism unrepresented force (e.g. the EU).

    The fact that he supported Putin also doesn’t make him automatically “no longer a champion of freedom and justice.” Unless you mean that no Russian can be such a champion while still maintaining their strong nationalist identity as a Russian, or that no one can be a champion while supporting a leader they believe will bring about freedom and justice. One can say it was a mistake to support Putin, but to take it further is stretching it too far (which is why she has to go with the anti-semitism, the intellectuals not liking him, his books not being best sellers, and so on).

    Whenever I read an ‘intellectual’ posthumously attacking the reputation of a great person based on at best flimsy half-baked accusations, mild critiques, and innuendos – particularly when his magnum opus is about to be reissued – I always wonder about motivation.

    • James Lee says

      Great comment d.

      In his Harvard address, Solzhenitsyn spoke of a spiritual void in the West, one that he saw as dangerous for Western society.

      Today we see the spread of a new form of religion (that denies it’s a religion) and which seeks to impose its dogma and norms by force.

      Patrick Deneen’s thesis in Why Liberalism Failed is right in line with Solzhenitsyn’s view… the original Western project of pluralistic Liberalism, when stripped from the centrifugal forces provided by an older Judeo-Christian inheritance, can not hold a society together.

      The capital in the Christian bank account has about run dry (I am not a Christian btw), and now we see the West turning against its Liberal principles of free speech, due process, and presumption of innocence.

      The Bret Kavanaugh hearing was fascinating, as it provided the clearest example of the new Illiberal Social Justice norm set at war with older Liberal norms.

      I was raised with the older Liberal norm set. I like the norm set. On its own, I just don’t think it can provide enough glue to hold huge modern diverse societies together.

      I believe we need some form of religious revival, I don’t care which religion, but ideally one that has stood the test of time. The SJ religion has been here for a minute, and is based on tribal division and fragmentation, in direct opposition to its claims of inclusion and diversity. I don’t see it lasting.

      The commenters (and most of the articles) on Quillette seem to lean Libertarian atheist. I think that view can work for some people, but it doesn’t work for the majority of humans, and that’s why we are seeing it slowly wither. The average person needs more meaning and purpose than they can get from our modern Western consumerist virtual world.

      Jordan Peterson senses the danger, and he is trying to revivify the Liberal project by re-presenting and re-injecting older Judeo-Christian values into the society. It’s an ambitious undertaking, and I wish him the best.

      • Abirdinthehand says

        “I believe we need some form of religious revival, I don’t care which religion, but ideally one that has stood the test of time”

        The West may be headed for one. Secular Europe has been importing millions of adherents of a religion which has certainly stood the test of time. The problem is that a sizable number of that religion’s adherents have nothing but contempt for many of the West’s core values. Who will stop them? You are right that libertarian – or leftist – atheism will not sustain most people over the long haul, but most Christian churches are less concerned with preaching the Gospel than they are with pathetic attempts to keep up in the Social Justice sweepstakes – sp they can show how “relevant” they are. The present Pope spends more time promoting trendy causes (and ignoring the horrible way the Church handled the sex abuse scandals) than he does fighting for embattled Christians in the ME.

        I do care which religion will come to predominate in the West, since I would not like to see my granddaughters subject to honor killings and burkas. But when I attended Mass not long ago, I heard an elderly priest deliver an insipid sermon to a bored congregation about how we should be nice to illegal immigrants because being nice is good. There is a mosque several blocks away from that church. I’ll bet their Friday night sermons are not boring at all.

      • AC Harper says

        I like Jordan Peterson’s thinking but I think it is clutching at straws to suppose that attention to myths and sacred writings will be sufficient to regenerate social values.

        I doubt that there can be a religious revival nowadays without a corresponding resistance revival. There are too many religions, philosophies and ideologies competing for a share of public approval.

        • James Lee says


          As a thought experiment, let me sketch a different perspective. On a deeper level, maybe we don’t have so many different religions and philosophies in the West.

          We have the Social Justice religion, which has rapidly become the dominant religion for educated white elites. It has taken over the elite Western universities, the prestige media, Silicon Valley tech giants, the European Union elites, and the Democratic and Labour parties in America and the UK. It is engaged in a cultural norm war with the older “classical” Liberal system from which it evolved, and appears to be winning that war in most of the West (albeit with some resistance and backlash).

          As Abirdinthehand noted above, many branches of modern Christianity have adopted aspects of Social Justice ideology in an attempt to “stay relevant.”

          Social Justice has colonized much of Western Buddhism, which bears little resemblance to Buddhism as practiced in Asian countries. Many Western Buddhist centers regularly hold diversity trainings and talk about white privilege.

          My guess is that non-orthodox Judaism is similarly infected by the Social Justice religion.

          And then we have Islam, which is rapidly growing in Europe, and of the major religions (along with orthodox Judaism) is the least amenable to outside influences and changes.

          That’s three major norm sets.

          I am pessimistic that Christianity can be reinvigorated enough to be able to uphold many of the core values of classical Liberalism. But I don’t think its impossible, at least in America. Europe and Canada appear to have little Christianity left, and I can’t speak for Australia.

          The big showdown in much of Europe is going to be between the Social Justice religion and Islam. Give it 50 years.

          I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Islam wins that one in a landslide…and the European Social Justice priests have no idea what’s coming.

          • Doug Deeper says

            Wonderful comments following D.
            @James Lee, I am a secular Jew (but an ardent Zionist) and I see something powerful with some of the millennial evangelical Christian pastors both in the US and in Brazil, just to name one other country. Also the growth of modern orthodox Judaism is strong. Now this isn’t a lot to hinge hope on, but when combined with the Jordan Peterson, Walk Away, IDW, TPUSA movements, perhaps one can have a little hope. I also wonder that when the culture wars get down to the short strokes, if the military and police won’t be on the side of Judeo-Christian, classical liberal values.
            Perhaps, there is a little hope that the sjw/nihilist/Jihadist religion will not prevail.
            Tis the season.

      • Lydia says

        The liberals and the left have succumbed to government as their religion to give meaning and purpose to life. It’s chilling. But Christianity has it’s own history of this with the state church.

        I was not raised in a Christian tradition that sought to control people or saw the “church” as conferring salvation.. It was startling to learn of such. My first lesson was asking my mom if we were Protestants in about the 5th grade. Her reply: What are we protesting? Lol.

        The beginning of the education about the freedom and personal responsibility of the Logos and the beauty of our Constitution. Long since dead as too many Americans have chosen totalitarianism both inside and out of the church.

    • Lydia says

      “Her fundamental assumption is that nationalism = populism = fascism = lack of democracy and lack of freedom”

      I thought that, too.

  25. I think it’s fair to judge him for his writings on the prison campus, separately from his views later in life. He does have some contradictions with his views on Western civilization and Russian leaders, especially Putin. But despite his questionable opinions later in life, I don’t think they take away from his masterpieces.

  26. It’s unfortunate that his later years included some extreme views.

    His exposing of and opposition to the filthy soviet system stand as an undiminished beacon.

  27. Robert Franklin says

    Many people have pointed out that the history of Russian society and culture tends to embrace powerful autocrats. The Tsars exemplified that, but so did Stalin and later Soviet leaders. Now Putin does. Perhaps Solzhenitsyn had a bit of that tendency. Perhaps his objections to the gulag were more personal than we once imagined. Perhaps his response to Western liberalism can be explained in just that way.

  28. Person whose ethnic kinsfolk constituted 40% of the NKVD’s cadres during the USSR’s bloodiest phase criticizes Solzhenitsyn for not being a Russophobe by daring to point out inconvenient facts such as the Volga famine concurrent with the more famous Holodomor, or the critical role played by Red Latvian Riflemen in cementing Bolshevik tyranny over central Russia in 1918. /article

    Though I suppose it’s rather helpful in proving his point. While the USSR was evil, it was never opposed by the West on account of that, but on account of it being a strong, quasi-Russian state. This is something that Solzhenitsyn had the courage and consistency to notice, paying for it with the loss of his handshakeworthy status in the West amongst the likes of Cathy Young.

    PS. Fun fact about Voinovich’s Moscow 2042: Sim Karnavalov has the new Holy Russian Empire ban aircraft. In reality, the actual Russian Empire had Europe’s biggest air fleet at the outbreak of WW1. In effect, he was just laying out of the sovok shitlib’s fever dream of what Russia is all about. So sorry that non self-hating Russians (or reality) don’t subscribe to that. I suppose that makes us Stalinists.

  29. derek says

    Oddly enough someone willing to face down one of the most murderous and dangerous regimes in history has personal characteristics that one might find offensive. He not only was instrumental in exposing the evil of the Soviet system, hastening is demise, but he managed to humiliate half of the Western intellectuals who were enamored with the promise of communism. Then he pokes the eyes of the other half who were giddy with self congratulation at the defeat of the USSR. I suspect he saw in them the same tepid uselessness layered with moral righteousness that he ran across in the Soviet bureaucracy. The victory was won by people who were despised both in their own country and in his.

    I would suggest that Cathy read his writings and place herself there. I wonder what despicable character he describes would she become. Read it for what it is, a description of evil brought about by people just like me and you and the various people we run across and interact with every day.

  30. I’ll never understand this tendency to tangle the author with the book. ‘Archipelago was an amazing work even if it was written by Adolf Hitler with a forward by Satan Himself. Who the man was makes absolutely no difference.

    It’s irrational to expect any one person to be right about everything, or even most things. In a way, being So Right about anything is going to negatively impact your ability to correctly assess the truth of anything following, if only because your situation changes so radically afterwards.

    • Abirdinthehand says

      Agreed. Dostoevsky’s political views in later life were not just conservative, but reactionary. That does not diminish the greatness of “Crime and Punishment” or “The Brothers Karamazov.” I note that this sort of debunking does not seem to happen when the author or artist is on the Left. Brecht was a Stalinist and a horrible human being, but nobody objects when revivals of “Mother Courage” and “The Threepenny Opera” are staged. If we start tossing out authors because of undesirable opinions or personality traits, we’d be left with very little to read.

  31. Pingback: Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » Solzhenitsyn Revisited

  32. Observer says

    I wish everybody here could read Russian, although Solzhenitsyn would not be the first or even the hundredth most recommended in that literature. Spiteful ego of a shallow thinker deeming himself an underappreciated messiah is evident already in the clumsy yet uberpretentious style – full of pseudoarchaic neologisms which fail the author’s desires to add weight to his words and render them poignant. Bad literature by a bad person who was lucky enough to survive repressions and promote himself, capitalizing on and usurping peril of millions of others.
    Shalamov, the true chronicler of GULAG, rightfully despised Solzhenitsyn’s monumental ego, limited actual contribution and authoritarian thinking. Moreover, the aforementioned brilliant satire by Vladimir Voinovich in “Moscow-2041” is backed up by his and others’ personal experience with Solzhenitsyn during the latter long deterioration (further documented in “A Portrait Against the Background of a Myth”, entirely dedicated to debunking the undue fame of a false prophet promoted by his personality cult).
    Had the book been published after the ridiculous “200 years together”, the somewhat restrained critique would rightfully have become lethal, as there is a plenty of subject matter in Solzhenitsyn’s last writings.

    Delusion of grandeur let Solzhenitsyn to moral suicide. A mediocre writer with hypertrophied ego died as a worse parody and fuller contradiction to his own declared values than any brilliant satire or critical opinion might portray the man. What began as a tragedy fairly typical for his epoch, ended in a remarkable, almost unprecedented farce.

  33. Cris Crawford says

    Awesome work Cathy Young. I didn’t know any of this For all I knew he was still in Vermont. Fascinating insight. I suspect there are many more like me who will think of him as the great dissident he was originally, with his demise a weird coda, sort of like Linus Pauling going off the deep end with vitamin C. I know, not the best comparison but sometimes the sketchy things people do when they get old don’t eclipse their major contributions.

  34. Leigh says

    Well Solzhenitsyn said it best himself: the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being…

    • Наталья Чудова says

      This is a quote from Dostoevsky. Solzhenitsyn only cited it.

  35. I suspect AS’s support for Putin was a natural reaction to the decoherence he deplored in the West. Is Putin’s neo-Tsarist autocracy much worse than our deep-state dictatorships? The evolution of Brexit and Trump will tell. Putin seems to be giving the Russian people what they want – stable leadership and churches. In Britain, which used to like to see itself as the mother of democracy, the deep state are fighting tooth and nail against popular opinion and sovereignty, and likewise in the US.

    The battle against globalist socialism is WWIII with a difference. It’s global, and if successful there will be nowhere to take refuge. Putin, for better or worse as an individual, has placed himself as its premier opponent.
    And he did play an important role in Trump’s election – very publicly in his “keep your guns” pep talk to US conservatives, even if that was a spoof and he was actually talking about the rise in turnip production. Not speaking Russian I only had the subtitles to go by.

    Defining nationalism is the issue of our time. The nation state is the largest unit in which some form of democracy is possible – can be defined as such. It doesn’t need to be jingoistic or based on ethnic or even cultural cohesion as long as there is some agreed core basis for cooperation. We have evolved that core and should let it evolve cautiously over time.

    Marxists are strenuously attacking that core with the zeal of ideological possession. In the Western tradition, the counter to that is the recognition of the sovereignty of the individual within constraints of a balance of responsibilities and rights. In that, AS was correct in his criticism of the West. To my mind he swung too far the other way, or that’s just the Russian way and other nations plot our own paths.

    • Yes, Dai, I also think it’s Russian, just read Dostoyejski, or, better even, Gorki, and Saltykov-Shedrin, indeed, it seems, it is Russian to swing easily either to the one, or to the other extreme. Quite different as what is normal in the ordinary citizen in the West.

  36. The “troubling” embrace of Putin? This embrace was not really that troubling, many Russians did so, and did so for good reasons.
    The chaos of the Yeltsin years, the flagrant corruption at the highest levels, and the rigging of the 1996 Russian election by Americans supporting Yeltsin to prevent the Communists from winning, all contributed to the welcoming of a strong leader. One may recall that Yeltsin was due to visit Ireland, but upon landing, he was too drunk to get off the aeroplane.
    Solzhenitsyn like most citizens was happy that the Mafiya stopped running the country and a semblance of good governance came. It was far from perfect, but much better than the 1990s.

  37. Oswald Mosley says

    He dares to address the Jews and their oversized influence so now he must be blacklisted.

  38. The very concept of “universal values” or “universal morals” is absurd and any who’d expect they exist are likely going to be authoritarian.

    • Not authoritarian, david, but naive. When I was a small boy, there was nobody, no teacher, parent, priest, politician, having any doubts that our western culture and mores were the highest ones of all the other ones on the globe, and had to be taught to the so-called “backwards” colonies, nations or religions. There was not the slightest doubt that our values had all the right to be called universal (consider the UDHR), and, to say the truth, I think it is still so, only, we don’t dare to say so in the open any more, better to stick at the PC Speak.

  39. • ”Solzhenitsyn could no longer be seen as a champion of freedom and justice.”
    -This is not a fact about Solzhenitsyn, it may be a fact about someone’s opinion of him.
    • ”Andrei Sinyavsky assailed Solzhenitsyn for positioning himself as a prophet of “God’s truth” and trying to replace one form of groupthink with another.”
    -Again, not a fact, someone’s opinion.
    • “Voinovich’s 1986 novel Moscow 2042 featured an easily recognizable Solzhenitsyn alter ego—the exiled writer Sim Karnavalov, a reactionary Slavophile with messianic pretentions who takes daily practice rides on a white horse to rehearse his return to Russia as the nation’s savior.”
    -Not a fact, another smear.
    • “His final novel, the latest installment in the “Red Wheel” … was a flop.”
    -Other’s opinions.
    • “the prime-time biweekly talk show he got on Moscow television in the fall of 1994, which started out as conversations with guests but later shifted to one-man monologues; it was canceled about a year later due to low ratings.”
    -Public opinion.
    • “Solzhenitsyn’s 1998 book Russia in Collapse, a collection of essays on public affairs, sold about 2,000 copies.”
    -People didn’t like his book, other’s opinions.

    • “But one could also make a compelling argument for the opposite: that Solzhenitsyn’s life and career are a case study in the perils of choosing the path of nationalism and anti-liberalism, a path that ultimately led him to some dark places.”
    -maybe one could make that argument, what is it?
    •”a streak of prejudice in his work, including antisemitism. ?
    -more smears.

    So far, no actual CONTENT, just smears.

    “Natalia Ivanova, a non-Jewish critic who defended Solzhenitsyn against some attacks she considered unfair, nonetheless caustically wrote that in his account of history, “the foolish Russians have spent two hundred years trying to talk sense to [the Jews], to free them, and to help them in every way, for which the Jews have always paid back with black ingratitude and treachery.””
    -At last, a quote! But who’s? Solzhenitsyn’s or Ivanova’s?

    •”Solzhenitsyn always indignantly denied the charge of bigotry, and it should be noted that his defense has been taken up by prominent Jewish figures including the late human rights activist Elie Wiesel and former Soviet dissident Nathan Sharansky. Yet the defenses sometimes sound more like strained apologetics: “
    -“strained apologetics” eh? Another opinion.

    •”some of Solzhenitsyn’s comments about other groups are equally troubling.:”
    -“troubling?” , troubling to who? More opinionated weasel language.
    •”But to many of Solzhenitsyn’s former admirers, his wholehearted embrace of Vladimir Putin and Putin’s neo-authoritarianism in the 2000s was even more dismaying than his views of ethnic conflicts.”
    -“wholehearted embrace”, “dismaying” more opinions.
    •”But in the next decade, Solzhenitsyn had no harsh words for Putin”
    -another opinion – he should have harsh words for Putin, according to the author?
    •”he struck a remarkably conciliatory note toward radical Islam, “
    -another opinion.
    • “The coziness between the former chronicler of the gulag and the former KGB officer was jarring to many people.”
    -another opinion, and opinion of opinions.
    •”The author of The Gulag Archipelago stayed silent about this controversy. “
    -it’s the authors opinion he should have spoken up, as though the three volumes of the Gulag Archipelago were not enough.
    •”The Izvestia article drew a shattering rebuke from Solzhenitsyn’s erstwhile ally Father Gleb Yakunin”
    – now an opinion from Gleb Yakunin, but with the supposed authority of the sacred.
    •”Father Yakov Krotov, who argued that Solzhenitsyn’s role in bringing about the fall of the Soviet Union had been exaggerated and that Solzhenitsyn rejected the evil of communism only to endorse “the evil of anti-humanism, militarism, [and] expansionism.” “
    -now an opinion from Yakov Krotov.
    •”any fair-minded observer would have to agree that this legacy is tainted by his support for Russia’s new authoritarianism and his failure to condemn neo-Stalinism.”
    -the author’s opinion on what others opinions should be. (Guess I’m just not “fair-minded”)
    •”Could it be that, in an era when anti-liberal movements are surging on both the Right and the Left, Solzhenitsyn’s journey should be seen primarily as a cautionary tale?”
    -the authors opinion, stated as a question.

    People in the Soviet Union were being paid by the KGB to slander Solzhenitsyn.
    “Most Indian papers cannot afford to keep their own correspondent in Moscow, but for prestige would not mind having a regular “Moscow letter,” with the latest gossip from “diplomatic circles” planted by APN-KGB often arriving before that same news was reported on other international wire services . They would also appreciate human interest stories, including such unorthodox features as photos of a Moscow farm market, pictures from a “typical Soviet wedding party,” and even interviews with some fake Soviet “dissidents,” provided by Novosti for such occasions as slandering Alexander Solzhenitsyn .”
    Yuri Bezmenov, KGB defector

    Alexander Solzhenitsyn was not exactly a reticent man, why is an essay like this dripping with opinions and smears, but free of his quotations? (or virtually free).
    It is my “opinion” this essay is largely ad hominem.

    • John, btw, if you think that in an essay or column you can do with pure facts and straight quotes, and without subjectivity and opinions, you are hopelessly wrong. Have you ever written an essay? Criticism and personal attacks is too easy, sir.

    • Наталья Чудова says

      The real tragedy of Solzhenitsyn was his embrace of the Russian Nationalism which itself is quite problematic. There is nothing wrong in Nationalism as such, it is a natural form of love for one’s own people which is a natural thing, too. The problem here is not Nationalism, but its subject: Russian people. I knew several really fine Russian people, but they were very rare exceptions. And absolute majority of Russians are ignorant, stupid, vulgar and amoral. All horrible crimes of Bolsheviks and Stalinists would be impossible if absolute majority of Russian people were not willing accomplices in these crimes. The same logic applies to German people as accomplices in Nazi crimes: they supported war and genocide (with a few exceptions). But Germans understood their sins and repented: Russians did not. Now imagine a sincere German Nationalist after Auschwitz: a false, morally impossible position. But this was exactly like position to which Solzhenitsyn committed himself. Or imagine a single mother whose only son is obnoxious psychopath with sadistic traits and criminal behavior. She can not cease to love him and forgive him everything, but it means that all her life is a lie.

    • Наталья Чудова says

      John, the quote is from Natalia Ivanova, a sarcastic summary of the content of Solzhenitsyn book. Mostly accurate summary, in my view. While the book mentioned is a gross distortion of historical reality, it does not really makes Solzhenitsyn an anti-Semite. He has many Jewish friends even among notable Zionists and a Jewish wife. In general, Solzhenitsyn views about Russian pre-Soviet history are naive and distorted by his nationalistic romanticism, inability to see terrible flaws and vices of both Russian authorities and of Russian people, and the deep roots of Communist savagery in Russian history.

  40. Song For the Deaf says

    Anti-Soviet decades before the USSR’s collapse? Conservative nationalist decades before Putin’s rise?

    Sounds like Solzhenitsyn continued being a prophet till the day he died.

  41. MKosmos says

    Solzhenitsyn: Not a perfect Prophet – should have been more fair title. It neither diminishes the atrocities of the far-left at all nor the tribal relativism that west is enjoying to her own peril. Yes, salvation is not coming from Russia.

    • Наталья Чудова says

      No human is perfect – and it applies to prophets too. The weaknesses of the prophets still do not undermine the truth of the prophesy.

  42. U universal salvation? Certainly not, and also not needed, or useful. But a Slavophile salvation? Much better chances for that, with heroes like Solzhenitsyn and Aleksandr Dugin to promote. So, not one for the emigres, but for the homegrown, oikophile Russians, and sympathising minorities.

  43. Спасибо, было интересно почитать. Я часто ощущал неоднозначное отношение к Солженицыну среди людей поколения позднего СССР, в частности своих родителей, которые много читали, включая Самиздат, и не были горячими поклонниками советской системы. Статья хорошо освещает противоречивое наследие писателя.

  44. I can understand him becoming a reactionary, there are many passages in the unabridged version of the Gulag Archipelago that favorably compare the Tsarist regime to the Soviet one he labored under. They are reminiscent of the Burke’s comments on the competence and nobility of the French Ancien Régime in Reflections on the Revolution in France.

    There is a tendency when times are dire to look back a little nostalgically on the past, and in the case of both their information was certainly not first hand. Solzhenitsyn was born after the fall of the Czars and Burke knew little of France, being better acquainted with India.

    Solzhenitsyn most likely had made an unconscious internal decision at some-point during his imprisonment or sometime afterward that he would reject anything that he even felt had a smallest hint of the ideology he reviled and embrace a past he had never lived, but that had to be better than what replaced it.

    I understand, but not necessarily agree with his conclusions.

  45. Grant says

    Thanks for this article, it is a reminder that people can publish insightful and valuable work but not be Saints, despite our longing for them be so.

  46. Solzhenitsyn was, of course, merely human—though he was an extraordinary human.

    However, the crime he is being condemned for here is merely failure to bow to the hegemonic ideology of the West. Solzhenitsyn rejected one secular religion, communism, but he was principled enough to also reject the secular religion of the West: progressive liberalism. This commitment to the truth over ideology cost Solzhenitsyn the support of progressive liberals like Cathy Young, especially after he made an address to a graduating class of American students condemning the West’s consumerism and moral decadence.

    Western intellectuals are as conformist as most Soviet intellectuals under the old regime. They mouth the latest line (open borders, fight transphobia, etc) and abdicate their responsibility to tell the truth. It is hard to tell the truth when you may lose your job, face social shunning, or be forced to give up your middle class lifestyle. The West is not as repressive as the old Soviet Union, but we still operate under a stifling regime of soft censorship, self-censorship, and monetary bribes. Western intellectuals have become their own secret policemen, and they are constantly scanning themselves for their own incorrect thoughts. It is time to kill the censors inside.

    Articles like the one above are merely the Western priestly class, much like the old Soviet Writers’ Union, identifying impure or dirty thoughts. It’s a warning to respectable middle class people: admire him a little, but he is still quite dirty—speak Solzhenitsyn’s name only after muttering the appropriate holy words to make him safe. We are comfortable with some truths, but others—according to our ideology—must not be told.

    • Michael says

      There is no such thing like ‘old Soviet Union’ it is oxymoron.

    • Наталья Чудова says

      Very true. But this neo-liberal Western conformism is dying, its collapse is only matter of time. Right-wing Nationalists take one European country after another: Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Chech Republic, Baltic states, Austria, Italia and so on. They also made inroads in the core Western countries like Germany and France. And at last we have Trump with his “America First” agenda. The course of history is clear. Gramscians are walking dead, they just do not yet know this.

  47. What a sad and apparently irrational conclusion to a brave life. While nationalism has many positives, in this case, blind adherence to the state seems to have destroyed Solzhenitsyn’s objectivity.

  48. Would a book (even if of great literary talent) about the crimes of Pol Pot have made any impact in the western world?? Of course not, the real drama is, the indictment of the Gulag looked as if it would be the end of history, alas, it was just a stage, though not an insignificant one!

  49. Michael says

    Very important writing stating many things that aren’t familiar to a western reader. Solzhenitsyn is a very controversial figure and while ‘Archipelago’ is a very important document (I say again document) there are many other books and authors which were unfortunately to some extent overlooked by the West. One of them is obviously Varlam Shalamov journalist, poet, writer and GULAG survivor. His book ‘Kolyma Tales’ is the document of what a communist regime can do a human nature. Shalamov always stayed away from the Soviet dissident movement and didn’t look for glory. He was against using his book in Cold War debate trying to stay a ‘human without affiliation’. ‘Kolyma Tales’ demonstrates what communist regime can turn human into.

  50. Svetlana Vasileva says

    Hello, everyone.

    I have read both the article and comments. The lady seems quite informed in Mr.Solzhenitsyn’s biography twists and turns. It is interesting to see how sparkling his story can be for people. The writer mentions lots of local names, refers to local statistical data, etc. She demonstrates good knowledge regarding our historical evolution.

    My personal attitude toward Mr. Solzhenitsyn:

    Firstly, I am really surprised seeing Ms. Young’s idea that The Gulag Archipelago is based on Solzhenitsyn’s letters. I have never accepted the novel as something based on his letters. Moreover, as far as I can remember every page of the novel has countless footnotes where the master refers to different statistical data. That’s why I sometimes use The Archipelago as a statistical report. I refer to it because it is statistically proven. It is not “Epistolary Love Affair” by Alexander Pushkin ( the poet once wrote a wonderful novel in prose with such title), but a serious historical document. Many years ago, I listened to Solzhenitsyn’s interview with one of our historians. The question was about his work over The Gulag. He said he had worked with American archives a lot. He also added he would like to thank the American Government for that possibility they had given to him to make the Gulag not a novel, but a statistical report.

    Secondly, I did not like Solzhenitsyn’s snobbery. It is strange that Young has not dropped even a single word about Gorbachev. But it was Gorbachev who called Solzhenitsyn to come back. He invited both Solzhenitsyn and Rostropovich. The latter came back, but Solzhenitsyn refused. And then Rostropovich had a talk to Solzhenitsyn and the latter came back. Unfortunately, even at this step, he could not escape using too many decorations – both verbal and non-verbal – regarding his return. That’s why my ‘human” sympathies are with Rostropovich. So, it is how I see the story sitting on this half of the terrestrial ball. 🙂

    Regarding the article itself:

    Firstly, while reading I could not get rid of a strange feeling that I cannot imagine the target auditorium for such writing. Every writer – I am sure – has to visualize his/her potential readers and hs to have the reader’s image like someone has an icon above his desk or a picture of his kids on the desk. Otherwise, writing loses its meaning.

    Secondly, turning back from this metaphor I am again asking myself, what auditorium she is speaking to? The article has to be already quite selective if written in Russian. As for its English version, I cannot imagine who will read it. Let me explain: the article can be read by me because I have lived in this stuff. But not every Russian of my age reads in general. Not every Russian of my age reads in English either. As for foreigners, I can understand if Benny Sanders reads it. It will happen because of the specifics of Benny Sanders’ operation. This writing is not for mass consumption.

    Finally, there is a tactical blunder in Ms. Young’s writing: the writer has made it too long. It is like using too much perfume. Chanel number 5 is beautiful, but if one drops the whole bottle over oneself, it’ll be disgusting. One of the criteria, while writing, is choosing the right moment to stop. The lady does not know when to stop and continue chewing her historical “bubble gum” and mentioning numerous names, dates, and events which, in fact, mean nothing to many readers. At first glance, it is attractive, of course: she is an American who was born in Russia. It is her “master card”. That’s why my sympathies are with Peter Kenez. 🙂



  51. Наталья Чудова says

    Jordan Peterson’s criticism of postmodernism and its unholy alliance with the Western cultural marxism is going along the lines delineated by Solzhenitsyn in “Our pluralists” and increasingly becomes quite popular among american conservative youth. So contrary to Cathy Young’s assertion, the prophetic role of Solzhenitsyn would only grow in the West and probably he will became the leading voice of the Western conservatism of 21 century. Alexander Isaevich not only buried Stalinism and Soviet Communism, he also inflicted mortal wound to the godless Western liberalism. This evil is still alive, but its agony is inevitable. And this accomplishment would be even greater than the first one. Prophets need time to be properly estimated, after their prophesies became undeniable reality. For Solzhenitsyn this time still lies in the future.

  52. Arthur Dent says

    “To Solzhenitsyn, the worship of pluralism inevitably led to moral relativism and loss of universal values, which he believed had “paralyzed” the West. ”

    Time has proved him right. The Left’s worship of “multiculturalism” (pluralism) has led to such things as (for example) cross-dressing eleven year olds dancing in strip clubs, and people applaud this as a sign of “progress.”

    Progress towards what? The apocalypse?

    • Наталья Чудова says

      Apocalypse is too loaded word for such situation, but still worth to remember the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. It can visit Western countries as well, for example as a small nuke smuggled by Islamic suicide terrorist across open borders into such dens of sin as San Francisco or Las Vegas. Sanctuary cities and states are of a great help not only to drug cartels, but to terrorists as well.

Comments are closed.