Saturday, August 09, 2008

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, R. I. P.

It is not possible to do justice to a moral giant like Alexander Solzhenitsyn in an obituary, so let me confine myself to simply stating his importance to me.

I loved his novels, but Dostoevsky will always, in my heart, be the Russian novelist. I admired Solzhenitsyn’s courageous criticism of Russian communism, but I can’t say his critique improved on Whittaker Chambers’ magnificent critique, Witness. The aspect of Solzhenitsyn’s life that had the most profound influence on me was his criticism of the Western democracies. Fresh from the Gulag, he told the liberals of the West that Christianity, not liberal democracy, was the answer to communism.

I don’t admire a man because he suffers in a prison camp. Plenty of evil men have suffered in prison camps – witness John McCain. I admire a man for his vision. And it was Solzhenitsyn’s insight that the Western democracies were just as anti-Christian as Russian communism that had the greatest impact on my life.

The main character in How Green Was My Valley says after the death of his father in a mining accident, “Men like my father can never die.” There are noble souls who live their lives in such a way that one must conclude that the human soul is indeed made of something that never dies. They confirm for us the hope that is in our hearts. That was Solzhenitsyn’s greatest legacy to all of us. +