Russian author, dissident, critic, and survivor Alexander Solzhenitsyn has died at 89. Most famous in the West for The Gulag Archipelago, which I read in amazement years ago, Solzhenitsyn's documentation of the evils of Soviet forced labor camps ultimately helped bring down the Communist regime.
A giant of human rights, he was paradoxically a critic of the West, too. And he saw it up close from his time in Switzerland and Vermont before he returned to Russia in 1994.
As a young man, he embraced Marxism, but the operationalization of its Soviet version was more than enough to provoke a lifelong repentance and embrace of Orthodox Christianity. In old age, he looked like a Russian holy man and was something of a staretz with few disciples in the 1990s. The Telegraph explains:
In 1990 he published a 16,000-word manifesto, entitled Rebuilding Russia, in which he advocated a return to a monarchic nation, "one and indivisible", with the emphasis on stern local government, by pre-Revolutionary-style zemstvos. With the "alien" Central Asian Muslim states cast off, there was to be a central role for the Orthodox Church. A democratically elected leadership, maintained the dissident, was not really desirable.
Solzhenitsyn will long be a hero to the West for showing the power of words and ideas to undo tyranny. His use of the same tools to build up authority will continue to confound and perplex us. But he reminds us of the mystery of Russian particularity, and that's a good lesson as Russia regains its footing in the world.
Memory Eternal, Alexander!