Alexander Solzhenitsyn, R.I.P.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of the heroes of the long struggle against Soviet communism, has died at 89. As the New York Times says, he “outlived by nearly 17 years the Soviet state and system he had battled through years of imprisonment, ostracism and exile.”

After he came to the United States in 1974 and was free to express himself, we discovered that he was a scathing critic not just of communism but also of capitalism, consumerism, America, modernity, and liberalism. Nevertheless, he is a hero of freedom. After spending more than a decade in the gulag and internal exile, he wrote The Gulag Archipelago and smuggled it out of the Soviet Union so it could be published in the West. He could have been sent back to prison or even executed. What an act of courage and resistance. As it turned out, the Soviet czars didn’t dare to kill or imprison him. They “only” deported him. To some of us, being deported from the Soviet Union might seem like a reward. To Solzhenitsyn, it was not. Just four years earlier, he had declined to travel to Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, lest he not be allowed back into his beloved Russia.

NPR declared this morning that Solzhenitsyn was “in some way as dictatorial as the regime that he criticized.” Really. The rest of us will remember him as an irascible intellectual who for decades told the truth about the totalitarian state that had seized his country.