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Solzhenitsyn and Democracy

Solzhenitsyn and Democracy

The name of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has fallen on hard times. My many public lectures on this author convince me that his sympathetic admirers are legion, but even these admirers are troubled that the press commentary on him seems to be fairly consistently negative. While almost all of his Western critics allow that Solzhenitsyn is a majestic presence on today's generally bleak human landscape, most of them save their intensity for stiff negative comments. These comments are less about his art than about his opinions on matters of public life.

The most common criticism is that Solzhenitsyn does not understand the West. And, so the line goes, he especially does not understand—and therefore does not value—democracy. The implicit—and sometimes explicit—conclusion is that we should not listen to Solzhenitsyn when he speaks about the West in general and democracy in particular. So widespread is this view that it can now fairly be called the received opinion. Perhaps, having had little firsthand experience of democracy (although he has now lived one-fourth of his adult life in the West), Solzhenitsyn is not in the best position to interpret it. But any writer deserves to have his own words heard, and Solzhenitsyn’s view of democracy is not what his crihcs say it is.

The misunderstanding about Solzhenitsyn on the subject of democracy derives from a misunderstanding of—or an aversion to his–...

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