Solzhenitsyn’s Prophetic Voice: Biographer Joseph Pearce Discusses Critic of Communism, by Annamarie Adkins & Joseph Pearce

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, some people predicted that global affairs had reached “the end of history” and that democratic capitalism had definitively triumphed.

Now, as the West teeters on the verge of economic crisis and suffers from the increasing statist imposition of illiberal dogmas, the prophetic voice of Alexander Solzhenitsyn — one of the 20th century’s greatest writers who saw the same errors at the heart of both the capitalist and communist systems — seems more timely than ever.
According to Solzhenitsyn biographer Joseph Pearce, the heroic Russian dissident knew that the materialism that shaped the culture of both capitalist and communist societies was ultimately inhuman because of its denial of spiritual values and because it led to serious environmental degradation.


The professor of literature and writer-in-residence at Ave Maria University has updated and reissued his biography, Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile, including new chapters written after conducting more interviews with Solzhenitsyn’s family. The latest edition also follows the Russian writer’s death in 2008.
Pearce spoke to ZENIT about what Solzhenitsyn’s monumental writings can tell us today about our own spiritual, cultural and political condition.
ZENIT: Who was Alexander Solzhenitsyn? Why should non-Russian audiences pay attention to his writing?
Pearce: Alexander Solzhenitsyn is one of the most important figures of the 20th century, both in terms of his status as a writer and in terms of the crucial role he played in the collapse of the Soviet Union and its evil communist empire.
As a writer, he was justly awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, unlike many other unworthy recipients. His novels One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, First Circle, and Cancer Ward exposed the evils of socialism and totalitarianism. Solzhenitsyn is a noble heir to the tradition of Russian fiction epitomized by the Christian humanism of Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
His epic and seminal historical work, The Gulag Archipelago, possibly his magnum opus, documented the brutality of the Soviet regime’s treatment of dissidents.
All in all, Solzhenitsyn’s corpus constituted a damning indictment of the injustice of communism and served to undermine the Soviet Union’s political and moral credibility; it contributed significantly to the rise of dissident resistance within the communist empire and to the rise of political opposition to communism in the West.
In historical terms, Solzhenitsyn deserves a place of honor beside Blessed Pope John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Lech Walesa as a major player in the final defeat of Soviet communism.
As an intellectual, he is indubitably one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century; as a cultural warrior he is an inspiration for everyone fighting for the culture of life in our nihilistic times; as a political critic, he is one of the most articulate advocates of the Christian alternative to the dead-ends of Big Government socialism and Big Business globalism, a champion of the subsidiarist principles at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine.
ZENIT: One of the major themes of your biography is that Solzhenitsyn was a prophet, first in the Soviet Union, and then in the capitalist West. How did Solzhenitsyn have the ability to diagnose the deeper problems of his time?
Pearce: Clearly, as I’ve said, non-Russian audiences should pay attention to Solzhenitsyn as a great writer, and as a great hero in the cause of political freedom.
He is, however, also a prophet. He predicted the downfall of the Soviet Union as early as the 1970s when most so-called “experts” assumed that the Soviet bloc would be part of the global political picture for many decades to come.
Even more importantly, Solzhenitsyn prophesied the unsustainability of global consumerism and the impending catastrophe that awaited a culture hell-bent on hedonism at the expense of human community and the natural environment.
The current chaos in the global economy serves as a timely warning that Solzhenitsyn’s prophecies are coming true before our eyes. Solzhenitsyn’s socio-political vision, which harmonizes with the social teaching of the Catholic Church, is full of the sort of Christian wisdom that the modern world can scarcely afford to ignore — or, at least, the sort of wisdom that it ignores at its peril.
ZENIT: You discuss in the book how Solzhenitsyn believed that both the Soviet Union and the West suffered from the same spiritual and ideological maladies that would eventually doom both societies. How is this so?
Pearce: Solzhenitsyn’s diagnosis of the spiritual and ideological maladies of the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist West rested on the insistence that both systems shared the same fundamental materialism.
At root, the Soviet Union and the capitalist West were united by a secular fundamentalism rooted in an essential philosophical materialism that excludes God and religion from political and economic life. The ideologies of Mammon and Marx are equally godless and are equally inimical to religion in general and to Christianity in particular. Such systems are not merely wrong, they are ultimately evil.
Solzhenitsyn’s devastating critique of the hedonism and decadence of the modern West, particularly in his controversial Harvard address in 1978, heralded the fact that he was a prophet not merely of the evils of communism, but also of the evils of atheistic materialism in all its guises.
Read the complete article in The Imaginative Conservative

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