Think About It: Thinking About Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Don Meyer, Ph.D.

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, not between classes, nor political parties either, but right through every human heart.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Historians are still trying to measure the seismic influence of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. According to the Acton Institute, “Solzhenitsyn took a sledgehammer to the crumbling foundations of the Soviet system and, more than any other single person, was responsible for its collapse.”

He was born on Dec. 11, 1918, studied mathematics at Boston University and took a correspondence course in literature at Moscow State University. During World War II, Solzhenitsyn joined the Red Army and rose to the rank of captain and was decorated for bravery. While serving on the German front in 1945 he was arrested for criticizing Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend.

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Solzhenitsyn was found guilty and sent to a Soviet labor camp in Kazakhstan. There he began to write. In such works as One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward, The First Circle, and The Gulag Archipelago, he chronicled the catastrophe that the Bolshevik Revolution and Soviet repression had brought on Russia. In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974, he soon settled in the United States where his writing and speaking continued to impact the world. His famous commencement address to Harvard University in 1978 referenced the failings of the west, i.e. rampant materialism, the superficiality of the media, and the moral cowardice of intellectuals. In his words, “The west has finally achieved the rights of man, and even to excess, but man’s responsibility to God and society has grown dimmer and dimmer.”

“As a boy, Solzhenitsyn was deeply influenced by his Aunt Irina, who,” according to the Acton Institute, “instilled in him a love of literature and of Russian Orthodoxy.” And though he drifted from the Christian faith because of his indoctrination in Marxism-Leninism, his experiences in the labor camps brought him back to his faith.

Here are some of his best known statements:

•You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything, he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.

•To stand up for truth is nothing. For truth, you must sit in jail.

•Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig.

•The simple step of a courageous individual is not to take part in the lie. One word of truth outweighs the world.

•Bless you, prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.

•If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?

•This it is that we always pay dearly for chasing after what is cheap.

•You should rejoice that you’re in prison. Here you have the time to think about your soul.

•Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.

•We didn’t love freedom enough.

•It was granted to me to carry away from my prison years on my bent back, which nearly broke beneath its load, this essential experience: how a human being becomes evil and how good.

•It’s a universal law—intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education. An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility.

•You can resolve to live your life with integrity. Let your credo be this: Let the lie come into the world, let it even triumph. But not through me.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn inspires me. And I trust he does the same for you.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is the president ofValley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville.

Responses can be emailed to president@vfcc.edu.

Official page: Facebook.com/DrDonMeyer