The Last Dissident

By Beer, Jeremy | The American Conservative, August 25, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Last Dissident

Beer, Jeremy, The American Conservative

America viewed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn as too Christian, too uncompromising, too reactionary-but we are hugely in his debt.

A PROPHET'S DEATH makes our shallow infotainment culture even less tolerable than usual. To see the man's passing become just another item on the ticker, juxtaposed with the latest developments in the unretirement of Brett Favre or the fascinating Paris Hilton-John McCain contretemps. To endure some dimwitted anchor's mangling of the few "facts" about his life on file in the newsroom. ("Solzhenitsyn was awarded a Nobel Prize last year," reported Headline News, mistaking 2008 for 1971.) To see his legacy reduced to predictably "neutral" journalistic synopses. ("Some thought him a hero, but others spied a dangerous fanatic...")

It was all so unworthy of the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He devoted his life to struggling against not just the lies of communism but, more fundamentally, the peculiarly insidious lies of secular, anthropocentric modernity, of which communism was one of the most ugly-because most ruthlessly logical-manifestations. And so, not surprisingly, in the last three decades of his life, when he was not mocked, ridiculed, or misrepresented, the perversely uncooperative Solzhenitsyn was almost entirely ignored by the news and culture industry. The tasty morsel of his death provided-finally-some usable Solzhenitsyn material. It even provided an opportunity for genuine gratitude: despite your many faults, thank you, Solzhenitsyn, for helping us overcome so unprofitable a system as communism.

Fortunately, as he once said of himself in another context, Solzhenitsyn has proved indigestible. He was not a man given to compromises. With the astonishing worldwide success of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962, and as the famously courageous author of The First Circle (1968), Cancer Ward (1968), and The Gulag Archipelago (1973-76), Solzhenitsyn could, after his exile from the Soviet Union in 1974, have had his choice of publishers for the rest of his working life. All he had to do was not deviate too much from the pattern that the West had set out for him. Had he just played the game a little bit-moderate this, mute that, and could you give us something a little bit shorter?-all would have been fine. Who could have blamed him?

But Solzhenitsyn was a man of conviction and calling. By August 1914 (1971), Christian themes had become important in his work. This discomfited his secular Western audience, and the "problem" of Solzhenitsyn's profoundly Christian outlook would only deepen over time. Mistrusting and feeling betrayed by the liberal-and to his mind unpardonably stupid-Western media after his exile, he rarely gave interviews after his emigration to the United States. Then, in his Harvard commencement address of June 8,1978, he remarked at length upon the West's self-satisfied and lazy misuse of its freedom and prosperity, "its cult of material well-being" and manifold other sins. "No, I could not recommend your society as an ideal for the transformation of ours," confessed Solzhenitsyn. "Through deep suffering, people in our country have now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. ... After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, introduced as by a calling card by the revolting invasion of commercial advertising, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music."

This was not the dissident that the West had ordered up. When the speech was published, liberals spat, rinsed, and-except for occasional scurrilous asides-moved on. Many conservatives also kept their distance. For a while, Solzhenitsyn was valuable as a hammer in the Cold War toolbox, but after 1989, the American Right, too, had little use for his counsel. Not only was he a critic of our wealthy (he would say materialistic) liberal democracy, which was bad enough, he was a principled advocate of local self-government and a Russian patriot to boot-none of which was on-message with the end-of-history, America-as-the-universal-nation conservatism that became predominant in the 1990s. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Last Dissident


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.