The Orthodox Nationalist: Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Political Theory Part 1

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s political theory is not widely known, even among those who are “expert” in his fiction. Generally, literary critics aren’t trained in the philosophical and historical problems inherent in Russian literature. A professor of literature reading Solzhenitsyn without being an expert on the USSR is an absurdity, but few of them are. So much of the profundity of his political and social vision is lost because literary writers know so little about Russia and worse, about the Orthodox tradition that is at the core of her being. This is the essence of Solzhenitsyn’s vision. Some are so misinformed as to say that Russia and the Soviet Union are one continuum. This is absurd of course, and denies even the words of Soviet leaders themselves.

The broadcast is part I of an analysis of Solzhenitsyn’s politics through the medium of three works: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1963), The Cancer Ward (1966) and The First Circle (1968).

The American academic world has been hostile to Solzhenitsyn for his anti-communism and Russian nationalism. Most reviews of his political works have been hostile or seek to make a “liberal” out of him, a common tactic. His social and political theory revolves around the dialectic between freedom and the state. The state here isn’t just any coercive power, but a state that derives from the Enlightenment, the mind of science and the belief that man can dominate nature for “his” benefit.

Without this basic approach, nothing in Solzhenitsyn’s work will make sense.

Solzhenitsyn attacked the materialism, atheism and nihilism that must exist in order for Marxism to flourish. Moreover, he was even more concerned about the nature of those forces that fill the vacuum left by religion and tradition. Capitalism came into being at a fight to the death with monarchy, agrarianism and the church. It is every bit as revolutionary as Marxism, but differs radically in its ability to be subtle about it. Superficial people think they are “free” if there are no proverbial “guns to their heads.”

They have not the introspection or desire to understand the origin of their alleged “preferences” or who actually decides what is “fashionable,” “mainstream” or ‘real.” It is probably a good thing for them they do not.

Matthew Raphael Johnson

Matthew Raphael Johnson is a scholar of Russian Orthodox history and philosophy. He completed his doctorate at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in 1999. He is a former professor of both history and political science at the University of Nebraska (as a graduate student), Penn State University and Mount St. Mary’s University. Since 1999, he was the editor (and is presently Senior Researcher) at The Barnes Review, a well-known renegade journal of European history. Dr. Johnson is the author of eight books. Six are from Hromada Books, "Sobornosti: Essays on the Old Faith;" "Heavenly Serbia and the Medieval Idea;" "Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality: Lectures on Medieval Russia;" "The Ancient Orthodox Tradition in Russian Literature: "The Foreign Policy of Mass Society: The Failure of Western Engagement in the Middle East;" and "Officially Approved Dissent: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Strategic Ambiguity in His Critique of Modernity." And two published by The Barnes Review, "The Third Rome: Holy Russia, Tsarism and Orthodoxy;" and "Russian Populist: The Political Thought of Vladimir Putin."