March 4, 2007
Solzhenitsyn, the ProphetBy Robert C. Cheeks
Not too many weeks ago a book arrived which I immediately opened upon returning home from work. The cover page carried the distinct visage of a bearded, long-haired older gentleman who I at once recognized as Alexksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn. I flashed the book at she-who-must-be-obeyed (if I may borrow from Rumpole) and commented that Isaevich is, "...a great writer and philosopher."
Surely, I thought, my astute comment would impress the wife, an ardent student of C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Christian Theology.
"Indeed," she replied, "he is that, but he is first a prophet!"
Now that is something I hadn't considered, Solzhenitsyn as prophet. So as I read the book something the philosopher Eric Voegelin had written popped into my head. In his essay, Why Philosophize? To Recapture Reality! (Autobiographical Reflections, University of Missouri Press, 2006) Professor Voegelin argues that Solzhenitsyn found that Marxism had corrupted and degraded language to such a degree that the truth of existence was in question. Solzhenitsyn, then, resisted the deformations of Marxist dogma by embracing the "reality of Reason."
It was a very brave thing for Solzhenitsyn to do. He placed his life in jeopardy in his search for truth and he would pay an horrific price. But in all of those years spent in confinement, of one sort or another, he continuously wrote. He told us stories, "...in the tradition of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy," that explicate the age in which we live; its perversions and distortions that have disordered man's very existence.
The significance of Isaevich's work lay in the realization that "history is the process in which eternal being realizes itself in time and secondly, philosophy makes conscious the differentiated knowledge of the process."
God, then, is experienced at those moments when He "irrupts" in time and is "realized" in the "soul of the philosopher, the lover of wisdom, who desires eternal being and, in love, opens his soul to its irruption."
In the introduction of The Solzhenitsyn Reader the editors tell us of Isaevich's questioning unrest as a young communist that began his search for truth. It was a seminal noetic experience and culminated in an understanding of the Marxists' rejection of the Question. And, we can observe, in his writings, that he has avoided the "pathological derailment" as he seeks the truth of reality along the tension of immanent being and the divine.
Isaevich was quick to understand that modern man's greatest failure was the divorce of "reason and existential philia, between reason and openness toward the ground," between reason and revelation! "In turning away from the ground," as Professor Voegelin wrote in his essay, Reason: The Classic Experience, "man turns away from his own self; thus, alienation is a withdrawal from the humanity that is constituted by the tension toward the ground."
It is this knowledge that makes Isaevich so profound a chronicler, that makes Isaevich a prophet. He understands that even in the temporal reality man can choose to move away from the distortions of modernity, to dwell in the "in-between," the metaxy, to move "from the imperfection of death in this life to the perfection of life in death." Or, man may choose to exist merely as a world-immanent being, distorting his very existence, a pseudo-humanity that tracks along the apeirontic depths of existence resulting in the perversions of the spiritually dull. It is the latter case that best describes Isaevich's antagonist, Soviet Man, the grand failure of the 20th Century.
In his corpus Isaevich teaches us the history and pathological reality of Soviet Man, who in reality very much mirrors Western Man. He also makes us aware that the foundation of the Marxist System is the Enlightenment project and the triumph of its heresies. From doubting God, to destroying God, to the Gulag, Western man's egophanic revolt results in a profound disorder of language and articulation, a destruction of the noetic symbols of transcendence, and the loss of the cosmic order. There can be little wonder, then, that modernity collapsed into relativism, nihilism, objectivism, and the resultant postmodern age is best described as the anti-philosophical triumph of "groundlessness," the epoch devoid of the meta-narrative, the age without God.
Isaevich has come out of the desert to point out the distortions, to point the way to God. He is the Platonic daimonios aner, "spiritual man;" he is the Hebrew prophet, consumed in a metastatic faith, calling out in the name of Yahweh for a restoration of the right order of the world while remaining "fully aware of the obstacles presented by human nature."
Messrs. Ericson and Mahoney are to congratulated in assembling this collection of Solzhenitsyn's corpus. Their introductions to the various offerings provide the reader with an understanding of the focus of the work, its genesis, and outline. I am personally grateful that they included his Harvard Address that illustrates Isaevich as the true Platonic philosopher/prophet, where he fearlessly engages the academy in questions they have no desire to hear let alone answer.
The Solzhrnitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, 1947-2005
Edited by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel F. Mahoney
Intercollegiate Studies Institute
Wilmington, DE, 2006
Hdbk, 634 pgs.