Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956, The
by Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn
Why does worldview matter so much? Because ideas have consequences. If intellectual debate had no bearing on the real world, then it would be right to dismiss deep thinkers as “ivory tower types.” But God made the world in such a way that good ideas have good consequences and bad ideas have bad consequences, as surely as good trees bear good fruit and bad trees bear bad fruit.
The former Soviet Union provides a stark example. By this point in the reading list, students should have read the bad ideas of V.I. Lenin in The State and Revolution. Those ideas, in the form of the Marxist worldview, led directly to the Iron Curtain and the crimes committed behind it in the twentieth century.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago provides an eye-witness account of those crimes. Solzhenitsyn was arrested in 1945 on the pretext that he said something derogatory about Josef Stalin. He was sentenced to eight years in Soviet prison camps (known as “gulags”), and then exiled in 1953. This book describes the personal horror of the accused in a system unconcerned with justice, and then tells the bigger story of the systematic oppression of citizens by the communist government.
In the end, it is not the numbers that overwhelm you—though the numbers are depressing; rather, haunting personal stories in The Gulag Archipelago stay with you and remind you of the real men and women threshed by Marxism. Solzhenitsyn ably describes the guilt he felt as a member of an unjust society, when he avoided standing up for others caught in the machine. In the best summation of human nature I’ve read, he explains why he didn’t protest when others were unjustly imprisoned: “Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why he is right not to sacrifice himself.”
This is by no means the only Solzhenitsyn book that students should read. His masterpiece One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is one of my ten favorite books, and I love First Circle and Cancer Ward as well. But students will naturally gravitate toward those books as they learn to love literature. It’s more difficult to make yourself read The Gulag Archipelago, because it baldly documents the very bad consequences that proceeded from the Marxist worldview.
by Jeff Baldwin