It is heartening to learn that economic growth is largest in countries where the government is least meddlesome. Such information is of great significance to the utilitarian argument for liberty, for it hurts the Marxist where he bleeds the most: in showing the material superiority of capitalism, which is constantly denied in the Communist press.

To Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, however, this is rather beside the point. To him, and to people like me, efficiency and abundance do not provide a sufficient argument for capitalism; in fact, they may even serve to obscure the more basic elements of the system of natural liberty.

I find it disturbing, for example, to read that Friedrich von Hayek believes that “the whole argument for freedom, or the greater part of the argument for freedom, rests on the fact of our ignorance.” Hayek’s line of thinking has severe limitations. For clearly he is led to admit that “if we were all-wise, or if any one person among us were allwise, the argument for freedom would become very weak indeed.” This implies that freedom is merely a means to other ends, such as prosperity and scientific knowledge, even “the common good.”

To be sure, the argument from ignorance is brought to the defense of the market by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations. It is also important to William Godwin, an early British anarchist who, in his Enquiry Concerning Political Justice and Its Influence on Morals and Happiness (1793), reasoned as follows: since no man can know everything, and all men are fallible, we must repudiate centralized government. But here Godwin goes a step further (and I with him): even if someone were found who was “allwise,” that superman would still have no right to coerce others. “Countries,” writes Godwin, “exposed to the perpetual interference of decrees, exhibit within their boundaries the mere phantoms of men.” Respect for private judgment is not subordinate to prosperity or indeed to anything else, nor is it merely a useful device. It is a precondition of human dignity and therefore of our self-respect.

Solzhenitsyn attacks excessive liberalism or what he calls “anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists,” and the concept that “the basis of government and social science . . . could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him.” I disagree with the latter part of his argument. My credo rests on a commitment to the autonomy of man, on his individuality as the locus of choice, and the necessary condition for any exercise of virtue.

Autonomy is no easy task: to choose is to suffer the consequences of ignorance, the agony of indecision, the responsibility of defeat. To love all men is possible for a Christ alone—I intend not at all to feel for my neighbor what I feel for my children, and I shall not expect him to do the impossible either. But the emotions I have for him will depend on who he is—which is to say, on what Tie does.

For what is autonomy if not the self-definition of man expressing his very dignity in the tantalizing, mystifying marketplace that is his daily action? Without autonomy, man is nothing. Stripped of his soul—or, if you prefer, his will—God Himself will not be able to rescue him, for nothing will be left, or nothing but name, rank, and serial number.

The present-day college graduate, a veteran of beer bashes and TV journalism, may have some difficulty understanding what Solzhenitsyn means by “the forces of Evil [which] have begun their decisive offensive.” Moreover, as our self-appointed wizards in the media remind Solzhenitsyn that he is really a 19th-century man and would really be much happier under the tsar, we tend to overlook the simpler sentences in his speech that would ring clear to the unobstructed ear.

When he warns that “America itself would fall prey to a genocide similar to the one perpetrated in Cambodia in our days,” he speaks literally. In the 60’s we said it wouldn’t happen. Over a million murders later (three million? do the numbers fail us?), we are still unwilling to cry out to the skies and the murders continue—innocent men, women, and children. How can one blame Solzhenitsyn for finding his metaphors in the vocabulary of eschatology, when no medieval imagination could have matched what is only a jet flight away from the headquarters of The Washington Post—the now merely embarrassing Holocaust of South Asia.

If Solzhenitsyn reminds us of God, it is perhaps because he has looked the Devil in the eye. What he has seen is not merely the terror of death, for death has its element of grace, reminding us as it does that ours is a most temporary gift, one that we must guard well and use tenderly. It is perhaps because only by speaking of God can he tell us of his love for man. It is not just capitalism, Adam Smith’s “system of natural freedom,” that is at stake here, but all we have ever held sacred, all we are. We may never be able to love again.