Solzhenitsyn has finally returned to Mother Russia after 18 years in the United States. Given that he did more than any other individual to help bring down communism, it is strange that so many Americans are still puzzled by this man and unfamiliar with his work. This is partly due to Solzhenitsyn’s decision to live a reclusive life deep in the woods of Vermont. When leaving, he thanked his fellow Vermonters for respecting his seclusion. For a state so respectful of individual liberties and privacy, that was not such a hard thing to do. But for a man who helped bring down the Soviet Empire, why does his name remain a mystery to some, and an enigma to others? The answer, as it so often does, lies in the lower depths of politics.

Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet soldier during World War II when he was arrested for expressing frustrations about the war in private letters. The fact that he was arrested was not unusual, for millions of his fellow countrymen were also carted off to the Gulag. What distinguished Solzhenitsyn was the fact that he lived to tell his tale about Stalin’s purges and the Soviet reign of terror. His words shook the foundations of history’s most brutal regime. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was a fictional account of what the average day was like for someone in a Soviet concentration camp. As chilling as that story was, nothing was so terrifying and monumental as his masterful work, The Gulag Archipelago. Chronicling the purges of the 1920’s through the 1950’s, Solzhenitsyn traces the root of the Soviet disease back to Lenin and the communist Utopian ideal of a “new society” and a new “Soviet Man.” That social experiment led to the extermination of over 40 million people. The numbers are almost too staggering to comprehend. The Gulag Archipelago, although virtually ignored in America, destroyed the European left’s faith in the Soviet model. The dream of a new society was dead, its foundations, built on the bones of millions, were crumbling.

But what about America? The left, always sympathetic to the Soviet Union, had long apologized for the murders, forced famines, and purges. Leftists viewed Solzhenitsyn as a traitor, and often dismissed him as a lunatic. When I was in college in the 1980’s, a professor told me in response to a question about Solzhenitsyn, “He has his merits as a writer of fiction, but as a historian of the Soviet Union he has no credibility.” (This professor is still hailed on Chicago TV as a Russian “expert.”)

But it was not only the left that shied away from Solzhenitsyn. During five administrations he was never invited to the White House. Even Ronald Reagan, of “Evil Empire” fame, refused to invite Solzhenitsyn. It was thought to be too risky; it might upset the Soviet leadership. God forbid.

If the left viewed Solzhenitsyn as a traitor, many on the right were suspicious of his leanings toward a Russia ruled by a divine monarch—a Romanov restoration. Solzhenitsyn was very critical of the West and its slavish devotion to materialism. He feared that a society that turns away from God, in pursuit of instant gratification, will lead to decadence and despair. And considering the social and cultural problems plaguing the Godless West, can anyone deny that it is less safe, more uncivil, and yes, more decadent today?

Solzhenitsyn is a man caught out of his time. He harkens back to 19th-century Imperial Russia, the land of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. But his warnings to the West remain relevant and should at least be understood, if not heeded. His hope for divine intervention for his homeland—and for ours—should be prayed for by all.