VIEWSnSOLZHENITSYN AND DEMOCRACYnby Edward E. Ericson Jr.nThe name of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has fallen on hardntimes. My many public lectures on this author con-nince me that his sympathetic admirers are legion, but eennthese admirers are troubled that the press commentary onnhim seems to be fairly consistently negative. While almostnall of his Western critics allow that Solzhenitsyn is anmajeshc presence on today’s generally bleak human landscape,nmost of them save their intensity for shff negativencomments. These comments are less about his art thannabout his opinions on matters of public life.nThe most common criticism is that Solzhenitsyn doesnnot understand the West. And, so the line goes, henespecially does not understand—and therefore does notnvalue—democracy. The implicit—and sometimes explicitn—conclusion is that we should not listen to Solzhenitsynnwhen he speaks about the West in general and democracy innparticular. So widespread is this view that it can now fairlynEdward E. Ericson Jr., author of Solzhenitsyn: ThenMoral Vision {Eerdmans}, is chairman of the departmentnof English at Calvin College.n22/ CHHONICLES OF CULTUREnnnbe called the received opinion. Perhaps, having had littlenfirsthand experience of democracy (although he has nownlied one-fourth of his adult life in the West), Solzhenitsynnis not in the best position to interpret it. But any writerndeserves to have his own words heard, and Solzhenitsyn’snview of democracy is not what his crihcs say it is.nThe misunderstanding about Solzhenitsyn on the subjectnof democracy derives from a misunderstanding of—or annaversion to—his general orientation toward human reality.nHis view of life and human nature is alien to most of hisncrihcs. Simply stated. Solzhenitsyn has a religious believer’sniew of things. Many of his crihcs do not. Historically, then18th-century French Enlightenment provided the theoreticalnbasis on which the West’s standard secular view ofndemocracy is built. In broad terms, it proposed that fornevery human problem there is a rational soludon. Innprachce, a rational solution has come to mean a polidcalnsolution. Solzhenitsyn deviates from this regnant orthodoxy;nhe does not accede to the primacy of politics. Henthinks that moral and religious issues are more importantnthan polidcal ones. Certainly, he does not accept thenreligion of democracy, a notion safely ensconced in thenstatement of purpose of virtually every public-school districtnin the United States, that training for citizenship in democracynis the supreme goal of the educating of our children.nHe does not believe that the virtues of democracy are sonself-evident that we can raise no questions. Indeed, he doesnraise tienchant questions about democracy.nYet Solzhenitsyn is not antidemocratic, as has frequentlynbeen charged by many critics (and especially detractors). Atnthe same time, it is definitely not the case that he isnenthusiastically pro-democratic. Rather, Solzhenitsyn articulatesna position which can be described as neither fornnor against democracy in and of itself. Such a position cannbe equated with an antidemocratic position only by thosenwho are so enthralled by the abstract concept of democracynthat they must see as a foe anyone who is not an ardentnadvocate of their own position. Indeed, there are hints thatnSolzhenitsyn’s view Is more for than against democracy.nBut, overall, his view on the subject is a complex matter,nnot one to be resolved’by the affixing of a label.nSolzhenitsyn’s attitude towards democracy may be resolvedninto five positions. First, Solzhenitsyn never urgesnthe states of the West to abandon democracy. Second, henspeaks freely of the faults in the practices of modernnWestern democracies. Third, he fears the social upheavalnwhich he expects would come from a sudden introductionnof democracy into the Russian context. Fourth, he imaginesnthat authoritarianism might be preferable to democracy forn