This deeply humane understanding of evil is anathema to a political ideology like communism that draws bright, artificial lines between the chosen people and their enemies, thus justifying unimaginable acts of sadism. "Thanks to ideology," Solzhenitsyn writes, "the twentieth century was fated to experience evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions."
Solzhenitsyn's suffering in the camps saved him from ideology: "It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good." And for that, he made the astonishing exclamation, "Bless you, prison, for having been in my life!"
Such a man wouldn't bend to any party or fashion. Soon after his exile, he gave the commencement speech at Harvard. He began by noting that "truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter," then proceeded to scourge the West for its moral decadence. He was right about much, even if he underestimated the reserves of resolve in a West about to see the rise of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.
Solzhenitsyn stands as an inspiration to lonely dissidents the world over, and as a testament to the power of art. He quoted Fyodor Dostoevsky in his Nobel lecture: "Beauty will save the world." He maintained that those were more than mere words, and proved it to be so. RIP.