Prophetic writers are a holy nuisance to everyone, but especially to themselves. The gift of prophecy renders a man incapable of a quiet life, incapable of enjoying idle pleasures, incapable of looking the other way — when it is to no immediate personal advantage to be staring at the truth.
He was not a polemicist: he really was a literary composer, in the grand tradition of the realistic novel. His memorable speeches — from his Nobel Lecture to his Harvard Address in the 1970s, which every educated person read — were themselves less polemical than their author’s reputation. Solzhenitsyn is not at ease writing prescriptions for the world’s ills. There is unconcealed naivete — a prophetic naivete — when he tells us, repeatedly, that simply by telling the truth, and facing the truth, our devils may be routed. When he does offer to analyze political realities in political terms, he sounds narrow and mean. He did try to play the politician sometimes, especially towards the end of his life, and those efforts were quite forgettable.
His voice and his books have shared in the eclipse of the Evil Empire; we think of him now as a figure from a past epoch. But in another generation I think Solzhenitsyn will be returned to, and his prophetic qualities better understood. For Solzhenitsyn had the gift to place human events on a stage larger than human life.