Solzhenitsyn’s Distributism

Over at the St. Austin Review’s “Ink Desk” blog, Richard Aleman has written a fascinating post on two areas about which I know nearly nothing yet which I find endlessly fascinating: the great Russian writer Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and the economic/social/geopolitical philosophy most widely known as distributism:

…Solzhenitsyn, once crushed under the boot of massive centralized government, was expected to champion the Non-Interventionist State. Instead, he predicted disaster for institutions apathetic to economic and social involvement. After all, government regulations-within recognizable limits-serve to protect the common good and to keep the fallen nature of man in check. What’s more, public institutions should recognize man’s requisite for spiritual development and generate provisions for them, not fight or ignore these needs. Pope John XXIII, in the encyclical Mater et Magistra, called this task of the State its reason for being (raison d’être), as government bodies are responsible to oversee the common good and cannot afford to be “aloof from economic matters.”

It should give any reader pause how a man whose life began in the midst of Communist culture could condemn not only the Soviet way of life but ours as well. Dismissing the criticism, embracing Western materialism as a “better” alternative to Communist materialism, is to avoid the elephant in the room. For some, being in a pit without snakes is better than being in a pit with them. Solzhenitsyn brilliantly asks us why we should be in a pit at all.

Sadly — (or, perhaps, happily for the rest of the IC readership) — I have little to add. I have been powerfully moved by what little Solzhenitsyn I have read, but “little” is still the operative word. And as for having legitimate opinions on anything involving economics or geopolitics, I’m years/lifetimes away from that.

So, I offer it as yet more “food for thought,” and leave it up to more qualified commentators to dissect. (But now I’m curious: I wonder if Wendell Berry has any thoughts on Solzhenitsyn. They would seem to have much in common.)


Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming -- "where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks" -- he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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