In Chapter 6 of my Philosophy of Economics, is to be found a quote from Solzhenitsyn: “(Also Solzhenitsyn: “Fastenko, on the other hand, was the most cheerful person in the cell, even though, in view of his age, he was the only one who could not count on surviving and returning to freedom. Flinging an arm around my shoulders, he would say: To stand up for truth is nothing! For truth you have to sit in jail!”)”.
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, along with Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, were heroes of mine after I had left school in India in December 1971 and reached Paris where my father was with the Embassy. My father had purchased Solzhenitsyn’s books and these I devoured eagerly at our then-home at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel, during breaks from my pre-University education at Haileybury College, across the English Channel. We had been in Odessa before Paris, and in Stockholm before Odessa. In 1969, we had travelled by ship and train from Stockholm via Helsinki to Leningrad, Moscow and Odessa. In December 1967, my father had gotten me to fly to Stockholm through Moscow and stay for a day or two with a colleague of his during my winter holidays from India. Moscow in December 1967 was celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution — I recall what the city felt and seemed like to me as a 12 year old: foreboding, awesome, intimidating.
Now in 1972-73 in Paris, the works of Solzhenitsyn and the example of Sakharov explained to me that brief boyhood experience of the USSR and a great deal more.
As it happens, the present PM of India, as a friend of my father’s, visited us at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel in the summer of 1973 at my father’s request to advise me about studying economics (I was on my way to the London School of Economics as an undergraduate). He stayed about 40 minutes during his busy schedule as part of an Indian economic delegation. I was 18, he was about 41. We ended up having a tense debate about the merits (as he saw them) and demerits (as I saw them) of the Soviet influence on Indian economic “planning”. He had not expected such controversy from a lad but he was kindly disposed and offered when departing to write a letter of introduction to a well-known Indian professor at the LSE for me to carry, which I did.
The works and example of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov built my youthful understanding of the USSR at age 17-18. This contributed to my libertarianism at Cambridge University and later in America (until my experience of the American federal judiciary at age 37 or so).
When I mentioned my admiration for Solzhenitsyn’s work to Milton Friedman at a memorable luncheon at his San Francisco home in 1989, he said that they had been neighbours in Vermont though they had not interacted because of Solzhenitsyn’s desire to be reclusive.
Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov symbolised shoots of new life in the swamp that had been Soviet totalitarianism.