Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Address

Here are my notes on Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s well known 1978 Harvard Address. My shortened summaries of each point are highlighted below in blue text. Many of the problems below in my mind can only be redressed through proper discipleship and an important step in that direction is to reject the state’s educational system. Please see this recent post quoting Eugen Rosenstock-Heuessy regarding the modern notion of polytheistic eduction.

  1. Contemporary Worlds (There are cultures which are not understood by Western thinking.)
    1. “Any ancient deeply rooted autonomous culture, especially if it is spread on a wide part of the earth’s surface, constitutes an autonomous world, full of riddles and surprises to Western thinking.”
  2. Convergence (Our arrogance leads us on the path of imperialism and empire.)

    1. “But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction. However, it is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different.”
  3. A Decline in Courage (We are in large part a nation of cowards.)

    1. Particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and intellectual elite.
    2. Policies are created based on weakness and cowardice.
    3. Courageous individuals have no determining influence on public life.
    4. Is a decline in courage the beginning of the end?
  4. Well Being (Our emphasis on well being weakens us.)

    1. Our concern for well being has lead us to empty materialism and the welfare state.
    2. Guarantees of safety and well being are not always advantageous.
  5. Legalistic Life (Our concepts of justice and law are in fact very low.)

    1. Western society worships the letter of the law. Law makes right.
    2. “a society without objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but a legal one is not quite worthy of man either.”
  6. The Direction of Freedom (We are failing at the task of reconciling law and liberty.)

    1. Humanistic thinking has lead to a type of “freedom” which rewards mediocrity and promotes evil.
    2. “The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”
  7. The Direction of the Press (The press can not be trusted to reliably report the truth and inform us.)

    1. “Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20’th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. In-depth analysis of a problem is anathema to the press. It stops at sensational formulas.”
    2. The press bears no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion.
  8. A Fashion in Thinking (Our thoughts and ideas are censored by passive means.)
    1. “Without any censorship, in the West fashionable trends of thought and ideas are carefully separated from those which are not fashionable; nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or be heard in colleges. Legally your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day.”
  9. Socialism (We are Socialistic, whether we like to admit it or not.)
    1. Western society is leaning towards socialism, a false an dangerous current.
    2. Socialism leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.
  10. Not a Model (There are ample reason to think we are not the model for the rest of the world that we think we are.)
    1. The Western way of life is not a good model for the rest of the world.
    1. “But it is also demeaning for it to elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have. After the suffering of decades of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer and purer than those offered by today’s mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor and by intolerable music.”
    1. “There are meaningful warnings that history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.”
  11. Shortsightedness (We have been shortsighted in dealing with foreign threats.)
    1. “On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against communism’s well planned world strategy. There are no other criteria.”
  12. Loss of Willpower (We are a nation without will power.)
    1. “And yet — no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being.”
  13. Humanism and Its Consequences (Man is at the center of everything.)
    1. “This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.”
  14. An Unexpected Kinship (Materialism, socialism, and communism all have roots in humanism.)
    1. “Humanism without its Christian heritage cannot resist such competition. We watch this process in the past centuries and especially in the past decades, on a world scale as the situation becomes increasingly dramatic. Liberalism was inevitably displaced by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism and socialism could never resist communism.”
  15. Before the Turn (We must reject humanism, materialism, show restraint and recognize the impact of the enlightenment and modernism.)

    1. “There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness.”
    2. “We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.”
    3. “Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.”
    4. “If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge, we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more importantly, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the Modern era.”
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One Response to Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 Harvard Address

  1. Billyboy says:

    This helped me a lot with my interpretation of Mr. Solzhebutsyn’s speech. I like how you presented well-organized information with bulleted evidence to follow. You also caught many themes which I missed by simply reading it myself, So thank you very much.

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