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Solzhenitsyn at Harvard: The Address, Twelve Early Responses, and Six Later Reflections

Berman, Ronald, ed. | Ethics and Policy Center, 1980


p. 25

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 commencement address at Harvard University, a defining moment in the twentieth-century culture wars, indicted Western godlessness, materialism, and consequent superficiality.  The West has thrown away God, said Solzhenitsyn, as well as the accountabilities and depths of purpose that used to be attached to belief in God; it has substituted for these weighty things faddish variations on the pursuit of freedom and happiness.  Any return to greatness must begin with a reappraisal of the goal of human life, a recognition of its spiritual nature, and the recovery of a sense of responsibility to God and for others.

Journalistic reaction to the speech was immense.  A good deal of it was peevish and defensive: a Washington Post editorial interpreted Solzhenitsyn as proposing that he himself ought to become “the unifying inspiration” to correct American society!