Alexander, we hardly knew ye.
Dare we allow the death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn yesterday pass unnoticed? His journey from adored Soviet dissident to reviled critic of the west was such an important milestone of my younger years, its hard to believe that today the vast majority of the students I work with have never heard of him.
Farewell, brother! I’ll see you on the other side.
For those who’ve never seen or heard of it, I include below the conclusion of his famous Harvard commencement address, A World Split Apart, delivered on June 8, 1978:
“I am not examining here the case of a world war disaster and the changes which it would produce in society. As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. 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.
To such consciousness, man is the touchstone in judging and evaluating
everything on earth. Imperfect man, who is never free of pride,
self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now
experiencing the consequences of mistakes which had not been noticed at
the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our
days we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a
Supreme Complete Entity which used to restrain our passions and our
irresponsibility. 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. In the East, it is destroyed
by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West,
commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The
split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease
plaguing its main sections.
If humanism were right in declaring that man is born to be happy,
he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task
on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be
unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for
the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully get the most
out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty
so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so
that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is
imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present
incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the
President’s performance be reduced to the question of how much money
one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary,
inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of
It would be retrogression to attach oneself today to the ossified
formulas of the Enlightenment. Social dogmatism leaves us completely
helpless in front of the trials of our times.
Even if we are spared destruction by war, our lives will have to
change if we want to save life from self-destruction. We cannot avoid
revising the fundamental definitions of human life and human society.
Is it true that man is above everything? Is there no Superior Spirit
above him? Is it right that man’s life and society’s activities have to
be determined by material expansion in the first place? Is it
permissible to promote such expansion to the detriment of our spiritual
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.
This ascension will be similar to climbing onto the next
anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but —