Solzhenitsyn’s Kick Against The Pricks


Convivium, 14 June 2018

As global soccer fans tune in to the sport’s World Cup in Moscow, Editor-in-Chief Father Raymond de Souza salutes the 40th anniversary of the great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s earth-shaking commencement speech at Harvard University.

The World Cup begins in Moscow today, and the eyes of the vast majority of the world’s sports fans will be turned to Russia for the next month. Somewhat immune from the attraction of a nil-nil thriller settled on penalty kicks, I offer in honour of Russia’s World Cup one of Russia’s greatest sons. Not Vladimir Putin.

I have written thousands of columns, but never one that asked readers to stop reading it – so that they might read something else. But on the fortieth anniversary of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1978 commencement address at Harvard, it would seem a bit pretentious to ask readers to read me instead of him

You can find the text as printed in the Harvard Magazine in 1978, or in a more reader-friendly form at Orthodoxy Today.

Solzhenitsyn was a Russian novelist whose mastery of the art had him spoken of as another Dostoevsky, certainly one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970, but did not go to collect the prize, as he feared he would not be allowed back into the Soviet Union. 

In 1974, as The Gulag Archipelago appeared, he was exiled from the Soviet Union and instantly became one of the most famous anti-communist voices the world over. 

He moved about from Germany to Switzerland, and then to Stanford University before settling in relative obscurity in Cavendish, Vermont in 1976. 

In 1978, Harvard scored a major coup. Solzhenitsyn agreed to accept an honorary doctorate of letters, and to be the commencement speaker. His speech on 8th June 1978 were his first public remarks since coming to live in the United States.

In the past decades, the legalistic selfishness of the Western approach to the world has reached its peak and the world has found itself in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse.

It was a moment of major historical drama, the great dissident novelist at the great American university during the Cold War. He then delivered the most memorable commencement address in history, what Christian philosopher and apologist Peter Kreeft – who was present for the address – would call “one of the most important speeches in the history of our civilization.”

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