In 1978, two years following his deportation from the Soviet Union, dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn delivered A World Split Apart, Harvard’s commencement speech. He is perhaps best known as the author of “The Gulag Archipelago” and “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich” and winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in literature.
Solzhenitsyn was born in the Caucasus town of Kislovodsk in 1918, a year after Red October. His father was a Russian artillery officer on the German front and died in a hunting accident six months before Aleksandr’s birth. At age 12, young Aleksandr “joined the Young Pioneers and later became a member of Komsomol, the Communist youth organization. . . In February 1945, as the war in Europe drew to a close, he was arrested on the East Prussian front by agents of Smersh, the Soviet spy agency. The evidence against him was found in a letter to a school friend in which he referred to Stalin – disrespectfully, the authorities said – as ‘the man with the mustache.’ Though he was a loyal Communist, he was sentenced to eight years in a labor camp. It was his entry into the vast network of punitive institutions that he would later name the Gulag Archipelago, after the Russian acronym for the Main Administration of Camps.”1
At the height of the cold war, and as evidence of today’s polarized societies as described in the Book of Mormon, Solzhenitsyn began2:
The split in today’s world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of entirely destroying the other. However, understanding of the split often is limited to this political conception, to the illusion that danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is a much profounder and a more alienating one, that the rifts are more than one can see at first glance. This deep manifold split bears the danger of manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a Kingdom — in this case, our Earth — divided against itself cannot stand. . . . How short a time ago, relatively, the small new European world was easily seizing colonies everywhere, not only without anticipating any real resistance, but also usually despising any possible values in the conquered peoples’ approach to life. On the face of it, it was an overwhelming success, there were no geographic frontiers to it. Western society expanded in a triumph of human independence and power. And all of a sudden in the twentieth century came the discovery of its fragility and friability. We now see that the conquests proved to be short lived and precarious, and this in turn points to defects in the Western view of the world which led to these conquests. Relations with the former colonial world now have turned into their opposite and the Western world often goes to extremes of obsequiousness, but it is difficult yet to estimate the total size of the bill which former colonial countries will present to the West, and it is difficult to predict whether the surrender not only of its last colonies, but of everything it owns will be sufficient for the West to foot the bill.
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
- Kaufman, Michael T. “Solzhenitsyn, 20th-century oracle, dies”. 4 Aug 2008. The New York Times. 25 Mar 2013.↩
- Compare Nibley, Hugh W. “The Prophetic Book of Mormon”. 1989. Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. 25 Mar 2013; hereafter The Prophetic Book of Mormon.↩
- A PDF of his address can be found at “Solzhenitsyn Flays the West”. 25 Apr 2011. Harvard Magazine. 25 Mar 2013.↩