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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (b. 1918)
A World Split Wider Apart

(This is a two-part series on Profiles in Faith: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  Part 1, Part 2)


Many people were offended by [Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s commencement address at Harvard, June 8, 1978]. The New York Times, in an editorial two days after the speech, declared Solzhenitsyn “dangerous” and “a zealot” because he was convinced, like some Puritan of old, that he was “in possession of The Truth.”1 The Washington Post asserted that Solzhenitsyn not only didn’t understand Western society, but carried his concern for human rights “to an unacceptable extreme.” The paper declared, “He speaks for boundless cold war.”2 Arthur Schlesinger Jr., then Professor of Humanities at the City University of New York, and formerly a speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, attributed to Solzhenitsyn a political ideal that was closer to parody than reality: “a Christian authoritarianism governed by God-fearing despots without benefit of politics, parties, undue intellectual freedom or undue concern for human happiness.”3

Conservative Americans, by and large, applauded Solzhenitsyn, as did many ordinary Americans. When Boston Globe columnist Mike Barnicle wrote a broadside against the Russian, 94 of the 100 letters he received in response disagreed with him. Columnist George Will suggested that, far from displaying irascible Slavic eccentricity—a common theme of many of the critics—Solzhenitsyn’s “ideas about the nature of man and the essential political problem are broadly congruent with the ideas of Cicero and other ancients, and those of Augustine, Richard Hooker, Pascal, Thomas More, Burke, Hegel and others.” Michael Novak, resident scholar in religion and public policy at the American Enterprise Institute, described the commencement address as “the most important religious document of our time.” Solzhenitsyn, said Novak, “was saved by faith in the power of simple truth. His was not solely a salvation for his soul through faith in Jesus Christ; it was also a ray of light for the entire race of men.”4 Not surprisingly, critics in principle of religion objected precisely to Solzhenitsyn’s religiosity. “Theology is irrelevant not only to democracy and capitalism and socialism as social systems,” Hook insisted, “but to the validity of morality itself.” . . .

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David Aikman

David Aikman, Author,  journalist and foreign policy consultant working in Washington in several different areas. He is the founding chairman and a board member of Gegrapha, a global fellowship of journalists, and recently a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Some of his books include When the Almond Tree Blossoms (Kindle edition, 2016), Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Balance of Power (second edition 2006) and A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush (April 2004. Aikman was born in Surrey, England, and received his Bachelor’s Degree from Worcester College, Oxford. He earned his Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Washington, Seattle.


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