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Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Harvard Commencement Address
American Rhetoric Online Speech Bank ^ | 8 June 1978 | Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Posted on 02/08/2010 8:30:00 AM PST by CondoleezzaProtege

"Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century and more than anywhere else this disease is reflected in the press. Such as it is, however, the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislative power, the executive, and the judiciary."

"If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only 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 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 how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self-restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism."

(Excerpt) Read more at americanrhetoric.com ...


TOPICS: History; Society
KEYWORDS: commencements; harvard; highereducation; liberalprogressivism; moralabsolutes; russia; solzhenitsyn; transcript; ussr
"Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn (December 11, 1918 – August 3, 2008) was a Soviet and Russian novelist, dramatist, and historian. Through his writings he helped to make the world aware of the Gulag, the Soviet Union's forced labor camp system – particularly The Gulag Archipelago and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, two of his two best-known works. Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. He was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1974 and returned to Russia in 1994."

~ Courtesy of Wikipedia

1 posted on 02/08/2010 8:30:01 AM PST by CondoleezzaProtege
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To: CondoleezzaProtege
""If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die"

Huh?

This guy was way overrated. He was only a hero because he was anti-russia during the cold war

to knee-jerkers: I am not saying he was WRONG, I just did not like his writing that much Maybe it loses something in the translation, but I thought it was bland trivialities- like that example above

2 posted on 02/08/2010 8:33:06 AM PST by Mr. K (This administration IS WEARING OUT MY CAPSLOCK KEY!)
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To: Mr. K
I also appreciated this excerpt:

However, in early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were -- State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the 20th century's moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the 19th Century.

3 posted on 02/08/2010 8:34:13 AM PST by CondoleezzaProtege ("When I survey the wondrous cross...")
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To: Mr. K

Go back and read First Circle.

Then come here and tell me that this man was over rated.


4 posted on 02/08/2010 8:36:23 AM PST by Carley (Are you better off now than one year ago? HELL NO!!!!!)
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To: Carley

I have a first edition of one of his books...in English.


5 posted on 02/08/2010 8:37:18 AM PST by Sacajaweau (What)
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To: Sacajaweau

Read First Circle


6 posted on 02/08/2010 8:37:53 AM PST by Carley (Are you better off now than one year ago? HELL NO!!!!!)
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To: Mr. K
This guy was way overrated. He was only a hero because he was anti-russia during the cold war

Kind of like Ayn Eand. But I'd rate Solzhenitsyn higher than 100 Ayn Rands. I can't see any of Rand's fictional supermen lasting a week in the Gulag.

7 posted on 02/08/2010 8:41:59 AM PST by Colonel Kangaroo
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To: CondoleezzaProtege
He was only a hero because he was anti-russia during the cold war

Huh? That in itself is an achievement, especially when he lived in Russia. Have you read One Day in the life of Ivan Denisovich? I suggest you read it.

8 posted on 02/08/2010 8:42:55 AM PST by JimWayne
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To: Mr. K

Hastiness and superficiality are the psychic disease of the 20th century . . .

: )


9 posted on 02/08/2010 8:44:06 AM PST by Woebama (Never, never, never quit)
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To: CondoleezzaProtege
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn Solzhinitsyn's CANCER WARD is one of the greatest novels in history. His life is one of the most influential of the last century. He did it all from growing up under Lenin and Stalin to serving in the Red Army fighting the Germans, to arrest, slave labor camps, internal exile, literary successes, external exile, and triumphant return to Russia.
10 posted on 02/08/2010 8:46:04 AM PST by Monterrosa-24 (...even more American than a French bikini and a Russian AK-47.)
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To: Mr. K
I just did not like his writing that much

Liking someone's writing is often not the point of the exercise. The writer provides an opportunity for the reader to reflect on the writers observations. Liking, enjoying, or agreeing is not the point.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle

11 posted on 02/08/2010 8:49:35 AM PST by MosesKnows (Love many, Trust few, and always paddle your own canoe)
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To: CondoleezzaProtege

And, of course, there are these words of warning to us here in America today:

“...At what exact point, then, should one resist the
communists?...”
“How we burned in the prison camps later thinking: what
would things have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to make an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say good bye to his family?

“Or if during periods of mass arrests people had not simply sat there in their lairs, paling in terror at every bang on the downstairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had nothing to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand...the Organs (police) would very quickly have suffered a shortage of officers...and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed machine would have ground to a halt.”
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago


12 posted on 02/08/2010 8:52:18 AM PST by Dick Bachert (DIPLOMACY: THE ABILITY TO SAY "NICE DOGGY" WHILE GROPING FOR A LARGE ROCK.)
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To: Mr. K
Have you read the entire speech referenced here - "A World Split Apart?" Do so if you haven't.

Solzhenitsyn was arguably one of the great minds of the 20th century. He spoke of truths that many did not wish to hear. He experienced - and survived with his humanity intact - precisely what we're headed for here if we don't take the drastic and unpleasant steps necessary to stop it.

13 posted on 02/08/2010 8:57:21 AM PST by Noumenon ("Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, that he has grown so great?" - Julius Caesar)
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To: CondoleezzaProtege

Thank you for posting this. And here’s another quote:

“Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”


14 posted on 02/08/2010 8:58:28 AM PST by zorro8987
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To: Mr. K

“A decline in courage may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party…
Should one point out that from ancient times declining courage has been considered the beginning of the end?”

Would you call this excerpt from Solzhenitsyn’s speech “bland trivialities.” I think not, in my opinion, he hit the nail on the head. It’s going to demand more courage from us conservatives than any of us realize to rescue this country from it’s current Orwellian nightmare.


15 posted on 02/08/2010 8:58:29 AM PST by sasportas
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To: CondoleezzaProtege

Live not by lies...


16 posted on 02/08/2010 8:59:41 AM PST by Altura Ct.
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To: JimWayne
I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich when I was in the 7th grade. It was a private school whose libray had not yet been purged of politically incorrect books. It was an eye-opener, and I never saw the world in quite the same way since then. Solzhenitsyn was responsible in no small measure for setting me on the path to acquiring some samll comprehension of the nature of humanity and of the world we inhabit.

Reading and understanding Solzhenitsyn is one of the keys to understaning the nature of the mosnters who would rule us now.

17 posted on 02/08/2010 9:02:32 AM PST by Noumenon ("Upon what meat doth this our Caesar feed, that he has grown so great?" - Julius Caesar)
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To: Dick Bachert
Solzhenitsyn's funeral This photo shows the amazing change from being an exiled enemy of the state to receiving a virtual state funeral. FIRST CIRCLE has already been recommended on this thread but one should also catch the Canadian mini-series of the same name. It has Christopher Plummer as weak-kneed henchman of Stalin and F. Murray Abraham as Stalin.
18 posted on 02/08/2010 9:03:16 AM PST by Monterrosa-24 (...even more American than a French bikini and a Russian AK-47.)
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To: Mr. K

Maybe it loses something in the translation, but I thought it was bland trivialities- like that example above

Solzhenitsyn was speaking of man’s spirit and morality. Never took him for a lightweight. Some folks find this kind of talk unsettling. He was a thinking and moral man. God bless him.


19 posted on 02/08/2010 9:05:32 AM PST by equalitybeforethelaw
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To: Mr. K; equalitybeforethelaw; sasportas; CondoleezzaProtege

quoting Alexander S - “If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die” —

To me this is certainly _not_ a bland triviality. There are people I know who are blatantly hedonistic and have declared that they are making pleasure their goal in life. Alexander’s point is that we were made for a higher spiritual goal, a serious and earnest ideal. He’s a philosophic writer. When we consider that we will die in about 100 years or less from the time of our birth, that should put a more serious perspective on things.


20 posted on 02/08/2010 9:09:00 AM PST by zorro8987
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To: Woebama

re - Hastiness & superficiality -

the TV generation.


21 posted on 02/08/2010 9:10:40 AM PST by zorro8987
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To: zorro8987
“re - Hastiness & superficiality -”

“the TV generation.”

That reminds me of another Solzhenitsyn quotation concerning that the West suffers “from the spiritual impotence that comes from a life of ease”.

Perhaps that explains in part why those who grew up during the depression had the wherewithal to win WWII and were head and shoulders above the spoiled brats of today.

22 posted on 02/08/2010 9:17:37 AM PST by Monterrosa-24 (...even more American than a French bikini and a Russian AK-47.)
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To: equalitybeforethelaw
“.but I thought it was bland trivialities-...”
__________________________________________________________

Such are the moments of our lives. In others eyes trivialities.

What is happening now in Washington is monumental; and largely we sit and watch as though it was business as usual.

Are we so blind we are going to cooperate with our enslavement?

Think about it.

23 posted on 02/08/2010 9:18:38 AM PST by geologist (The only answer to the troubles of this life is Jesus. A decision we all must make.)
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To: CondoleezzaProtege
“Western thinking has become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost; there should be no changes. ....
The communist regime in the East could stand and grow due to the enthusiastic support
from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see
communism's crimes. And when they no longer could do so, they tried to justify them. In
our Eastern countries, communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero
and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with
empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to
withstand the East.”
[Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn at the Commencement, 8 June 1978, Harvard University]
24 posted on 02/08/2010 9:21:54 AM PST by Diogenesis (Alea iacta est.)
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To: CondoleezzaProtege

Bookmarking. Thanks for posting this!


25 posted on 02/08/2010 9:23:28 AM PST by EdReform (Oath Keepers - Guardians of the Republic - Honor your oath - Join us: www.oathkeepers.org)
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To: CondoleezzaProtege
Rereading this great speech provides perspective to our current dilemma. There may be more profound sections than the following, but this portion is cautionary for today:

Excerpt:
"I have received letters in America from highly intelligent persons, maybe a teacher in a faraway small college who could do much for the renewal and salvation of his country, but his country cannot hear him because the media are not interested in him. This gives birth to strong mass prejudices, to blindness, which is most dangerous in our dynamic era. There is, for instance, a self-deluding interpretation of the contemporary world situation. It works as a sort of a petrified armor around people's minds. Human voices from 17 countries of Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia cannot pierce it. It will only be broken by the pitiless crowbar of events.

"I have mentioned a few traits of Western life which surprise and shock a new arrival to this world. The purpose and scope of this speech will not allow me to continue such a review, to look into the influence of these Western characteristics on important aspects of a nation's life, such as elementary education, advanced education in the humanities and art.

"It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current.

"I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative. Having experienced -- Having experienced applied socialism in a country where the alternative has been realized, I certainly will not speak for it. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death. Shafarevich's book was published in France -- Shafarevich's book was published in France almost two years ago and so far no one has been found to refute it. It will shortly be published in the United States.

"But should someone ask me whether I would indicate the West such as it is today as a model to my country, frankly I would have to answer negatively. No, I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive. Even those characteristics of your life which I have just mentioned are extremely saddening.

"A fact which cannot be disputed is the weakening of human beings in the West while in the East they are becoming firmer and stronger -- 60 years for our people and 30 years for the people of Eastern Europe. During that time we have been through a spiritual training far in advance of Western experience. Life's complexity and mortal weight have produced stronger, deeper, and more interesting characters than those generally [produced] by standardized Western well-being.

"Therefore, if our society were to be transformed into yours, it would mean an improvement in certain aspects, but also a change for the worse on some particularly significant scores. It is true, no doubt, that a society cannot remain in an abyss of lawlessness, as is the case in our country. But it is also demeaning for it to elect such mechanical legalistic smoothness as you have. After the suffering of many years of violence and oppression, the human soul longs for things higher, warmer, and purer than those offered by today's mass living habits, introduced by the revolting invasion of publicity, by TV stupor, and by intolerable music.

"There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen. There are open and evident warnings, too. The center of your democracy and of your culture is left without electric power for a few hours only, and all of a sudden crowds of American citizens start looting and creating havoc. The smooth surface film must be very thin, then, the social system quite unstable and unhealthy.

"But the fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their offensive; you can feel their pressure, and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?

"Very well known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: We cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus, we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against communism's well planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events.

"In spite of the abundance of information, or maybe because of it, the West has difficulties in understanding reality such as it is. There have been naive predictions by some American experts who believed that Angola would become the Soviet Union's Vietnam or that Cuban expeditions in Africa would best be stopped by special U.S. courtesy to Cuba. Kennan's advice to his own country -- to begin unilateral disarmament -- belongs to the same category. If you only knew how the youngest of the Kremlin officials laugh at your political wizards. As to Fidel Castro, he frankly scorns the United States, sending his troops to distant adventures from his country right next to yours.

"However, the most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam war. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or communist, self-determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear?

"The American Intelligentsia lost its nerve and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your shortsighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing pause; however, a hundredfold Vietnam now looms over you. That small Vietnam had been a warning and an occasion to mobilize the nation's courage. But if a full-fledged America suffered a real defeat from a small communist half-country, how can the West hope to stand firm in the future?

"I have had occasion already to say that in the 20th century Western democracy has not won any major war without help and protection from a powerful continental ally whose philosophy and ideology it did not question. In World War II against Hitler, instead of winning that war with its own forces, which would certainly have been sufficient, Western democracy grew and cultivated another enemy who would prove worse, as Hitler never had so many resources and so many people, nor did he offer any attractive ideas, or have a large number of supporters in the West as the Soviet Union. At present, some Western voices already have spoken of obtaining protection from a third power against aggression in the next world conflict, if there is one. In this case the shield would be China. But I would not wish such an outcome to any country in the world. First of all, it is again a doomed alliance with Evil; also, it would grant the United States a respite, but when at a later date China with its billion people would turn around armed with American weapons, America itself would fall prey to a genocide similar to that in Cambodia in our days.

"And yet -- no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of willpower. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons become a burden for the capitulating side. To defend oneself, one must also be ready to die; there is little such readiness in a society raised in the cult of material well-being. Nothing is left, then, but concessions, attempts to gain time, and betrayal. Thus at the shameful Belgrade conference free Western diplomats in their weakness surrendered the line where enslaved members of Helsinki Watchgroups are sacrificing their lives.

"Western thinking has become conservative: the world situation should stay as it is at any cost; there should be no changes. This debilitating dream of a status quo is the symptom of a society which has come to the end of its development. But one must be blind in order not to see that oceans no longer belong to the West, while land under its domination keeps shrinking. The two so-called world wars (they were by far not on a world scale, not yet) have meant internal self-destruction of the small, progressive West which has thus prepared its own end. The next war (which does not have to be an atomic one and I do not believe it will) may well bury Western civilization forever.

"Facing such a danger, with such splendid historical values in your past, at such a high level of realization of freedom and of devotion to freedom, how is it possible to lose to such an extent the will to defend oneself?

"How has this unfavorable relation of forces come about? How did the West decline from its triumphal march to its present sickness? Have there been fatal turns and losses of direction in its development? It does not seem so. The West kept advancing socially in accordance with its proclaimed intentions, with the help of brilliant technological progress. And all of a sudden it found itself in its present state of weakness.

"This means that the mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression from the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.

"The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man's physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs. Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our days there is a free and constant flow. Merely freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.

"However, in early democracies, as in the American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God's creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility. Such was the heritage of the preceding thousand years. Two hundred or even fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were -- State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man's sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer. In the past decades, the legalistically selfish aspect of Western approach and thinking has reached its final dimension and the world wound up in a harsh spiritual crisis and a political impasse. All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the 20th century's moral poverty which no one could imagine even as late as in the 19th Century."

26 posted on 02/08/2010 9:25:21 AM PST by loveliberty2
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To: Mr. K; AdmSmith; Berosus; bigheadfred; Convert from ECUSA; dervish; Ernest_at_the_Beach; ...

I wholeheartedly agree — and would add, like all Russian novelists, he had an exaggerated sense of his own importance and was long-winded.


27 posted on 02/08/2010 10:24:38 AM PST by SunkenCiv (Happy New Year! Freedom is Priceless.)
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To: SunkenCiv
You're in good company over at DU. Around here we usually have enough sense of history where we do not belittle the giants of freedom. Solzhenitsyn's funeral2
28 posted on 02/08/2010 10:35:10 AM PST by Monterrosa-24 (...even more American than a French bikini and a Russian AK-47.)
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To: CondoleezzaProtege

Thank you for this posting. Much for my mind to munch on and digest.


29 posted on 02/08/2010 7:02:07 PM PST by grame (May you know more of the love of God Almighty in the coming year)
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To: loveliberty2; Lazamataz

The Harvard Address link at the article is still active. This older thread, one of the many of this address, is certainly valid today.

Russia, despite geography, is not “of the west.” Their vision of the future is not ours. Our decay spelled out here is now being played out.

The link with the entire address is well worth the twenty minutes it takes to re-read.


30 posted on 03/08/2014 4:45:54 AM PST by KC Burke (Officially since Memorial Day they are the Gimmie-crat Party.ha)
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