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Kenneth Ellman Reviews “A World Split Apart”, Solzhenitsyn and America, Harvard University Commencement Address 1978

Kenneth Ellman Reviews “A World Split Apart”, Solzhenitsyn and America, Harvard University Commencement Address 1978, Email:, Box 18, Newton, New Jersey 07860.
It is perhaps unusual to write a review of a Commencement Address, let alone a Commencement Address from June of 1978. It is also unusual to find a commencement address later published as a short book, and one which has both the Russian original on one page and the English Translation on the other. But Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn was not the usual commencement speaker nor the usual individual to speak of what he saw and felt as a Russian historical perspective from his exposure to America.

I have not carefully studied the works of Solzhenitsyn, although I like many others know of his extraordinary writings of the confrontation of Russian human beings with life.
His creation , The Gulag Archipelago, has sold over thirty million copies in thirty-five languages as just one example of what he accomplished in his life in addition to his other world renowned works.

Keep in mind that this speech by Solzhenitsyn was given in 1978 way before the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) ceased to exist on December 26, 1991. So we have here a man immersed in the Soviet reality bringing to students at Harvard University a human experience so distant from what the average American, let alone a Harvard College student would have known, then and certainly today. His words can be read again and again for their import and warning. What is most strong and a dominant presence is the sense conveyed by Solzhenitsyn that there is something more, much more in the value of human life than is realized by many in America today. It is read that he pushes forth the idea of the power of the individual thought and perspective, separate and apart from the imposed cultural experience. He speaks of the disaster of the Soviets and of the terribly wasted intellectual opportunities of much of the daily American life. I would not tell you to accept all of what he speaks since you must deal with the ideas in your own context and need. My view may be different in some respects from his regarding the vast freedoms associated with the American legal system and the effect upon the individual. Solzhenitsyn of course speaks for himself and the below very short excepts should pull you to read the entire presentation.

On Page 17:
“I have spent all my life under a Communist regime and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is also less than worthy of man. A society based on the letter of the law and never reaching any higher fails to take advantage of the full range of human possibilities. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relationships, this creates an atmosphere of spiritual mediocrity that paralyzes man’s noblest impulses.”

On Page 45:
“And yet, no weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes it’s loss of will power. In a state of psychological weakness, weapons even 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.”

He was a powerful mind, who died in 2008. The wisdom of his suffering and achievement is accessible through his literary treasures. This short speech is one of them. Our schools may not give this to our children, but you should. Help your children to take their place in our world, give them this book. I have treasured this book for many years and so will you.
Kenneth Ellman,, Box 18, Newton, New Jersey 07860