Alexander Solzhenitsyns landmark speech at Harvard 1978:
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.
If I were today addressing an audience in my country, examining the overall pattern of the
world's rifts I would have concentrated on the East's calamities. But since my forced exile in the
West has now lasted four years and since my audience is a Western one, I think it may be of
greater interest to concentrate on certain aspects of the West in our days, such as I see them.
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 and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in
courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing
an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous
individuals but they have no determining influence on public life. Political and intellectual
bureaucrats show depression, passivity and perplexity in their actions and in their statements
and even more so in theoretical reflections to explain how realistic, reasonable as well
as intellectually and even morally warranted it is to base state policies on weakness and
cowardice. And decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger
and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and
weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents which cannot offer any resistance.
But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and
threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.Should one point out that from ancient times decline in courage has been considered the
beginning of the end?
Alexander Solzhenitsyn at Harvard
I have embedded the original audio of the speech below, with simultanious translation