In Invisible Allies, his tribute to those Russians who, at considerable risk to themselves, helped to further his work while he was under constant surveillance by the KGB, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn told of the support that came his way with the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich—and how soon it was withdrawn. “Throughout this time,” he wrote, “I simply did not realize that the support I received from ‘progressive society’ was but a passing phase based on a misunderstanding.” Communist faithful who had become disillusioned with the Soviet regime had assumed that, though anti-Stalinist, the former zek—gulag prisoner—remained a socialist.
Solzhenitsyn’s reception in the West traced a similar trajectory. Universal approval of his courage in confronting the Soviet leaders soon gave place to outspoken disapproval of what Western bien pensants considered to be his unenlightened view of the world. Disapproval turned to outrage when, on June 8, 1978, the Russian delivered a commencement address at Harvard University in which he indicted a West that showed unmistakable signs of decadence. The West’s freedom, he declared that day, had degenerated into license, its media filled minds and souls with
and nonsense, its popular culture served only to coarsen and degrade, its people exhibited an unthinking sympathy for socialism and an inability to recognize evil. All of this, he concluded, was rooted in a view of the world that “was born in the Renaissance and has found political expression since the Age of Enlightenment.”
Overnight, those who had lionized Solzhenitsyn cast him into the outer darkness and adopted in his place the nuclear physicist and Western-oriented dissident Andrei Sakharov. A good and courageous man, Sakharov was a secularist and self-proclaimed socialist who had mastered the language—“democracy” and “human rights”—of Western liberalism.