ALEKSANDR SOLZHENITSYN publishes the first volume of his epic on the Bolshevik Revolution and gives a rare account of his life in Vermont In his first major American interview since 1

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A. If I had started being silent at the onset of these changes, it might have been surprising. But I started in 1983, before there was even any suggestion of these changes. Was I going to interrupt my work and start acting as a political commentator? I didn't want to do that. I had to finish my work. I am over 70 years old, and age is pressing on me.

Q. You have said the moral life of the West has declined during the past 300 years. What do you mean by that?

A. There is technical progress, but this is not the same thing as the progress of humanity as such. In every civilization this process is very complex. In Western civilizations -- which used to be called Western-Christian but now might better be called Western-Pagan -- along with the development of intellectual life and science, there has been a loss of the serious moral basis of society. During these 300 years of Western civilization, there has been a sweeping away of duties and an expansion of rights. But we have two lungs. You can't breathe with just one lung and not with the other. We must avail ourselves of rights and duties in equal measure. And if this is not established by the law, if the law does not oblige us to do that, then we have to control ourselves. When Western society was established, it was based on the idea that each individual limited his own behavior. Everyone understood what he could do and what he could not do. The law itself did not restrain people. Since then, the only thing we have been developing is rights, rights, rights, at the expense of duty.

Q. More than anything else, your reputation in world literature is linked to your searing portrayal of Soviet labor camps. Did your experience of the camps provide you with a dimension of understanding of Soviet life that you could not have had without it?

A. Yes, because in those circumstances human nature becomes very much more visible. I was very lucky to have been in the camps -- and especially to have survived.

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