The uniformity of thought required by the establishment today is reminiscent of the old Eastern Bloc.
Because we’re all so obsessed with what it was that made the Nazis tick, we tend to overlook the bigger mystery of how hundreds of millions of people, for a period considerably longer than the lifespan of Hitler’s Germany, remained under the spell of communism.
This is a question that Czeslaw Milosz set out to answer in his 1953 classic The Captive Mind. Milosz was a Polish poet, prominent in the underground during the Nazi occupation, who served as a cultural attaché with Poland’s post-war communist regime before quitting in disgust and fleeing to the US, where he taught at Berkeley and achieved eminence as a Nobel-prize-winning dissident exile.
What Milosz particularly wanted to know was how so many of his literary and intellectual contemporaries embraced dialectical materialism — the only permitted way of thinking in the ‘imperium of the East’ — when, being intelligent and cultured and sensitive, they ought to have seen it was a nonsense that bore no relation to observed reality.
He came up with a number of explanations, one of which captures perfectly that preening sense of entitlement you found then and still find now among luvvie types. Under communism, Milosz explains, artists prepared to endorse the regime are given enormous privileges and power, while simultaneously being freed from having to engage in the kind of struggle or suffer the insecurity that traditionally besets their profession. This appeals to their amour-propre, and gratifies their instinct that they are far more important than the ‘businessmen, aristocrats and tradespeople’ who have previously looked down on them as effete outsiders.
Milosz was writing in the 1950s about life behind an Iron Curtain now so remote and ill-understood as almost to have been airbrushed from history. (Why else would so many kids today find the politics of Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Occupy movement so fresh and exciting?) But what may strike you as you read his book is how relevant his insights are to the supposedly liberated culture we now inhabit.
Read the rest at the Spectator.