The Captive Mind

The Captive Mind



The Pequod Review:

Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind is a collection of essays about intellectuals living in totalitarian societies. Milosz makes the important observation that tyranny doesn't usually impose itself in a heavy-handed 1984-style way, but rather it causes otherwise intelligent people to create elaborate justifications and rationalizations for authoritarian regimes: 

Pablo Neruda, the great poet of Latin America, comes from Chile. I translated a number of his poems into Polish. Pablo Neruda has been a Communist for some ten years. When he describes the misery of his people, I believe him and I respect his great heart. When writing, he thinks about his brothers and not about himself, and so to him the power of the word is given. But when he paints the joyous, radiant life of people in the Soviet Union, I stop believing him. I am inclined to believe him as long as he speaks about what he knows: I stop believing him when he starts to speak about what I know myself.

I also liked the book’s epigram, a quote from “an old Jew of Galicia”:

When someone is honestly 55% right, that’s very good and there’s no use wrangling. And if someone is 60% right, it’s wonderful, it’s great luck, and let him thank God. But what’s to be said about 75% right? Wise people say this is suspicious. Well, and what about 100% right? Whoever say he’s 100% right is a fanatic, a thug, and the worst kind of rascal.