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81 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How dominant cultures make intelligent people believe lies, 14 Feb 2002
By 
C. M. Green (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Captive Mind (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
At the risk of overstatement, this is one of the handful of books from the twentieth century that genuinely deserve the description 'great'. It is about the use of coercive power by clear minds in the cause of absurd lies. And it's about how those clear minds turn that coercive power on themselves before they do it to others.
Written by Poland's foremost poet, who emigrated to America after the war, it is presented as an analysis of intellectual life under Stalin. It serves, though, as an analysis of the life of the mind under any intellectually oppressive dictatorship, and the processes which force, cajole and woo thinking men and women to believe self-evident lies.
If you've ever wondered how people can have believed such culturally self destructive nonsense as Stalin's progroms, and convinced themselves that it is socially necessary not only to do so but force others to do so too, this is the book for you. By extension, though - and Milosz won't allow his case to remain in the East or the past - whether we believe the lies of left or right, liberalism, libertarianism or the 'third way', we can all potentially persuade ourselves to deceive ourselves and others for the good of our cause.
This book is a wonder, and deserves careful study by any one who aspires to political office or intellectual leadership. More importantly, it should be read by all of us who have a vested interest in the integrity of our political life. The temptation to by dazzled by a hypothetical future, and to make ourselves and others in the present pay horrific prices for that, is ever present, and requires constant deconstruction and examination.
Only someone who had lived in Stalin's thought-world could analyse it so clearly; perhaps only someone who had also lived in the West could see the increasing relevance of those lessons for the deomocratic countries too.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The other side of idealism, 19 Jun 2012
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This review is from: The Captive Mind (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
A realpolitik assessment of the human impact of twentieth century ideologies from the Polish perspective: A perfect partner to 1984 (Orwell).

A disturbing journal from someone who lived through the fear and persecution - when you have no freedom you will grow to fit the container supplied.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mind matters, 24 Nov 2013
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Captive Mind (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
Czeslaw Milosz was a Polish poet and cultural attaché to the west who initially was a qualified supporter, from a socialist rather than communist standpoint, of Poland's post-war communist government. While the Polish communist party had little in the way of outright support (its weakness compounded by the murder of many of cadres by Stalin in 1930s), it could appeal to the desire on the part of many, not just communists, to see real changes made. Milosz was one of them, and so were many of the intellectuals he knew from this time.

Aware of their weaknesses, the communists gave assiduous reassurances of governing as part of a progressive coalition, promises that they were of course to renege. No iron fist in a velvet glove. Just the iron fist. Those best placed to see what was happening, the intellectuals, who should have spoken out, instead wielded their power of thought to justify a political reality antithetical to free thought. This book is about those people, told in the form of personal portraits (using monikers, not their real names) of peers whom the author knew, and how they managed to turn thought against itself, to stop thinking. He portrays the way they saw things, without excusing or exculpating anyone. His portrayals of the people he knew, their motivations and the way they thought, are vivid and compelling.

Reading the book, I am not sure if he means to claim that the outcome would have been any different had they spoken out: after all, the communists imposed their will on the country because they could do so, underwritten by Soviet military guarantee, and nothing that the intellectuals could have said or done would have made any difference. For this reason, perhaps the book's enduring relevance is limited because it really applies to the intellectuals and their rationalisations of the brutalities perpetrated during the period of high Stalinism from 1945 to 1953 (by which I mean the transplantation of the Soviet mode of rule as it was practised at this time wholesale to its satellites in Eastern Europe, with a replication of the features of the Soviet Union, such as show trails, terror etc.). This period is long past and it is unlikely ever to be repeated again. And it mostly deals with Poland and Polish intellectual culture. So much of this is now of historical interest.

However, it does make some broader observations of lasting value, applicable to some intellectuals today. He observes that many of his peers thought, as Lenin did, as some intellectuals do today, that western political freedoms are bourgeois shams, but as Milosz observes, although `propaganda tries to convince that [western] law is subservient to ... the ruling class ... if it wants to convict a man, it ` must sweat to prove him guilty'. One only has to look at the case of Abu Hamza if one needs confirmation of the truth of this observation. The chapter 'Man, the Enemy', demonstrates that in order to suppress capitalism (and not just manage its social consequences) inflated police powers are essential. It is required reading for anyone who still harbours utopian pretensions today. He also takes a sideswipe at T S Elliot's (without naming him) `Wasteland', with a mordant observation that there is a world of difference between T S Elliot's understanding of the word, and a real wasteland of death and destruction, which Milosz experienced and survived at first-hand, namely, Warsaw in 1944-45. It's not just intellectuals of the left who take the benefits they enjoy in a free society too much for granted.

The book was written in the early 1950s, at the high tide of communism's seeming irresistible rise. The book is full of understated dread of worse to come. But what was to come was Stalin's death, the slow unravelling of the system over which he constructed and presided, the XX Party Congress, the Secret Speech and the Sino-Soviet split, all of which was to reveal that communism was neither monolithic nor historically inevitable. So the book is limited by its time but some of it still endures, and is worth reading if you are interested in the power of ideology or in the history of Eastern Europe or communism generally.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars should be essential reading for everyone, 2 Jun 2013
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This review is from: The Captive Mind (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
This book was mentioned in glowing terms by Tony Judt in his book "Memory Chalet" so I decided to read it. It is a fabolous and thought provoking.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars terrifying, 26 Jun 2008
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This review is from: The Captive Mind (Penguin Modern Classics) (Paperback)
It's hard to state the importance of this book if you want to understand stalinism how it was implemented on poland and the countries stalin crossed and occupied in eastern europe after the soviet union marched to berlin. Mi³osz explaines some of the ways the marx,engels 'theory' was used to the gains of this tyrant.Whats so terrifiying is that there is a battle of the conscience to conform or in stalinist poland to die or be sent to the soviet gulags.He goes to great lengths to explain his views and knowledge of the events he experienced in warsaw in WWII seeing the german occupation to the ghetto uprising to the battle for polish freedom (warsaw uprising 1944).
He tells a great account of how he and his friends who during the german occupation witnessed and lived within the german system which they fought and propagated against,which demanded only slavery of the body .
Then after that occupation they were occupied by the soviet union.which demanded slavery of both body and mind and to conform and then propagate for it.He gives a account of four friends(mainly part of the polish intelligencia)he spent his childhood and the war with and how they sold there pre-war beliefs and talents to help stalin and his minions in the mastery of the polish people.
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The Captive Mind (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Captive Mind (Penguin Modern Classics) by Czeslaw Milosz (Paperback - 7 Jun 2001)
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