The Captive Mind, by Czeslaw Milosz
One of the basic ideas put forward in Czeslaw Milosz’ extraordinary, noble, and frightening book is that even the best-informed Westerners in reality know nothing about what goes on behind the Iron Curtain. They are fundamentally ignorant, not because of lack of factual data—on the contrary, there is a great abundance of such data—but due to failure of imagination. All the isolated facts we know would add up to worthwhile knowledge only if we were to perceive the unifying pattern behind them. For this, however, imagination would be needed, and nobody is able to imagine a reality totally different from the one in which he has lived all his life. Thus, being informed about some stark and salient facts about life in the East, the Westerner blunderingly tries to explain them with the help of concepts and categories familiar to him. The result is a naively distorted picture, and, above all, total inability to guess why and how the Eastern despotism succeeds in its projects of regimentation. This inability to pierce the secret of the enemy’s strength is, of course, one of the most important ingredients of that strength.
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