Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies by Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Next book: Open Letters by Vaclav Havel

The Federalist Papers were tedious.  I read the first 30 in detail, then skimmed the next 30, then read about the Electoral College and then gave up.  There are common themes, but they are tediously developed.

Now I'm reading Open Letters, a collection of writings by former Czech playwright, anti-communist dissident, and eventual Czech President Vaclav Havel.  It's kind of eerie how some of his critiques of communism could also be critiques of capitalism.  For instance, in his 1975 letter to Gustav Husak, the leader of Czechoslovakia, he notes that after a moment of freedom in 1968 (swiftly crushed by Soviet tanks), the Communist Party focused on economic development in order to appease people, while not easing up on political and social oppression:
Yet these same authorities obsessively justify themselves with their revolutionary ideology, in which the ideal of man's total liberation has a central place!  But what, in fact, has happened to the concept of human personality, and its many-sided, harmonious, and authentic growth?  Of man liberated from the clutches of an alienating social machinery, from a mythical hierarchy of values, formalized freedoms, from the dictatorship of property, the fetish and the might of money?  What has happened to the idea that people should live in full enjoyment of social and legal justice, have a creative share in economic and political power, be elevated in human dignity and become truly free themselves?  Instead of a free share in economic decision making, free participation in political life, and free intellectual advancement, all people are actually offered is a chance freely to choose which washing machine or refrigerator they want to buy.
Is he talking about communism, or about the ways that conformity is enforced in any society?  The grand ideals of failed communism don't sound so different from the grand ideals of any other reformist movement.  Yes, central economic planning enforced by secret police is a particularly stupid and destructive approach to "reform", and I don't want to sound like I'm trivializing it by equating it to other reformist projects.  I'm glad that modern reformists have (mostly) given up on that stupid idea.  Still, they haven't lost whatever it was that drove privileged kids to read Marx in the first place.  They still think they can free society if you just put them in charge.  Technocrats and techno-utopians are still self-servingly stupid.