Thursday, July 09, 2015

What do they know of breathing who only breathing know?

While going through issues of The Christian News-Letter from 1945, I ran across a positive review of Arthur Koestler's The Yogi and the Commissar. It quoted, rather inexactly, parts of the following passage, which I found elsewhere.

And which is quite striking.

The tragedy is that only those realize what oxygen means who have known the torture of suffocation; only those who have shared the life of the ordinary native in Nazi Germany or Stalinite Russia for at least a year know that disintegration of the human substance which befalls people deprived of their basic liberties. But how many of us are capable of drawing comparisons?

The English dock yard worker has not experienced the difference between risking, for the same negligence, a cut in pay or death as a saboteur. The English journalist does not know the difference between a limited freedom of expression and the status of a human teleprinter. The English highbrow, fed up with a statesman's cigar or a general's photo-mania, has no idea the abject idiocy of regimented Byzantine leader worship.

The English public, disgruntled but secure within the law, does not know the shivering insecurity, the naked horror of an autocratic police-state. They only know their own frustrations. The atmosphere of democracy has become a stale fog, and those who breathe it cannot be expected to be grateful for the air which it contains. The predicament of western civilization is that it use ceased to be aware of the values which it is in peril of losing. 

Arthur Koestler, "The End of an Illusion" 1944. Collected in The Yogi and the Commissar. (210)