In the context of reviewing the book, Legacy of Dissent, invisible reader Mithras the Prophet posts “a long excerpt from Erazim V. Kohák’s “Requiem for Utopia”, written after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Kohák went into exile from Czechoslovakia in 1948, and continues to write and teach at Boston University and Charles University in Prague.”
[Dubcek and his colleagues] were determined to be humane authoritarians, respecting the rights of their subjects. In their seven months in power they discovered that the idea of a humane authoritarianism, the standard illusion of well-intentioned rhetorical revolutionists, is an illusion, a contradictio in adiecto. A humane authoritarianism would respect the freedom of its subjects, and so inevitably create the possibility of dissent and opposition. Faced with opposition, the human authoritarian faces the choice of ceasing to be authoritarian — or ceasing to be humane. Repression, whatever its overt aim, can be humane only in rhetoric — in practice it necessarily means breaking men. Czechs and Slovaks, including Dubcek, were too familiar with the logic of terror to opt for the latter alternative. After seven months, the program which started out as a program of humane communism became a program of social democracy….
The ideals of human freedom and social justice remain valid. Democracy — democracy for blacks as well as whites, in economics as well as politics, at home as well as in remote reaches of Latin America or Eastern Europe — remains valid. Socialism, the ideal of social justice and social responsibility in industrial society, remains valid. Human and civil rights, the right of every man to personal identity and social participation, all remain valid. But the utopian myths of self-proclaimed rhetorical radicals do not advance these ideals. The detour on which too many socialists embarked in 1917 is over, finished, discredited, revealed as an exhiliarating, aristocratic, and ultimately reactionary social sport, not the radical social progress it claimed to be. The task that remains is the work of social progress — not the aristocratic sport of revolution, but the solid work of redical, deep-rooted transformation of society. Men may still demand their daily dose of illusion, the exhilaration of revolution or “confrontation” rather than the down-to-earth facts and figures of a Freedom Budget; but those who cater to this demand can no longer do so in the name of social progress — or in the name of socialism.
Utopia is dead. Czechoslovakia has been a graveyard of illusions.
And not just Czechoslovakia, about which I’ve posted once or twice, and intend to post again. For me, a long winter–including a Dean’s December–in Ceausescu’s Romania first began turning shovelfuls of earth into a graveyard for illusions.