It is not easy to live together with our grave historical experiences. It is not easy to face the brutal fact that the trough of existence into which mankind sank during our century is not just an outlandish story, peculiar to one or two generations, but also, at one and the same time, an empirical norm that encompasses general human contingency, and thus, in this particular setting, our own contingency. One is appalled by the ease with which totalitarian dictatorships are able to liquidate the independent individual self, and with which a person becomes a snugly fitting, compliant cog in a dynamic state machine. One is seized by fear and uncertainty that so many people, even we ourselves, during certain segments of their lives, can be transformed into beings that the rational self, with its sound civic, moral instincts, will later on be unable – and not wish – to recognise or identify with. There was a time when man was God’s creation, a tragically fated creature who needed salvation. That lonely being was first leavened by ideological totalitarianism into a mass, then enclosed within the walls of a closed political system, and finally degraded into a lifeless cog in the works. At that point, there is no need for salvation, because he is not answerable for himself. Ideology has robbed him of his cosmos, his solitude, the tragic dimension of the human fate. It has squeezed him into a determinate existence where his fate is governed by his origins, his racial classification or his class loyalties. Along with his human fate, he is also robbed of human reality, the sheer sensation of living, so to say. In a totalitarian state we stand uncomprehending before the potential criminal acts, whereas all that we ought to be assessing is the extent to which the place of morality and the power of the human imagination have been subverted by the new categorical imperative: the totalitarian ideology.
more from Nobel Laureate Imre Kertesz here.