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The Politics of Privacy

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  1. Fascism had ushered in an era in which hidden feelings of anti-Semitism.
  2. Until 1948 multiple opinions were given legitimate expression.
  3. Rituals were one important method of eliminating the public/private distiction.
  4. As individuals ceded their privacy in the service of collective action, the worth of the individual diminished in relation to the worth of his or her category.
  5. The irony of Communist Party rule in Czechoslovakia was that the social hierarchy was not necessarily upset but merely reversed.

Eastern European Communist regimes deemed it necessary to cultivate a high degree of state discipline in their societies. Much of the public life and social engagement of the populace operated through mechanisms of surveillance and control. Authors and scholars have argued that the regimes retained power through these measures. Milan Kundera, a twentieth-century Czech author who lived through Communism, portrays just such a post-World War II Czechoslovakia in his novel The Joke. His account suggests that Communist practices of ritualism, surveillance, and purges grew out of the larger contradiction between social equality and one-Party rule. Privacy and individualism were sacrificed at the altar of social equality; however, this notion of equality reified social class.

[...] had not only catered to the interests of the Church in their initial bid for power, bit also to nationalist patriots. Thus: ?What Ludvik [the Communist] was calling for was nothing but the old utopia of the most conservative Moravian patriots It only made his words more comprehensible to (138) Until 1948, in an atmosphere of authentic public engagement, multiple opinions were given legitimate expression. But after diplomatic developments in Soviet Russia and the February coup led by Klement Gottwald (chairman of the Czech Communists), this public ideological engagement became more heavily subject to Lenin's ?dictatorship of the proletariat.? That the public had earnestly believed in this public discourse and its culmination in Marxism is attested to by the Revisionist school of historians as well as Kundera. [...]

[...] Complementary to purging was promotion, the means by which individuals were selected for positions of power. Like purges, this also relied on class- consciousness. The irony of Communist Party rule in Czechoslovakia was that the social hierarchy was not necessarily upset but merely reversed. Meritocracies based on wealth or intelligence were replaced with job assignments favoring the ?proletariat.? Problematically, this reversal reproduced old social tensions, thereby reifying social class. As one character insists, the individual often felt at odds with his social position: ?Milos isn't allowed to go to the university because of his grandfather who owned a factory. [...]

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