Like the Soviets, woke leftists are brutalizing American culture

Like the Soviets, woke leftists are brutalizing American culture

A brilliant and beautiful love letter to Western and European culture has just been republished. Milan Kundera’s A Kidnapped West, or the Tragedy of Central Europe first appeared in the French journal Le Debat in 1983. It has now been reissued in the new book,
A Kidnapped West: The Tragedy of Central Europe


Kundera is best known as the Czechoslovakian dissident who came to the West after being stripped of his citizenship by the communists in 1975. He is the author of The Joke, an indictment of totalitarian societies that imprison people for telling jokes, as well as
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
. Until 1989, his books were banned in Czechoslovakia. Kundera is now 94 years old.

Kundera’s essay, which caused a huge reaction when it was first published, is best described as a love letter because, while it obviously endorses the Western values of human rights and freedom of expression, it drills down to the rich cultural ore that makes a civilization truly adored. According to Kundera, it was culture, not political ideas and abstractions, that led to the 1968 Prague Spring where the people revolted against the puppet Socialist government.

According to French historian Pierre Nora, who wrote the introduction to The Kidnapped West, Kundera “saw … cultural vitality as an element in preparing the Prague Spring: a culture that was not a privileged invention of the elite but rather the living value around which the people itself gathered.” Kundera himself wrote that “it was the theater, the films, the literature and the philosophy that, in the years before 1968, led to the Prague Spring.” He added that “nothing could be more foreign to Central Europe and its passion for variety than Russia’s uniform, standardizing, centralizing.”

Kundera is particularly ardent about the Jewish culture of Czechoslovakia and Central Europe. He notes that Sigmund Freud, Gustav Mahler, and Franz Kafka were all Central European Jews: “Aliens everywhere and everywhere at home, lifted above national quarrels, the Jews in the 20th century were the principle cosmopolitan, integrating element in Central Europe: they were its intellectual cement, a condensed version of its spirit, creators of its spiritual unity.” This is why Kundera loves “the Jewish heritage and cling[s] to it with as much passion and nostalgia as though it were my own.”

Reading these words, I found myself reflecting on how much Jewish artists have contributed to American culture. Modern American humor was formed by Mad magazine, which was launched in 1952 by a small group of Jewish artists and writers in New York. Without Mad there would be no Jon Stewart, no Saturday Night Live. Then there was Saul Bellow, arguably the greatest American novelist of the 20th century. In the 1980s, an entire generation of Americans, myself included, were raised on the genius of Steven Spielberg, America’s greatest director. If a communist army invaded our shores, I would fight for Mad magazine as much as for the Bill of Rights.

Focusing on the Jewish cultural gifts to America and the West might seem oddly specific, but the point Kundera is making is that culture is the stuff that makes us love a place, its history, and its people. We rightly revere the Founding Fathers and honor our military veterans and the sacrifices they made to keep us free. Yet there is a certain level of lived-in culture that makes one not just appreciate a certain place but adore it. This, of course, is not limited to the Jewish contributions to our culture. To describe how African Americans or the Irish enriched our culture from jazz to literature to theater and film would take several volumes.

This is why the postmodern woke culture is so Soviet and so poisonous. Rather than appreciating the variety of cultures and traditions — some more conservative and some more liberal — that make America so dynamic, fun, and interesting, the woke try and force a humorless, totalizing society exactly like the one Kundera battled against. Kundera’s 1967 novel The Joke explored the despair and absurdity of life under Stalin, where a single joke about a government official could destroy a person’s entire life.

Of course, in today’s woke culture, a politically incorrect joke can have the same effect. In recent years Kundera himself has been in danger of
being canceled
by feminists, who don’t like the depiction of women in some of his books. A young Kundera today might find himself canceled before publishing a word.

In A Kidnapped West, Kundera did not have much hope for America. Our country, he writes, “has forgotten what it is.” We have forgotten our heritage from both Athens (philosophy) and Jerusalem (Christianity) and are now awash in, as Kundera saw in 1983, not great works of culture but “entertainment and technology.” While Central Europe was once considered just a satellite of the Soviet Eastern Bloc, America is now under the thumb of the Woke West.


Mark Judge is an award-winning journalist and the author of 
The Devil’

s Triangle: Mark Judge vs. the New American Stasi
. He is also the author of God and Man at Georgetown Prep, Damn Senators, and A Tremor of Bliss.

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