Darkness At Noon by Arthur Koestler

My favorite book is:

Darkness At Noon, by Arthur Koestler

It’s about an imprisoned man who spends the entirety of the book trying to understand how the perfect society he thought he was ushering into existence could have turned into a living nightmare. When he finally, somehow, manages to explain to himself why this was inevitable, acceptable, and probably for the best, he is executed by firing squad.

My favorite passage:

“Now, every technical improvement creates a new complication to the economic apparatus, causes the appearance of new factors and combinations, which the masses can not penetrate for a time. Every jump of technical progress leaves the relative intellectual development of the masses a step behind, and thus causes a fall in the political maturity thermometer. It takes sometimes tens of years, sometimes generations, for a peculiar level of understanding gradually to adapt itself to the changed state of affairs, until it has recovered the same capacity for self-government, as it had already possessed at a lower stage of civilization. Hence the political maturity of the masses can not be measured by an absolute figure, but only relatively, i.e, in proportion to the stage of civilization at that moment.

When the level of mass-consciousness catches up with the objective state of affairs, there follows inevitably the conquest of democracy, either peaceably or by force. Until the next jump of technical civilization – the discovery of the mechanical loom, for example – again sets back the masses in a state of relative immaturity, and renders possible or even necessary the establishment of some form of absolute leadership.

This process might be compared to the lifting of a ship through a lock with several chambers. When it first enters a lock chamber, the ship is on a low level relative to the capacity of the chamber; it is slowly lifted up until the water-level reaches its highest point. But this grandeur is illusory, the next lock chamber is higher still, the levelling process has to start again. The walls of the lock chambers represent the objective state of control of natural forces, of the technical civilization; the water-level in the lock chamber represents the political maturity of the masses. It would be meaningless to measure the latter as an absolute height above sea-level; what counts is the relative height of the level in the lock chamber.

The discovery of the steam engine started a period of rapid objective progress, and consequently, of equally rapid subjective political retrogression. The industrial era is still young in history, the discrepancy is still great between its extremely complicated economic structure and the masses’ understanding of it. Thus it is comprehensible that the relative political maturity of the nations in the first half of the twentieth century is less than it was in 200 B.C. or at the end of the feudal epoch.

The mistake in the socialist theory was to believe that the level of mass-consciousness rose constantly and steadily. Hence its helplessness before the latest swing of the pendulum, the ideological self-mutilation of the peoples. We believed that the adaptation of the masses’ conception of the world to changed circumstances was a simple process, which one could measure in years; whereas, according to all historical experience, it would have been more suitable to measure by centuries. The people of Europe are still far from having mentally digested the consequences of the steam engine. The capitalist system will collapse before the masses have understood it.”

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