Socialismus jako myšlenkový svět. Komunistická diktatura v kulturněhistorické perspektivě
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Socialism as Sinnwelt: The Communist Dictatorship from the Perspective of Cultural History
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This article was originally published as ‘Sozialismus als Sinnwelt: Diktatorische Herrschaft in zeithistorischen Perspektiven’ in the Potsdamer Bulletin für Zeithistorische Studien , nos. 40–41 (2007), pp. 9–23. In the article, in connection with his historical research on the German Democratic Republic, the author explains the concept of Sinnwelt as providing productive and promising ways to understand how the Communist dictatorships were established and how they functioned and eventually collapsed. The dualistic picture of rulers and ruled, perpetrators and victims, which in many respects still dominates the interpretation and assessment of those dictatorships, is, according to the author, neither incorrect nor unnecessary. For it helps one to realize the fundamental differences between freedom and non-freedom, tolerance and oppression, the rule of law and arbitrary rule; it also evokes public compassion and thereby, at least in part, redresses the wrongs that the dictatorships committed. This essentially normative approach, however, is unable to provide a satisfactory explanation for the long-term existence and comparative stability of these régimes. The concept of Sinnwelt (symbolic universe or world of meaning), based on the Weberian category of Herrschaft (authority) and the originally Hegelian concept of Eigen-Sinn (roughly, wilfulness), enables one to see that the long life of the socialist dictatorship was the result not only of its repressive nature, but equally of the broad-based social acceptance it enjoyed and also internal socio-cultural links. In this sense it was, like other twentieth-century dictatorships, ‘participatory’. From this point of view, the régime’s supposedly ‘total’ control of society appears more like a permanent process of everyday negotiation, in which the population not only reacted passively to commands from above, but also actively pursued its own aims by means of its own interpretations of social behaviour and social relations. The Sinnwelt concept offers ways to understand the pre-political space of almost blind acceptance of authority that formed everyday socialist life, and thus ranks among the approaches that can legitimately be called the cultural history of the political. In the next part of the essay, the author considers the outlines of the Sinnwelt of socialism and highlights some of its fundamental features – namely, a strong emphasis on the principles of collective life and consensus, an almost sacred respect for knowledge and truth, struggle as a key metaphor of everyday life socialist life, and a special conception of time, which is based on progress.
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