In order to mourn the passing of the Humanist and Historian Tony Judt, the New York Review of Books decided to republish an essay of his about the Polish writer Czeslaw Milosz. In this piece, Judt draws particular attention to Milosz’s invocation of the concept of Ketman. Ketman, originally an Islamic concept referring to a person’s capacity to pay public lip-service to the worldview of political authority whilst maintaining a private opposition to that world-view, was used by Milosz to explain how it was that Communism continued to hold sway over entire populations despite its myriad hypocrisies and impracticalities. Judt then goes on to argue that American college students struggle with the concept of Ketman:
Why would someone sell his soul to any idea, much less a repressive one? By the turn of the twenty-first century, few of my North American students had ever met a Marxist. A self-abnegating commitment to a secular faith was beyond their imaginative reach.
Judt then points out that market capitalism holds a similar sway over the West as Communism once did over the East. We all know that capitalism is horribly flawed. We all know that it makes some people disgustingly rich while denying even the most basic necessities to billions of others. We know this and yet we simply cannot imagine what it would be like to live without the Market.
In Margaret Thatcher’s deathless phrase, “there is no alternative.”
Set during the final years of Romania’s Ceauşescu regime, Christian Mungiu’s 4 Luni, 3 Săptămâni şi 2 Zile is an exploration of what it is like to be held between two equally dehumanising intellectual systems. Intellectual systems that demand complete ideological loyalty despite both being horrifically flawed.