What written works or films deal with weighing the dangerous consequences of resisting government-mandated persecution?
April 12, 2006 1:20 AM   Subscribe

What literary, philosophical works, or films deal with a person's attempt to figure out whether he should put up resistance against government-sanctioned persecution of minorities or dissidents at the price of his own personal well-being or whether he should comply with the persecution to ensure his own safety?
posted by gregb1007 to Religion & Philosophy (34 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm sure that's the premise of Huxley's 1984... protagonist is model citizen, becomes dissident, gets stomped by Government, complies with persecution, gives up and withers.
posted by Chunder at 1:25 AM on April 12, 2006

Umm... that would be ORWELL'S 1984. Huxley wrote Brave New World :)
posted by antifuse at 1:59 AM on April 12, 2006

Sorry to see your original thread got deleted - and for a rather spurious reason I thought.

But implicit in that moral condemnation is the belief that one should act, without worrying about consequences…

I think this may be something of a contrived dilemma; it is not simply a choice of either acting with reckless abandon when we are made aware of injustices towards others or remaining indifferent. If the situation is dire enough you are not indifferent but your hands are tied. I doubt many would condemn someone for failing to act if they knew beyond reasonable doubt that they would be killed for their trouble. I suppose whether or not condemnation of their inaction is appropriate would depend on some sort of calculus of 1: just how big the risk, 2: how harsh the consequences, and 3: how affective taking action could be known to be. In short, if a Hobsian environment is forced upon you - you are justified in acting in accordance with it.
posted by ed\26h at 2:05 AM on April 12, 2006

While I think I see ed\26h's point, are there not plenty of examples of artistic output where the protagonist declines to accept the single choice and instead accepts death? I.e. 'it is a far far better thing that I do, than I have ever done'. So Dickens' 'Tale of Two Cities' to answer the question.
Alternatively 'Better Red than Dead' if you're more into the whole Red Dawn thing.
posted by biffa at 2:27 AM on April 12, 2006

Oops, spot the obvious mistake undermining the point of that last sentence.
posted by biffa at 2:28 AM on April 12, 2006

Have a look at Kafka's 'The Trial.' Its some of the best commentary on government and society that I have read.
posted by tev at 2:36 AM on April 12, 2006

Best answer: The classic expression of the populace's right to resist government tyrrany would be Ch. 18 of Locke's Second Treatise of Government.

This being Locke, though, there's no mention of how he himself came to hold these beliefs. Locke himself was an extremely cautious individual, and was scrupulous about keeping his deepest-held beliefs away from public record. Then, of course, there's Locke's Letter Concerning Toleration.

On a different note entirely, Hollywood deals with the issue in Cry Freedom.
posted by Sonny Jim at 2:38 AM on April 12, 2006

The most obvious thing that comes to mind is that Pastor Niemoller thing.

First they came for the communists, etc.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 2:59 AM on April 12, 2006

Some of these issues are addressed in the recent release of V for Vendetta in the U.S.
posted by exlotuseater at 3:43 AM on April 12, 2006

Oops - sorry 'bout that! For some reason, each time I've read one of Brave New World or 1984, I read the other in quick succession... and now they've become a bit blurred in my mind.

Wouldn't have been too challenging for me to look up the wikipedia article about the novel, though...

posted by Chunder at 3:57 AM on April 12, 2006

Best answer: Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. He went to jail when he refused to pay his taxes during a time of unjust war. Unfortunately his protest was thwarted when someone paid the taxes on his behalf. The essay doesn't actually describe an attempt to figure out whether he should put up resistance, but an explanation of why he feels he should. He goes farther than most are willing to: "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also in prison."
posted by leapingsheep at 5:06 AM on April 12, 2006

Best answer: Z sounds pretty close to what you are describing.

And what about schindlers list?
posted by cgfoz at 5:28 AM on April 12, 2006

On the other side of this is Mischling, Second Degree, by Ilse Koehn. It's about a quarter-Jewish girl who ended up joining the Hitler Youth during WWII.

Not quite what you're looking for, as (iirc) she didn't know she was a Jew until later. An interesting quick read nonetheless.
posted by fuzzbean at 5:32 AM on April 12, 2006

For literary works, check out Hermann Melville's short story 'Benito Cereno'.
posted by syzygy at 6:04 AM on April 12, 2006

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
posted by BackwardsCity at 6:06 AM on April 12, 2006

Best answer: Thought of another one: several chapters of The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera deal with this very point. (Chapter 5 in particular.)
posted by BackwardsCity at 6:10 AM on April 12, 2006

There is a big chunk of "Watership Down" that deals with this-- the fascist government controlling Efrafa and reaction to it from the rabbits that infiltrate it. Scary stuff.
posted by hermitosis at 6:13 AM on April 12, 2006

If we can include some non-fiction :-

Long Walk to Freedom - Nelson Mandela's autobiography.
Ah, But Your Land is Beautiful - Alan Paton. Also about South Africa.
Letters and Papers from Prison - Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists - Robert Tressell.
posted by plep at 7:24 AM on April 12, 2006

Also :- The Master and Margarita. One of the main themes is about the characters' struggle to maintain their integrity under and unjust system (i.e. Stalinist Russia).

Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed is about an anarchist society on the moon of the main planet in a solar system. The protagonist has to deal with capitalist and Communist systems as well as non-governmental power structures in the anarchist society.

I, Rigoberta Menchu by Nobel prizewinner Rigoberta Menchu.
posted by plep at 7:48 AM on April 12, 2006

A couple more :-

Runaway Horses by Yukio Mishima. Deals with a young rightwinger in postwar Japan who becomes a terrorist. Unsettling reading, but it clearly deals with the issues you raise.

Also unsettling reading :- Sayyid Qutb's Milestones. Qutb is seen as the theoretical godfather of the modern Islamist movement, and his books deal with what he saw as injustice.

The present Dalai Lama's autobiography, Freedom in Exile.

M.K. Gandhi: An Autobiography.
posted by plep at 7:57 AM on April 12, 2006

John Bunyan: A Relation of My Imprisonment. The author of 'Pilgrim's Progress' who was imprisoned for preaching without a licence.
posted by plep at 8:00 AM on April 12, 2006

I think Burger's Daughter by Nadine Gordimer is exactly what you're looking for.
posted by Espy Gillespie at 8:18 AM on April 12, 2006

Arthur Koestler's A Darkness At Noon should be added to your reading list.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 8:33 AM on April 12, 2006

I just saw The Constant Gardener, it had some of those elements.
posted by markmillard at 9:12 AM on April 12, 2006

Best answer: Coatze's Waiting for the Barbarians deals with some of this, probably in the context of African colonialism, and is excellent. Tadeusz Borowski's This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen describes the very unpleasant choices a (non-Jewish) character makes to survive Auschwitz.

And, if you're interested in tangential non-fiction, Christopher Browning's Ordinary Men deals with the conversion of ordinary policemen into the executioners of the Final Solution in Nazi-occupied Poland.
posted by fidelity at 9:48 AM on April 12, 2006

Coetzee, that is. J.M.
posted by fidelity at 9:49 AM on April 12, 2006

Hannah Arendt deals with this in Responsibility and Judgement, a collection of essays and talks.
posted by drewbeck at 11:04 AM on April 12, 2006

Best answer: It might be a bit younger than you are looking for, but I really enjoyed the picture book Passage to Freedom by Ken Mochizuki. It is about a Japanese diplomat to Germany at the start of WWII. (True story.) Something I found fascinating was his decision to not share the risks (as far as he could manage) with his family.
posted by mbrubeck at 11:39 AM on April 12, 2006

Hotel Rwanda covers this ground, although the focus is more on the outcome of the decision to act, rather than the decision itself.
posted by yetanother at 11:49 AM on April 12, 2006

Best answer: The Shop on Main Street is an amazing Czech film that is perfect for your purposes. It's about a man who selfishly tries to remain apolitical during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. I'm very interested in learning how the Nazis were able to garner the support they did; this film was extremely helpful in that respect. And the music is excellent.
posted by painquale at 1:07 PM on April 12, 2006

Best answer: The Shop on Main Street is an amazing Czech Czechoslovakian film-- made by a Slovak and a Hungarian-- that is perfect for your purposes. It's about a man who selfishly tries to remain apolitical during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in Fascist Slovakia. I love this film and think it's a great suggestion. It's just that the film isn't Czech, and Slovakia was not in the Nazi Protectorate. But I've never talked to a person who has seen it that didn't love it.

Two other classics are Huxley's Brave New World (And the source for that, which is even better, Zamiatin's We). In the spirit of Shop on Main Street, I'd suggest I am Cuba. It's absolutely breath-taking, and morally challenging. It is Soviet propaganda, but it does a great job of showing the alturistic passions that lead one to make a revolution.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 4:05 PM on April 12, 2006

Sorry for the mistakes. I've always heard it referred to as a Czech film, and apparently this isn't a clear issue. I also don't know if it's entirely illegitimate to talk about the "Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia" (eg). But yeah, I was sloppy.
posted by painquale at 4:40 PM on April 12, 2006

I should have put a playful emoticon on. I am a Czech film geek. It's a great suggestion.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 6:21 PM on April 12, 2006

Although a little late, I was surprised that nobody mentioned 'Good Night and Good Luck', the movie out now about the newsreader standing up against McCarthyism.

(I haven't seen it, but from everything I've seen and read it is exactly on topic for you)
posted by jacalata at 4:28 AM on April 25, 2006

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