6 Reasons to Read ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Being’ Right Now

Jonathan Seyfried
8 min readMar 24, 2018

A famous 20th century novel of ideas provides unexpected illumination for the early 21st century.

Originally published in 1984, Milan Kundera’s most famous book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, examines how a police state gnarled the existentialist journey of its main characters. After Soviet troops crushed the 1968 Prague Spring, the newly emboldened Communist Party of Czechoslovakia imposed a new regime of conformist irrationality. Politics lost all authenticity. Decades after the fall of Communism in Europe, here are six reasons the book applies to our time.

1. When facts no longer matter, nothing halts the onslaught of meaninglessness

Sabina, the artist, hates the May Day Parades. In her voice, Kundera writes,

The May Day ceremony drew its inspiration from the deep well of the categorical agreement with being. The unwritten, unsung motto of the parade was not “Long Live Communism” but “Long live life!” The power and cunning of Communist politics lay in the fact that it appropriated this slogan. For it was this idiotic tautology (“Long live life!”) which attracted people indifferent to the theses of Communism to the Communist Parade. (251)

The irony of politics is that a political party attains its greatest strength when it harnesses the seismic force of the portion of the population that cares nothing for politics. The large-scale abandonment of debate will not bring civil war, but will instead bring a retreat into simplicity.

In our time, the defeat of Communism removed the urgency for citizens of Western capitalist democracies to argue the case for liberalism. After the Cold Warriors came home, onto what pieces of ideological furniture did they sit back and relax? Freedom, certainly. Wealth, maybe. Yet no one felt the need to define freedom with any exactitude and no one could explain why wealth seemed to dissipate in the years following the victory. With only one ideology left, that ideology sank into banal simplicity. Intellectual laziness became permitted and…

Jonathan Seyfried

(they/them) Former History Teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Podcaster and Writer. https://jonathanseyfried.art