Lentil soup for the New Year

by Eszter Hargittai on December 31, 2006

Apologies as this is too late for most of our readers outside of the Americas, but hopefully still in time for some. Below the fold is my blog entry from exactly four years ago. All the best for 2007!

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Das Leben der Anderen

by Chris Bertram on December 31, 2006

I’ve just finished watching “Das Leben der Anderen”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0405094/, which I was given on DVD for Christmas. It was a bit of a struggle, linguistically, and I missed a fair bit of dialogue, but it is a very powerful film which I strongly recommend. The setting is East Berlin in 1984 and the plot concerns the Stasi surveillance of a playwright and his lover. I won’t post more in the way of spoilers but I’ll just say that the movie gives a very strong impression of what it must be like to live in a police state and of the corrupting effects of dictatorship on watchers and those they watch. I had “a bit of a disagreement with Tyler Cowen”:http://www.marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2006/11/east_germany_ci.html recently about the former GDR, when he took issue with me for saying:

bq. the real problem with East Germany was not its comparative level of economic development or the level of health care its citizens could receive (rather good, actually). It was the fact that it was a police state where people were denied the basic liberties.

I have to say that’s an opinion that has been reinforced by the film: a (far) worse choice of fruit and vegetables is as nothing to the corrosive effects on the soul of a political tyranny. The film also constitutes a very concrete rebuttal of Volokh guest blogger Fernando Tesón’s “strange polemic against political art”:http://volokh.com/posts/1166215181.shtml . Art can contribute to political understanding by making vivid to people what a state of affairs is like in a way that no mere enumeration of facts can. The level of surveillance that citizens of the GDR were subject to is shocking, but it takes art to depict the effect of such a system on their inner lives.