Czesław Miłosz wrote Zniewolony umysł in 1951 in the period after his defection to France. The work was published by Giedroyc’s Instytut Literacki in 1953 at the same time as a French translation (La pensée captive) and an English translation (The Captive Mind). The book immediately inflamed emotions and stirred controversy on account of the author and the contents. The Captive Mind is now considered to be a crucial work for understanding the mechanisms that allow totalitarian systems to exist and endure throughout the world.
The Captive Mind is a philosophical and political essay, as well as a parable in which Miłosz draws on the examples of specific individuals to illustrate, in a metaphorical manner, universal human phenomena and attitudes toward the so-called ‘New Faith’. The pseudonyms used by Miłosz (Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta) mask the identities of real figures familiar to him from the Polish literary scene: Jerzy Andrzejewski, Tadeusz Borowski, Jerzy Putrament and Konstanty Ildefons Gałczyński. In his analysis, Miłosz goes beyond obvious rationales for submitting to communist rule, such as fear or avarice, by showing that one of the ways in which people are deceived into submission is through their innately human 'internal longing for harmony and happiness'. In portraying Polish society during its most intense period of indoctrination, Miłosz puts forward a thorough critique of two philosophical systems – Marxism and Hegelian historical determinism – which he deems to be inconsistent with basic moral principles. Miłosz used the example of Poland in the late 1940s/early 1950s to portray a phenomenon that is universal in time and space.