Vaclav Havel: Everyone Should Listen


This morning, I came across two blogs that made important points regarding the stagnation of genuine debate in the blog world. First I leave you with excerpts from Vaclav Havel, a political dissident in czechoslovakia during the Soviet Era and the first president of the post cold war Czechosovkia. I will do a follow up later, with analysis of Havel’s words to the blog phenomena.


Power of the Powerless, by Vaclav Havel.

One Legacy of that original “Correct” understanding is a third peculiarity that makes our systems different from other modern dictatorships: it commands an incomparably more precise, logically structured, generally comprhensible and, in essence, extremely flexile ideology that, in its elaborateness and completeness, is almost a secularized religion. It offers a ready answer to any question whatsoever; it can scarcely be accepted only in part, and accepting it has profound implications for human life. In an era when metaphysical and existential certanties are in a state of crisis, when people are being uprooted and alienated and are losing their sense of what this world means, this ideology inevitably has a certain hypnotic charm. To wandering humankind it offers an immediately available home: all one has to do is accept it, and suddenly everything becomes clear once more, life takes on new meaning, and all mysteries, unanswered questions, anxiety, and loneliness vanish. Of course, one pays dearly for this low-rent home: the price is abdication of one’s own reason, conscience, and responsibility, for an essential aspect of this ideology is the consignment of reason and conscience to a higher authority…

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them.

Politics and Conscience: 1984 Havel

Still, precisely these and similar questions reveal to me again and again how deeply many Western intellectuals do not understand–and in some respects, cannot understand–just what is taking place here, what it is that we, the so-called dissidents, are striving for and, most of all, what the overall meaning of it is. Take, for instance, the question: “What can we do for you?”. A great deal, to be sure. The more support, interest, and solidarity of free-thinking people in the world we enjoy, the less the danger of being arrested, and the greater the hope that ours will not be a voice carrying in the wilderness. And yet, somewhere deep within the question there is a built-in misunderstanding. After all, in the last instance the point is not to help us, an handful of “dissidents”, to keep out of jail a bit more of the time. It is not even a question of helping these nations, Czechs and Slovaks, to live a bit better, a bit more freely. They need first and foremost to help themselves. They have waited for the help of others far too often, depended on it far too much, and far too many times came to grief: either the promised help was withdrawn at the last moment or it turned into the very opposite of their expectations. In the deepest sense, something else is at stake–the salvation of us all, of myself and my interlocutor equally. Or is it not something that conerns us all equally? Are not my dim prospects or, conversely, my hopes his dim prospcets and hopes as well? Was not my arrest an attack on him and the deceptions to which he is subjected an attack on me as well? Is not the suppression of human beings in Prague a suppression of all human beings? Is not indifference to what is happening here or even illusions about it a preparation for the kind of misery elsewhere? Does not their misery presuppose ours? The point is not that some Czech dissident, as a person in distress, needs help. I could best help myself out of distress simply by ceasing to be a “dissident”. The point is what that dissident’s flawed efforts and fate tell us and mean, what they attest about the condition, the destiny, the opportunites, and the problems of the world, the respects in which they are or could be food for thought for others as well, for the way they see their, and so our, shared destiny, in what ways they are a warning, a challenge, a danger, or a lesson for those who visit us.

Or the questions about socialism and capitalism!. It seems to me that these thoroughly ideological and often semantically confused categories have long since been beside the point. The question is wholly other, deeper and equally relevant to all: whether we shall, by whatever means, succeed in reconstituting the natural world as the true terrain of politics, reabilitating the personal experience of human beings as the initial measure of things, placing morality above politics and responsibility above our desires, in making human community meaningful, in returning content to human speech, in reconstituting, as the focus of all social action, the autonomous, integral, and dignified human “I”, responsible for oursleves because we are bound to something higher, and sacrificing something, in extreme cases even everything, of his banal, prosperous life…for the sake of that which gives life meaning. It really is not all that important whether, by accident of domicile, we confront a Western manager or an Eastern bureacrat in this very modest and yet globally crucial sruggle against the momentum of impersonal power. If we can defend our humanity, then perhaps there is a hope of sorts–though even then it is by no means automatic–that we shall also find some more meaningful ways of balancing our natural claims to shared economic decision-making and to dignified social status, with the tried-and-true driving force of all work: human enterprise realized in genuine market relations. As long, however, as our humanity remans defenseless, we will not be saved by any techincal or organizational trick designed to produce better economic functioning, just as no filter on a factory smokestack will prevent a general dehumanization. To what purpose a system fucntions is, after all, more important than how it does so. Might it not function quite smoothly, after all, in the service of total destruction?

Thinking about Frantisek k. 1988

Of Course, he never gave up on his belief entirely: he dedicated his entire life to socialism and died belieiving in it. He, who knew far better than anyone else what the socialist ideal had become in practice and what–in its Leninist variant, at least–it must inevitably become: total domination by the state as the universal employer and exploiter of all working people, the central manipulator of all areas of life, and the most inept capitalist conceivable. An ideology that originally declared that it would gradually abolish the state had given rise to the mightiest state ever known: the totalitarian state. And the “liberated” working people had ended up casting envious glances at the rights enjoyed by their counterparts in the capitalist countries.

What kind of socialism did the man who realized all that believe in at the end of his days? After all those bitter experiences, what did that word conjure up for him? A pluralist system of autonomous economic entities. Enterprises owned by their employees? Economic self-management? Market relations? Cooperatives and small-scale private enterprise? He must have realized that genuine economic pluralism is impossible without unlimited political pluralism. But what, in his eyes, did such a concept have in common with socialism? After all, as far as the communists were concerned, “socialism” was never anything but a codeword for their monopoly of power(any threates to which were–and still are! always designated as the “dismantling of socialism by antisocialist forces(emphasis added to address current Cuba situation). Did he abandon that traditional communist concept of socialism in favor of some other, such as the social democratic one?”

Is it possile in today’s complex world for people who are guided by their consciences or the basic ethical categories of the everyday world to take an active part in politics? Or must they always, albeit only within part of themselves, belong also to the world of ideologies, doctrines, political religions, and commonly accepted dogmas and cliches? Is it enough for them to believe in life, in the good, and in their own reason? Or must they also believe in something not quite so pure and simple, such as their own political party? Can people who are truly pure in heart, people of independent spirit determined to be guided by it alone, attain the summit of real power in a world of sectional interests, irrational passions, “political realities”, power-seeking ideologies, and blind revolt, in short, in the chatoic world of modern civilization?


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One Response to “Vaclav Havel: Everyone Should Listen”

  1. Articulos » Buscando La Muerte Says:

    […] Vaclav Havel: Everyone Should Listen […]

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