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Vaclav Havel

Updated on March 9, 2019
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VACLAV HAVEL
VACLAV HAVEL

Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel died December 18, 2011. The Associated Press report on his death said: "Vaclav Havel wove theater into revolution, leading the charge to peacefully bring down communism in a regime he ridiculed as "Absurdistan" and proving the power of the people to overcome totalitarian rule."

Havel was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1936. His family was wealthy, privileged, and of the highest social circles before the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. After the Nazis were defeated the Communists subjugated the nation for forty years.

He was married to Olga Splichalova for forty years. She died of cancer in 1996, and the following year he married the glamorous actress, Dagmar Veskrnova, who survives as his widow.

Havel was a brilliant thinker, writer, and playwright. He served thirteen years (1989-2003) as the first President of Czechoslovakia after it was freed from bondage behind the Iron Curtain. During those years, Havel was celebrated as one of the great leaders of the free world.

OLGA SPLICHALOVA (1933-1996) WIFE OF 40 YEARS TO VACLAV HAVEL
OLGA SPLICHALOVA (1933-1996) WIFE OF 40 YEARS TO VACLAV HAVEL
VACLAV HAVEL
VACLAV HAVEL
MAP OF CZECH REPUBLIC
MAP OF CZECH REPUBLIC

Vaclav Havel Bio

Vaclav Havel was a mild-mannered Roman Catholic intellectual. The Communist regime under which he lived most of his life feared his ideas and surveilled his every move. His plays and books were banned. Four times Havel was arrested for opposing what the Communist Party deemed politically correct.

He never promoted violence. But he was against the complete individual submission to Communist ideology that was demanded in exchange for a humble subsistence. Havel spoke out for honesty, truth, individual freedom, and personal liberty.

In 1979, Havel was publicly condemned by the Left-Wing government of Czechoslovakia as an enemy of the state. The government offered him freedom if he would move to the United States. He did not want to leave his homeland. So Havel served four years in a gruesome prison.

He returned to his country cottage in Bohemia where he continued to write about why "high moral standards and respect for the transcendent" are necessary in any society. He believed that individual responsibility was paramount in a free society. Havel fretted about the severe decline he observed of civility and manners in western societies. Even more so, he worried greatly over the decline of moral values and the growth of secular atheism in Europe.

In 1989, Vaclav Havel was arrested for the last time by the ThoughtPolice. Though he was sentenced to nine months in jail, an enormous public protest developed and he was released after two months.

He had no desire for political power and did not seek any office, but the public overwhelmingly desired him to be their first president when Czechoslovakia was freed from tyranny after the massive Prague uprising called the "Velvet Revolution."

VACLAV HAVEL
VACLAV HAVEL
VACLAV HAVEL SPEAKS TO THE VELVET REVOLUTION
VACLAV HAVEL SPEAKS TO THE VELVET REVOLUTION
PRESIDENT OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC, VACLAV HAVEL
PRESIDENT OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC, VACLAV HAVEL
DAGMAR VESKRNOVA (WIDOW OF VACLAV HAVEL)
DAGMAR VESKRNOVA (WIDOW OF VACLAV HAVEL)

'Politics, Morality and Civility' by Vaclav Havel

Politics, Morality & Civility is an essay written by Vaclav Havel in 1992. In it he stresses "the significance of moral values and standards in all spheres of life" and bemoans the fact that "freedom" has let loose "an enormous and dazzling explosion of every imaginable human vice." What has been lost is "responsibility and morality."

Havel sees politics descending into "an extravagant hunger for power and a willingness to gain the favour of a confused electorate by offering a colourful range of attractive nonsense, while faking concern about social justice and the working class."

He laments a "gutter press" that spews "familiar sewage" and that "Analysis is pushed out of the press by scandalmongering."

Havel makes this interesting observation: "It is largely up to the politicians which social forces they choose to liberate and which they choose to suppress, whether they rely on the good in each citizen or on the bad."

He points out that many Leftist governments have purposefully excited "the worst human qualities, like selfishness, envy, and hatred."

Havel believed in politics infused with morality and strongly objected to political scientists who said that "morality has no place" in politics, which they deemed essentially "the manipulation of power and public opinion."

He believed that "the world might be changed by the force of truth."

Havel wrote: "Genuine politics are moral because it is— a 'higher' responsibility—only because it has a metaphysical grounding; that is, it grows out of a conscious or subconscious certainty that our death ends nothing, because everything is forever being recorded and evaluated somewhere else, somewhere 'above us' by God to whose judgment everything is subject."

Therefore, he argues: "Genuine Conscience and genuine responsibility are always, in the end, explicable only as an expression of the silent assumption that we are observed 'from above,' that everything is visible, nothing is forgotten."

He reminds us that there are "moral dimensions of all social life," and "morality is, in fact, hidden in everything."

He writes: "Whenever I encounter a problem in my work and try to get to the bottom of it, I always discover some moral aspect, be it apathy, unwillingness to recognize personal error or guilt, reluctance to give up certain positions and the advantages flowing from them, envy, and excess of self-assurance, or whatever."

Havel teaches that "the dormant goodwill in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently. Goodwill longs to be recognized and cultivated. people want to hear that decency and courage make sense."

Havel is convinced "that politics is not essentially a disreputable business; and to the extent that it is, it is only disreputable people who make it so. I would concede that it can, more than other spheres of human activities, tempt one to disreputable practices. But it is simply not true that a politician must lie or intrigue."

Still, he admits that "the cynic, the vain, the brash, and the vulgar are drawn to politics."

Above all other human activities, Havel is concerned with culture. He writes "that this catastrophic decline in the general cultural level frightens me more than economic decline does."

He adds "however important it may be to get our economy back on its feet, it is no less important to do everything possible to improve the general cultural level of everyday life." I

n conclusion: "We must initiate a large-scale program for raising general cultural standards."

Vaclav Havel is no pie-in-the-sky dreamer. He writes: "A heaven on earth in which people all love each other and everyone is hard-working, well-mannered, and virtuous, in which the land flourishes and everything is sweetness and light, working harmoniously to the satisfaction of God: this will never be. On the contrary, the world has had the worst experiences with utopian thinkers who promised all that. Evil will remain with us, no one will ever eliminate human suffering, the political arena will always attract irresponsible and ambitious adventurers and charlatans."

Why? "Because God wants it that way. It is an eternal, never-ending struggle by good people against evil people, by honourable people against dishonourable people, by people who think about the world and eternity against people who only think of themselves and the moment. I feel a responsibility to work towards those things I consider good and right."

Havel says, "Perhaps we can all agree that we want a state based on rule of law, one that is democratic, peaceful, and with a prospering market economy."

Some insist that the state be used to force 'social justice' on its citizens. But "a functioning market economy can never guarantee any genuine social justice. People have, and always will have, different degrees of industriousness, talent and last but not least, luck. Obviously, social justice is something the market system cannot, by its very nature, deliver. Moreover, to compel the marketplace to do so would be deeply immoral. Our experience with socialism has provided us with more than enough examples of why this is so."

Havel continues: "I am convinced that we will never build a democratic state based on rule of law if we do not at the same time build a state that is—regardless of how unscientific this may sound to the ears of a political scientist—humane, moral, intellectual and spiritual, and cultural. The best laws and the best-conceived democratic mechanisms will not themselves guarantee legality or freedom or human rights—anything, in short, for which they were intended—if they are not underpinned by certain human and social values."

He adds: "Without commonly shared and widely entrenched moral values and obligations, neither the law, nor democratic government, nor even the market economy will function properly. They are all marvelous products of the human spirit, mechanisms that can, in turn, serve the spirit magnificently—assuming that the human spirit wants these mechanisms to serve it, respects them, believes in them, guarantees them, understands their meaning, and is willing, if necessary, to fight for them or make sacrifices for them."

Havel reminds us "the meaning of the state, which is, and must remain, truly human—which means it must be intellectual, spiritual, and moral."

He concludes that "it demands the courage to breathe moral and spiritual motivation into everything, to seek the human dimension in all things. Science, technology, expertise, and so-called professionalism are not enough. Something more is necessary. For the sake of simplicity, it might be called Spirit."

MR. & MRS. VACLAV HAVEL
MR. & MRS. VACLAV HAVEL

References

My source for this article is the monograph published by The Trinity Forum "Politics, Morality, and Civility" by Vaclav Havel with a foreword by Alonzo McDonald. This monograph and many others are highly recommended and available from The Trinity Forum.

A MULTITUDE GATHERS IN PRAGUE TO HONOR THE LIFE OF VACLAV HAVEL (PHOTOGRAPH BY PETR DAVID JOSEK, AP)
A MULTITUDE GATHERS IN PRAGUE TO HONOR THE LIFE OF VACLAV HAVEL (PHOTOGRAPH BY PETR DAVID JOSEK, AP)
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