Václav Havel

Václac Havel (1936-2011) was a Czech author and one of the main figures behind the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia’s ”Velvet Revolution” of 1989. After the introduction of democracy, he became president, first of Czechoslovakia and, following the country’s division in 1993, of the Czech Republic.

With his work on politics and power, Havel follows in the footsteps of the personalist tradition.

Havel protested against the totalitarian communist state and the ideology that in his opinion enabled this state to continue oppressing its citizens. The ideology made people
capable of ignoring the fact that they lived “in the lie.” Havel believed that if humans were to live “in the truth,” then they had to take responsibility for their own lives and free themselves of the oppressive system by rebelling against it through their actions.

Charta 77

Together with other public intellectuals, he wrote the manifesto Charta 77, criticizing among other things the failure of the authorities to recognize basic human rights. The manifesto was banned, and Havel spent several years in prison.

After the revolution, Havel, who harbored no political ambitions, was elected president. Havel’s “unpolitical” understanding of politics focused on respect for the individual:

“I favor ”antipolitical politics,” that is, politics not as the technology of power and manipulation, of cybernetic rule over humans or as the art of the utilitarian, but politics as one of the ways of seeking and achieving meaningful lives, of protecting them and serving them. I favor politics as practical morality, as service to the truth, as essentially human and humanly measured care for our fellow humans. It is, I presume, an approach which, in this world, is extremely impractical and difficult to apply in daily life. Still, I know no better alternative.”

When Havel speaks of politics as “morality put into practice,” “a service to truth”, and “care for one’s neighbor,” he speaks directly into a personalist tradition. Politics is not merely a game of power, nor about creating contracts among citizens; rather, the task of organizing communities and giving the people in them the best possible conditions for flourishing is a “service to truth”.

Havel does not categorize himself as a personalist, but his thinking is so near to personalism that, together with for instance Jan Patočka (1907-1977), he has been labeled a Prague personalist.

More about Václav Havel official website: www.vaclavhavel.cz