Summer Meditations

By Vaclav Havel
[In a booklet published in Prague last year the President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, issued some of his reflections since taking office in 1989. Subsequently, lengthy excerpts, translated into French by Suzette Hejda and Alena Lhotova, appeared in Le Nouveau Quotidien de Lausanne, Switzerland. We take pleasure in sharing with our readers, with permission, the major portion of their rendition, translated into English. -- Ed.]

One thing is sure: although some may find it ridiculous or quixotic, it is my duty to continue emphasizing the moral basis of all true politics, as well as the value of moral rules in all areas of public life, including the economic. It is also my duty to explain that unless we all try to discover in ourselves, to rediscover and cultivate, what I will call a superior responsibility, it will go ill with our country. The return of freedom in an environment of total moral delinquency has roused what probably had to surface, and what thus was predictable, but which is incomparably more serious than was foreseen: the terrible explosion of the worst human faults. It is as if all the most questionable, or at least the most ambiguous, characteristics were unknowingly cultivated for years in this society and without our knowledge built into the daily functioning of the totalitarian system, so that when suddenly freed from its restraint, they have free rein to burst forth. A kind of regulation -- if you can call it that -- that the totalitarian regime imposed on them (and by which they were "legitimized") has been ruptured, while a new regulatory system which, instead of taking advantage of these negative aspects, would control them -- in other words a system of responsibility freely undertaken by the community toward the community -- has not yet been established; nor could it have been, for these things take time.

So now we witness a strange state of things: true, society has regained its freedom but, in certain respects it behaves worse than when it was not free. We see rapidly increasing crime of all sorts, pouring out through the media; I refer mainly to the boulevard press, that sewer which always spews forth at times of historic upheaval from the hidden recesses of mind.

Other phenomena, more serious and even more dangerous, are manifesting: resentment and nationalist suspicion, racism, and even signs of schism, limitless demagogy, a taste for intrigue and deliberate lying, political opportunism, frantic struggle for personal interests, lust for power and plain ambition, fanaticism of all kinds, all kinds of thievery, the spread of the Mafia, a general lack of tolerance, of understanding of others, lack of taste, of moderation, of thoughtfulness. And finally a new ideology, as if Marxism had left behind a neurotic vacuum which must be filled at all costs.

. . . . . .

Nevertheless I say to myself that if, with a handful of friends, I have been able to beat my head against the wall in telling the truth about communist totalitarianism in an ocean of indifference, there is no reason not to continue to beat my head against the wall because, in spite of supercilious smiles, I shall continue to speak tirelessly about responsibility and morals in the teeth of the current slump in our society; and I consider that there is no reason to believe the battle lost beforehand. Only one battle can surely be lost: the one we give up. . . . I do not cease to find new proofs of a grand potential of goodwill within us. It is only disintegrated, intimidated, entrapped, paralyzed, and out of commission, as though it knew not where to find support, how to begin, or how to assert itself.

In this state of things, it is the duty of politicians to bring back to life this potential, timid and lethargic, to show it a way, to clear a passage for it, to render it assurance, a chance to come forth -- in brief, hope. It is said that a people gets the politicians it deserves. This is true up to a point: politicians are in effect the mirror of society, and a sort of incarnation of its potential. Paradoxically, the opposite is also true: society mirrors its politicians, because it is largely up to the politicians to determine which forces are liberated, which are held in check, to choose what they depend on, whether on the best or the worst in each citizen. The preceding regime systematically aroused the worst in us: selfishness, hate, envy; it was not far from the reflection of what we deserved; it was equally responsible for what we were. In my opinion, anyone who goes into politics bears a greater responsibility for the moral condition of society and it is his duty to seek out in it that which is better, and to develop and nurture it.

. . . .

It seems I am a naive dreamer trying to reconcile the irreconcilable, i.e., politics and morals. I know that theme well, I have heard it since forever. . . . Violence is well-known to breed violence, which is why most revolutions have degenerated into dictatorships, devouring their own offspring and bringing into the world new revolutionaries prepared for renewed violence, not knowing that they were digging their own graves and confining society in a vicious circle of revolutions and counter-revolutions. Communism was defeated by life, by thought, by integrity. Yet [there are] those who, even today, assert that politics is above all a manipulation of power, of public opinion, and that morals have no place in it. Politicking is not politics. . . .

True politics, worthy of the name -- and the only kind I will practice -- is the politics of service to one's neighbor. Service to the community; service to those who will succeed us. Its origin is moral because it is nothing but responsibility realized toward all and by all. It is such responsibility that in itself constitutes superior responsibility by the fact that it is based in metaphysics; it is nourished by certitude, conscious or unconscious, that nothing ends by death, that all is recorded forever, all is appraised elsewhere, somewhere "above us" in what I have called the memory of being, in that part which is inseparable from the mysterious order of the cosmos, of nature, and of life, which believers call God, and to whose judgment all are subject.

(From Sunrise magazine, April/May 1992)

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