Skip to comments.'LEAVING THE CASTLE' (Havel as liberal icon?)
Posted on 12/31/2002 12:42:24 PM PST by xlib
The course of power ultimately changes only if there are forces present to oppose it. The Bush Administration, for example, rarely feels the rub of resistance; it is able to justify gratuitous tax breaks, snuggle up to friendly corporations, and fling environmentalism on the slag heap not least because the Democratscowed, confused, incoherenttoo often end up speaking, when they speak at all, in the helium voice of a Warner Bros. pipsqueak. They hide, hoping that power, in the shape of a self-revealing grotesque (e.g., Trent Lott), will do all the work for them. It's a tactic of vacuous exhaustion, not a strategy of intellectual energy and moral direction.
One of history's prime examples of the potential of political oppositionpure and peaceful, yet historically fierceplayed out in the late nineteen-eighties in Eastern Europe, when hundreds of intellectuals, such as George Konrád in Budapest, Adam Michnik in Warsaw, Andrei Sakharov in Moscow, and Václav Havel in Prague, who for decades had exemplified Solzhenitsyn's precept to "live not by lies," endured to see an imperium collapse under the weight of its own leaden deceptions. Some of those intellectuals crossed over from the realm of moral example to the practicalities of building a new politics. They became university presidents, diplomats, newspaper editors. Some were elected to their countries' new parliaments. One went to the palace.
That one, of course, was Václav Havel. In November, 1989, Havel was still a "dissident playwright," the bluejeaned spokesman of the Civic Forum coalition that opposed the Communist regime; a short while later, with the regime gently toppled, he was the leader of a nascent democratic republic and, a few months after that, its well-tailored President. For the thirteen years since, in a scenario that was part Kafka, part fairy tale (or are they the same?), Havel has lived atop the ramparts of the highest hill in Prague. The spooks who tapped his telephone now guard his person; the bureaucrats who intercepted his mail now distribute his speeches; the castle that may have inspired "The Castle" now houses Kafka's most appreciative reader. Havel has helped create a civil society through the probity of his example (no Czech could forget that, as a dissident, he stayed in his jail cell rather than accept the freedom of coerced emigration) and the clarity of his essays ("The Power of the Powerless," "Beyond the Shock of Freedom"). He had the prophetic moral force of Solzhenitsyn, but he was neither reclusive nor anti-modern; while Solzhenitsyn rejected Western popular culture as the "manure" that flowed east under the Iron Curtain, Havel embraced Beckett and Frank Zappa, Ginsberg and Lou Reed. It was the arrest of a rock group, the Plastic People of the Universe, that had set him, in 1976, on the path of leadership among the dissidents. The arrests, he wrote, were "an attack on life itself." Soon he was involved in drafting the founding document of Czech opposition, Charter 77.
In early February, Havel will live for the first time since childhood as a normal citizen of what in the totalitarian era was a dream as impossible and beguiling as Oz: "a normal country." What a performance it has been! In mid-September, Havel arrived in New York to give a speech at the City University Graduate Center. His physical appearance, as always, was at once riveting and unpretentious, with his Presidential armor (the good suit, the tie snug at the neck, the bodyguards, the nimbus of politicians and glitterati) doing little to mask his slouchy, half-shy bearing. In his years in office, he admitted, he has grown less confident and increasingly nervous. ("You may not believe this, but every day I suffer more and more from stagefright.")
During the weeks of revolution, Havel was the coolest, most self-assured figure imaginable. He was the least plastic person in the universe, presiding over surreal press conferences at the Magic Lantern theatre and directing mass demonstrations in Wenceslas Square, where Soviet tanks had once thundered over the cobblestones. And then, in an instant, just five years after his release from jail, Havel was in the Castle, signing papers, meeting foreign dignitaries, and, in time, battling his own prime minister and presiding over the painful division of Czechoslovakia into Slovakia and the Czech Republic. The years since 1989, he acknowledged, have been difficult, flawed, a "hard fall to earth, from the exhilarating world of revolutionary excitement into the mundane world of bureaucratic routine."
Havel is a liberaland, unlike many American liberals, he is proud to proclaim it. As he begins to make his exit, it is worth adding up what his liberalism has wrought. He helped bring freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of commerce to his country. The Czech Republic is a member of NATO and will soon join the European Union. Czechs (Slovaks, too) travel at their pleasure. But Havel has also, unlike some other European leaders, refused to renounce, or even flinch from, the potential of power, even armed power, in the name of security and justice. His government pushed (in vain) for the West to intervene more quickly and completely in Rwanda. He pressed for armed intervention in Bosnia and Kosovo. And now, in the age of stateless terrorism, he is unabashedly in favor, as he said in New York, of the principle that "evil must be confronted in its womb and, if there is no other way to do it, then it has to be dealt with by the use of force."
Among Havel's myriad achievements, one of the most lasting is that he has helped to reorder our thinking about artist-intellectuals and political influence. Who is left to prize the fevered delusions of Sartre and Pound, the selective political blindnesses of Aragon and Shaw, when there is the clear-eyed example of Havel? Who is left to question that a thinking person, profound and humane, can find a place in real politics, both in opposition and in power? Countless countries still seem doomed to autocracy without a homegrown version of its antidote. Havel's journey has shown a way out. He leaves the Castle having provided the gift of normalcy to his people, and having restored to many others the dimensions and vigor of the liberal idea.
His knee-jerk anti-Bushism is junvenile, but then he enthusiastically endorses Havel's parroting of the Bush line on anti-terrorism.
Maybe he is hedging his bets so he can make sure and keep his name on the welcome lists at the NY cocktail party circuit. Gutless.
That is certainly the opposite of any accurate description of American 'liberals', for whom stealing and destroying conservative campus newspapers is considered to be a laudable act, who go out of their way to disparage America's religious people, and who despise virtually anything that promotes commerce.
It would be amusing, if it weren't so pathetic, that so many leftists whose deeply-held beliefs were put into practice in the Soviet Union and in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and other Iron Curtain countries seem to identify with the freedom-loving people who brought down the Berlin wall and tore down the apparatus of State power, rather than with the tyrants, nomenklatura, and apparatchiks who are their natural comrades in word, thought, and deed.
And now, if you will allow me, I will at last try to gain some distance from myself and attempt to formulate three of my old certainties, or rather my old observations, that my time in the world of high politics has only confirmed:
(1) If humanity is to survive and avoid new catastrophes, then the global political order has to be accompanied by a sincere and mutual respect among the various spheres of civilization, culture, nations, or continents, and by honest efforts on their part to seek and find the values or basic moral imperatives they have in common, and to build them into the foundations of their coexistence in this globally connected world.
(2) Evil must be confronted in its womb and, if there is no other way to do it, then it has to be dealt with by the use of force. If the immensely sophisticated and expensive modern weaponry must be used, let it be used in a way that does not harm civilian populations. If this is not possible, then the billions spent on those weapons will be wasted.
(3) If we examine all the problems facing the world today, be they economic, social, ecological, or general problems of civilization, we will always --whether we want to or not--come up against the problem of whether a course of action is proper or not, or whether, from the long-term planetary point of view, it is responsible. The moral order and its sources, human rights and the sources of people's right to human rights, human responsibility and its origins, human conscience and the penetrating view of that from which nothing can be hidden with a curtain of noble words--these are, in my deepest convictions and in all my experience, the most important political themes of our time.
Dear friends, when I look around me and see so many famous people who appear to have descended from somewhere up there in the starry heavens, I cannot help feeling that at the end of my long fall from a fairy-tale world onto the hard earth, I suddenly find myself once more inside a fairy tale. There is perhaps only one difference: now I can appreciate this feeling more than I was able to in similar circumstances thirteen years ago.
ROFL! That had me laughing for five minutes. I love the sounds of socialists howling in pain.
Of course the rest of the article is BS. It was Vaclav Havel who said that the Achilles heel of Communism was the constant and massive lying, and that "living in truth" was the path to vanquishing totalitarianism. Remnick, OTOH, is a Clinton groupie. Enough said.
Lying comes in so many disguises.