Václav havel: not quite who you thought….


Havel once said that the true dissident is not interested in power, has no desire for office and does not gather votes. It’s an ironic statement coming from a future president. The absurdity of his own rise to power has been pointed out numerous times, first and foremost by Havel himself. And yet, whether or not he lived up to his own values as a politician, Havel always felt that the role of a leader should be no different than the role of a dissident — a leader should simply be a voice for the people. The only kind of politics that makes sense, said Havel, is one that is guided by conscience. Political institutions should be open, dynamic and small, rather than closed, inviolable and huge. “It is better to have organizations springing up ad hoc,” he wrote in The Power of the Powerless, “infused with enthusiasm for a particular purpose and disappearing when that purpose has been achieved.” In other words, institutions are best when they serve a specific purpose, and are not a replacement for community. And they are best when they place moral concerns before political ones. Without addressing the spiritual needs of people, without focusing on real human relationships and personal trust, democracy was likely to be just as absurd as communism. In this, Havel was much more radical than most of his post-democracy peers, at least intellectually. He was a politician who saw good politics as a result rather than a solution.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.