Thursday, June 1, 2023

Prophetic words from Václav Havel


Many readers will recall Václav Havel, a dissident anti-Communist leader who became President of the Czech Republic after the fall of the Soviet Union.  He was widely respected.  He was also a best-selling author, one of whose books was titled "The Power of the Powerless".  Published in 1985, it became a rallying cry for anti-Communist movements throughout the Warsaw Pact, and is regarded to this day as a seminal work of political philosophy.

Wikipedia says of the book:

The essay dissects the nature of communist regimes of the time, life within such a regime, and how by their very nature such regimes can create dissidents of ordinary citizens. The essay goes on to discuss ideas and possible actions by loose communities of individuals linked by a common cause, such as human-rights petition Charter 77.

Officially suppressed, the essay was circulated in samizdat form and translated into multiple languages. It became a manifesto for dissent in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and other communist regimes.

There's more at the link.

Havel's book remains an inspiration to those trapped in an undemocratic, dictatorial society that brooks no dissent.  Since the politically correct forces in the USA are increasingly turning this country in that direction, we can learn a lot from his wisdom.

Andrew Torba, head honcho of the social media network Gab, agrees.

As I read the essay I was captivated by Havel’s description of what it was like to “live within the lie” of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. The parallels between his descriptions of the people, the culture, and the political system of his time were all too familiar to what American right wing dissidents are witnessing and experiencing today.

“The post-totalitarian system touches people at every step, but it does so with its ideological gloves on. This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his or her ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power; and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance. Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything.”

Sound familiar?

Havel even accurately describes the phenomena of President Trump and the unfortunate outcome of his attempt to “drain the Swamp,” which ended with him “losing” in a rigged election and becoming a vaccine salesman on behalf of the Swamp itself.

In any case, experience has taught us again and again that this automatism (the Regime) is far more powerful than the will of any individual; and should someone possess a more independent will, he or she must conceal it behind a ritually anonymous mask in order to have an opportunity to enter the power hierarchy at all. And when the individual finally gains a place there and tries to make his or her will felt within it, that automatism, with its enormous inertia, will triumph sooner or later, and either the individual will be ejected by the power structure like a foreign organism, or he or she will be compelled to resign his or her individuality gradually, once again blending with the automatism and becoming its servant, almost indistinguishable from those who preceded him or her and those who will follow.”

Perhaps one of the most stunningly accurate things Havel describes is the Communist society’s utter lack of morality.

The profound crisis of human identity brought on by living within a lie, a crisis which in turn makes such a life possible, certainly possesses a moral dimension as well; it appears, among other things, as a deep moral crisis in society. A person who has been seduced by the consumer value system, whose identity is dissolved in an amalgam of the accoutrements of mass civilization, and who has no roots in the order of being, no sense of responsibility for anything higher than his or her own personal survival, is a demoralized person. The system depends on demoralization, deepens it, is in fact a projection of it into society.

So what is Havel’s solution to this madness?

Not politics. He mentions several times that it’s useless to participate in a rigged political system with fixed outcomes. Instead, he calls for the same thing I am calling for right now: the formation of a parallel systems.

There can be no way around it: no matter how beautiful an alternative political model may be, it can no longer speak to the ‘hidden sphere,’ inspire people and society, call for real political ferment. The real sphere of potential politics in the post-totalitarian system is elsewhere: in the continuing and cruel tension between the complex demands of that system and the aims of life, that is, the elementary need of human beings to live, to a certain extent at least, in harmony with themselves, that is, to live in a bearable way, not to be humiliated by their superiors and officials, not to be continually watched by the police, to be able to express themselves freely, to find an outlet for their creativity, to enjoy legal security, and so on. Anything that touches this field concretely, anything that relates to this fundamental, omnipresent and living tension, will inevitably speak to people.

Abstract projects for an ideal political or economic order do not interest them to anything like the same extent–and rightfully so–not only because everyone knows how little chance they have of succeeding, but also because today people feel that the less political policies are derived from a concrete and human ‘here and now’ and the more they fix their sights on an abstract ‘some day,’ the more easily they can degenerate into new forms of human enslavement.

Again, more at the link.

I have to agree with Mr. Torba.  As our various government structures become increasingly ideologically hidebound to a Left-wing, socialist, even Communist diktat, so we are less and less likely to be able to influence them through elections and other democratic processes.  They ignore our will and seek only to impose their own.  "Government of the people, by the people and for the people" has all but ceased to exist in these United States.

I think Mr. Torba is quite correct to suggest that we draw inspiration from Mr. Havel's wisdom.  If you haven't read "The Power of the Powerless", I highly recommend it.  See also Mr. Havel's life, to learn how he endured under and triumphed over Communist dictatorship in his own country.  I think we can all learn useful lessons from his example.

It's also worth reading Mr. Torba's ideas about setting up parallel institutions, as he's discussed on Gab from time to time.  If we refuse to participate in the structures set up to control us, and instead "vote with our feet" by supporting people and businesses and entities that share our values, we proclaim our independence every day.  That's well worth doing.



Anonymous said...

A copy of The Power of the Powerless may be downloaded here:

lee n. field said...

Have you read Rod Dreher's "Live Not By Lies"?

Bob C. said...

Thanks! The paperback and Kindle versions are just a bit pricey... :-(

Anonymous said...

Rod Dreher for many years now has been proposing to use our past experiences with communism to help people in the US to deal with the new totalitarianism.