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RIP: Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel was a man worthy of the Shakespearean eulogy:

He was a man, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.

It is often noted that Havel was a "mere" playwright before his activism against communism thrust him into the forefront of politics. But Havel existed in the interim of politics, in the revolutionary moment when character is of greater weight than policy. His instincts for politics, understood classically, arose from his understanding of the humanities and served well his fellow citizens.

The Czech Republic now mourns the passing of a national treasure. Their national sorrow is unique because men of Havel's stature do not largely exist elsewhere in the world. May they take solace in the knowledge of their great fortune in having had such a man for so long. He defined an era of hope and the world is poorer for his passing.

Update: For a powerful recitation of Havel's life and times, read Reason's "Velvet President."

Categories > History

Discussions - 8 Comments

Havel's THE POWER OF THE POWERLESS demonstrates brilliantly the conditions of late 1970s communism--what he called the "post-totalitarian system":

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 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 the 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. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.

Wow. Nothing at all in that excerpt from Havel that could possibly describe certain elements of post-1980 USA (esp. post-9/11)? Or more than a few countries here at The End of History? In fact, I think some of your recent blog-posts attacking the Occupy Wall Street protesters - posts that were largely fictional, wholly shameless - sum up the right's (incl. the supposedly libertarian wing) "captiv[ity] to the lies" and farcical pretenses of the Glenn Beck, Koch Bros., and Dick Armey perversion of the Tea Party name.

You (and many others in the right-wing blogosphere) strained to insinuate that the OWS protesters were a bunch of bloodthirsty (and, of course, dirty, smelly, etc. - yawn) thugs when, the reality was much more typical that peaceful protesters were assaulted and abused - climaxing, thus far, at UC-Davis - by an "omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus." that more resembled a military force unleashed against its own citizenry (the right couldn't be bothered to shrug, for the most part). Let's not forget the CIA black sites, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo, and the transformation of what has long been considered torture in the US (when performed by us or our enemies) to an "enhanced interrogation technique." This all could be added to Havel's list, and this is the stuff that today's conservatives defend, if not openly cheer for. And I believe that Havel's notion of human rights here was not a strictly encompassed AEI/Cato-variety of (purely anti-communist) human rights that could hardly extend its focus beyond conceptions of property rights.

After "military occupation becomes fraternal assistance" Havel should have added "deadly airstrikes become humanitarian bombings."

VH in 1999:
"I believe that during intervention of NATO in Kosovo there is an element nobody can question: the air attacks, the bombs, are not caused by a material interest. Their character is exclusively humanitarian: What is at stake here are the principles, human rights which are accorded priority that surpasses even state sovereignty."

Time for cowgirl to educate Scanlon again.

You know nothing about what happened at UC Davis, and unfortunately for you I do. First hand. From staff who work there and witnessed what took place.

This is going to be fun.

1.The "protestors" at UC Davis were not peaceful and if I was Chancellor of UC Davis they would have been prosecuted to the full extend of the law for breaking campus' laws.
2. They were blocking other student's access to a building were classes were being taught. Not sure if those classes included instruction on the left's hero Che, but these were classes that students were paying about $20,000 a year in tuition to attend. There were many students trying to get access to the building that did not agree with the OWS. But what the hell - who cares about them anyway.

2. The Chancellor of UC Davis sent the UC Davis campus police to advise the "protestors" that they were ILLEGALLY (what the hell the OWS don't know the difference between illegal and legal - they are spoiled children determined to get their way) blocking student's access to the building and TO MOVE THEMSELVES TO ANOTHER AREA WHERE THEY COULD PROTEST, BUT NOT BLOCK OTHER STUDENT'S ACCESS TO THE CLASSROOMS. Shocker - the protestors did not move as REQUESTED by the Campus Police Officers.

3. The protestors "arm locked" themselves together and told the campus police they would not obey the LAW AND WOULD NOT MOVE - SHOCKER.

4. The "protestors" were given numerous opportunities to comply with the REQUESTS of the campus police officers to move and they refused to OBEY THE LAW. - SHOCKER.

5. The 'protestors" were then told numerous times that they would be Peppered Sprayed if they did not move.

6. Shocker - again they refused to OBEY THE LAW.

7. The campus police RIGHTFULLY sprayed them. Pepper spray is a non-toxic substance. Matter of fact, we people eat food they put pepper on it.

8. It was determined later AND NEVER REPORTED ON LIBERAL MAIN STREAM MEDIA OUTLETS SUCH AS MSNBC, CBS AND ABC that over half of those protestors WERE NOT STUDENTS AT UC DAVIS and how NO LEGAL RIGHT TO BE THERE.

9. In order to be a "VISITOR" on campus at UC Davis one must register with the campus and have the appropriate escorts and ID's in order to move about the campus. SHOCKER - none of the OWS Protestors on the campus that day had followed the rules.

Liberalism is not only a mental illness, but it is nothing short of stupid. You can't fix stupid. The only RIGHTS THAT WERE VIOLATED ON THE UC DAVIS CAMPUS THAT DAY WERE THE PROTESTORS WHO WERE STOPPING THE STUDENTS WHO ARE PAYING IN EXCESS OF $20,000 TO ATTEND THEIR CLASSES.

So Scanlon, when are you, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinim and the PINKO Nut Medina Benjamin from Code PINKO going to write a post with a dumptruck full of links against the Egyptian Police beating women with pipes and stomping on their chests and bodies.

When Hell freezes over I am sure.

Comparing Communist-dominated E. Europe to the United States is about the most ignorant thing I've heard in a long time, though usually from fifteen-year-old students. There are books out there on the subject of Communism and its brutality during the 20th century in the Soviet Union and E. Europe. You really should pick up some by Solzhenitsyn or on Stalin at some point in your life.

on havel--http://bigthink.com/ideas/41597

If you interpreted what I wrote as some straight-line analogy (A=B) between Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia and the present-day United States, rather than a comparison of specific, harmful elements within Havel's description of the "post-totalitarian system," to the current situation in the US, then you didn't read carefully or, more likely, didn't have any intention of doing so.

I would invite you to at least read the Havel excerpt again. There's really nothing in it that is necessarily exclusive to the socioeconomic system(s) of the Warsaw Pact states during the Cold War, nothing in it that could not occur - indeed, has not occurred at some point - in non-communist countries, or even overtly capitalist ones.

People can be deprived of information in a capitalist country. The "arbitrary abuse of power" can occur in a capitalist country. The "repression of culture" can occur in a capitalist country. The "complete degradation of the individual" can occur in a capitalist country. "Farcical elections" can occur in a capitalist country. All of these things can occur in a capitalist country then receive a mighty Orwellian PR spin that rivals the greatest marketing legerdemain of Madison Ave. A capitalist country can expand its imperial influence and present it as "support for the oppressed" (consider how "Shock and Awe" evolved to "Operation Iraqi Freedom" as the justifications for the invasion continuously shifted) - see also Havel's reference to "military occupation becomes fraternal assistance." It is fully possible for a capitalist country to falsify its past, present, and future. It's entirely conceivable that a capitalist country can "pretend not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus," and "pretend to respect human rights," A capitalist country - specifically one that sees itself as an exceptional product of divine intervention and of divine destiny - is fully capable of believing all of its own worst b.s. - of "pretend[ing] to pretend nothing."

So, on the one hand, I'm surprised that you would even be bothered if I had been saying "Today's USA is just like Czechoslovakia in the late '70s" (which I most definitely was not). A common and recurring theme voiced by conservatives/Tea Party protesters has been that Obama is turning America into a totalitarian Communist state.

For a simple reminder, try googling "obama communist america" or even the much less loaded "making america communist" and see how right-wing blogs railing against Obama dominate the search results.

Further, if the comparison that you (falsely) think I'm making [that the US is like a Warsaw Pact communist state in the late '70s] is not apt, then what does that say about Obama's iron-fisted rule and his supposedly relentless drive - with help from his thug and terrorist friends on the left - to remake the US as a communist state? He's either shockingly ineffective and impotent or - more believably - he's not really been seeking to create the Soviet States of America (or whatever nonsense the Tea Partiers had in mind) in the first place, at all.

But, on the other hand, take one more look at Havel's words that John offered up. The majority of it reads like something that could have been uttered or penned by Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, David Harvey, or possibly even Julian Assange - in addition to the parts I've already mentioned, consider if any of those names had been attached to this, as part of a critique of a proto-totalitarian system taking hold in the US, how the typical NLT blogger today might react:

"...the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his 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 the legal code."

Yes, whoever wrote this is operating on a more sophisticated - dare I say deeper? - level than just about any current US political candidate of either party, very much including Newt Gingrich. But just the topics the author's willing to address strike me. It's difficult to even utter the phrase "the working class" in a sympathetic manner in the US today without a phalanx of conservative pundits squealing that someone is trying to incite a class war. The phrase "depriving people of information" will commonly get a reminder from conservatives (I've seen it here a few times) that it's best if the people are kept in the dark on certain government activities, that we have no "right to information" - it's not a natural right, so therefore it's not valid. If the words "the use of power to manipulate" are brought up at all in mainstream TV-land (sorry, at least on a statistical basis, this includes FoxNews), it's probably just Gretchen Carlson asking her Fox friends if Obama is trying to hypnotize Americans as he raises their taxes or takes their guns, but odds are the concept itself - use of power to manipulate - is just not brought up as a possibility worth seriously considering or discussing. I have been heartened a bit recently that people ARE willing to talk about "the arbitrary abuse of power" (starting with executive signing statements and presidential declarations that any individual is a terrorist and thus making one eligible to be disappeared or executed w/o trial) - and willing to see the continuity running from the Bush administration to the Obama administration in this regard.

Anyway, it's true - the USA today is not at all like Czechoslovakia in the late '70s. We're not a communist country, for starters. Yet, it could be argued we are experiencing many of the same problems Havel described as symptomatic of a "post-totalitarian system" - to greater or lesser degrees, in ways more subtle or more explicit.

Of course, if one has the mindset that All Bad Things That Have Ever Occured necessarily = Communism, and that Communism = Any and Every Possible Bad Thing, then this is simply a logical impossibility, and you can resume ironing your Ronald Reagan boxer shorts.

1017 words.

Next time try breaking the Prozacs in half.

I thought the word-counting thing was Art Deco's schtick?

In any case, seems petty and pointless to me.

Oh, I see you tried to make a Prozac joke. Cutting-edge.

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