(p. C7) Havel’s personal and political philosophy can be summed up in a phrase from his 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless”: “living within the truth.” The world imposes great burdens on men, Havel argued, the first of which is a collective responsibility to be honest about the society they inhabit. In Havel’s political context, “living within the truth” meant speaking plainly about an inhuman political system–communism–and the lies and humiliating routines it forced its subjects to tell and endure. The bravest testament to this credo was Charter 77, a public appeal to the regime to respect the human rights it claimed to uphold. Havel was one of several co-authors and its main spokesman.
What drove Havel and others to sign the document was the persecution of a rock band, the Plastic People of the Universe, whose members were accused of “disturbing the peace.” Havel, who would cheekily adopt that malediction as the title for one of his books, soon followed the band to jail for similar offenses against the state. Imprisoned from 1979 to 1983, Havel was denied medical attention and endured great physical pain for his thought crimes. But the communists could not break him, and he refused an offer of early release in exchange for leaving the country. The greatest anguish the future president suffered at the hands of the sclerotic regime, which, in Mr. Zantovsky’s apt phrasing, “elevated oblivion to a method,” was the suppression of his ability to publish and speak freely.
. . .
As Czech president, Havel was a supporter of Western military intervention both in the Balkans and then, more controversially, against Saddam Hussein in 2003. At home and abroad, Havel was moved by the same humanitarian impulse: “Our indifference toward others can after all result in only one thing: the indifference of others towards us,” he said in 1993. This is what Mr. Zantovsky dubs the “Havel Doctrine” and it is rooted in Czechoslovakia’s history of being the victim of foreign invasion and occupation. “Our own historical experience,” Havel said in 1999 on the eve of NATO intervention in Kosovo, “has taught us that evil must be confronted rather than appeased.” The author hesitates to label Havel’s worldview “neoconservative,” and, at least as far as domestic politics are concerned, he is right: On most social and economic issues Havel was decidedly left of center. But Havel personally understood the role of evil in international relations and looked to America as its natural foe.
For the full review, see:
JAMES KIRCHICK. “Disturber of the Peace; Havel wrote passionately about evil, yet he abhorred confrontation.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Dec. 6, 2014): C7.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date Dec. 5, 2014, and has the title “Václav Havel: Disturber of the Peace; The dissident wrote passionately about evil, yet he abhorred confrontation.”)
The book under review is:
Zantovsky, Michael. Havel: A Life. New York: Grove Press, 2014.