Václav Havel

Václav
Havel
1936
1992

Czech Playwright, Essayist, Poet, Dissident and Politician, Last President of Czechoslovakia

Author Quotes

Our civilization has essentially globalized only the surfaces of our lives. But our inner self continues to have a life of its own. And the fewer answers the era of rational knowledge provides to the basic questions of human Being, the more deeply it would seem that people, behind its back as it were, cling to the ancient certainties of their tribe. Because of this, individual cultures, increasingly lumped together by contemporary civilization, are realizing with new urgency their own inner autonomy and the inner differences of others.

The attempt to devote oneself to literature alone is a most deceptive thing, and often, paradoxically, it is literature that suffers for it.

The only thing I can recommend at this stage is a sense of humor, an ability to see things in their ridiculous and absurd dimensions, to laugh at others and at ourselves, a sense of irony regarding everything that calls out for parody in this world. In other words, I can only recommend perspective and distance.

There's always something suspect about an intellectual on the winning side.

Until recently, it might have seemed that we were an unhappy bit of mildew on a heavenly body whirling in space among many that have no mildew on them at all. this was something that classical science could explain. Yet, the moment it begins to appear that we are deeply connected to the entire universe, science reaches the outer limits of its powers. Because it is founded on the search for universal laws, it cannot deal with singularity, that is, with uniqueness. The universe is a unique event and a unique story, and so far we are the unique point of that story. But unique events and stories are the domain of poetry, not science. With the formulation of the Anthropic Cosmological Principle, science has found itself on the border between formula and story, between science and myth. In that, however, science has paradoxically returned, in a roundabout way, to man, and offers him — in new clothing — his lost integrity. It does so by anchoring him once more in the cosmos.

When a person tries to act in accordance with his conscience, when he tries to speak the truth, when he tries to behave like a citizen, even in conditions where citizenship is degraded, it won't necessarily lead anywhere, but it might. There's one thing, however, that will never lead anywhere, and that is speculating that such behavior will lead somewhere.

Our concern is whether we can live with dignity in such a system, whether it serves people rather than people serving it.

The award is destined for scientists who do not fear to touch on some of the darkest aspects of being without betraying what they have achieved. On the contrary, they head in this direction,

The previous regime — armed with its arrogant and intolerant ideology — reduced man to a force of production, and nature to a tool of production. In this it attacked both their very substance and their mutual relationship. It reduced gifted and autonomous people, skillfully working in their own country, to the nuts and bolts of some monstrously huge, noisy and stinking machine, whose real meaning was not clear to anyone.

They deserve our admiration, not because they suffered in prison for 25 days, but because they assumed the responsibility and, within their limit, wanted to do something positive,

Vision is not enough – it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.

When a truth is not given complete freedom, freedom is not complete.

Our country is not flourishing. The enormous creative and spiritual potential of our nations is not being used sensibly. Entire branches of industry are producing goods that are of no interest to anyone, while we are lacking the things we need. A state which calls itself a workers' state humiliates and exploits workers. Our obsolete economy is wasting the little energy we have available.

The cliché organizes life; it expropriates people's identity; it becomes ruler, defense lawyer, judge, and the law.

The real test of a man is not how well he plays the role he has invented for himself, but how well he plays the role that destiny assigned to him.

This is a confusing and uncertain period, when a thousand wise words can go completely unnoticed, and one thoughtless word can provoke an utterly nonsensical furor.

We are finding out that what looked like a neglected house a year ago is in fact a ruin.

When the internal crisis of the totalitarian system grows so deep that it becomes clear to everyone, and when more and more people learn to speak their own language and reject the hollow, mendacious language of the powers that be, it means that freedom is remarkably close, if not directly within reach

Man is in fact nailed down… to a grid of paradoxes... He balances between the torment of not knowing his mission and the joy of carrying it out, between nothingness and meaningfulness… he is in fact victorious by virtue of his defeats.

Our country, if that is what we want, can now permanently radiate love, understanding, the power of the spirit and of ideas. It is precisely this glow that we can offer as our specific contribution to international politics.

The deeper the experience of an absence of meaning -- in other words, of absurdity --the more energetically meaning is sought.

The recent period — and in particular the last six weeks of our peaceful revolution — has shown the enormous human, moral and spiritual potential, and the civic culture that slumbered in our society under the enforced mask of apathy. Whenever someone categorically claimed that we were this or that, I always objected that society is a very mysterious creature and that it is unwise to trust only the face it presents to you. I am happy that I was not mistaken. Everywhere in the world people wonder where those meek, humiliated, skeptical and seemingly cynical citizens of Czechoslovakia found the marvelous strength to shake the totalitarian yoke from their shoulders in several weeks, and in a decent and peaceful way.

This is not a pleasant fact, and it is not surprising that all of us are rather annoyed and disappointed about it.

We are still a long way from that 'family of man;' in fact, we seem to be receding from the ideal rather than drawing closer to it. Interests of all kinds: personal, selfish, state, national, group and, if you like, company interests still considerably outweigh genuinely common and global interests. We are still under the sway of the destructive and thoroughly vain belief that man is the pinnacle of creation, and not just a part of it, and that therefore everything is permitted. There are still many who say they are concerned not for themselves but for the cause, while they are demonstrably out for themselves and not for the cause at all. We are still destroying the planet that was entrusted to us, and its environment. We still close our eyes to the growing social, ethnic and cultural conflicts in the world. From time to time we say that the anonymous mega-machinery we have created for ourselves no longer serves us but rather has enslaved us, yet we still fail to do anything about it.

Why do I say this? It would be very unreasonable to understand the sad legacy of the last forty years as something alien, which some distant relative bequeathed to us. On the contrary, we have to accept this legacy as a sin we committed against ourselves. If we accept it as such, we will understand that it is up to us all, and up to us alone to do something about it. We cannot blame the previous rulers for everything, not only because it would be untrue, but also because it would blunt the duty that each of us faces today: namely, the obligation to act independently, freely, reasonably and quickly. Let us not be mistaken: the best government in the world, the best parliament and the best president, cannot achieve much on their own. And it would be wrong to expect a general remedy from them alone. Freedom and democracy include participation and therefore responsibility from us all.

Author Picture
First Name
Václav
Last Name
Havel
Birth Date
1936
Death Date
1992
Bio

Czech Playwright, Essayist, Poet, Dissident and Politician, Last President of Czechoslovakia