Vaclav Havels The Power of the Powerless "The Power of …
The heart of Vaclav Havel’s The Power of the Powerless rests in his argument that individuals ought to view themselves not merely as repeating facets in the mechanism of mass society, but rather, as someone who is searching for the truth in life. Indeed, as Havel describes it, living as if one has no responsibility greater than survival is not only a personal and moral crisis, it is a crisis of society, politics, and livelihood, and only sustains the culture of the lie. It is that brand of lifestyle that encourages and permeates political disenfranchisement. And although Havel was writing this essay decades ago under a post-totalitarian regime, his rhetoric is still relevant in situations such as Syria. Under Bashar Al-Assad’s Ba’athist, Alawite leadership, thousands of disenfranchised Sunnis who were barred from particular universities and coerced to hang up praising pictures of Assad – similar to that of the greengrocer’s poster – simply because it was what they felt they had to do under the circumstances, appropriately responded by resisting the leadership. Unfortunately, the circumstances grew in violence, sending millions fleeing into neighboring countries.
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Also apropos of Czechoslovakia and very topical, your final selection is Václav Havel’s essay The Power of the Powerless.
After the fall of communism, when questions arose about the controversial policies of “lustration,” a government process to reintegrate former Communist into post-communist public life, “he reminded the nation that each and every one of them, himself included, had been part of making the communist system work. That the fault was shared by all and that each person had to account to himself for what he had done or not done. For Havel, then, the ultimate power was the power of the powerless.”
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* Havel, Václav, et al. (1985). Keane, John, ed. The Power of the Powerless: Citizens against the state in central-eastern Europe. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe
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In the end I think Havel will be remembered as the outstanding East European dissident writer, and he will be remembered as such above all for this essay. Its central point is that even a communist regime that controls the media and exercises a great deal of power depends ultimately on an almost visible collaboration with society – society meaning individual decisions taken by individuals, which accumulate to have a universal appearance.