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Politics as Morality in Practice

by Vaclav Havel

Pub Date: May 29th, 1997
ISBN: 0-679-45106-4
Publisher: Knopf

 A collection by the playwright turned politician that will leave American readers wondering what it would be like to have a perceptive and honest intellectual as president. As elected leader of Czechoslovakia after the fall of communism and then of the Czech Republic after the division of Czechoslovakia, Havel speaks from personal experience about political stability and conflict, freedom and the degradation of human dignity under totalitarianism. He also speaks quite often; this volume contains 35 speeches and represents only a fraction of his total output for the years 199096. Reading speeches one after the other that were written at different times and for different audiences produces a sense of disjointedness and leaves one wishing for more extended discussions, but there are recurring themes. During the first two years of his presidency Havel's focus is usually the Czech experience during the 20th century. The stultifying pre-1989 political order provided plenty of time to dream, he suggests, and while those who spoke out were shunned, eventually their dreams shaped a new reality. The later, more outward-looking speeches primarily address the need for different cultures to coexist peacefully in an interdependent world. At the end of a century that continues to see terrible atrocities committed, Havel enjoins us to seek the transcendent elements of human life to build an inclusive spiritual foundation for world order. Here is a practicing politician whose head has room for something more than opinion polls: Today no less than in the past he places dreams at the center of politics and hopes for dreamers to author the future. Rather than resting on his plentiful laurels--many of these speeches follow the bestowal of some great honor--Havel argues that accepting personal responsibility requires accepting responsibility for improving the world as well as oneself.