Capitalism with a Human Face?

By Tucker, Scott | The Humanist, May-June 1994 | Go to article overview

Capitalism with a Human Face?


Tucker, Scott, The Humanist


On New Year's Day, 1990, Vaclav Havel, the playwright and human, rights activist who had served time in jail under the previous communist regime, delivered his first major public address as president of Czechoslovakia:

My dear fellow citizens:

For forty years you heard from my predecessors on this day different variations on the same theme: how our country flourished, how many million tons of steel we produced, how happy we all were, how we trusted our government, and what bright perspectives were unfolding in front of us.

I assume you did not propose me for this office so that I, too, would lie to you.

Later in that speech, Havel made reference to Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, a great founder of the Czechoslovak nation, and also to the long tradition of Czech religious humanism:

Our first president wrote: "Jesus, not Caesar" In this he followed our philosophers Chelcicky and Comenius. I dare to say that we may even have an opportunity to spread this idea further and introduce a new element into European and global politics. Our country, if that is what we want, can now permanently radiate love, understanding, the power of spirit and ideas. It is precisely this glow that we can offer as our specific contribution to international politics.

Both passages are characteristic of Havel's style and sensibility. The first expresses (as Havel wrote elsewhere) a distinctive Central European skepticism," a disillusioned and satirical stance toward state power and utopian programs; and the second, a kind of Christmas-morning idealism - which is, after all, akin to utopianism. Havel has by now gained worldwide fame by championing "anti-political politics," by "living in the truth," and by giving a strong affirmative answer to his own question: "Is it possible in today's complex world for people who are guided by their consciences sciences or the basic ethical categories of the everyday world to take an active part in politics?"

He certainly stands out as one of the most decent and literate heads of state anywhere in the world. Havel gets away with sentiments which are hypocritical or merely banal in the mouths of more partisan creatures, precisely because he has the true instincts and intelligence of a public citizen. Two recent collections of his writings, Open Letters and Summer Meditations (both published by Vintage), do not really add anything new to the critique of communism advanced earlier in works such as Czeslaw Milosz's The Captive Mind or Milovan Djilas' The New Class. Nothing in Havel's essays matches the tragic, phantasmagoric quality of Milosz nor the thorough analytic spirit of Djilas; but what does shine through is his famous civility - indeed, his deep commitment to "civil society" in every sense.

Havel's essays are written in the plainest possible style, to be of use to the widest circle of literate citizens. And at least one of his essays, "The Power of the Powerless," written in 1978, will remain one of the most important historical documents of this century, since it had such a profound influence on independent citizen initiatives and dissent throughout Central and Eastern Europe. Like Thomas Paine's Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, Havel's work was both a historical summary and a call to action. Action of a special kind: "living in the truth" in such a way that, even if the number of witnesses were few at first, the fight cast on a whole structure of falsehood would be sure to grow. In this way, "parallel structures" would multiply, prefigure the future, and bring about nonviolent change. His words (often published and circulated samizdat-style) and his work with reform groups such as Charter 77 and the Committee to Defend the Unjustly Prosecuted brought him the honor of serving time in prison from 1979 to 1983.

In Czechoslovakia, the parallel structures" included more or less underground cultural and musical scenes. A crucial catalyst for citizen dissent was the trial in 1976 of the Plastic People of the Universe, a rock band which fell afoul of the authorities.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Capitalism with a Human Face?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.