Transcending Havel

By Madigan, Timothy J. | Free Inquiry, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

Transcending Havel


Madigan, Timothy J., Free Inquiry


It is not enough to invent new machines, new regulations, or new institutions. We must understand differently and more perfectly the true purpose of our existence on this earth.

- Vaclav Havel

Vaclav Havel, president of the Czech Republic, is one of the twentieth century's most admirable figures. Originally a playwright and actor, his courageous stance against the repressive communist regime that ruled his country made him one of the world's best-known dissidents; his unlikely election as president, after the so-called Velvet Revolution of 1989, was a highlight of the relatively bloodless collapse of that regime.

In addition to his fictional writings, Havel - influenced by existentialism - has long made philosophical observations about the human condition. In 1978 he wrote an essay called "The Power of the Powerless," in which he argued that the prime cause of the growing discontent throughout the world was a loss of transcendent concerns. Humans, he argued, were too preoccupied with self-fulfillment, rather than with larger issues.

Now, as a distinguished world statesman (albeit one who remains friends with the Rolling Stones and Lou Reed), Havel continues to offer pronouncements on grand themes. He recently hosted a gathering of world intellectuals in Prague, where he delivered a provocative talk entitled "Faith in the World," in which he reflected upon the current global situation. He began by listing the host of threats looming above the head of humankind: overpopulation; the widening gap between the world's rich and poor; the growing tensions between different cultures and nationalities; the increasing ecological crisis; the continuing proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; and the rise of social problems based on the destruction of human communities.

It is rare for a political leader to be so forthright, and Havel must be commended for his courage in asking us all to face such unpleasant realities. As a politician who witnessed the rather turbulent breakup of his old country of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, he has himself faced irrational nationalism and learned the art of compromise. He is a rare combination of idealist and realist.

Yet Havel goes further in his analysis of the current scene and attributes many of these worldwide problems to a loss of metaphysical certitude. Human beings are not attempting to address these difficult issues, he feels, primarily because they have become alienated from what he calls "the sphere of the spirit." We are, Havel asserts, living in the first atheistic civilization in the history of humankind. He writes:

Could the fact that humanity thinks only within the limits of what lies in its field of vision and is incapable of remembering also what lies beyond, whether in the temporal or spatial sense, not be the result of a loss of metaphysical certitude? Could not the whole nature of the current civilization, with its shortsightedness, with its proud emphasis on the human individual as the crown of all creation - and its master - and with its boundless trust in humanity's ability to embrace the Universe by rational cognition, could it not all be only the natural manifestation of a phenomenon which, in simple terms, amounts to the loss of God? …

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 ...
Default project is now your active project.
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

Transcending Havel
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
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

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.