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Václav Havel's Federalist Papers: Summer Meditations and the Genuine Concept of Politics

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Fall, 2002 - Vol. 31, No. 1

Václav Havel's Summer Meditations1 willremind an American reader, especially a political scientist, of our Federalist Papers. Havel sees his country as undergoing a time of critical transition, of root-and-branch rebuilding, as being at a decisive crossroad. All-important for Czechoslovakia's future is a new, solid constitution, "the cornerstone"" of a prosperous future. He offers his reflections on his country's current situation, optimal future, and feasible and desirable means to it, in the short compass of a book written in 1991 during a ten-day summer holiday.

As striking as are the parallels to Madison and Hamilton are the differences. One can see in Publius the crowning articulator of modern constitutionalism, the reflections on free men and free government developed by Enlightenment thinkers of, chiefly, the British isles, and then perfected by American statesmen.2 Havel writes at what he considers the end of the modern period.3 He is an explicit advocate of a spiritually renewed ""post-modern"" world. While he expressly accepts ""the idea of human rights as understood by modern humanity"" (98) as a necessary basis for a civil society and genuine politics, he also aims to undergird the rights-bearer with a conception of responsible freedom, of conscientious responsibility ""to and for the whole of society."" (1)4 His constitutionalism accordingly is an expression of a chastened modern man who through the crucible of totalitarianism has learned, or rediscovered, essential truths about himself obscured or ignored by modern thought, by systematic rationalism.5

Havel's personal experience of ""living in the truth"" under the regime of the Lie, communist ideocracy, his insight that scientific materialism of all sorts (not to mention merely cynical and manipulative politicians) misses fundamental dimensions of human and political life, the domain of ""consciousness and conscience,"" leads him to challenge as unrealistic (as well as immoral) powerful forces in modern life and thought. In particular, he challenges certain forms of political science that refuse to consider human life and human thought as essentially matters of conscience, of freely accepted (or refused) service to one's fellows and to the various greater wholes within which we late-modern men and women lead our lives. Or, put more positively, Havel encourages all those who see human beings as persons, as incorporate spiritual beings,6 always and everywhere to guide their lives—whether as citizens, politicians, shopkeepers, businessmen, artists, or political scientists—in the light of this recognition. Having discovered this truth about man in the midst of the regime that most systematically denied it, having seen its power in toppling this regime of the Lie,7 Havel cannot fail to speak and to act on its basis as he attempts to assist his country and the world rebuild after the fall of communism and the failure of the modern project.

In what follows I aim to take a first cut at Havel's Summer Meditations. My procedure will be as follows. First, I will provide a quick overview of the book's contents, themes, and argument. This sketch will provoke immediately a question or two whose initial answers will serve as a transition to a more detailed and sustained consideration of the book's teaching. In all of my presentation and reflections, I will be guided by the thought that my audience is a particular audience, composed of professional students of politics. This means that my chief focus and guiding question is: What are ""genuine politics"" in Havel's view? How does he conceive of this domain and form of human activity?

Summer Meditations is a rather short book—132 pages—initially written in a fortnight, perfect for a quick read, with clear prose. Its subject matter and claims, however, add the utmost gravity to the book and its demands on the reader. The combination of gravity of matter, breadth, depth, and elevation of consideration, and its author's graceful clarity of expression makes reading the book by turns an exercise of insight and admiration, and a frequent occasion of reflection.

There are basically eight distinct parts to the whole: an Introduction, five chapters, an Epilogue,and an Afterward.

The Introduction does what it names and announces it will do—it introduces the subject matter and intent of the book to follow. It also, and quite prominently, introduces the author of the book, retraces his ""political"" career, and roots the book in that life. All his adult life Havel has worked to help his country move from totalitarianism to democracy, from a command economy to a free market economy, from satellite status to independence. This book is a natural continuation, a logical development, of the responsibility of public service its author has long assumed. First a dramatist, then a ""dissident,""8 Havel now, as President, feels that it is incumbent upon him at this crucial juncture in Czechoslovakian history to explain to his fellow citizens exactly where he stands on issues of public, common concern, and the vision of the future he is committed to bring into being, insofar as it lies with him. In this book his ""thoughts, opinions, and intentions"" are presented ""in a single coherent whole."" (xviii)

The three-fold transition announced in the Introductionserves as a structuring device for the five intermediate chapters. Chapter 2, ""In a Time of Transition,"" considers at some length the ""new constitution"" that a democratic, bi-national, multi-ethnic Czechoslovakia needs to adopt to ensure its stability and prosperity. The next chapter, ""What I Believe,"" reveals Havel's thought about the economic order Czechoslovakia should adopt, a free market one, and the steps that the federal government should take to assist in its creation and early development. ""The Task of Independence"" reflects upon the ""idea"" or ""spirit"" that should inform Czechoslovakia's foreign policy, its independent existence, and its distinctive contribution to a new Europe and a new global civilizational order.

These three chapters, however, are sandwiched between two remarkable chapters. The first chapter of the work is entitled ""Politics, Morality, and Civility."" Its teaching is fundamental for all that follows. In it, Havel testifies that in his view, his chief responsibility as President and as a man is stating, repeatedly, and living and acting in accordance with this teaching: "" . . . to emphasize, again and again, the moral origin of all genuine politics, to stress the significance of moral values and standards in all spheres of social life, including economics, and to explain that if we don't try, within ourselves, to discover or rediscover or cultivate what I call 'higher responsibility,' things will turn out very badly indeed for our country."" (1) The rest of this twenty-page chapter spells out what he means by moral politics and a civil society.

The last chapter of the book is entitled ""Beyond the Shock of Freedom."" In it, Havel gives his imagination free scope to ""dream"" of the kind of Czechoslovakia he would like to see in ""ten, fifteen, or twenty years."" Not only does such a dream serve to guide reflection and action undertaken to bring it into reality, but it inspires such reflection and action, and it also gives a foretaste of the pleasures of its reality to those living today in troublesome transition times.9 In this way the President continues to be a dramatist—now, a dramatist about, and for, his country.

The penultimate part of the book, its Epilogue, touches ""on the question of what [Czechoslovakia's] intellectual and spiritual potential is, and whether it has any distinctive features at all."" (125) This investigation is required for a realistic estimation of the country's capacities to realize the vision and dream of a future that Havel earlier has limned. In Havel's view Czechoslovakia's long tradition and recent experience center around the ""value"" of ""truth."" ""[T]he idea that a price must be paid for truth, the idea of truth as a moral value, has such a long tradition."" (126) On this basis, drawing from this spiritual well, Czechoslovakia has a distinctive contribution to make to Europe and to mankind.

The Afterwardreturns full circle to the Introduction'sfocus on the author, Havel the President. In it, Havel candidly informs his fellow Czechoslovaks about his current thinking about whether to stand for the Presidency again. Most likely he will, but again, as always, his guiding thought and question will be what responsible service to the truth and to his fellow Czechoslovaks dictates.

One central feature of Havel's mode of thinking throughout these considerations should be noted from the outset: its dialectical or ""contrastive"" character. Havel characteristically presents and develops his views by way of contrast with other views and viewpoints that bear upon his topics and issues and which oppose his own. For example, in Havel's view the authentic character and legitimacy of a free market economy is best seen against the foil of its ideological opponent, the command economy of Marxist-Leninism. The personal responsibility inherent in private ownership, the latter's capacity and calling to contribute to the common good, and the entire economic order's consonance with the plurality, unpredictable spontaneity, and mysterious course of individual and social ""life"" were most deeply and therefore most revealingly denied by ideologically-based state ownership and central planning. Ideology, at great cost, revealed the truth. Ex tenebris lux.

Two issues or questions, at least, come to mind upon hearing the foregoing synopsis. First, what is Havel's articulation of ""the personal and the political""? As we duly noted, he begins and ends his reflections upon, and vision and dream for, Czechoslovakia with reflections upon himself. And throughout the book Havel himself—his deeds, and the fact that these are his reflections—resurface at regular intervals. This self-prominence, however, is not the typical politicians' self-promotion; it is inextricable from his conception of genuine politics and authentic human life, and is intended to embody and to exemplify his general teaching about personal responsibility. Moreover, this self-exemplified teaching about personal responsibility and a personal point of view is part and parcel of an even wider teaching about ""life and Being."" The entire universe and the entirety of human life individually and collectively are characterized by individuality, by what Gerard Manley Hopkins called ""inscape,"" what one could call the distinctive, somewhat idiosyncratic ""face"" that each being, each locale, each community, each nation possesses.10 Havel the person has a personalist view of man, life, and Being. And above Being is One who remembers and judges the deeds of each and all.

One does not have to be a Machiavellian to be struck by Havel's insistence upon the fundamental importance of morality to political life, to ""genuine politics."" Doesn't he know, all think to themselves and some say out loud, that it's a tough world out there, that there's evil abroad, that politics requires compromise and even, from time to time, choosing between two evils? That sometimes, in order to fight the bad, the good have to use the bad guy's techniques?

What does Havel have to say to such queries and challenges? Initially, three things. First of all, he is fully aware that his insistence on moral concerns and the moral dimensions to all human life, including political and economic life, strikes many as odd, even imprudent. He regularly states that with such talk he will appear ""ridiculous,"" ""quixotic,"" unrealistic, a visionary and a dreamer. Aware of the figure he cuts in many quarters, his moralism has a healthy element of self-awareness.

Havel however is undaunted by such quibbles and whispers. He has a decisive experience, an enormous political success, upon which he bases his ""moralism"" and which he counter-proposes to the soi-disant realists. Communism was toppled, when all is said and accounted for, by human ""life"" in all its unsystematic, spiritual pluralism, by ""consciousness and conscience."" ""Truth"" and the moral imperative of ""living in the truth"" defeated their opposites, the ultimate ""realisms"" of dialectical materialism and Machiavellianism. He, Havel, knows more about human and social reality than the Marxists who denied the human spirit. And he knows more about human moral and political reality and needs than the merely manipulative politicians or the political scientists who abstract from such considerations. He is the true realist and he has the data to prove it.

Moreover, recognizing the fundamental moral dimensions of man and of social life is not equivalent to what ordinarily is termed moralism. Havel, the former chain-smoking, rock-and-roll-loving man is not a dour moralist. Nor is he as a political thinker and leader. For one thing, evil will be always with us. He is fully cognizant of the presence, the current and ineradicable presence, of evil in his country, in man, and in himself. Two passages make these points. ""The return of freedom to a society that was morally unhinged has produced something it clearly had to produce, and something we therefore might have expected but which has turned out to be far more serious than anyone could have predicted: an enormous and dazzling explosion of every imaginable human vice."" (1) Havel is quite cognizant of, and candid about, ""our present social marasmus."" (3)

A second passage, in tones of Solzhenitsyn:

A heaven on earth in which people will love each other and everyone is hard-working, well-mannered, and virtuous, in which the land flourishes and everything is sweetness and light, working harmoniously to the satisfaction of God: this will never be. On the contrary, the world has had the worst experiences with utopian thinkers who promised all that. Evil will remain with us, no one will ever eliminate human suffering, the political arena will always attract irresponsible and ambitious adventurers and charlatans. And man will not stop destroying the world. In this regard, I have no illusions.

Neither I nor anyone else will ever win this war once and for all. At the very most, we can win a battle or two-and not even that is certain. . . . It is an eternal, never-ending struggle waged not just by good people (among whom I count myself, more or less) against evil people, by . . . people who think about the world and eternity against people who think only of themselves and the moment. It takes place inside everyone. It is what makes a person a person, and life, life. (16)

Havel's ""moralism"" is, therefore, quite realistic: morality is real, but not easy to realize. Nor does it obviously predominate in the world. And immorality, latent and actual, will be with us always. But most importantly, one must see that reality is moral, both in the actuality of deeds and character traits and as attractive ideals, high standards, and inner imperatives ""from above."" Not to see this is to discredit oneself as a realist.

The personal and the political, the moral and the political: these are two sets of topics that Havel himself insistently brings to our attention. We have to explore them much more fully. In addition, we must take a longer, closer look at the contents of the book, its arguments, and the conclusions to which its author comes. To these tasks we now turn.11

Chapter One: Havel's ""Genuine Politics,"" Moral Realism,
and the Moral Drama of Czechoslovakian Politics

The Title and the General Teaching

Havel's first chapter, as we said, is entitled ""Politics, Morality, and Civility."" The three main words indicate broadly its topics and thesis. Politics in truth (""genuine politics"") is a particular, and particularly important, form of morality. Morality in turn is understood formally and generally as freely accepted, conscientious ""higher responsibility"" for, and services to, one's fellows and the various wholes within which we live, move, and have our being. Havel's designation for such a politics is a politics of ""culture"" or ""civility."" Civility is personal action and, ultimately, an entire society, informed by a specific view of the proper character of individuals' ""relations"" (14) to themselves and others, to the natural and man-made orders, and to the ultimate Spectator and Judge of men's deeds. It is a world-view and an anthropology habitually expressed in conscientious action that has in mind and bears upon the collective life of the national community.

Havel's term ""civility"" has important points of contact with the French moeurs, especially as used by the farsighted explorers of democratic man and society, Rousseau and Tocqueville. These authors noted that various peoples' ""characters,"" their bent of mind and cast of heart, and the general tenor of their interpersonal relations, were decisive for the quality and viability of their social-political orders. Like all sorts of regimes, democratic orders require suitable, sustaining public and private mores. The legislator, the statesman, the politician, all leading figures in the community, including artists, should be aware of this need and work in their various ways to meet it.

Havel, too, prefers and encourages certain ""habits of the heart.""12 Chiefly, he calls for each individual's personal ""respect""13 and ""responsibility"" for the well-being of all the individuals of one's national community, both past and future members as well as present ones,14 not to mention brutes, mother earth and starry cosmos, and ultimately humble, grateful acknowledgment of the mysterious Source of Being, life, and consciousness. Modern man's hubristic, reductionistic, unduly ""systematic,"" technological attitude toward Being, life, and (worse) to man himself must be replaced by a more ""authentic"" attitude of humility before life and its mysteries. The modern attitude must be replaced by a freely assumed care for all that is.15

Because ""responsibility"" frequently has a leaden cast to it in today's parlance, it is important to recognize that for Havel it has no dull gray edge; it is as far from a mechanical and unimaginative operation as is possible. It requires discernment, tact, taste, invention, eutrapelia (""good adjustment""). It aims at and yields an individual life, and a human and natural world, characterized by the beautiful, the fitting, the decent, the charming, the clean, even the wonderfully idiosyncratic and plural. The world of individuals that responsibility recognizes and responds to, toils in, enhances, and luxuriates in, is a garden of pleasures large and small, rare and regular.16

This said, one also must note that it is based squarely on reason and rational discernment, appreciation, and assessment. Havel's romance of responsible being-in-the-world is reason's and Being's, not the creative self's. Respect for the rational dignity of one's fellows, for the mysterious, profuse variety and harmony of Nature's individual creations, and for both's Source, is based on a rational recognition of each life's individuality and dignity within the admittedly ""mysterious order of Being.""


In Chapter 5 Havel will sketch at greater length the anthropology that grounds and contains this ""civil,"" responsible character. In Chapter 1 the ground is merely asserted: each human being's rational freedom and dignity, and the spiritual conviction that there exists a Supreme Spirit above who judges and retains for eternity the quality of men's deeds.17

The personal cultivation and practice of this form of human existence and its encouragement throughout society are always imperative and desirable, but they are now particularly urgent because Czechoslovakia is currently experiencing a ""general crisis of civility."" (2)

The Czechoslovakian Particulars,
Articulated in Political-Moral Terms

The foregoing succinct rendition of his topics and thesis, however, fails to capture major elements of Havel's thought and the full panorama he surveys during the course of this opening chapter. The presentation has been too abstract, too anonymous, as it were. Havel's general teaching is always about individual human beings and is addressed to them in particular. Therefore we must note the one grand ""individual"" he considers during the course of the chapter—his country, Czechoslovakia.18 He does so, however, via two tripartite schemas. On one hand, he locates Czechoslovakia on a temporal grid. He considers Czechoslovakia's recent totalitarian past,its current, transitional present, and limns its futures, desirable and otherwise. On the other hand, Czechoslovakia is populated by three segments or sorts of human beings: Havel himself (and a few like-minded friends); ""politicians"" (unfortunately many of whom are short-sighted, weak, and worse); and the ""people"" who are a reservoir of ""goodwill,"" but are rather confused and in danger of serious disorientation and discouragement in the face of the dismal scene and daunting tasks they and the political class confront.

Havel's picture of his country is emphatically politically minded or focused. He speaks of regimes, citizenry, political class, and partisanship of all sorts. This is not surprising coming from a President, but it is worthy of note and reflection, nonetheless. Would other perspectives and categorizations yield different results? Of course. How then should they be integrated, prioritized? Is the political perspective sovereign, authoritative, as in Aristotle? There will be evidence to this effect later.

What unites each, and both, of these trios is Havel's moral concern and the moral categories he employs and detects in his consideration of each and all. A brief survey makes this clear enough. Totalitarian Czechoslovakian society was ""morally unhinged"" (1) and ""the former regime systematically mobilized the worst human qualities."" (4) Today Havel is compelled to refer to and to outline ""our present social marasmus,"" (3) in large part consisting in an ""enormous and dazzling explosion of every imaginable human vice."" (1) The future, in contrast, should see the erection of ""a new order that would limit rather than exploit . . . vices, an order based on freely accepted responsibility to and for the whole of society."" (ibid.) And in the same vein, while speaking of ""our political scene,"" (2) he notes that, among other ills, ""demagogy is rife,"" (3)19 and that ""citizens are becoming more and more disgusted with all this,"" (ibid.), their latent ""goodwill"" is in danger of becoming discouraged. (Later we will consider Havel's insistence upon the importance of courage in the moral life.) Nonetheless, Havel intends to remain firm and true to himself: ""If a handful of friends and I were able to bang our heads against the wall for years by speaking the truth about Communist totalitarianism while surrounded by an ocean of apathy, there is no reason why I shouldn't go on banging my head against the wall by speaking ad nauseam, despite condescending smiles, about responsibility and morality in the face of our present social marasmus."" (3)

Havel's political vocabulary is emphatically, inexhaustibly, moral. The various modes and strands of his discourse—analysis, encouragement and exhortation, sarcasm, prediction, judgment, praise and blame, the limning of desirable and undesirable futures—all draw continually from a moral lexicon of virtue and vice, values and standards, ideals, good and evil. While particular Havelian judgments may be questionable, who would want to call into question totally the realities such a vocabulary describes? Political reality is through-and-through moral reality, Havel reminds us most insistently.

The Dialogic and Dramatic Character of Havel's Thought

Even these somewhat extended initial reflections fail to grasp the deepest character of Havel's first chapter and the thought constructing it, the kind of thinking that runs throughout it. The first sentence of the chapter, however, begins to indicate its deepest character and concern. His doctrine, an unabashed defense of moral politics, of ""politics subordinate to conscience,"" will appear to some as ""quixotic"" and ""ridiculous,"" Havel declares from the outset. He is acutely aware that his is not the only view of politics, of the political arena, and of political action. Aware of how he and his moralizing view appear to some others, he is also aware of other views of the relationship between politics and morality.

Accordingly, Havel's presentation and apologia of his view is a discrete confrontation with other forms of political thought and action. For example, the ideologist par excellence, the Marxist who denies not only the primacy but even the independent reality of conscience and consciousness in human life appears in these pages. So too does the cynic for whom ""morality"" is always in scare-quotes and is not an elevating master to serve, but rather an instrument to employ, chiefly in deceptive appeals and protective coverings. The power-hungry, ""unadulterated[ly] ambitious"" (2) politician; the mere partisan (including the mere nationalist); the political scientist attached to a view of science that has no room to recognize, much less educate, conscience: these, and others, appear in Havel's ostensibly prosaic description of Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakian reality produces morally distinguished characters aplenty.

That is, they appear as characters in the current drama of Czechoslovakian and Havelian politics. Havel's, of course, is the chief point of view looking upon, and the most prominent agent on, the scene he depicts, but he lends his voice to others and articulates their views and viewpoints, as well as their character. He is a partisan of morality who knows what is going on around him, who does not flinch before morality-in-politics deniers, and gives them their due role in the action.

The upshot of this incorporation and confrontation with others is to present contemporary Czechoslovakia as a morality play, constituted by a cast of agents contending with one another for ascendancy in the country, contending over the fundamental issues of what kind of constitutional order and country they will bring into being and what type of human being will predominate therein. Havel himself has a script of the future he would like to see realized, but he is not the sole author of Czechoslovakia's future. Its citizens and political class have their considerable roles to play. At best, this president-playwright can duly note and describe each actor, appeal to the best in all, and warn of the evil with which each has to contend, both within and without. The future is open, precisely because man is a rational being of conscience; the drama is a work-in-progress for the same reason. The citizens of Czechoslovakia share with Havel the dual roles of dramatist and actor in their own play.

Havel's Script, the Initial Version

So how would Havel write, or script, Czechoslovakia's best course of action and its optimal future? The rest of the book, and especially Chapter 5, plots the course's main lines and details the last scene. But Chapter 1 gives more than an initial hint and assigns to each major actor his ""better-self"" role. Havel describes the characteristics and duties of ""politicians"" who act after his image and likeness. These, as is required and proper in a democratic society, serve the ""people,"" whom they both reflect and improve.20 And interacting with both is the president-dramatist, who presents himself as a model for both, and provides the indispensable assistance of articulating the moral vision of the whole they are and ought to be, what he calls ""the moral state."" (9) Havel plays a leading role as the exemplary cause of a moralized political class and a decent citizenry.

One therefore needs to start with the exemplar, Havel himself, and how he sees and practices his role as a conscientious President. The foundation is ever the same: political office is an opportunity to serve his fellow Czechoslovaks. But the political arena and the Presidential office are a special venue and particular opportunity for this service. What are its special traits?

""What can I do, as president, not only to remain faithful to [my] notion of politics, but also to bring it to at least partial fruition?"" Havel asks.

He answers, ""As in everything else, I must start with myself. That is: in all circumstances try to be decent, just, tolerant, and understanding, and at the same time try to resist corruption and deception. In other words, I must do my utmost to act in harmony with my conscience and my better self."" (6–7) The convinced preacher first must live his convictions and practice what he preaches. His public teaching was first intended for himself. Contemplata aliis tradere.21

There is another reason why he must walk the walk he exhorts others to march. A general principle requires that means be proportionate to their ends, that ends dictate their necessary and fitting means. If he envisages a certain result of his (and others') activity, which is a political class and a social order of conscientious agents, then he now must act in the way he hopes the future to be. ""There is only one way to strive for decency, reason, responsibility, sincerity, civility, and tolerance, and that is decently, reasonably, responsibly, sincerely, civilly, and tolerably."" (8)

What does he do, however, in this mode? As President, Havel's chief activity, remarkably, is speaking. This is not so surprising if we remember or believe that man is the political animal because the talking one.22 The President's talk naturally is directed to two sorts of audiences, the populace as a whole and his fellow members of the political class, especially those involved in ""so-called high politics."" To the former he incessantly reiterates the truth that all social and political issues, coming as they do from men and intended to benefit them, have moral dimensions and involve the search for and realization of values, standards, ideals. He says this endlessly because he himself never fails to rediscover this truth as he analyzes the endless succession of problems that he confronts in his office and in his country during this difficult time of transition. He knows this truth and he constantly rediscovers it in his work. The same will be true for others.

Even in the best of times this truth is true and would bear repeating. But now in the face of daunting tasks of reconstruction and the baleful examples around and above them, the people's goodwill especially needs reassurance on this point. Not merely the reassurance that ""the good and right"" (17) things are good and right—the people basically know this. Rather, the people need to be reminded that doing the good and right ""makes sense,"" even in the face of the opposition of ""evil-minded"" men. If they put their minds and muscles to it, he reassures them, they may win a victory over these hostile forces. It is premature to declare defeat at the mere sight of enemies; and it is cowardly to withdraw. Living in the truth regularly requires the exercise of courage. This truth about morality's vulnerable status in human life, its need for risky assistance, is an essential element of Havel's own hard-fought, hard-won wisdom. The people need to hear it. And from him they do.

While speaking to his fellow politicians, Havel, of course, does not change this tune. But he does modulate his rhythm and delivery. Against those who claim that negotiations and the like require ""intrigue"" and, worse, ""lying,"" (10) he is adamant: Not so. The truth does not need to be so compromised at the highest levels of politics, nor does one's integrity as a speaker or truth-teller need to be. However, do not then assume that one must be a naïf among wolves. Tact, a sense of timing, what he calls ""good taste,"" an ability to shift topics from serious to light and back, knowing when to be silent—the moral politician can and should possess and exercise all these qualities. General knowledge, of economics for example, is useful, even ""an invaluable asset to any politician,"" (11) but it cannot supply the feel for particular times, individuals, and situations that the working politician has to have, and to which he responds.

The same is true in the field of deeds—""how to plan your official journeys judiciously and to know when it is more appropriate not to go somewhere""—for instance. (ibid.) All of this emphasis on particulars as circumscribing speech and deed, and on eutrapelia to face varied individual situations, flows from Havel's general (sit venia verbo) philosophical, even metaphysical, view that Being and life have infinite distinct individuals, each with a unique face and form. To be sure, they can be put in classes, but deeper thought recognizes the reality of individuality, especially human individuality. Tocqueville shared this view of the slight, but definite, tipping of scales towards the individual over the general or class. Moreover, human individuals and the lives they lead, the social life they compose, change dramatically, mysteriously, unfathomably. The ""flow of life . . . is always taking us by surprise[; it remains an ongoing,] permanent challenge to the human spirit."" (67) Havel therefore is always keen to assess and to respond appropriately to the particular. As a politician, he still has need to exercise the dramatist's sense of the individual, of timing, and of staging.23

In Chapter 5 Havel envisages a ""new generation of politicians"" in Czechoslovakia who were not malformed by the totalitarian system. Chapter 1, however, already seeks and addresses them and states their chief qualities and qualifications. The list he provides both is and is not surprising. Unsurprising because it embodies what we already have seen and heard in Havel himself. Surprising because of how conventionally ""unpolitical""—for example, undesirous of power—these are said to be.

To sum up: if your heart is in the right place and you have good taste, not only will you pass muster in politics, you are destined for it. If you are modest and do not lust after power, not only are you suited to politics, you absolutely belong there. The sine qua non of a politician is not the ability to lie; he need only be sensitive and know when, what, to whom and how to say what he has to say. It is not true that a person of principle does not belong in politics; it is enough for his principles to be leavened with patience,24 deliberation, a sense of proportion, and an understanding of others. (11–12)

The foregoing character sketch and advice to others is, we see, first of all a self-portrait, or at least the image and standard to which the President holds himself.25

What is wrong with lust for power? Quite simply, it, as does any other lust, eclipses conscience in its subject. He is ""bound"" by it and not by conscience. Following conscience means that one is ""essentially freer"" than those subject to other gods or demons.26

One can wonder why Havel thinks that conscientious younger men and women will put themselves forward to serve their country as politicians? In large part he trusts in youthful idealism, the mode of moral imagination that imagines oneself and others as participants in a higher mode of existence, without too close a look at the obstacles to its realization, to the costs it may require. Havel, however, does his best to instruct them about the risks and dangers this way of life presents. In fact he tells them that it presents perhaps the greatest sorts of temptation of any career. (10) And it always will attract immoralists of various sorts. The political arena is one of combat. Havel's youthful (and other) readers thus are deftly instructed about the moral greatness and misery of man. They should be confident in the rightness of their aspirations and not surprised by, but rather fully aware of, obstacles and pitfalls inherent in this high vocation.

Havel walks a fine line between encouragement and tempering. Finally, however, he does not believe the politician's task and way of life is impossible, much less intrinsically disreputable. In good conscience he can seek to attract the better sorts, to appeal to their sense of higher responsibility, by speaking of the moral grandeur and challenge, of the great import and general focus ofthe politician's work. ""Those in politics have a heightened responsibility for the moral state of society."" (4) Why so? ""It is largely up to politicians which social forces they choose to liberate and which they choose to suppress, whether they rely on the good in each citizen or on the bad . . . it is their responsibility to seek out the best in that society, and to develop it and strengthen it."" (ibid.) With love of their country and countrymen burning in their breasts and a deep desire to serve others, politics are their natural arena, their natural outlet.


One also may wonder, what more specifically this new generation of politicians is to be and, especially, to do? Havel's general view is conveyed in the ""deed""27 which is Summer Meditations as he provides moral encouragement and practical proposals, constitutional and economic, to his fellow Czechoslovaks. But one can detect it also indirectly, in terms of his description and criticisms of current bad politicians. I'll simply translate the contrary of their bad traits. Good ones work for a truly ""civil society"" ""based on the citizen and recognizing all fundamental civil and human rights in their universal validity, equally applied."" (31–32) They therefore fight bad nationalisms, racism, and Fascism. Good ones work for ""the common interest of society"" and thus transcend ""purely particular interests."" (2) Good ones are moderate, not fanatical. Good ones work with politicians of ""different political parties"" to arrive, consensually, at ""pragmatic,"" ""reasonable and useful solutions to problems."" (ibid.)28 Good ones hew to ""a set of established, gentlemanly, unbendable rules."" (103) Intrigue and deceit are left to the vulgar and the charlatans, to those who merely seek office, not service.

Havel concludes this chapter with a sketch of the kind of future he envisages for Czechoslovakia, the sort of country, state, and citizenry he is working for. The end in mind has two basic dimensions, captured and conveyed in an ambiguity in his use of the term ""state."" On one hand, the ""state"" is the various democratic and constitutional forms and procedures, a market economy, and other ""mechanisms"" devised by the human spirit—the modern human spirit one could add29—that aim at expressing that spirit's dignity and ensuring its security. On this basis, Havel sees no contradiction between the free market and democratically decided social provision ""for those who, for various reasons, find themselves at the bottom of society."" (18)

This ""democratic state based on the rule of law,"" however, is not and cannot be self-sustaining. ""The best laws and the best-conceived democratic mechanisms will not in themselves guarantee legality or freedom or human rights—anything, in short, for which they were intended—if they are not underpinned by certain human and social values."" (ibid.) This truism leads Havel to call upon his fellow Czechoslovaks therefore ""at the same time [to] build a state that is—regardless of how unscientific they may sound to the ears of a political scientist—humane, moral, intellectual and spiritual, and cultural."" (ibid.) In other words, we need ""to remind ourselves of the meaning of the state, which is, and must remain, truly human which means that it must be intellectual, spiritual, and moral."" (19)30

In this regard Havel is particularly keen to remind his readers that such a state requires a citizenry that ""is willing, if necessary, to fight for [it] or make sacrifices for [it]."" He insists that the ""law and other democratic institutions ensure little if they are not backed up by the willingness and courage of decent people to guard against their abuse."" (ibid.) Clarity of moral vision and discernment is not enough. Courage is ""the good and the right['s]"" necessary attendant.31

Given that the end is a certain kind of citizenry and a certain sort of politics, and not merely proper vehicles of collective action, the means to the end share in the latter's character, as we have already seen. ""A moral and intellectual state cannot be established through a constitution, or through law, or through directives, but only through complex, long-term, and never-ending work involving education and self-education . . . . It is a way of going about things, and it demands the courage to breathe moral and spiritual motivation into everything, to seek the human dimension in all things."" (20) How exhilarating! How enticing! Politics as a form of education and self-education. Political activity at its responsible core requires, and enables, one to come to self-knowledge, and knowledge of one's fellows, and to distribute these fruit to others.32

Happily, at this point in human history, some precious fruit has been harvested. We now are in possession of certain ""ideas"" that ""extricate human beings from the straitjacket of ideological interpretations, and . . . rehabilitate them as subjects of individual conscience, of individual thinking backed up by experience, of individual responsibility."" (128)33 One of these ideas, however, is the humbling (and awe-inspiring) view of ""life [as] infinitely and mysteriously multiform."" (62) As such, ""the flow of life . . . is always taking us by surprise[; it is a] permanent challenge to the human spirit."" (67) We must be continually alert to update and to deepen what we already know, and to find ways to apply this ""knowledge of life"" to—and to realize what we learn in—regularly shifting situations and circumstances.

The Moralist's Caveats

The central point has been made, perhaps overemphasized: Havel's political vision is a moral vision. He appeals to man's better nature, all the time, in all things.

Yet he disclaims being a ""dreamer""—that is, someone who believes that the pie in the sky can be brought down to earth and each and every one of us can have whatever slice he desires. He knows the difference between a beautiful dream and the full moral range of reality, which includes immorality of various sorts and intensity. The moralist is girded for ""struggle"" and battle and alerts his actual and potential allies to dangers that lie before them.

""My experience and observations confirm that politics as the practice of morality is possible. I do not deny, however, that it is not always easy to go that route, nor have I ever claimed that it was."" (12)

""[P]olitics is not essentially a disreputable business; and to the extent it is, it is only disreputable people who make it so. I would concede that it can, more than other spheres of activity, tempt one to disreputable practices, and that it therefore places higher demands on people."" (10)

Watch and judge your peers: ""the vain, the brash, and the vulgar . . . such people, it is true, are drawn to politics."" (12) In fact, ""the political arena will always attract irresponsible and ambitious adventurers and charlatans."" (16)

And finally, the most sober, yet manly words:

If I talk here about my political—or, more precisely, my civil—program, about my notion of the kind of politics and values and ideals I wish to struggle for, this is not to say that I am entertaining the naive hope that this struggle may one day be over. A heaven on earth in which people all love each other and everyone is hard-working, well-mannered, and virtuous, in which the land flourishes and everything is sweetness and light, working harmoniously to the satisfaction of God: this will never be. On the contrary, the world has had the worst experiences with utopian thinkers who promised all that. Evil will remain with us, no one will ever eliminate human suffering, the political arena will always attract irresponsible and ambitious adventurers and charlatans. And man will not stop destroying the world. In this regard, I have no illusions.

Neither I nor anyone else will ever win this war once and for all. At the very most, we can win a battle or two—and not even that is certain. Yet I still think it makes sense to wage this war persistently. It has been waged for centuries, and it will continue to be waged—we hope—for centuries to come. This must be done on principle, because it is the right thing to do. Or, if you like, because God wants it that way. It is an eternal, never-ending struggle waged not just by good people (among whom I count myself, more or less) against evil people, by honourable people against dishonourable people, by people who think about the world and eternity against people who think only of themselves and the moment. It takes place inside everyone. It is what makes a person a person, and life, life.

So anyone who claims that I am a dreamer who expects to transform hell into heaven is wrong. I have few illusions. But I feel a responsibility to work towards the things I consider good and right. I don't know whether I'll be able to change certain things for the better, or not at all. Both outcomes are possible. There is only one thing I will not concede: that it might be meaningless to strive in a good cause. (16–17)

Chapter Two: Havel's ""Authentic"" Constitutionalism

Chapter 2 is entitled ""In a Time of Transition."" The current crop of elected federal officials is midway through its two-year term of office. Their general task has been indicated, even determined, by the fact that they find ""themselves in a transitional period, when everything—from a constitutional and legal system to a pluralistic political spectrum—[is], in fact, being reborn."" (21) ""The main task of Parliament"" (ibid.) is ""the creation and ratification of a new constitution"" (24) which will be ""the cornerstone of our democratic state."" (21)

During the course of this chapter Havel contrasts his views against those of two others. On one hand, the people fail to see the fundamental importance of a good constitution for their future well-being and prosperity. This is understandable. Under the previous regime, the constitution and its structures and guarantees meant nothing, they were the wax nose of authority that could be pulled and twisted in any direction by the Party and its lackeys.34

On the other hand, and more ominously, are the ""separatists,"" chiefly Slovaks, who desire and are working towards the dismembering of unified Czechoslovakia. The constitutional order they seek is one with two independent nation-states. Not a federation at all.

In opposition to both Havel presents the case ""that in our situation almost everything depends on the nascent constitutional system—or is at least related to it in some way."" (25; italics added) And he states at length his reasons for being ""unequivocally in favour of the federal state."" (34) Such a state, though, must be an expression of ""authentic federal[ism]."" ""An authentic, democratic federation"" ""is the expression of a common will and a free decision; it is something created together, a common job to be done, a structure that exists to help the republics, to augment their sovereignty and their potential. It is a bond that exists because it is to the advantage of both sides."" (42) Havel's chief task in this chapter is to instruct all concerned parties in what such constitutionalism is, and why it is fully consonant with their legitimate aspirations and better selves.

The outline of his argument in this chapter is structured by his assessment of the character and needs of his two main audiences. A first part seeks to convince the people of the great import of the constitutional order in, and as an instrument of, their lives. They ought to be vitally concerned about the ""form"" or ""shape"" given to the federal state, as it will decisively bear upon the quality of their lives as nationalities, homines economici,and most importantly, as democratic men and women fundamentally responsible for their country's condition.

A second part instructs fervent nationalists that national sovereignty is only legitimate when expressly subordinate to universal norms of human rights. Moreover, such sovereignty can be enhanced when yoked to a partner and collaborating in a federal structure. The historical union of the Czechs and Slovaks can, and should, be strengthened for their common benefit.

A third section sketches Havel's proposed federal state, its organs, their powers, and interrelations, and the principles informing this layout. His structures and principles are by and large quintessentially modern ones—including separation of powers and a strengthened executive to resist legislative tyranny and to ensure governmental stability and continuity. In advocating them Havel displays his awareness that structures must help to check human vice. A mere dependence upon human virtue in politics is unrealistic.

However, in no way does Havel depend on structures for good government. These structures are the homage virtue pays to vice, but virtue remains in the ascendancy in Havel's view. Or it would be, if we listened to Havel's teaching, or men listened to their consciences.

Not surprisingly, Havel sees many dimensions to the task of building such structures. ""This is not just a legislative task. It is a great political task."" And because Havelian politics are always matters of conscience and the spirit, it is ""therefore a psychological and moral task."" (43) His discussion in Chapter 2 accordingly moves between the poles of consideration of such apparently technical questions as the number of representatives in each representative body or the electoral law, and profound reflections on ""the category of 'home'"" which belongs to ""what modern philosophers call the 'natural world.'"" (30)

In this chapter Havel continues the description and the political education of the people that he began in Chapter 1. ""Many people . . . may see a constitution as something highly theoretical, abstract, out of touch with reality, of interest to politicians but with no direct effect on their own lives."" (24) How telling. The people think that they are ""realists."" They are concerned with ""reality."" What exists or goes on outside them is merely abstract, theoretical, i.e., of no interest to them—the sort of thing people who have leisure or who aren't serious about real life concern themselves with. De gustibus non disputandum est.

Or perhaps it's their job. Politicians, of course, have to be ""interest[ed]"" in such things. But even here, their dealings have next to no impact or ""direct effect"" on ""reality,"" the people's lives. So they believe.

Between Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 Havel has presented a people who distinguish and relate themselves to those set above them, the political class. They are afraid that those above them are immorally getting away with murder, or at least lining their pockets at the public's expense. Afraid of being taken for moral fools, they need and seek the reassurance of the prominent, political ""world"" for the rightness—and possible victory—of their ""goodwill."" (9)

They also are rather enclosed in their immediate material circumstances and concerns. They consider these to be ""reality."" Whatever is outside is less real, and really doesn't strike home. In any event ""what is more important to people"" is their economic conditions and prospects.

In short, the people are too narrowly materialistic and too diffidently moral. They are human, to be sure—for to have consciences and needy, working bodies is to be human. But they seem not to be especially political—in Havel's sense of conscientious service to the greater community. Rather too much immediate or proximate material concern, not enough moral confidence and political savvy: this is the populace Havel limns, addresses, and instructs. ""[O]ur society needs to learn how to think of itself in political terms once more."" (61)

Constitutionalism thus is the perfect topic to widen their horizons, to show them a higher way of existence, one that is political or civic, not merely economic or narrowly moral (à la Tocqueville's ""individualism,"" in which the narrow-minded, narrow-hearted democratic individual focuses almost exclusively on self and a narrow circle of family and friends). Having presented his first audience in this way, Havel not surprisingly connects the issue of the constitution to both dimensions he discerns in them, somatic and psychic. Man, after all, is an angel in the form of a brute.

Havel makes an initial, quick case for the import of the new constitution, one conveyed on one page of text. (25) In it he seeks everyone's attention, at several levels. Will Czechoslovakia remain ""a single country"" or not? The Constitution will express this choice. National feelings and national realities, Czech, Slovak, and Czechoslovakian, are clearly more than material concerns and dimensions, yet they are but the rough blocks of politics as Havel conceives them. Certainly they are not, as such, subject to conscience, the sovereign of sovereigns.35 The Constitution will be the deliberate expression of how the citizens of the two republics articulate these three: nation, conscience, and politics.

The Constitution will bear, importantly, upon the process of ""economic reform."" Both Czechs and Slovaks desire to eat and to prosper. Their material concerns naturally link them to constitutional ones.

The last two areas that Havel points to in connection with the constitutional decision are expressly political. They indicate the centrality of the political articulation of nations and their members, and of homines economici in their various economic roles and contributions. ""What kind of people will lead our country and what powers they will have; what influence citizens will have on how they are governed."" Both ""depend . . . on the nascent constitutional system."" Nations need leaders, the better the latter, the better the former. Producers and consumers are also citizens, not totalitarian slaves or administrative subjects. The Constitution is the authoritative articulation of leaders and led, of politics and economics. Well composed, its elements will be, too.

Two last points in Havel's quick case press home the initial lesson of the import of the constitutional ""form"" or ""shape"" given to the political order. The constitutional question (and answer) of ""the division of powers"" touches each and all. ""Nothing in a citizen's everyday life is unaffected by this."" Particularly important is the level at which decisions are made. Havel in Chapter 5 states his preference for ""a highly decentralized state with confident local governments."" ""People's primary interest [should] be in local elections rather than the parliamentary ones."" (103) This preference is for the sake of good government and good citizens. Once again, the parallel with Tocqueville recommendations to democratic citizens and politicians is striking. Genuine politics, authentic federalism, mean that sub-federal politics are vigorous. This preference, to be sure, goes hand in hand with a recognition of legitimate federal concerns, powers, and tasks.

Finally, all realize that ""the rule of law is back."" A little reflection reveals that the quality of such laws ""depends above all on the constitution, from which all laws are derived."" The structure of offices and powers, the forms and procedures of election: these will filter, somewhat, those who ascend to power and further guide and shape their performance once there. These obvious remarks obviously leave much to be further specified, especially the specific forms Havel would like to see in place, and his account of how they do their all-important work. These issues and Havel's addressing of them resurface shortly. For now, he has his reader-populace thinking politically, taking with utmost seriousness constitutional questions.

As he reveals his thinking on these constitutional questions Havel continues to guide and to instruct his fellow citizens. Now however, after these preliminaries, the burning question must be confronted and addressed at length.

""The basic question around which the drafting of a federal constitution revolves today . . . is what constitutional form our country will adopt, or, more precisely, what relationship will exist between the two peoples—the Czechs and the Slovaks—and the two republics that now form the federation."" (26)

Havel tackles this question at its most problematic point, which is the Slovakian national desire for autonomy, the desire of the Slovaks to be ""a completely autonomous community that . . . make[s] decisions about its own affairs at home."" (29) Havel claims to understand this desire, in its de facto historical roots and actual aspects and in its de jure principled dimensions. In their ""historical existence . . . the Slovaks have always felt that they were an overlooked and forgotten smaller and weaker brother, condemned to live in the bigger and stronger brother's shadow."" (27) Now, with the collapse of Communism and with ""the democratic revolution"" they especially feel ""an aversion to the fact that the centre of power over Slovakia is somewhere outside its territory—and is, moreover, on the territory of its bigger and older and rich brother."" ""This Slovak attitude"" Havel ""understand[s] completely."" (28) Moreover, ""such a will to autonomy is, of course, entirely legitimate."" (29)


What Havel adds to this sympathetic understanding is a further range of thoughts, all adding up to what one could call ""mature, responsible nationalism,"" which combines recognition of and respect for particular historical characteristics and allegiances together with universal principles of communal life. In general it is true that ""all nations must go through a phase of national self-awareness and, related to that, a phase of struggle for a state of their own, and they must experience national sovereignty before they can mature to the point of realizing that membership in supranational bodies based on the notion of a civil society not only does not suppress their national identity and sovereignty, but in a sense extends it, strengthens it, and nurtures it."" (ibid.) The unified state of Czechoslovakia is one such supranational body that Slovaks and the Czechs should belong to.

Havel's principles center around the concepts of ""home"" and ""civil society."" Mature, responsible nationalism finds its proper place within the context provided by these two doctrines of philosophy, the former initiated by Husserl, the latter grounded in ""modern humanity's"" understanding of ""universal human and civil rights."" ""For everyone, home is a basic existential experience . . . home (in the philosophical sense of the word) can be compared to a set of concentric circles, with one's 'I' at the center."" (30) These circles range from one's abode, village, workplace, family, and friends to one's country, one's nationality, and to one's citizenship. ""Beyond that, my home is Europe and my Europeanness and—ultimately—it is this world and its present civilization and for that matter the universe."" (31)

The guiding principle is this: ""Every circle, every aspect of the human home, has to be given its due. It makes no sense to deny or forcibly exclude any one stratum for the sake of another; none should be regarded as less important or inferior. They are part of our natural world, and a properly organized society has to respect them all and give them all the chance to play their roles. This is the only way that room can be made for people to realize themselves freely as human beings, to exercise their identities. All the circles of our home, indeed our whole natural world, are an inalienable part of us, and an inseparable element of our human identity. Deprived of all the aspects of his home, man would be deprived of himself, of his humanity."" (ibid.)

The ""proper"" way to respect all the dimensions of the human person and his home is to establish a ""civil society"" and state that are informed by the great idea of the individual and his inalienable rights. The nationality-based state perforce must deny the deep truth about men that all are persons worthy of respect, all sovereign centers of conscience and agency. Certainly ""civil society"" must be ""based on the universality of human rights."" (32) But to deny citizenship on the basis of nationality is to fail to see that the sovereignty of the human being ""finds its primary, most natural, and most universal expression in citizenship, in the broadest and deepest sense of that word."" (33) Men are naturally, universally, called to be citizens, in virtue of their ""individuality"" and personal nature, not their nationality.

Here Havel comes near to Aristotle's affirmation and understanding of man's political nature. Left behind are Hobbes' and Locke's notion of man the artificial citizen. Being a conscientious participant in a political community's self-rule and ongoing life is natural to man. Citizenship is a deep expression of what we are, responsible caretakers of others, and not principally an external necessity, one owing to threats to self and some other like-minded others with whom one contracts.

Chapter Three: Ideas versus Ideologies;
The Free Mind versus Ideological ""Mentalities""

Chapter 3's ostensible and substantive topics are the free market economy and what the federal government can and should do to bring it fully into being. Here too, as elsewhere, Havel conceives of the economic order (and government's relationship to it) in distinctive terms, the terms of ""conscience"" and ""responsibility."" These topics, however, elicit from Havel additional new thoughts and emphases, thus enlarging his presentation of the core terms of his vocabulary.

The new terms are ""natural,"" ""life,"" and the apparently prosaic ""ownership.""36 These terms are appropriate in the context of economics because Havel wants to distinguish his views from two other views of the economic order. These term