Former Czech Republic President Václav Havel passed away at the age of 75 after a long illness. Playwright, essayist and frequently jailed dissident under the Communist regime, he was a prominent figure in Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution in 1989.
Havel’s artistic work and dissidence arose out of personal alienation. Privilege gave him a sense of inferiority and difference, not superiority, and he adopted the viewpoint of an outsider.
His 1978 Essay “The Power of the Powerless” greatly influenced the resistance to Communism in Eastern Europe and provided its theoretical underpinnings. The beginning echoes Marx: “A SPECTER is haunting Eastern Europe: the specter of what in the West is called ‘dissent.'” He describes ordinary acts of acquiescence as “living within the lie” of coercive regimes and calls on people to stop participating: “revolt is an attempt to live within the truth.”
By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is in fact naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth.
Havel here articulates the basic premise of Cool Revolution: cool heroes accessing their inner truth are the starting point for political action. The spheres of personal freedom they create radiate outward and coalesce into nonviolent social movements.