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“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”
— Thucydides

“A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself.”
— Jean-François Revel

Why We Need More Leaders Like Vaclav Havel

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Bruce Bawer says we could use more leaders like Vaclav Havel. I suspect we might do just as well to listen better to the Vaclav Havels that we already have.

[Havel] has also talked about Communism’s psychic legacy, which, though in the main profoundly negative, as it stunted its subjects both morally and spiritually, also had a positive side: for it taught people like him to cherish the freedom they didn’t have. And after they had won it, they knew they must never take it for granted. To stand up for freedom — not only theirs but that of others — was for them a profoundly felt moral obligation. It was worth their vigilance, their sacrifice. In the West, Havel knew, this kind of awareness and commitment were largely absent: “Naturally, all of us continue to pay lip service to democracy, human rights, the order of nature, and responsibility for the world,” he wrote, “but apparently only insofar as it does not require any sacrifice.” The West, he worried, had “lost its ability to sacrifice” — a point also made by Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn in a 1978 commencement address at Harvard. “A decline in courage,” Solzhenitsyn told the graduates on that day three decades ago,

may be the most striking feature which an outside observer notices in the West in our days. … Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course, there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.

Bawer’s article is a very illuminating, well-done bio of Havel — well worth reading in full.