Wednesday, April 4, 2012

#95 / Havel

The April 9, 2012 edition of The Nation magazine has an excellent article on Vaclev Havel, the Czech playwright who became the first President of the Czech Republic.Havel is quoted to the effect that "responsibility establishes identity." I take this to mean that Havel believed that we become who we are only as we take responsibility for acting within the world:

Brought by art to an awareness of his entrapment, the individual might be tempted to despair. He can’t after all, single-handedly stop the destruction of the world. Havel’s position was that the individual should start with the development of one’s self. To do this, one has to become responsible in a series of concentric social contexts that Havel calls “horizons.”

We begin with ourselves, in other words, but we don’t stop there. While we cannot save the world as individuals, there is another way. As we move out from our individuality towards politics, as we push into a new “horizon” in which others are also acting, we generate, according to Havel, “an organic force of a special kind – a living instrument of social self-awareness.” That is the force that indeed can stop the destruction of the world, and that can create a new one. It is the revolutionary impulse that Havel first exemplified individually, and then helped precipitate in his country. It is the revolutionary impulse that our own nation experienced in 1776. It is the revolutionary impulse that we must find within ourselves again.

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