Friday, July 06, 2007

Daniel Mahoney on Vaclav Havel's To the Castle and Back

City Journal contains a review of Vaclav Havel's memoir, To the Castle and Back published by Knopf.

As Havel made clear in earlier works, such as 1992’s Summer Meditations, he saw his new political role as fully consistent with his dissident opposition to totalitarianism. In his post-1989 books and speeches, Havel continued to defend a moral vision of politics that he called “nonpolitical politics” or “politics as morality in practice.” He identified this vision with the demanding but liberating task of “living in truth.” Havel refused to identify politics with a dehumanizing “technology of power,” the notion that power was an end in itself. Instead he defended a moral order that stands above law, politics, and economics—a moral order that “has a metaphysical anchoring in the infinite and eternal.” His speeches as president, many collected in English in The Art of the Impossible (1997), were artful exercises in moral and political philosophizing, enthralling Western audiences.

1 comment:

Simon Barrow said...

Great. Thanks. I've riffed on this over at FaithInSociety
(see the Saturday, July 07, 2007 entry). It's interesting to compare the "nonpolitical politics" of Havel with that of the arch-pragmatist Isaiah Berlin. I think ultimately the former is too idealistic and the latter too pessimistc - which means that, ironically, their respective political positions end up just as 'political' as the ideological kind they both, in different ways, reject. I appreciate Havel's refusal to let go of the promise of the future, and Berlin's refusal to let go of the agony of now. But that's where it all gets stuck if we have no realisable eschatology... and they don't.