I wish more people would read Vaclav Havel

In this political season … can’t help but wish more thought like Vaclav Havel did.  My favorite quotes from his Summer Meditations.  Should be mandatory reading for every pol or wannabe pol:

Times have changed, clouds have filled the sky, clarity and general harmony have disappeared, and our country is heading into a period of not inconsiderable difficulties.

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.  For instance, I am frequently advised to be more “tactical”, not to say everything right away, to dissimulate gently, not to fear wooing someone more than my nature commands, or to distance myself from someone against my real will in the matter. In the interests of strengthening my hand, I am advised at times to assent to someone’s ambition for power, to flatter someone merely because it pleases him, or to reject someone even though it goes against my convictions, because he does not enjoy favour with others.

I have been blamed for being a dreamer or an idealist for quite some time, and I don’t mind.  There are enough pragmatists and opportunists.  The more it’s said that somebody is an idealist or a dreamer, the more it seems there is a need for such a voice.

Among my many bad qualities there is one that happens to be missing –  a longing or a love for power.  Not being bound by that, I am essentially freer than those who cling to their power or position, and this allows me to indulge in the luxury of behaving untactically.

In the months leading up to the June 1992 election, almost every political activity, including debates over extremely important legislation in Parliament, has taken place in the shadow of a pre-election campaign, of an extravagant hunger for power and a willingness to gain the favour of a confused electorate by offering a colourful range of attractive nonsense.

As ridiculous or quixotic as it may sound these days, one thing seems certain to me: that it is my responsibility 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.

Political intrigue is not really politics, and, although you can get away with superficial politics for a time, it does not bring much hope of lasting success. Through intrigue one may easily become prime minister, but that will be the extent of one’s success; one can hardly improve the world that way.  I am happy to leave political intrigue to others; I will not compete with them, certainly not by using their weapons.

Genuine politics –  politics worthy of the name, and the only politics I am willing to devote myself to — is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community, and serving those who will come after us.  It’s deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole, a responsibility that is what it is — a “higher” responsibility — only because it has a metaphysical grounding: that is, it grows out of a conscious or subconscious certainty that our death ends nothing, because everything is forever being recorded and evaluated somewhere else, somewhere “above us,” in what I have called “the memory of Being” –  an integral aspect of the secret order of the cosmos, of nature, and of life, which believers call God and to whose judgment everything is subject.  Genuine conscience and genuine responsibility are always, in the end, explicable only as an expression of the silent assumption that we are observed “from above”, that everything is visible, nothing is forgotten, and so earthly time has no power to wipe away the sharp disappointments of earthly failure: our spirit knows that it is not the only entity aware of these failures.

A person who is sure of the values he believes in and struggles for, and who knows he simply cannot betray them, is usually able to recognize the degree of compromise permissible in the practical application of his ideals, and to know when a risk becomes more than he can take upon himself.

About Trina Vargo

Trina Vargo created the US-Ireland Alliance in 1998 after having served for eleven years as a Foreign Policy Advisor to Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Working directly with political leaders in Northern Ireland, the Clinton Administration, and the Irish Government, she served as a key behind-the-scenes player in the Northern Ireland peace process. She created the George J. Mitchell Scholarship program and the Oscar Wilde Awards which honor the Irish in entertainment. Views are her own.
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