Václav Havel, politics, and openness to experience


Today a friend is sharing a post by Alfred Kappler about Václav Havel’s 1984 speech Politics and Conscience, which identifies modernity itself as a root cause of totalitarianism and other problems in modern politics.

Kappler writes that modernity “catastrophically undermined a pre-reflective human relationship with nature, which Havel conceives as the foundation of moral intuitions and values.” And at the beginning his speech, Havel himself says that children and peasants “have not yet grown alienated from the world of their actual personal experience.” 

This reminds me of what I was saying at a recent philosophical forum about Islamic extremists’ treatment of women, that they fail to see others’ humanity, and it is for that reason they fail morally and are to be condemned.

Morality in politics (and other areas) is an individual matter, a choice not to cross a line into evil (to cause harm, to deceive). There can’t be a systematic response, in terms of political reform or revolution, to the problems of modernity as Havel identifies them because we are dealing with more fundamental problems of how we relate to the world and each other in daily life: we have become alienated from our experience.

To begin to change this, we have to start by shedding the barriers we put up between ourselves and our experience to protect us from hurt and to achieve results. We need to be open to our emotions and our intuitions, to see others and the world as they are and completely, and let others see us in the same way.

Everywhere I go I see people holding back, closing their eyes, lying to themselves and others about what they are and what they see. If we can’t be change that the situation is hopeless. If we can, we can do anything.

(Image: Sunburst, CC 2011 by Stephen Heron.)

Author: Ben Hourigan

Ben Hourigan is a novelist from Melbourne, Australia. His books Kiss Me, Genius Boy and My Generation’s Lament are Amazon category bestsellers, and are available wherever good books are sold online. Ben also works as an editor, copywriter, and self-publishing consultant at his own firm, Hourigan & Co. For news and book release updates, sign up to his email newsletter.