Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright who spent 5 years in prison for undermining the communist regime, has died. After communism in Russia and eastern Europe was so discredited that it fell apart, Havel was elected president of his newly freed nation.
It was the writers who did more than anyone else–yes, more than Ronald Reagan and more than the Pope–to bring down the communist system. It isn’t enough–though it’s very important–for outsiders to stand strong against an evil empire. The key to bringing down an evil empire is to turn its own people, including those who run the empire, against it by awakening their conscience to its evil and their complicity in it.
Some words from Havel:
After being unanimously elected president of Czechoslovakia by the newly free country’s Parliament in December 1989, Mr. Havel set the tone of the new era in a speech Jan. 1, 1990, his first day in office. Communism, he said, was “a monstrous, ramshackle, stinking machine” whose worst legacy was not economic failure but a “spoiled moral environment.”
“We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another,” he said. “We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other. . . . Love, friendship, mercy, humility, or forgiveness have lost their depths and dimension. . . . They represent some sort of psychological curiosity, or they appear as long-lost wanderers from faraway times.”
Does our free society now share that moral illness? What dissidents do we need?