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The Philosophy and Politics of Czech Dissidence from Patocka to Havel

The Philosophy and Politics of Czech Dissidence from Patocka to Havel

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    The Philosophy and Politics of Czech Dissidence from Patocka to Havel
    Book Description:

    A critical study of the philosophy and political practice of the Czech dissident movement Charter 77. Aviezer Tucker examines how the political philosophy of Jan Patocka (1907-1977), founder of Charter 77, influenced the thinking and political leadership of Vaclav Havel as dissident and president.

    Presents the first serious treatment of Havel as philosopher and Patocka as a political thinker. Through the Charter 77 dissident movement in Czechoslovakia, opponents of communism based their civil struggle for human rights on philosophic foundations, and members of the Charter 77 later led the Velvet Revolution. After Patocka's self-sacrifice in 1977, Vaclav Havel emerged a strong philosophical and political force, and he continued to apply Patocka's philosophy in order to understand the human condition under late communism and the meaning of dissidence. However, the political/philosophical orientation of the Charter 77 movement failed to provide President Havel with an adequate basis for comprehending and responding to the extraordinary political and economic problems of the postcommunist period.

    In his discussion of Havel's presidency and the eventual corruption of the Velvet Revolution, Tucker demonstrates that the weaknesses in Charter 77 member's understanding of modernity, which did not matter while they were dissidents, seriously harmed their ability to function in a modern democratic system. Within this context, Tucker also examines Havel's recent attempt to topple the democratic but corrupt government in 1997-1998. The Philosophy and Politics of Czech Dissidence from Patocka to Havel will be of interest to students of philosophy and politics, scholars and students of Slavic studies, and historians, as well as anyone fascinated by the nature of dissidence.

    eISBN: 978-0-8229-7213-6
    Subjects: Political Science, History

Table of Contents

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  1. ONE Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    The relation between philosophy and politics is a perennial problem, dating back to Socrates and Plato. Can philosophy be applied to influence politics? Should philosophers and philosophy attempt to influence politics in the first place? How can politicians conduct themselves morally? The communities of philosophers and the communities of politicians tend to remain sufficiently far apart to avoid confronting these questions. Philosophers tend to lack political influence or the will to attempt to influence politics, while politicians tend to have little interest in either philosophical wisdom or morality. As Levinas put it: “Politics is opposed to morality, as philosophy to...

  2. TWO Protecting the Human: From Metaphysics to Moral Politics
    (pp. 19-58)

    The Charter 77 Declaration founded its demand for human rights in Czechoslovakia on legal-positivistgrounds: the Czechoslovak government had ratified the final act of the 1975 Helsinki Human Rights Conference and was therefore to be held accountable for implementing its clauses. Nevertheless, Jan Patočka founded his political demands on a theory ofnaturalhuman rights. In his Charter 77 texts (Prečan 1990, 31–42; Patočka 1977, 1989g) and in previous writings(PE), Patočka attempted to develop such a theory.

    Since Patočka and the other Charter 77 dissidents supported universal and absolute human rights, they required an equally universal and absolute...

  3. THREE From Philosophy of History to Sacrifice
    (pp. 59-88)

    Patočka asked the basic questions of substantial philosophy of history: What is history? Does it have a meaning? In addition, he asked with greater urgency the questions Husserl had posed inThe Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenologyand the Vienna Lecture (Husserl 1970): What is the reason for the crisis that apparently led to the self-destruction of Europe in the twentieth century? Can this self-destruction be stopped and even reversed?

    Patočka argued that history began when persons started moving in the world in a distinctly human way, by living in truth. The meaning of historyisthis human...

  4. FOUR Shipwrecked: Patočka’s Philosophy of Czech History
    (pp. 89-114)

    Being Czech has never been easy, especially in the twentieth century. From the late Middle Ages to the First World War, the Czechs were subjects of larger, multinational European political units, from the Holy Roman Empire to the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The policy of the main stream of the Czech national movement shifted to advocating a Czech nation-state only during the First World War. Previously, the historian and founder of Czech nationalism, František Palacký (1798–1876), and his successor, the philosopher and first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš G. Masaryk (1850–1937), had advocated national autonomy and self-determination within a confederated Habsburg...

  5. FIVE The Meaning of Dissidence and Charter 77
    (pp. 115-134)

    After Patočka’s death, the Charter 77 movement, composed of the two thousand citizens who signed the document, had to search for its philosophical-political identity as a dissident movement. The early hopes of the reform Communist wing of the movement for some kind of dialogue with the ruling Communist nomenklatura were dashed. Instead of dialogue, the movement faced extreme oppression. With no hope for social and political change in the foreseeable future, the Charter 77 signatories had to face two related questions: What is the meaning of dissidence, and of their dissidence in particular? And what should the goals and activities...

  6. SIX The Philosophy of the Dissident Havel
    (pp. 135-169)

    Although Václav Havel has described himself modestly as “a philosophically inclined literary man” who has only a shaky philosophical education and whose philosophy is incoherent (LO, no. 62;DP, 8–10, 166, 202), between 1978 and 1991 he developed a coherent body of philosophy, which—despite a few inconsistencies, changes in terminology, and new influences—is continuous and consistent.

    The most significant influences on Havel’s philosophy were Jan Patočka and Martin Heidegger. After Patočka’s death, Havel was influenced by the philosophy of another student of Patočka, who emigrated to Italy but was still influential in Prague, Václav Bělohradský (1991). Although...

  7. SEVEN The Philosophy and Practice of President Havel
    (pp. 170-208)

    The dissident Václav Havel prepared expectations for an existential revolution. It never happened. Instead, a political revolution took place, following the sudden collapse of communism in the Soviet bloc. Czechoslovak communism did not collapse as a result of pressure from civil society; there was practically no civil society in Czechoslovakia. It did not collapse as a result of dissident activity, either. Soviet communism had sustained and enforced its Czechoslovak subsidiary. Once Soviet communism was collapsing, Czechoslovak communism followed suit, because nobody was ready to fight for it.

    The political revolution was unplanned. Czechoslovak society maintained passivity for eight days after...

  8. EIGHT The Velvet Corruption: Czech Politics, 1993–1998
    (pp. 209-241)

    Arguably, the Velvet Revolution ended as did countless Marxist and nationalist revolutions: in Swiss bank accounts. The idealists gave way to opportunists who used political power for personal enrichment or became corrupted themselves. The weaknesses in the vision of the idealist founders become apparent when their pragmatic and opportunistic successors gained the chance to corrupt the polity in the absence of institutional checks or developed civil society that could control the politicians. The Czech dissidents’ gross misunderstanding of the modern world and their contempt for institutions and institutional designs and reforms prevented them from following the founders of the United...

  9. NINE Conclusion: Philosophy and Politics
    (pp. 242-252)

    Though it is commonly known that Plato was the first to advocate the rule of philosophers, it is often forgotten that Plato also predicted that the aristocracy of philosophers is destined to gradually deteriorate and corrupt. Plato’s pessimistic conclusion is based on two assumptions. First, Plato had a metaphysical commitment to the corruptibility of all non-ideal objects in the world of temporal deterioration. He deduced that the perfect political regime is bound to deteriorate and corrupt in time, just like any other worldly object. The mirror images of this theory of political entropy are mostly, though not exclusively (cf. Railton...

    (pp. 253-262)