It was 22 years ago, almost to the day, that the Velvet Revolution came to an end in Czechoslovakia with the election to the office of President a man of peace – Vaclav Havel.
Havel was most famously known for his leadership in that political uprising. To those who study his work, he was a philosopher – not the kind of analytical philosopher who seeks merely to play mind games — without a thought to the needs of the oppressed, – but a genuine philosophe who shared a love of wisdom because he shared a love of humanity.
Havel died just a few weeks prior to the celebration of the 22nd anniversary of freedom and democracy in the Czech and Slovak Republics. His death was a great loss to the global project of peace.
In one of those curious constellations of great figures, Christopher Hitchens and Kim Jong Il also died that week before Christmas. They provide an odd, but telling trio. Kim Jong Il and Christopher Hitchens famously atheist; Il and Havel famous statesmen and Havel and Hitchens extraordinary writers.
I am reading Christopher Hitchens’ lastest book, a collection of essays. True to form, in the very first pages, Hitchens grapples with big stuff. Ironically, he mentions the Velvet Revolution and wonders about the difference between those who gave their lives for democracy, for a cause they deeply held, and the Mohammed Atta, who gave his life, also for a cause. Hitchens is emphatic there is a difference. But his transcendentalism is desperate and he stumbles here.
Havel, on the other hand, uses the word God, but uses it very carefully, as a leader of a free people, who worship in their own ways and with their own temperments, must.
In honor of Havel, and as the required reminder to a democratic people — that words do matter, that the silence Kim Jong Il imposed leads only to hate and despair, I conclude with a striking paragraph from Havel’s lecture at a conference at Oslo in 1990 called “The Anatomy of Hate.”
While he speaks of hate in this excerpt, his aim is clear: he would reveal the true pillars of peace.
In hatred just as in unhappy love there is a desperate kind of transcendentalism. People who hate wish to attain the unattainable and are consumed by the impossibility of attaining it. They see the cause of this in the shameful world that prevents them from attaining their object. Hatred is a diabolical attribute of the fallen angel. It is a state of the spirit that aspires to be God, that may even think it is God, and is tormented by evidence that it is not and cannot be. It is the attribute of a creature who is jealous of God and eats his heart out because the road to the throne of God, where he thinks he should be sitting, is blocked by an unjust world that is conspiring against him.
You have before you a literal flood of work. May it be in the spirit of Havel and Hitchens — directed at refuting those who suggest that helping others, whether flood damaged or simply poor and out of heat, is too expensive and the wrong thing to do. Do it because the right sacrifice is the sacrifice of self for other.