Vaclav Havel’s Critique of the West

An interesting essay by Philip Howard.

Western governments, Havel said, are organized on a flawed premise not far removed from the Soviet system that had just collapsed. “The modern era has been dominated by the culminating belief,” he said, “that the world … is a wholly knowable system governed by finite number of universal laws that man can grasp and rationally direct … objectively describing, explaining, and controlling everything.”

These bureaucratic structures are profoundly dehumanizing, Havel believed, striving to control choices that should be left to human judgment and values. This “era of systems, institutions, mechanisms and statistical averages” is doomed to failure because “there is too much to know” and it cannot “be fully grasped.” The drive towards standardization is fatally flawed, Havel believed: “life is nonstandard.”

The heavy hand of centralized bureaucracy, Havel observed, makes everyone first powerless, then listless. “We have lost sense that there is a way out, lost the will to do anything,” he said. “The more we know about dangers like global warming, the less we seem able to deal with them.” These systems also marginalize community and leave people with a “fundamental sense of nonbelonging.”

Think of Havel’s statement:

“Politicians seem to have turned into puppets that only look human and move in a giant, rather inhuman theatre; they appear to have become merely cogs in a huge machine, objects of a major automatism of civilization which has gotten out of control and for which no one is responsible.”

Our Congressional politicians, and sadly our very well-meaning President, often look like puppets in an inhuman theatre.