Political Action in Václav Havel's Thought: The Responsibility of Resistance

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9780739149577: Political Action in Václav Havel's Thought: The Responsibility of Resistance
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Political Action in Vaclav Havel’s Thought: The Responsibility of Resistance, by Delia Popescu, examines resistance to oppression and individual responsibility in political action, all in the context of Vaclav Havel’s political philosophy. The famous anti-communist dissident, acclaimed playwright, former President of the Czech Republic, and eminent political thinker argues that there is a certain tendency in modern humanity towards the creation, or at least toleration, of a political system that is invasive and controlling. Not unlike Tocqueville and Arendt, Havel claims that modern liberal democracy contains potential tendencies toward a new form of despotism that capitalizes on modern alienation and social atomization.
Political Action in Vaclav Havel’s Thought suggests that Havel’s theory of individual opposition can be used to secure political freedom under the conditions of modernity. Popescu demonstrates that Havel’s idea of attaining true political participation and freedom requires a strong connection between an individually constructed ethics and the realm of politics. On this basis she reveals that a thick notion of morality can be usefully integrated into an account of both private and public accountability. Vaclav Havel’s essays, plays, speeches, and letters can therefore be integrated into a coherent political theory which contributes significantly to some of the central debates in modern political thought. Delia Popescu concludes that Havel’s theory of individual opposition to totalitarianism may also serve as the foundation for a conception of responsible participation in modern liberal democracies.

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About the Author:

Delia Popescu is assistant professor of political science at LeMoyne College in Syracuse.

Review:

Václav Havel remains among the most--some might say one of the few--appealing public intellectuals of the 20th century. Genial, witty, humane, and (mirabile dictu) politically successful, he deserves exactly the well-informed, lively treatment he receives here. Popescu (LeMoyne College) succinctly presents Havel's critique of modern life and his efforts in thought and action to counteract its toxins. While unhesitatingly preferring the regime of liberal democracy to those of totalitarianism and its flaccid, spiritless successor, "post-totalitarianism," Havel also saw what Tocqueville saw: even relatively decent modern societies tend toward lives of apathy and civic disengagement under the rule of impersonal bureaucracies. The administrative functionalism so admired by Hegel bespeaks not the rule of reason but the rule of rationalism--of reason made into a system of rules that overlook the personality of the human beings so ruled. Against this, Havel not only proposed but lived a life in which he built up Czech civil society, urging his fellow noncitizens to take personal responsibility for one another. While protestors in the Western democracies demanded participatory democracy, Havel worked for anticipatory democracy: "the civic spirit that defeated communism ... is also the proper foundation for successful democratic rebuilding" after post-totalitarianism collapses. Summing Up: Recommended. (CHOICE)

Popescu presents his political theory as fresh and relevant to the problems of political action that are endemic to modern political life. It is a welcome addition to a body of scholarship that is emerging around the legacy of Vaclav Havel and compels us to take seriously the political and philosophical contributions of antipolitics. This accessible volume should find a ready home on the shelves of philosophers and activists alike. (Theory & Event)

Delia Popescu has taken on a challenging task. Her intent is to provide a new interpretation of Havel as political philosopher. Her stated aim is to shine a new, clarifying, light on Havel’s concept of responsibility, which has become a diffuse notion....this courageous and intellectually passionate volume deserves our attention. (Slavic Review)

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