Roger Scruton Interviews Vaclav Havel by Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton

Roger Scruton Interviews Vaclav Havel


The first President of Czechoslovakia, T G Masaryk, was a world-famous writer and philosopher. Thanks to his international standing and to his towering personality, Masaryk was able to put his country where it belonged on the cultural map- namely, at the heart of Europe. Vaclav Havel has repeated the achievement, helping the Czech experience to reassume its central place in the European imagination. His writings belong to the corpus of dissident literature, but their relevance has not dwindled since the collapse of the Communist regime. Indeed, the importance of both the plays and the essays increases, as the Communist experience fades from the European memory, and new forms of impersonal order and unaccountable government spread their shadow across our continent. Although Masaryk wrote and published freely, and received the accolades of academic, literary and political establishments, none of his writings has retained the penetrating relevance of ‘The Power of the Powerless’, of the Letters to Olga or of the intimate theatre through which Havel explored the psychological traumas of our time.

A central theme in Havel’s writings, and one that recurs throughout the tradition of modern Czech literature, is that of personality – its fragility, its cost, and its need for renewal. The impersonal, the scientific and the objective besiege us from every side, tempting us with the vision of man the machine. Systems of government, forms of entertainment, whole cultures arise from the mechanised approach to human life, and exert their fascination even over those who strive to resist them. Kafka wrote presciently of this; so too did Capek, inventor of the word ‘robot’. So too did Masaryk. But the question of personality took on a new complexion in the wake of the Second World War.

The triumph first of National Socialism and then of Communism imposed an almost intolerable penalty on those who aimed nevertheless to ‘live in truth’, as befits a free and accountable being. And the new currents of philosophical and literary reflection seemed to cast light on this. Those currents had their

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Incomparible Monsignor

Kafka Drawings

Follow Literary Review on Twitter