1. To the Castle and Back by Václav Havel
    ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 383 pages
  1. … I’m convinced that my existence - like everything that has ever happened - has ruffed the surface of Being, and that after my little ripple, however marginal, insignificant, and ephemeral it may have been, Being is and always will be different from what it was before. All my life I have simply believed that what is once done can never be undone and that, in fact, everything remains forever. In short, Being has a memory. And thus even my insignificance - as a bourgeois child, a laboratory assistant, a soldier, a stagehand, a playwright, a dissident, a prisoner, a president, a pensioner, a public phenomenon, and a hermit, an alleged hero but secretly a bundle of nerves - will remain here forever, or rather not here, but somewhere. But not, however, elsewhere. Somewhere here.
    Václav Havel
  2. I think that the moral order stands above the legal, political, and economic orders, and that these latter orders should derive from the former, and not be techniques for getting around its imperatives. And I believe that this moral order has a metaphysical authority in the infinite and the eternal.
    Václav Havel
  3. I think that politicians in office have a duty to work for peace and for a better and more just world; you might say that’s what they’re paid for and so it’s better that the prize go to someone who works for good cause voluntarily, and possibly at great risk.
    Václav Havel
  4. Sometimes I have the impression that the main ideal of our state is to exploit and disfigure our country to the hilt in the interest of a somewhat problematic consumer paradise for the present generation and to slap the face or kick the shins of anyone who resists this.
    Václav Havel
  5. …in democratic conditions … it’s important that politics be more than just a technology of power, but that it provides a genuine service to citizens, a service that is as disinterested as possible, based on certain ideals, a service that follows the moral order that stands above us, that takes into account the long-term interest of human race and not just what appeals to the public at any given moment … That doesn’t mean that politics must surrender all its ideals, deny its “heart”, and become a mere self-propelled, technocratic process…
    Václav Havel
  6. … I think that the creation of a new political world order requires that special attention to be paid to the problem of borders between individual spheres of civilization, a problem that can be solved only if the spheres that are momentarily wealthier cease to consider themselves superior to those that are momentarily poorer.
    Václav Havel
  7. The absence of standards creates unease even among the most notorious violators. I experienced that in prison. Even the worst criminals would have been very upset if the head of the state were to clearly approve of something criminal. Everyone has to play his own role: it’s up to the president to say you shouldn’t steal, and it’s up to the thief to steal.
    Václav Havel
  8. … everything that exists has its own purpose and system. We just don’t know, and we never will know, how to understand it. But there’s probably a reason for that too.
    Václav Havel
  9. I think that it’s a sad thing that the parties, rather than thinking about which system is best for the country, always think first of all which system is best for them at a particular time. Consequently their positions on referenda, the direct election of the president, the electoral system, and similar themes are constantly changing, or rather, being passed from party to party like a relay baton.
    Václav Havel
  10. A country that finds itself at a historical crossroads must have an idea of what it is, of its possibilities, of what it wishes to be, of what role it wants to play, of what it will put its money on, and, on the contrary, what it will try to avoid. This view must be partly the outcome of the very broad and practical discussion that draws on a variety of expert analyses, and it must reach beyond the limits of individual political programs or electoral mandates.
    Václav Havel
  11. … we will need a revolution of “heads and hearts,” as Masaryk called it, a kind of general awakening, an emphasis on seeking an alternative to the established and shopworn and very technocratic political parties…
    Václav Havel
  12. … European Union today is letting itself be dragged, with no resistance, in the same general direction as the rest of global civilization; it’s driven by the idea of growth, the creation of profit at any price, development and prosperity, although unfortunately utterly one-dimensional… Europe could be an inspiration, an example of how to try to think not only of quantity but also of quality, how not to think merely about momentary short-term material success but also about qualitative, indirect, long-term success, to revive the tradition of responsibility for the world that its culture once helped to articulate.
    Václav Havel
  13. Uncritical respect is always punished, but it is the object of that respect who is punished, not those who counter it.
    Václav Havel
  14. I could well image crowds of populists, demagogues, nationalists, and post-communists who would exploit every delay to argue, with increasing urgency, that the arrogant, consumerist, and selfish West neither recognized us nor wanted us, and therefore we must go our own way. Let us understand what that way would have entailed: it would have meant authoritarian governments flying, instead of abandoned red flag, the flag of nationalism, beneath which it would hide its own Mafia-like practices, and privatization of everything into its own hands. And reawakened nationalism would necessary lead to a new danger of confrontation. Nationalists may well be as alike as two peas in a pod, but this doesn’t necessary lead to brotherhood; on the contrary: nationalist ideologies are essentially confrontational.
    Václav Havel
  15. It was a black congregation. There was a tremendous sense of community. They sang magnificently and, in a kind of ecstasy, communicated not only with their Cristian God, but through him perhaps with all the deities that humankind has ever had. The atmosphere of friendship, mutual respect, and solidarity was fascinating.
    Václav Havel
  16. Life is beautiful because, among other things, it is unpredictable and you can never be completely prepared for what comes along.
    Václav Havel
  17. I gave a speech in Paris for the representatives of the largest multinational corporations, the actual rules of our current global world. I wrote a pointed speech that was highly critical of the behavior of global corporations, of their unscrupulousness, of the growing uniformity of the world, of the omnipresent dictatorship of advertisements, of profit, and so on.
    Václav Havel
  18. … the injunctions not to steal or kill apply everywhere, and everywhere the moral order is in some way related to the idea of eternity. In any case, it’s been shown time and again that without that relationship to eternity, any moral order will always necessary collapse.
    Václav Havel
  19. … almost no one has attempted to analyze either the reasons for the mood of antiglobalization or the errors of the INPEG, or the source of the aggressiveness of the aggressors, or the rather sad role played by media in all this.
    Václav Havel
  20. … man will carry the complete truth about himself to the grave, though someone, in the end, will know that truth after all: if not the Lord God, then at least the great memory of Being.
    Václav Havel
  21. I am an opponent of every obsession, because I consider obsessions the most dangerous of social phenomena. Thus I am also an opponent of market fundamentalism and dogmatism… But the law of profit does not guarantee anything meaningful in itself. I mention it here because market dogmatism is the part of ideology of “standardness”… I really don’t know why I should, on the basis of injunction from on high, choose a standard wife, a standard flat, amass money and material goods in the standard way, and think in a standard fashion.
    Václav Havel
  22. In principle … I believe that there are cases when it is possible and proper to go to the aid of innocent people, even at the cost of violating state sovereignty. In one of the speeches I said: a state is the work of humans, a human being is the work of God. What I meant was that defending human beings is a higher responsibility than respecting the inviolability of a state.
    Václav Havel
  23. We live in a world of intermediaries, and intermediaries for intermediaries, in a world of lobbyists, consultants, PR agents. People are paid by others to introduce someone to someone else, who will advise them how to make money on something that someone else has created. How is it possible that our population remains constant and yet we have more and more intermediaries.
    Václav Havel
  24. … modern media often lives from one day to the next, from one flashy headline to the next, so it’s no surprise that they can be so mesmerized by today that they forget about yesterday. I would even go so far as to say that the media often behave like a willfull little girl; for instance, as I write this, the Czech Republic has a prime minister whom a media turned into the most popular man in the country by far for quite a while, and then recently, in a matter of days, they turned him into the most hated. Neither view had much to do with his real qualities, good or bad.
    Václav Havel
  25. Perhaps we might all be reassured by the known fact that today’s sensation will be completely forgotten by the day after tomorrow and that everyone is already looking forward to the day after tomorrow’s sensations.
    Václav Havel
  26. Under normalization, no one believed in any ideal any longer, and the most successful were simply the most cynical.
    Václav Havel
  27. The beauty of language is that it can never capture precisely what it wants. Language is disconnected, hard, digital as it were, …, it can never completely capture something as connected as reality, experience, or our souls.
    Václav Havel
  28. It seems to me that Europe is in danger of losing its spiritual dimension in a flood of trivial concerns, such as what kind of tariffs ought to be imposed. It’s as though some fundamental discourse about the direction of the world today were lacking, a discourse about the dangers inherent in that direction, and the role that this unique community of nations can play against this planetary background.
    Václav Havel
  29. .. I genuinely believe that the absolutely fundamental difference between the European tradition and other cultures lies in the different notions of time and that it is fundamental source of the European idea of development and progress. Other cultures, on the contrary, honor the status quo, quietude, leaving things in place, etc., etc.
    Václav Havel
  30. I am secure in my independence and therefore feel no need to demonstrate it.
    Václav Havel
  31. Only a fool could believe that the nation, or the whole humanity for that matter, would change overnight and that everyone would start to behave wisely, unselfishly, altruistically, ready to make sacrifices for a good cause.
    Václav Havel
  32. People told me exactly what I would later often say to others when trying to draw them into politics: you can’t spend your whole life criticizing something and then, when you have the chance to do it better, refuse to go near it.
    Václav Havel
  33. I would develop the idea that it is we ourselves who are undermining our own identity - by the terrible way we speak, the appaling architecture we put up, our lack of respect for the landscape and historical buildings, our dubious urbanization, the way we’ve given up on the plurality of trades and small businesses, the depopulation of the countryside, the construction of ever greater monuments to consumption without increasing the productivity and efficiency of our own industries or making a sophisticated attempts to market our own products… We are becoming just another globalized country.
    Václav Havel
  34. Yesterday was the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War… It seems that Putin is treating this anniversary as somewhat of a celebration of himself and his way of governing, which understandably causes some awkwardness.
    Václav Havel
  35. When I said that we would no longer be a satellite but a partner, Gorbachev had an interesting reaction. He said that “satellite” was a very strong and inaccurate word, but that he would forgive me for using such a colorful expression because I was a literary man. And I said to myself, so this is how history is made.
    Václav Havel
  36. I would like to touch upon three matters: a) the proposed new relationship of the Church to Hus as an act of confessional reconciliation; b) the related idea of the ecumenical future of the world as a way of saving civilization; c) the meaning of the Christmas holidays and the Christmas tree.
    Václav Havel
  37. How wonderful it is, by comparison, to be a writer! You write something in a couple of weeks, and it’s here for ages. What will remain when presidents and prime ministers are gone? Some references to them in textbooks, most likely inaccurate.
    Václav Havel
  38. In subtle ways, the economic power links up with political power and the power of the media to create something once called Mafia-democracy.
    Václav Havel
  39. One simple electrician with his heart in the right place can influence the history of his nation.
    Václav Havel
  40. But America is a rather odd country. It’s very religious, and at the same time it allows the broadcast of the pope’s funeral t be interrupted by advertisements, many of which were the direct embodiment of what he had criticized fir his entire life. I found it truly hard to understand, and it made me more and more uncomfortable, until I finally switched the television off.
    Václav Havel
  41. Mainly, though, despite all the things that so upset us today, conditions now are incomparably better than they were under communism. Moreover, the country is part of such a solid system of international relationships and guarantees that any form of subjugation coming from outside now seems virtually out of the questions. I think that we have never in our entire dramatic history, enjoyed this kind of certainty before.
    Václav Havel
  42. … at moments it’s almost impossible to know whether you’re in an airport in Tokyo, a hotel lobby in Los Angeles, or a hypermarket on the outskirts of Prague. The pressure towards soulless uniformity that is perceptible everywhere today - despite the seemingly endless array of choices among a seemingly infinite array of products pretending to be different from one another - poses a great threat to all forms of uniqueness. Without even being aware of it we are subtly made more alike…
    Václav Havel
  43. What bothered me most, however, was the fact that I found a lack of conceptual vision, not only in the economy, but in our very understanding of what the state should be. “The invisible hand of the market” was supposed to take care of everything, but there are things it simply can’t take care of, and I would even say that this glorious “invisible hand” is occasionally capable of committing highly visible crimes.
    Václav Havel