The Haunted Heaven: Chapter Thirty Four: Vaclav Havel splitting hairs on God's existence
By Michael Moriarty
My first acquaintance with Vaclav Havel came from reading his plays publically at the New York Shakespeare Festival. These performances were part of a world-wide protest against the playwright's imprisonment in the former nation of Czechoslovakia.
Later I actually glimpsed him at New York's Cathedral of St. John The Divine where I had my own theater company, Potter's Field, briefly housed.
Vaclav Havel was clearly the "coolest" thing to arrive in New York since John Lennon won Manhattan's heart permanently with his Strawberry Fields.
The global groundswell for this poet-playwright-philosopher-dissident and last President of Czechoslovakia is proving to be much more substantive and long-lasting than even the Woodstock-style worship of John Lennon. Many might disagree with that claim but the article that convinced me of such a fact is now only about a week or so old. It was written by Paul Berman of The New Republic and first appeared in Arts and Letters Daily on January 26, 2012.
It's title, Democracy and The Human Heart, was chosen with the same eye for accuracy that imbues this entire meditation, this quasi-confession about the increasingly important voice of Vaclav Havel.
You dismiss this essay and its subject matter at your considerable loss.
Why such an extravagant claim?
The absence of a "higher power" in any form within the Progressive plans for a New World Order.
Havel's admission to even mild apprehensions of God or a god are a shattering crack in the heretofore, highly protected facade of Vaclav Havel as a purely intellectual genius, one devoid of "spiritual" notions.
Havel's almost reluctant acknowledgement of some god of some sort at work in the Universe is hardly the "coolest" corner of his CV. Yet, because of Paul Berman, this little-known admission by Havel is now a centrally important ingredient to this growing legend's mystique.
In addition, Paul Berman's exceptional prose and his literate pilgrimage to Prague that he recounts has the likes of The New Republic at least broaching the subject of a deity.
It was a secret disclosure of Vaclav Havel that even he requested that it remain "off the record".
Upon arriving for his second experience of Vaclav Havel in Prague, Mr. Berman heard the last President of a nation soon to be divided into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, flirting with the "unfashionable".
"He (Havel) granted that, in modern times, it has become unfashionable to speak about democracy in connection to anything above us or beyond our understanding."
To Paul Berman, "this was the crucial point."
Italics mine: "Still, I did not take him (Havel) to be a man of the eighteenth century (a French Revolutionary, "enlightened despot", to quote Voltaire's prescient label). His proposed new god, for instance, did not have an Enlightenment look. Havel paused to reflect on the god. A new god, he told me, would most likely be abstract and multicultural—a god who brought together Allah, Buddha, Christ, and so on. Only, having made this remark, he reflected a little more and specified that he was merely throwing out ideas in a conversational spirit, and he did not want me to publish these particular thoughts."
Hmmm … years later this admission is published in one of the bibles of the Leftist intelligentsia, The New Republic. Or, as Wikipedia describes it, "neo-liberal".
Since the magazine's endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton, the "neo-liberal" label seems now pale by comparison to what we've recently endured out of the Obama Nation. I am personally not dissuaded from the magazine's Leftist sentiments, nor convinced of its moderation by The New Republic's occasional endorsement of what can only be considered Barack Obama's version of "State Capitalism".
This article by Paul Berman, however, seems to be a surprisingly conciliatory surrender to Vaclav Havel's albeit mild recognition of a "higher power". In addition, Mr. Berman's considerable erudition included a brief reference to Alphonse de Lamartine, "the French poet, a solid Catholic who evolved into a solid pantheist".
"Writer, poet and politician", as Wikipedia describes de Lamartine, could swiftly apply to Vaclav Havel himself.
The decidedly French Catholic de Lamartine seems to have arrived at the same pantheism that Vaclav Havel began to describe as his own, apparently reticent concept of a "god".
The same destination from two seemingly opposed starting points.
The path for both, however, was writing.
My own Jesuit background has me now more intrigued by de Lamartine than by Havel. This quote from de Lamartine, cited by Wikipedia, is breathtaking in its poetic familiarity with the universal soul of the Catholic priesthood.
However, Havel's brief flirtation with a mild sense of spiritual faith is a most welcome disclosure by Paul Berman.
It removes the mystery behind Havel's mystically magnetic brand of intellectualism. With the door to a "higher power" opened, inspirations of a profounder sort than ideology are at hand.
Alcoholics Anonymous,the inner secrecy of which mirrors Havel's reluctance to be quoted on spiritual matters, chants a simpler formula toward "Enlightenment": "Let go, let God!"
Obviously Paul Berman shares the heart of Havel's spiritual reality: the reward of acknowledging a Higher Power is humility, or, as my fondest friend of The Left, the great acting teacher Stella Adler, once described the heart of humility: "Knowing the measure of things!"
With, of course, the Leftist "scribbler's" instinctive awareness of his fraternity's reaction, Paul Berman refines his opinion of Havel, "Even so, I did not think that Havel was being screwy. I thought he was being nineteenth century, instead of eighteenth. 'Multicultural' is strictly a modern word, but the Romantic poets, some of them, loved to go on about notions of god that were recognizably the same—a universal and abstract god consisting of Pythagoras, Jove, Jesus, Muhammad, the god of Hiawatha, and anyone else you cared to add. Havel seemed to me in the Romantic vein. Philosophically speaking, the leader of the 1989 revolution was an 1848-er. I never had the opportunity to return to this theme, though—to talk with him about, say, Alphonse de Lamartine, the French poet, a solid Catholic who evolved into a solid pantheist and ended up as the leader of the 1848 revolution in France for a while: one of Havel's obvious predecessors in the field of revolutionary-poetic nation-leading. Of course, Havel was enjoying a greater success than Lamartine's."
It is no surprise that Paul Berman makes his own confession regarding Havel's "Romanticism". He, in the end, comes to prefer Joseph Biden's crude, very American realism to the Czech President's wishful thinking about membership in NATO.
For some reason David Mamet comes to mind here. That playwright's conversion to politically conservative intellectualism is another very recent revelation as filled with implications as Havel's spiritual disclosures and Berman's concessions to a spiritual insurance policy, a "pantheistic" sub-clause to any contract with "belief" of any kind.
In other words, a philosophy that rests flexibly upon a faint deity hovering over a universe of dialectics but with only mild separations in the pecking order … something like that.
When Paul Berman's pilgrimage to Prague descends – or ascends, depending upon your sense of humor – to the request of a Havel "spokesman" for addressing "the spiritual values of NATO", Havel "explodes"!
The source of the rage?
A real estate deal for which the Czech President was roundly criticized. As Paul Berman put it: "He (Havel) had spent his life fighting hypocrisy. He was currently under accusation from hypocrites. If he followed their advice and did not sell his share of the building, the building would collapse and he would be jailed. The hypocrites said they were in favor of business success, but they were full of criticism of successful businessmen—meaning, the businessman to whom he was selling his share of the building. The Hilton Hotel chain may have a good reputation, he observed, but Hilton had not made an offer for the building. As for the businessman who did make an offer, the journalists said he used to be a communist spy. But didn't the whole of society under the old regime spy upon one another? Wasn't an open and professional spy preferable to the hidden spies?"
The dialectics of real estate.
With, however, some "higher power" hovering above this humbly Marxist triumph, a "Being" of unspecified secret gifts that might make things all better again. Or worse!
At this point: "The spokesman broke in again. It was not a good idea to defend the businessman, he said. But Havel was on a tear. The spokesman again: 'OK, let's talk about NATO and let's finish.' Havel said to the translator, 'Let him not write about it at all,' referring to me. Nor would he look at me. He addressed every word to the translator. Ultimately he allowed his spokesman to drag him back to NATO. He explained to the translator that NATO's purpose was to protect the values of democracy—a post-cold-war purpose, something larger and different from opposing a Soviet threat that no longer existed. And he stopped. His heart was right now not in NATO. I made my lonely way back down the stone stairways of the Castle sorry indeed that I had bummed the man out. But what are we journalists to do? I blamed Biden."
Hmmm … "The Spokesman" who didn't particularly want Havel to continue thoughts of God or a god and wanted the President to drop the subject of the Communist purchaser in a real estate deal and "dragged" Havel back to the subject of NATO? Away from a Soviet threat that is assumed to no longer exist?
Speaking of the non-existent Soviet threat, is there such a thing as a Communist Nationalist? Stalin and Mao certainly had their National pride to the point of heat at the Sino-Soviet border.
So, to what extent, can this desire of Havel to join NATO have a possibly Marxist adviser attached to all the President's interviews, there to monitor all proceedings with "The West".
How free had Czechoslovakia really become?
What Vaclav Havel was allowed to convey to the West in his writings and personal appearances was powerfully relevant to conservative America's own war with the Progressive New World Order, out of which ideology springs daily.
In what Havel calls "the post-totalitarian order" the best protection against tyranny's return is ridding one's self of any ideology.
As Paul Berman puts it: "Havel argued that, in a 'post-totalitarian' society, the way to rebel is simply to stop pretending to believe. You do not need to lay out a thorough political criticism or to announce a new doctrine. You should simply engage in—here was his second idea—the practice that he described as 'living in truth'."
The living truth?
Here is where Havel meets up with John Lennon and the worldwide family of rock musicians.
There is where Havel finds a vibrant truth and the very truth of vibrancy itself.
"He understood that a post-totalitarian regime could not survive if anybody at all took to speaking truth, above all from a public stage with crowd-pleasing electric guitars. Truth-speaking on any topic whatsoever was sooner or later going to lead to truth-speaking on political themes, and once a few undeniable observations had entered the general conversation, how was society going to keep up the pretense of belief?"
The pretense of belief!
Such a solution, of course, condemns my personally spiritual, not religious, but private faith and commitment to the sacredness of human life.
Although Vaclav Havel's personal appearances in the world carried all the magic of his martyring imprisonment, his romantic ascendance to political power and his still lively popularity among the young, the reality of Prague's "Castle", Hradschin, and Havel's hovering "spokesman", interpreter and "aides" leave me personally a bit doubtful about the conditions of individual freedom within the Soviet Union's former "satellite", Czechoslovakia.
Berman's moving conclusions about having personally touched the Twentieth Century Odyssey of Vaclav Havel leaves little doubt about Vaclav's higher Being or Paul Berman's ability to comprehend "the measure of things".
Michael Moriarty is a Golden Globe and Emmy Award-winning actor who starred in the landmark television series Law and Order from 1990 to 1994. His recent film and TV credits include The Yellow Wallpaper, 12 Hours to Live, Santa Baby and Deadly Skies. Contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.