The Power of the Powerless


Havel was the president of Czechoslovakia and shares some ideas and lessons learned while under Soviet rule and his reasons for political dissent.

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Key Takeaways

  1. If something can be good, it should be.
  2. Live in truth. Living in truth makes room for the genuine aims of life.
  3. Obedience and propagation unfold naturally – the people who don’t think are victims and instruments of the ideological system.
  4. There are some things worth suffering for.
  5. Western Sovietologists often exaggerate the role of individuals in the post-totalitarian system and overlook the fact that the ruling figures, despite the immense power they possess through the centralized structure of power, are often no more than blind executors of the system’s own internal laws – laws they themselves never can, and never do, reflect upon.
  6. Quite simply, each helps the other to be obedient. Both are objects n a system of control, but at the same time they re its subjects as well. They are both victims of he system and its instruments.
  7. A person who has been seduced by the consumer value system, whose identity is dissolved in an amalgam of the accoutrements of mass civilization, and who has no roots in the order of being, no sense of responsibility for anything higher than his or her own personal survival, is a demoralized person. The system depends on this demoralization, deepens it, is in fact a projection of it into society.
  8. The principles of control and discipline ought to be abandoned in favour of self-control and self-discipline.
  9. Between the aims of the post-totalitarian system and the aims of life there is a yawning abyss: while life, in its essence, moves towards plurality, diversity, independent self-constitution and self-organization, in short, towards the fulfillment of its own freedom, the post-totalitarian system demands conformity, uniformity, and discipline. While life ever strives to create new and ‘improbable’ structures, the post-totalitarian system contrives to force life into its most probable states. The aims of the system reveal its most essential characteristic to be introversion, a movement towards being ever more completely and unreservedly itself, which means that the radius fits influence is continually widening as well. This system serves people only to the extent necessary to ensure that people will serve it. Anything beyond this, that is to say, anything which leads people to overstep their predetermined roles, is regarded by the system as an attack upon itself.

What I got out of it

  1. A short and powerful book about thinking for yourself, not letting yourself be a thoughtless cog in a poor system that perpetuates itself.

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