Václav Havel’s remarkable and rousing essay on the tyranny of apathy, with a new introduction by Timothy Snyder
Cowed by life under Communist Party rule, a greengrocer hangs a placard in their shop window: Workers of the world, unite! Is it a sign of the grocer’s unerring ideology? Or a symbol of the lies we perform to protect ourselves?
Written in 1978, Václav Havel’s meditation on political dissent – the rituals of its suppression, and the sparks that re-ignite it – would prove the guiding manifesto for uniting Solidarity movements across the Soviet Union. A portrait of activism in the face of falsehood and intimidation, The Power of the Powerless remains a rousing call against the allure of apathy.
'Havel’s diagnosis of political pathologies has a special resonance in the age of Trump' Pankaj Mishra
Havel’s diagnosis of political pathologies has a special resonance in the age of Trump -- Pankaj Mishra
Few voices did more to undermine the foundations of the Berlin Wall and the entire edifice of Soviet-imposed totalitarianism than this shy bourgeois, this sly, reticent, playwright and essayist -- David Remnick ― New Yorker
In gentle, ironic but scathing prose, Havel's The Power of the Powerless exposed the lies and cowardice that made possible the communist grip on power ― The Economist
In his now iconic 1978 essay, which circulated in underground editions in Czechoslovakia and was smuggled to other Warsaw Pact countries and to the West, Havel foresaw that the opposition could eventually prevail against the totalitarian state ― The New York Times
About the Author
Václav Havel was born in Prague on 5 October 1936. The son of a movie producer, Havel first distinguished himself as a poet and playwright in Prague’s burgeoning theatre world. The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia saw Havel aiding the resistance for which he was later banned from theatre work. Living under Soviet occupation, and having to work as a brewer, Havel became increasingly politically active and was eventually imprisoned for three years following the publication of his 1979 essay, The Power of the Powerless. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Havel became President of Czechoslovakia and he was later elected the first President of the Czech Republic. Havel returned to the theatre after retiring from political life, writing two new plays before his death on 18 December 2011. (Author photograph copyright J. Jiroutek 2011)
Timothy Snyder is Levin Professor of History at Yale University and the author of fifteen critically acclaimed books including The Road to Unfreedom and most recently On Tyranny which was an international bestseller.
His previous books include Black Earth, which was longlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize and won the annual prize of the Dutch Auschwitz Committee; and Bloodlands, which won the Hannah Arendt Prize, the Leipzig Book Prize for European Understanding, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Award in the Humanities and the literature award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.