Václav Havel, Jan Patočka: The Powerless and the Shaken

Symposium 18 (2):149-168 (2014)

This article makes a case for considering Václav Havel’s political theory of the nature of dissent as more politically grounded than that of his mentor Jan Patočka. Against the criticism of Havel, which describes him as a less rigorous repeater of Patočka's ideas, this paper demonstrates how Havel appropriated Patočka's idea that the dissident is, similarly to a World War I trench soldier, fighting in a contemporary front in a demobilized war. However I argue that in Havel's thought, the understanding of dissent takes on a more practical and useful complexion than that of Patočka. This paper will explain and explore Havel’s concept of the power of the powerless, which is his key concept for defining the importance of dissidence, arguing that it is an idea that shares many similarities to Patočka's depiction of the power of dissent; however, the power of the powerless is a move past Patočka's thought in its attempt to make a practical liveable dissent.
Keywords Contemporary Philosophy  Continental Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 1917-9685  
DOI symposium201418222
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