… Complete skepticism is an understandable consequence of discovering that one’s enthusiasms are based on illusion. This skepticism leads to a dehumanization of history — a history drifting somewhere above us, taking its own course, having nothing to do with us, trying to cheat us, destroy us, playing out its cruel jokes.
But history is not something that takes place elsewhere; it takes place here. We all contribute to making it. If bringing back some human dimension to the world depends on anything, it depends on how we acquit ourselves in the here and now…
Hope in this deep and powerful sense is not the same as joy when things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather an ability to work for something to succeed. Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It’s not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. It is this hope, above all, that gives us strength to live and to continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. In the face of this absurdity, life is too precious a thing to permit its devaluation by living pointlessly, emptily, without meaning, without love, and, finally, without hope.
I do not know enough about this good man to eulogize him properly, but I’m glad someone at Esquire dug this piece by out of their archives and front-paged it. Also, Charlie Pierce:
He was always the most interesting of them, those Eastern European patriots who helped change the world in the late 1980’s. A poet, a playwright, a Washington in a leather jacket and jeans, he was under surveillance by the secret police for 20 goddamn years. Upon being elected president of a free Czechoslovakia, he defined what that meant by comparing it to the deadening regime that had been settled upon the country for the previous 45 years:
“We have become morally ill because we are used to saying one thing and thinking another,” he said. “We have learned not to believe in anything, not to care about each other.”
That applies to allegedly functioning old democracies as well as brand-new ones, by the way.
He resigned when it became plain that Czechoslovakia would become two nations, and then came back as president of the Czech Republic. He thought even old Communists had civil liberties, too. He loved the Beatles.
In his honor, may I say, as loudly as I can:
Ronald Reagan Did Not Win The Cold War.