But the smart money was wrong. Havel was the only real choice considered when the new Czech Republic needed a president in January 1993. And Havel’s entire career and philosophy, like Orwell’s, were dedicated to navigating ideological minefields under the extreme duress of personal participation and suffering. This skill, it turns out, had some relevance in the post-Gorbachev world too. Like Orwell’s, Havel’s words and zesty one-liners can be (and have been) quoted selectively to make him sound conservative, liberal, and otherwise, and his bedrock belief in the transformative power of “calling things by their proper names” virtually ensured that some of his freewheeling opinions would set off alarm bells among those who see the shadow of socialism in such phrases as “civil society” and “new politics.”
“I once said that I considered myself a socialist,” Havel wrote in Summer Meditations. “I merely wanted to suggest that my heart was, as they say, slightly left of center.” The words could have come directly out of Orwell’s mouth: “In sentiment I am definitely ‘left,'” he wrote in 1940, “but I believe that a writer can only remain honest if he keeps free of party labels.”
Havel went on to discuss the futility of those who would pin an ideological tag to his lapel. “All my adult life, I was branded by officials as ‘an exponent of the right’ who wanted to bring capitalism back to our country,” he wrote. “Today — at a ripe old age — I am suspected by some of being left-wing, if not of harboring out-and-out socialist tendencies. What, then, is my real position? First and foremost, I have never espoused any ideology, dogma, or doctrine — left-wing, right-wing, or any other closed, ready-made system of presuppositions about the world. On the contrary, I have tried to think independently, using my own powers of reason, and I have always vigorously resisted attempts to pigeonhole me.”
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