Second Culture The Power of the Powerless/ Vaclev Havel

Presentation Outline

Conclusion to the essay: 19 to 22

Essay Development

Havel, Stoppard and the Plastic People Of the Universe

The Power of The Powerless: 19

Themes within this chapter:

Dissent in practice



Dissent in Practice

Factors which could influence political change under post-totalitarianism

Independent life of society / social crisis/ economy / international politics/ power struggles

The Point of View for dissidents is different to general discontent. It is the defence of the people and to have an impact on society

'Independent initiatives address the hidden sphere; they demonstrate that living within the truth is a human and social alternative and they struggle to expand the space available for that life'. p.197

The regime responds to 'the pressure created by free thought, alternative values and alternative behaviour and by independent social realisation' p.198

Regime has two responses: Repression and Adaptation

Example: Flying Universities. topics the state-controlled Universities could not teach. Led to curricula adjustments


Appropriating values from the 'parallel world' into official structures, in order to adjust the imbalance between the regime and society.

Structural and Ideological Reforms. Havel see this as a smokescreen

Internal Differentiation: Parallel cultural organisations - without regime change

Union of University Students: Some independent organisations tolerated and demonstrate social self-organisation

Ultimate Phase of Adaptation: New independent structures that evolved from below

August 1968

Soviet Invasion

No dissident movements before 1968 - a gradual awakening

Ideology came up against reality of power - made people self organise in the hidden sphere

Regime was rotting from within in 1968. Not static and so incapable of opposing the 'pre-political' social tensions.

Post 1968 Changes: Reforms only, political structures remained

The future: Continued conflict with main and parallel Polis

'These dissident movements do not have their point of departure in the invention of systemic changes but in a real everyday struggle for a better life' p.205.

Chapters 20 to 22




Technological Society

Technology has enslaved us and torn us away from our natural habitat and the experience of Being.

Call for a 'radical change in the way humanity understands itself, the world and its position in it'. p.206.

An existential revolution to bring about an ethical reconstitution in society.

Post-Industrial Society

The 'consumer and industrial' society.

The 'intellectual, moral, political and social misery in the world today (is) aspect of the deep crisis in which humanity finds itself... due to the automatism of global technological civilisation. p.208

The post-totalitarian system is only one aspect of the general human situation.


Traditional ParliamentaryDemocracy

In the west the social crisis is more deeply hidden. People are manipulated in a more subtle and refined manner

Democracy cannot oppose the automatism of technological civilisation and the industrial-consumer society either.

Democracies are static, rigid and conceptually sloppy.

Democracies 'release the citizen from all forms of concrete and personal responsibility'. p.208.

Democracies have an 'omnipresent dictatorship of consumption, production, commerce and consumer culture' along with a flood of information. p.208.

People enjoy personal freedoms and securities, they are also incapable of opposing automatism or transcending concerns about democracy's survival.

Duty to be 'responsible members of the Polis' p.208

Creating opposition parties is not enough in the long-term. There needs to be a focus on real people.

To Boldly Go


Emphasis is on the importance of focusing concern on real human beings

An existential revolution requires a moral reconstitution of society

The issue is the rehabilitation of values like trust, openness, responsibility, solidarity, love'.

An accumulation of power should be alien to the new structures.

Prefers short-term organisations springing up ad hoc, with minimal external regulation,

Leadership should be based on personality, not position, and should have great lawmaking powers.

'It is only with the full existential backing of every member of the community that a permanent bulwark against creeping totalitarianism can be established' p.211

Essay Development

Themes and ideas

Main ideas are slogan-like and recur throughout the essay, in relation to new themes:

Hidden sphere / Living within the Truth / The system demands conformity / Ideology creates a bridge of excuses / A world of appearances / A player in the game / Ideology becomes removed from reality / Panorama of everyday life / Everyone becomes agents of the system's automatism / Pseudo... / Utilitarianism / consumerism / Independent life of society / Parallel Polis / Second culture /

Theoretical, not pragmatic.

Moral Leadership and foundation to dissidents movement

Essay Development

22 Chapters on Power in society

Written to be responded to by Soviet Bloc Dissidents and in the West

Text asks many questions

Each chapter develops one theme

Mentions next theme, sometimes halfway through the chapter, for continuity of thought.

Notice Charter 77 within the development of the whole essay.

Example: Development of the theme in Chapter 20.

Technological Society - Post Industrial Society - Traditional Democracy - Post-Democracy.

The translator of Open Letters, Paul Wilson, lived in Czechoslovakia until he was expelled in 1977. Member of the underground rock band 'The Plastic People of the Universe'.

Havel and Jirous

Plastic People Of The Universe and Ivan Jirous

Ivan Jirous: Artistic Director of PPotU band. Leader of the cultural opposition and was imprisoned along with the band.

'Unknown young people who wanted no more than to be able to live within the truth, to play the music they enjoyed, to sing songs that were relevant to their lives and to live freely in dignity and partnership' p.154
'People were inspired to feel a genuine sense of solidarity with the young musicians and they came to realise that...standing up for the freedom of others ...meant surrendering one's own freedom' p.155
Tom Stoppard: Rock 'n' Roll

Tom Stoppard, Playwright: Born Tomas Straussler in Zlin, Czechoslavakia in 1937. Jewish refugee. Moved to England in 1946 and took his stepfather's name 'Stoppard'. He returned to Zlin for the first time in 1998.

Excerpt from Tom Stoppard's interview on the BBC South Bank Show, 2008. (3:11 to 7:23)

Rock 'n' Roll. 2006

Jan and Ferdinand

JAN: Thinks the communist reforms are working. He is apolitical and wants to be left alone to listen to his music, especially Pink Floyd.

Jan refuses to sign Ferdinand's petition in 1972 to free intellectuals, due to its moral exhibitionism.

Jan becomes disillusioned when the Plastic People lose their licence to perform. He spends time in prison, for cultural opposition.

FERDINAND: An intellectual and dissident. His character is based on Havel. He is against signing Jan's 1974 petition to support the Plastic's band, who aren't dissidents. He is sent to prison, as a dissident


1974: Pages 33 to 39

Jan is asking Ferdinand to sign his petition, for the fans of the band, as a genuine moral action. Ferdinand wants to know what the difference is between moral action and the so-called moral exhibitionism, of his own earlier petition

JAN: "Well, because you've got no interest in these kids and they've got no interest in you" ... " These are schoolkids, they'll get expelled and end up with the lowest work available in the paradise of full employment and what I'm saying is they didn't pick the fight. They didn't ask for anything except to be left alone for a while. It's not just the music, it's the oxygen. You know what I mean."

FERDINAND: "You're a political imbecile, there's no leverage in asking people to come out for people people don't give a shit about" (...)

1977: Jan and Ferdinand are in Jan's flat, after he has been released from prison. Ferdinand presents Jan with a document to sign, not the usual petition... p.52-56

FERDINAND: ' So, I'm collecting signatures. It's not a dissident thing, it's a charter - there's Party members who've signed it.' (...)

JAN: So, what are you going to do with it?

FERDINAND: Post it to Husák

JAN: Post it.

FERDINAND: With copies to the foreign press

JAN: Though its not a dissident thing. You're an imbecile.


JAN: Everything's dissident except shutting up and eating shit. I wish to Christ I'd learnt to play the guitar, but it's too late now. Have you got a pen?

Charter 77 encouraged the cultural and intellectual opposition and other dissident groups, to work together. Havel's subsequent Power of the Powerless essay stimulated the dissident debates and developed a deeper understanding of the social and political reality of living under Totalitarianism

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.