Monday, February 11, 2008

"...people are beginning to feel ashamed that they voted for a certain party, or even that they belong to it"

Wherein I particularly like the line about "degenerate ghettos whose only purpose is to elevate their members into positions of power."


Reading from To the Castle and Back, by Vaclav Havel.
Q: "Are you still as suspicious as you once were of the role that political parties play in a democracy?

Vaclav Havel: I think more or less the same as I've always thought. It's just that over the years, and particularly during my presidency, I have refined and moderated my opinions a little. I think that political parties are an important instrument of democratic politics, but they are not its most highly evolved form, nor its ultimate meaning. They should provide a place where people can come together, refine their opinions, encounter the views of experts in public policy; where political personalities are formed and aspects of the political will are articulated. They should not, however, be more important than the key institutions of the state, like the government or parliament. They should not be superior to them but, rather, serve them. They should not be places where brotherhoods aimed at seizing power are born, quasi-legal metastructures of the state; instead, they should be the icing on the cake of a richly structured civil society, a place that draws nourishment from that society and gives it a political expression that can then be used in political competition. Only a living civil society can provide spirit to political parties as well, or rather can provide the roots from which they receive their vital nourishment. When civil society languishes, when the life of organizations and voluntary associations is curtailed, then sooner or later political parties will begin to languish as well, until ultimately, they become degenerate ghettos whose only purpose is to elevate their members into positions of power.

Parties must not be more important than the public interest. They must, on the contrary, serve it. Loyalty to the country, or to the civil service, or to the interests of society, or to one's personal conscience must always be more important than loyalty to the party, otherwise the parties will produce only nonentities who speak only their own antilanguage that people will ultimately find repugnant. Partyocracy -- that is, government by party secretariats and politburos -- has had a great tradition in this country since the nineteenth century, and unfortunately it threatens us today as well. After all, we are close to a situation now in which people are beginning to feel ashamed that they voted for a certain party, or even that they belong to it. This can only lead to the decline of democracy.

And by the way, notice that the more fanatical the party member, the more they suspect that I have nothing good to say about parties or that I don't want them around at all. At the same time, all I want is for parties to play the creative but modest role that they ought to play, within the bounds of parliamentary democracy. If they do, the public will not ridicule them but, on the countrary, respect them.

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