The Power of the Powerless (essay)
Full text of the iconic essay by Vaclav Havel—future President of a democratic Czechoslovakia—in which Havel argues that cultivating an individual “sphere of truth” will ultimately destroy his totalitarian communist government. Using a simple metaphor, a grocer’s placing a “Worker’s of the World Unite” poster in his window, Havel explains how that “lie” (and similar simple acts) form both the foundation of yet ultimate weakness in his country’s communist government. The spiritual suffocation under communism is promoted by these simple, everyday acts of acquiescence. If individuals cease to participate in these lies, they are no longer bound by the communist lies and therefore, create a zone of freedom untouchable by the regime. From such “spheres of truth,” a groundswell of freedom will sweep away communist rule. Havel’s ability to create and share such powerful images through such simple (and sustained) metaphors provided the groups working against the Czechoslovakian communist rule with a powerful intellectual and moral center.
Note: This resource contains Václav Havel’s 1979 essay “The Power of the Powerless.” The 1985 book of the same name, available for purchase, contains Havel’s essay and a collection of other essays from Soviet-era Eastern European dissidents and intellectuals.
International Journal of Politics, 1979