Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Wise Man and a Fool in Public

This morning when I read about the death of Vaclev Havel I returned to a copy of his 1990 speech to Congress.  At the time I thought Havel had done a marvelous job of summarizing a very vibrant period in history.  The speech combined some inspiring rhetoric with a couple of superb references to US history (always a good way to put some ideas in context when speaking to an American audience like the Congress) with some very specific ideas about history was evolving.  As I re-read his words I found them to be both gracious and thoughtful.

But as inevitably happens I also found other references to the speech. One was from Noam Chomsky.  In my mind Chomsky is a small minded public scold (I would hesitate to call him an intellectual) whose early writing is revered by linguists but whose contributions to intelligent public dialogue have been non-existent for the last several decades.  Chomsky, in a letter to Alexander Cockburn, called the speech an "embarrassingly silly and morally repugnant Sunday School sermon"  The easiest way to understand the value of Havel's speech more than 20 years after it was delivered is to re-read it (or for the first time if you missed it then) - I have posted a hot link in the reference above.

NPR commented that he struggled with "reconciling his moral principles with the pragmatic requirements of governing."   Not a bad place to be for a leader.  The LA Times in their article quoted his motto "May truth and love triumph over lies and hatred."  I tired long ago of Chomsky's rants, reading his sophomoric comments on Havel this morning only reinforced that fatigue.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I actually saw Havel once in Switzerland. In the subdued Swiss way he was given the Swiss Version of a state reception, i.e., a few soldiers tootling on horns and a casual row of all the federal council out to greet him while bus traffic continued on the adjoining street. I thought this was appropriate. A poet for a president sort of helped guard against blood and death. Good man. I like Chomsky by the way.