Political philosophy of Central European dissidence
Instructor: Jakub Jirsa
Office Location: Nám. Jana Palacha 2, door no. 220
Office Hours: Friday, 2 – 4 pm
Thu 17.00 - 20.00 [room main building 129]
The main topic of the seminar will be political thought of dissidence and “unofficial” thinkers in Central European countries (Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia) during the seventies and eighties of 20th century. We will read and discuss texts written by Václav Havel, György Konrád, Adam Michnik and others. Since several of our primary texts are written in essayistic form far from strict academic standards, I will present them within the theoretical background of western political philosophy. Therefore we will analyse the differences between committed political writings (mostly) from behind of the Iron curtain on the one hand and parallel way of thoughts in the academic political philosophy of the West on the other hand.
We will discuss and analyse problems like moral responsibility, moral demands of resistance against authoritarian regimes, lie and nature of ideology. Since many authors criticise not only communist authoritarian state but “politics as such” (e.g. Havel or Konrád), we will try to find out whether these authors offer some kind of alternative to the usual conception of politics and liberal democracy.
Course Goals and Student Learning Objectives
The discussed texts will (a) introduce specific political thought and (b) broaden student’s perspectives on several topics in political theory and philosophy. After participating in this course students will have a more complex knowledge concerning the last twenty years of communist regimes in Central Europe.Required Readings
Václav Benda, “Catholicism and Politics” in Václav Havel et. al., Power of Powerless, Palach Press 1985, pp. 110-124.
Miklós Haraszti, A Worker in a Worker’s State, Universe Books, New York 1977, pp. 21-25, 42-52, 56-79, 147-157 and “The Trial of Miklós Haraszti” (pp. 159-175).
Miklós Haraszti, The Velvet Prison: Artists Under State Socialism, A New Republic Books, New York 1983, pp. 5-34, 129-159.
Václav Havel, “Power of powerless” in Power of Powerless, Palach Press 1985, pp. 23-96.
Tony Judt, "The Rediscovery of Central Europe", Deadalus, Winter 1990/119, 23-54.
George Konrád, Antipolitics, HBJ, New York and London 1984, pp. 11-16, 31-38, 91-98, 109-113, 216-243.
Milan Kundera, "The Tragedy of Central Europe", NYRB 31/7, April 26, 1984
Adam Michnik, Letters from Prison and Other Essays, University of California Press (1985), pp. 3-24, 41-63, 135-148.
Czeslaw Milosz, (1990): The Captive Mind, Vintage International, chap. 1 and 8, pp. 3-24, 191-222.
Jan Patočka (1996) “Is Technological Civilization Decadent, and Why?” in Heretical Essays in the History of Philosophy , Open Court Publishing, pp. 95-118.
The texts will be available in PDF.Recommended Readings
Aron, R. (1957): The Opium of the Intellectuals, London: Secker & Warburg.
Dahrendorf, R. (2004): Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, Transaction Publishers.
Falk, B. J. (2003): The Dilemmas of Dissidence in East-Central Europe, CEU Press.
Goetz-Stankiewicz, M. (ed) (1999): Critical essays on Vaclav Havel, Hall New York.
Judt, Tony, „The Dilemmas of Dissidence: the Politics of Opposition in East-central Europe“, in East European Politics and Societies 1988; 2; 185-240.
Judt, Tony (2005): Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Penguin Press.
Klíma, Ivan (1994): The Spirit of Prague and Other Essays, Granta Books.
Rupnik, Jacques (1989): The Other Europe, Schocken.
Todorov, T. (2003): Hope and Memory, Atlantic Books.
Tucker, A. (2000): Philosophy and politics of Czech dissidence from Patocka to Havel, University of Pittsburgh Press.
The meeting (180 min with a break) will start with a lecture followed by student presentations of the required texts and discussion. Students are asked to do the required reading before each class.Assignments and Grading Policy
Grades based on letters A through F will be given. ECES does not provide courses with pass/fail grades.
· presentation 30%
· participation 20%
· final essay (2000 words long) 50%Attendance
Regular and punctual class attendance is mandatory for all students.
Absence of 180 minutes
is allowed. Three or more absences (90 minutes each) lower the grade automatically (A to A-, A to B+ in case of 4 absences etc.)
Presentation Policy: Missing the presentation will result in an F (when
applicable). If the student wants to switch the date, he/she must find someone
to do it and both students must confirm the change in e-mails to the professor
at least 10 days in advance. If the student is sick and has a medical note,
then the professor must agree with the student on how the work will be made up
Final Test or Paper Policy: Completing the final test or paper is required. Failure to submit the final test or paper according to the deadline will result in a letter grade F for the entire course.
For further details, please see the Attendance Policy at the ECES website under “Academic Policies and Procedures” : http://eces.ff.cuni.cz/
Student Responsibility and Code of Conduct (required)
Students are subject to the general standards and requirements of Charles University in regard to attendance, examinations, and conduct, as well as to the specific requirements of the program. The student is expected to assume the initiative in completing all requirements at the time specified.
List the agenda for the semester including when and where the final exam will be held. Indicate the schedule is subject to change with fair notice and how the notice will be made available.
Basic introduction to the modern history of Central Europe and into the political reality of late socialism. We will focus on the specifics and ideological usage of the term Central and Eastern Europe.
Nobel prize winner Czeslaw Milosz wrote his penetrating analysis of totalitarian thinking already in the fifties we will analyse his thoughts on the seductive aspect of ideology, characteristics of a totalitarian mind, the role of an intellectual in authoritarian regime. A comparison with Raymond Aron’s well-known The Opium of the Intellectuals can be made.
Jan Patočka is an intellectual father of Czech intellectuals dissents, influenced by Heidegger and Husserl he analysis modern society and searches for the roots of the crisis of modernity. We will examine the political aspects of his thoughts.
The text of Charter 77 declaration will help us to understand the topos of dissident’s political philosophy: the illusion of the legal order on the one hand and despotism of the regime on the other. We will discuss the broader topic of relation between the law and morality as well.
We will read the first part of Havel’s essay concentrating on the role of ideology and truth in politics.
Václav Havel opens an important theme: moral responsibility of an individual in (what he calls) post-totalitarian regime. With a help of Hannah Arendt paper we will discuss the demand of dissent and boundaries of moral responsibility.
There are two main currents in Václav Benda’s political thought: (i) parallelism of official structures and dissident polis and (ii) Catholicism as a source of spiritual and social renewal. Benda’s ideas will be analysed with a help of literature suggested below.
Adam Michnik belongs to main representatives of the Solidarity movement; this meeting we will discuss his thoughts on political resistance and civil (dis)obedience.
Adam Michnik’s most important essay “A New Evolutionism” will be discussed with a special focus on one question: is the dissident movement solely anti-communist, or is it essentially anti-political as well?
Haraszti’s sociological analysis is written as if it were a prose; however it uncovers deeper problems persisting in socialistic regimes: dissolution of any community, problems of cooperation, communication etc. Haraszti faced trial for writing the book, the minutes from the trial will be discussed as well. Since the main topic of Haraszti’s work is freedom (or its absence), we will discuss his text from the point of view of Berlin’s famous essay “Two Concepts of Liberty”.
Haraszti’s highly ironical book concerns art and censorship in communist countries, it is not only amusing to read but it offers deep insights into the mind of “state artists” and “state intellectuals” as well. The main general topic of our meeting will be freedom of speech.
Konrád’s essay introduces two main themes: the monistic character of any ideological thinking and the critical role of an intellectual in the authoritarian regime. The text will be discussed and analysed in the contexts of Berlin’s writing on pluralism and Kolnai’s analysis of relation between morality and politics.
During the last meeting we will try to discuss and assess the main theoretical problems that arose during our readings and discussions so far. Students will have opportunity to present and discuss their final essays.