Vaclav Havel on responsibility

We too can offer something to you: our experience and knowledge that has come from it. The specific experience I am talking about has given me one certainty: consciousness preceded being and not the other way around, as the Marxists claim. For this reason, the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and in human responsibility.

Without a global revolution in the sphere of human consciousness, nothing will change for the better in the sphere of our being as humans, and the catastrophe towards which this world is headed – be it ecological, social, demographic or a general breakdown of civilisation – will be unavoidable. If we are no longer threatened by world war or by the danger that the absurd mountains of accumulated nuclear weapons might blow up the world, this does not mean that we have definitely won. We are still incapable of understanding that the only genuine backbone of all our actions, if they are to be moral, is responsibility, responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success – responsibility to the order of being where all our actions are indelibly recorded and where and only where they will be properly judged.

I think that Americans should understand this way of thinking. When Thomas Jefferson wrote that “governments are constituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”, it was a simple and important act of the human spirit. What gave meaning to the act, however, was that the author backed it up with his life. It was not just his words, it was his deeds as well.

Vaclav Havel, in Time magazine (this extract was copied down a very long time ago, and has come a long way with me. Apologies for any copyright infringement – if you know who wrote this, please let me know so that I can set the record straight).