Bringing Spirituality into Politics - Vaclav Havel

Book Review  Vaclav Havel – Summer Meditations

Although I am dumbfounded by the state of politics in the world, I am also excited that this could be the creative destruction we need to give birth to a new way of organizing society.  One that is based on intrinsic values that support human flourishing and embrace complex systems.  

Some of this was expressed recently by Barack Obama in his eulogy at John McCain’s funeral.  Obama spoke of a need for politicians that served a higher purpose beyond one’s self, politicians who were aware of their ego and power and politicians who worked for universal principles that supported all people being equal – sharing our common humanity.

With my more recent interest in what is really shifting politically – it was no surprise that Vaclav Havel’s Summer Meditations jumped off my shelf for me to read.  I feel like I drew a lot from this book – such as learning about his perspectives on leadership and his vision for a new political system.  Thank you Vaclav Havel for the contributions you have made in your life!  You have inspired me as a politician, a philosopher and deeply self aware human being.   Respect. 

So the book was filled with all sorts of great quotes – in the summary below I have shared the ones that really resonated.  There were several themes that really stood out for me.  It feels that these are important reminders for us today as we bring in new political systems.  

  • The importance of one’s own inner leadership and awareness

  • The importance of cultivating and amplifying the intrinsic values that need to we awakened – such as good will

  • The importance of bringing about critical thinking, self reflection and cultivation of ideas – and calling out stuck ideologies that prevent one from exploring multiple truths and perspectives

  • The importance of bringing the whole human at the centre of designing our political systems – this includes spirituality

  • The importance of the interplay between politics, the psyche and society. They are all interconnected and thus politics shape our consciousness and we shape the consciousness of politics.


Some perspectives and quotes  from Vaclav Havel that give us some inspiration for politics.

Building Self-awareness:

“As in everything else I must start with myself. That is in all circumstances try to be decent, just, tolerant and understanding”.

“But I have one advantage, among many bad qualities, there is one that happens to be missing – a longing for love of power.   I see only one way forward to live in truth”.

“Good politics is about having a certain instinct for the time, the atmosphere of the time, the mood of the people, the nature of their worries, their frame of mind.   A good politician has the ability to talk to others, insight, the capacity to grasp quickly human character and the ability to make contact.”


Cultivating good will:

“I feel that the dormant good will in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own to respect the elementary rules of human co-existence.     Good will longs to be recognized and cultivated. For it to develop and have an impact it must hear that the world does not ridicule it.”


Growing ideas – not ideologies:

“Systems are there to serve people. Not the other way around. This is what ideologies forget”.

“Our policies must never be based on ideology – they must grow out of ideas above all out of the idea of human rights as understood by modern humanity.”

“We are on the threshold of an open society an era in which ideologies are replaced by ideas”.


Bringing human spirit into politics:

“I am convinced that we will never build a democratic state on rule of law if we do not at the same time build a state that is humane, moral intellectual and spiritual and cultural.  The best laws and best conceived mechanisms will not themselves guarantee legality or freedom or human rights if they are not underpinned by certain human values”.

“The meaning of the state which is and must remain truly human – means it must be intellectual, spiritual and moral”.

“What is needed is lively and responsible consideration of every political step every decision constant stress on moral deliberation and moral judgment, continued self examination and self analysis and endless rethinking of our priorities.  It is not something we can declare or introduce.  It is a way of going about things.  And it demands the courage to breathe moral and spiritual motivation into everything to seek the human dimension in all things.  Science, technology, expertise and so- called professionalism is not enough. Something more is necessary.  For sake of simplicity, it might be called spirit.  Or feeling or consciousness’.

“All my observations and all of my experience have, with remarkable consistency convinced me that if today’s planetary civilization has any hope of survival that hope lies chiefly in what we understand as the human spirit”.


Supporting self realization and evolution of human consciousness:  

“I once called this coming to our senses [new politics] as an existential revolution. I meant the kind of general mobilization of human consciousness of the human mind and human spirit, human responsibility and human reason”.

“The state if not something that is unconnected to society, hovering outside or above it.  The state is a product of society, an expression of it, an image of it.   It is a structure that society creates for itself as an instrument of its own self-realization. If we wish to create a good and human society capable of making a contribution to humanity coming to its senses we must create a good human state”.

“The concept of HOME is a basic existential experience.  It is a collection of  concentric circles with one’s ‘I’ at the centre.    This could be a place, one’s education, one’s gender.   Every circle every aspect of the human home has to be given its due. It makes no sense to deny or forcibly exclude one stratum for another.   They are part of our natural world and a properly organized society has to respect them all and give them all a chance to play their roles.  This is the only way that room can be made for people to realise themselves as human being to exercise their identities.” 

“Human rights are universal and indivisible. Human freedom is also indivisible: if it is denied to anyone in the world it is therefore denied indirectly to all people.  This is only possible when one understands in a philosophical sense that one is ‘responsible for the whole world.’  This sense of responsibility grows out of the experience of certain moral imperatives that compel one to transcend the horizon of one’s own personal interest and to be prepared to defend the common good, and even suffer for it”.

“If everyone doesn’t take an interest in politics, it will become the domain of those who are least suited to it”.

“The culture of healing may be a less visible aspect of life, yet it is perhaps the most important indicator of the humanity of any society”.