Not Dissidents

Today I was re-reading Vaclav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless.” One of the things that strikes me most about this piece is Havel’s resistance at being labelled a dissident. This is particularly interesting given that, in an effort to acclaim him, he was called a dissident throughout much of his life and now it remains his seemingly unshakeable legacy after his death.

Here are the reasons Havel gives for not wanting to be called a dissident:

  1. Dissidents seek what is true, real, and good and are not merely rejecting lies and untruth. 
    “In the first place, the word is problematic from an etymological point of view. A ‘dissident,’ we are told in our press, means something like ‘renegade’ or ‘backslider.’ But dissidents do not consider themselves renegades for the simple reason that they are not primarily denying or rejecting anything. On the contrary, they have tried to affirm their own human identity, and if they reject anything at all, then it is merely what was false and alienating in their lives, that aspect of living within a lie.”
  2. Making grievances about the state of things is not itself a profession, but is rather borne out in the other normal, natural human vocations. 
    “The term ‘dissident’ frequently implies a special profession, as if, along with the more normal vocations, there were another special one grumbling about the state of things. In fact, a ‘dissident’ is simply a physicist, a sociologist, a worker, a poet, individuals who are doing what they feel they must and, consequently, who find themselves in open conflict with the regime. This conflict has not come about through any conscious intention on their part, but simply through the inner logic of their thinking, behavior, or work (often confronted with external circumstances more or less beyond their control). They have not, in other words, consciously decided to be professional malcontents, rather as one decides to be a tailor or a blacksmith.”
  3. Those seeking to defend others promote human community; they do not oppose it. 
    “It is truly a cruel paradox that the more some citizens stand up in defense of other citizens, the more they are labeled with a word that in effect separates them from those ‘other citizens.'”

How many countless lessons could be gleaned, especially for conservatives and pro-lifers today, from these three points?

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