Havel’s Idealistic Governance, Version 2.0

I was on a panel here in DC yesterday entitled “The Lion and the Eagle,” featuring current and former U.S. Ambassadors to the Czech Republic and our Czech counterparts.  Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright attended; here I am with her and my successor as Ambassador, Andy Schapiro.

The panel was part of a week of celebrations of Vaclav Havel in DC, highlighted by the unveiling of his bust in the U.S. Capitol later today. I spoke yesterday about the importance of idealism in governance, a lesson the late President Havel reminded me of frequently during my first year in Prague. There is considerable cynicism and pessimism about the functions of government today in Washington and throughout the EU (which many feel is in even worse shape than the US, a feeling borne out by economic facts, among others.)

Havel’s career, however, is a reminder that the persistent effort to make things better, when fueled by idealism, can achieve surprising results. I talked about the importance of leaders setting a clear vision, sticking to their principles, and creatively mobilizing popular support. Among the examples I discussed was a recent Czech one in which a broad-based popular movement got legislators to agree to a governance reform agenda during a campaign, and then made sure they stuck to it once elected. I was privileged to help stimulate their thinking, which you can read about here. The kind of idealism I am talking about is not the soft-hearted and fuzzy-headed version of old, as you will see from this article. It is principled but also highly practical—call it idealism 2.0. I think that this kind of principled pragmatism offers us some important lessons for getting out of our current governance predicaments and I will write more about that in the months to come.