Vaclav Havel, prophet: Now, as our world (finally) blossoms into multipolarity, it hesitates between confrontations and partnerships

Back in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, humanity was stunned into the realization of its own oneness. The tense bi-polar standoff between the U.S. and its mirror image, the S.U. (Soviet Union) that had defined the geo-political “balance of power” had suddenly blinked out. No longer divided by that rigid, symbolic, and very real, high, thick stone wall, the world unexpectedly, and with a great shout and shudder, collapsed into unity.

That same transcendent year, poet and playwright Vaclav Havel led Czechoslovakia in its non-violent “Velvet Revolution” and then stepped up to be his country’s first non-Communist elected president since 1948.

I remember a speech that he gave, not long afterward. He spoke of how we had now shifted from a “bi-polar” to a “multipolar” world. His speech was electric. It made me cry. I thought he was right. I was so thrilled.

Then something none of us foolish idealists expected happened. Instead of allowing unity’s natural diffraction into ever-arising multiplicity, neo-cons in the U.S. government and military took advantage of humanity’s sudden vulnerability, its innocence. Eisenhower’s predicted “Military Industrial Complex” stepped into the vacuum and took control. Within a few years, the world would derisively label the U.S. a “hyperpower,” its hundreds upon hundreds of bases all over the world and its endless wars all enshrined within the Defense Department’s Vision 2020: Full Spectrum Dominance.

But of course, sooner or later, all empires collapse, as this one now seems to be doing, after a singularly short run! Yes!

Now, now the world trembles on the brink of change, hesitating. Can we trust each other? Better: can we trust the universe? Can we really go there? What if? How to shift out of conflict into cooperation? How to remember the better angels of our own nature, humankind, human kind, not just individually and in our families and communities, but as those great conglomerates we call corporations and trading blocs and nation-states and regional alliances.

Let us hold all of us and all of the artificial forms we dream up to “organize” the continuously emergent, messy, patterned play of the multiverse in our trembling full hearts as we endure this great and historic shift into the paradoxical inhabitation of multi-colored, multicultural oneness.

Meanwhile, Vaclav Havel’s multipolar vision was, indeed, predictive. What brought me to think of him and and about doing this post now was a small quote buried a technical, densely written geo-political article on the website, Here is the quote, and I put it in bold.

March 2011 was still the unipolar world of after 1989. March 2012 is already the post-crisis multipolar world hesitating between confrontations and partnerships.

I couldn’t find the speech Havel gave in the early ’90s. But here are excerpts from a 2001 speech called, fittingly, “The Need for Transcendance in the Post-Modern World:”

The time of the domination of the white man, the European, the American or the Christian over the entire globe is over. We are now entering a new era, and it is our duty to respect one another and to work together for the benefit of all.

. . .

The fall of Communism – unexpectedly fast – brought with it an equally speedy disintegration of the bipolar division of the world. As it soon turned out, that division had concealed — like a thick curtain — the true multicoloured diversity of the contemporary world. When the curtain rose humanity suddenly found itself face-to-face with a truly multicultural and multipolar world. And more than that: we have found ourselves in a world whose only chance lies in a sensitive perception of its multipolar character; in a genuine respect for it; and, in its acceptance as the only valid point of departure toward a new type of human coexistence on this planet.

The advancement of our civilisation in the past few years — amazing and risky at the same time — has greatly added to this imperative. The world’s population continues to grow, while non- renewable resources are quickly dwindling. The world suffers from an increasing gap between the rich and the poor nations. The only global civilisation that now envelops the whole world, forcing upon it the same products, the same habits, the same patterns of behaviour and the same models of communication, brings us closer to one another but, at the same time, provokes a counter-reaction in the form of a growth of various nationalisms, fundamentalisms or fanaticisms, be they ethnic, religious, social or ideological. The information revolution enhances our global interconnection and eliminates all censorship; at the same time, however, it opens up a vast expanse of human irresponsibility. An enumeration of these global ambiguities of the contemporary development of civilisation could go on without end.

The two circumstances I have just mentioned — the end of the bipolar division of the world and the progress of our civilisation along the course that we now call globalisation — urge us to engage in a radically new way of thinking about the future world order.

It seems to me that one of the characteristic features of that order will consist of the advancement of large regional groupings, into which the nation-states of today will transfer an increasing portion of their powers. At the same time, they will apparently be compelled to pass on another segment of their powers, in an ever more distinct manner, down to a variety of smaller regions within states and self-governing bodies of those regions; to towns and villages; as well as to a number of other structures of civil society. Decentralisation and integration should thus be de facto two sides of a coin, or two pans on a pair of scales, each balancing the other. The way to confront the double-edged nature of global economic pressures, and of the momentum of our civilisation, is not an ostrich policy, isolationism, chauvinism or egocentrism, but an objective reflection of global development and a common commitment of people and nations to combating all its unfortunate and dangerous features.


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