Where are the great men? Are we beyond the point of elevating the individual over the group, or are there simply no more individuals? Marc Sageman, a former CIA officer, has warned for more than a decade of the emergence of “leaderless jihad” as terrorist movements spawn violent individuals. But lately his idea has been turned on its head, as the movement for freedom attempts to override the putsch for security. It seems there are no more barriers between the secure, the secured, and the guardians of their security; it is all the same anarchy, brutality, violence, and havoc. There is the elite and then there is everyone else. Enter Vaclav Havel.
The words of a Czech man were forwarded to me this afternoon, and they hit me like a cold sheet: “Yep, the last great man.” Every obituary printed today mentions Havel’s achievements: playwright and poet, artist, intellectual, and dissident — but these are titles. More important, he was an inmate who could only forsake the cell-block walls and bars later because he lived long enough to see the cafes and meet the Western intellectuals who idealized him, because he lived in a parallel time and knew moral courage as more than mere words.
In Sageman’s analysis, individuals are inspired by violence done in the name of a collective. In Havel’s world, the antithesis of Sageman’s, individual creative acts spawn a collective, which together can challenge and — inshallah and man willing — destroy an oppressive system. Havel did not create the guidelines of creative defense, nor did he spawn every activist who was tired of a system in which every last piece of bread must be saved because the proverbial rainy day is, in fact, every day.