Czech philosopher Jan Patocka was the spiritual leader of the Charter 77 dissident movement in the former socialist Czechoslovakia. He is known, in particular, for having a profound influence on Václav Havel, a dissident playwright and the first President of the democratic Czechoslovakia in 1989. Thirty years after Charter 77, Patocka’s arguments on human rights have not lost significance and power in the context of contemporary political thought and jurisprudence. His philosophy and Socratic death have become more relevant today than the time when they emerged in the painful political realities of communist Czechoslovakia of the 1970s.
Cosponsored by the Center for Language Studies, the Office of International Programs, the Department of Philosophy, the Department of Slavic Languages, and the Watson Institute for International Studies.
Location: Joukowsky Forum, Waton Institute, 111 Thayer Street.
Ambassador Martin PALOUŠ
Martin Palouš has been recently designated as Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United Nations. He started his mission in New York on July, 1, 2006.
Born in Prague on October 14, 1950, Mr. Palouš received a RNDr. degree (Doctor of Natural Sciences in chemistry from Charles University, Prague, in 1973, and went on to study philosophy and social sciences (graduating in 1977). He has also studied law (1996-1999, 2002-2005) and now is working on his PhD thesis in international law at Masaryk University in Brno ("Freedom of Expression at the beginning of the 21st Century"). In 2001, he defended his higher doctorate in political science (The title of his "Habilitationzschrift" was Sixteen exercises in Political Thought) and became associate professor (docent) at Charles University in Prague.
Mr. Palouš was one of the first signatories of Charter 77 and served as spokesman for this dissident human rights group in 1986. A founding member of the Civic Forum (November 1989), he was elected to the Federal Assembly in 1990 and became a member of its Foreign Affairs Committee. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia as adviser to Minister Dienstbier and was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from October 1990 to October 1992. Between October 1998 and September 2001 he served as Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, between September 2002 and November 2005 he was posted in Washington as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Czech Republic to the United States.
Mr. Palouš has held a number of teaching positions at Charles University, since 1990. He became a member of the Faculty of Social Sciences (the Institute of Foreign Relations) in 1994 and served for some time as the Faculty s Vice Dean. In 1993, he joined the Centre for Theoretical Studies (research centre run jointly by Charles University and the Czech Academy of Sciences, headed by Ivan M. Havel). He has lectured extensively in the United States. In 1993-1994 he was a visiting professor at Northwestern University, in 1995-1996 an associated professor at Central European University in Budapest. Until 1998 he was also active in various non-governmental organizations (Chairman of the Czech Helsinki Committee, Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly).
Mr. Palouš is the author of numerous publications, including the chapter on the Czech Republic in the European Commission publication Democratization in Central and Eastern Europe, “Totalitarianism and Authoritarianism”, in the Encyclopedia of Violence, Peace and Conflict (1999, “Between Idealism and Realism: Reflections on the Political Landscape of Postcommunism”, in Between Past and Future: “The Revolutions of 1989 and their Aftermath (2000), and most recently "What Kind of God Does Human Rights Require?", in Does Human Rights Need God? (2005), "Common Sense and the Rule of Law", in Philosophy, Literature and Politics (2005). He translates the works of Hannah Arendt and Eric Voegelin.
Event SummaryEven though Charter 77, a dissident human rights proclamation signed in the former socialist Czechoslovakia in 1977, lost its raison d’etre with the fall of communism in 1989, there is still much to be learned from this historic document and the political movement that took its name, according to Martin Palous, Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United Nations. The advent of Charter 77 created a public space in Czechoslovakia, and this is key, Palous said in a lecture at the Watson Institute. “If you want to understand political processes of today, you should study our public spaces and how they were created,” he said. Palous likened this space to Socrates’ polis, and he also drew a parallel between Socrates and the Czech philosopher and Charter 77 spokesperson Jan Patocka.
Patocka saw Charter 77 as the creation of a sort of polis, or public civic space, important because it allowed political participation of a diverse “Central European tea party” of liberals, Christians, communists, eccentrics, and others. By viewing the link between Socrates and Patocka, said Palous, one can see Patocka’s ideas as a bridge between the past and the future. Patocka did not follow the conventional view that human rights were a modern offshoot of globalization, but rather the realization of an innate human morality.
In 1977, “the deadening silence of a regime was broken and… life emerged,” with the signing of Charter 77, said Palous during his talk entitled, “30 Years after Charter 77: Jan Patocka’s Message for the 21st Century.” The charter was an accompaniment to similar international human rights covenants signed that year, he said, of which Czechoslovakia was a party. Palous quoted one of the opening paragraphs of the charter to demonstrate:
“Charter 77 is a free informal, open community of people of different convictions, different faiths and different professions united by the will to strive, individually and collectively, for the respect of civic and human rights in our own country and throughout the world -- rights accorded to all men by the two mentioned international covenants, by the Final Act of the Helsinki conference and by numerous other international documents opposing war, violence and social or spiritual oppression, and which are comprehensively laid down in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
Palous interpreted Patocka’s polis in this case not as the charter’s signatories, nor only Czech citizens, but rather a larger international community. Globalization has internationalized the human rights debate, he said, but the future of democracy nevertheless depends on installing plurality as a basic condition within our diverse political systems. This is a message we can learn from Socrates and from Jan Patocka both, he said, and carry it with us into the 21st century.
By Watson Institute Student Rapporteur Liana Paris ’07