Vaclav Havel—writer, dissident, prisoner, revolutionary, and finally president of post-communist Czechoslovakia—has died.
I never met him, but I’ve admired him for my entire adulthood. All human beings are irreplacable, but, like Christopher Hitchens, he’s a bit more irreplacable than most of the rest of us.
Reason magazine editor Matt Welch lived, worked, and help found a newspaper in Prague. No doubt he’s feeling the sting more strongly than I am today. From his 2003 profile of the great man:
Like Orwell, Havel was a fiction writer whose engagement with the world led him to master the nonfiction political essay. Both men, in self-described sentiment, were of “the left,” yet both men infuriated the left with their stinging criticism and ornery independence. Both were haunted by the Death of God, delighted by the idiosyncratic habits of their countrymen, and physically diminished as a direct result of their confrontation with totalitarians (not to mention their love of tobacco). As essentially neurotic men with weak mustaches, both have given generations of normal citizens hope that, with discipline and effort, they too can shake propaganda from everyday language and stand up to the foulest dictatorships.
Unlike Orwell, Havel lived long enough to enjoy a robust third act, and his last six months in office demonstrated the same kind of restless, iconoclastic activism that has made him an enemy of ideologues and ally of freedom lovers for nearly five decades.