I’m the editor of a recently published edition of the essays of Vaclav Benda called The Long Night of the Watchman. Benda, who died in 1999, was a central figure in the Charter 77 movement in the former Czechoslovakia. I met his wife, Kamila Bendova, on my first trip to interview former dissidents back in 2011 and wrote about that encounter right here on Ricochet.
It was at that meeting that I asked if anyone had spoken to her about getting her late husband’s essays into an English translation. It took a bit longer than I had hoped, but it’s finally out and I hope it gets the wide audience it deserves.
The book is noteworthy for a number reasons. First, Benda was a keen analyst of totalitarianism. As a philosopher, he grappled with the depth of the evil and how it operated on human nature. Second, Benda confronted the question of dissent head-on. His most well-known essay is called “The Parallel Polis,” which he wrote as the Charter community was struggling with how to continue to attract allies in the midst of the harsh backlash by the regime. And finally, the book gives one a very concrete picture of the everyday life of a dissident. There is a rawness, an emotional power to many of the essays. His reflections are less detached, in certain ways, than those of his collaborator Vaclav Havel.
Rod Dreher interviewed me about Benda when doing the research for The Benedict Option. We kept in touch and he kindly asked me to do an interview about Benda when The Long Night of the Watchman was finally published. Here is the interview. We cover lots of ground, including how Benda’s writings might be relevant for us today.