Dear President Vaclav Havel,
Your “call to conscience” is the deepest call that can be made to Man in our time. But as I suspect we both see, it is attended by great problems, not least amongst which is the agnostically-tending inadequate human credence in it – as well as in the “Greater Spiritual Cosmos” without which it has neither reality, force nor meaning. It seems to me that the problem of the vitality and belief in “conscience” as a reality, is itself a result, rather than a cause, of the loss of veridical conviction as to the reality of – to say it another, direct way – “Dante’s cosmography”.
Conscience and Cosmos live, and die, together, it seems to me. Were our this-worldly citizens sufficiently deeply convinced that they were also “citizens” in the “Greater Spiritual Cosmos”, the idea of conscience would need no arguing. But the various religions we see about us today, are – in my observation – too doctrinal, and insufficiently known (in the sense of “gnosis”). The majority of “religious people” have one of the various “belief systems” to sustain their moral life amongst men – at least on religious days or periods; but they generally live – as non-religious people live most all of their daily mundane lives – as if God were not dead, but sleeping. Most of their daily life is lived as if God is not paying attention – but were somewhere napping.
Your “call to conscience” sources ultimately, in the story of Occidental Man, in the “daena” figure in the cosmosophy, anthroposophy and cacosophy of Zarathustra. It is amazing to trace the full history of the idea of “conscience” in the Occident’s history. It is the deepest idea of man in such figures as Origen and Seneca, as well as in Darwin or Jefferson. It seems somehow to have been unrejectable even by strong sceptics, if they were at least humanists. Syneidesis, conscientia, and even Socrates’ “daemon” show the same basic “structure” of conscience. The person’s “thoughts, words and deeds” are – to adapt your words – inscribed in the “memory of being”; but not only there (by some divine judge). The “daena” is one’s own self, one’s spiritually-attendant “spiritual self” – beautiful or ugly depending on one’s life on earth. But this is an active, ongoing daily, moment to moment spirituality. All of one’s life on earth is influential – whether one ever steps into a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or other. But such an idea is as weakly convincing in our sceptical, horizontal time as the belief in the “Greater Spiritual Cosmos”. “Words, words, words…” to most – including “believers”. People seldom feel or know the “conscience” as a spiritual, “eternal” reality – and there are, of course, other competing voices inside in soul (as well the very “noisy” (un)culture surrounding us in our ungodly civilization). So people treat “conscience” not as some daily-inscription in one’s higher self, or the “memory of being”, but as if it were a doctrinal, theoretical point one might belief in or not, perhaps on Sundays, or from time to time.
So, I can only say that I would encourage you try to develop this idea of conscience further in your public addresses and talks. Being in Moscow, and not wealthy enough to attend to the world news on regular Western standards, I am not sure what all you might have already said or written somewhere on this of which I am not aware. But, reading recently your (Aachen) address in The New York Review of Books, I wanted to send you these reflections.
With continued respect and appreciation,
Moscow, 3 July 1996 (unpublished)
See also Thoughts on Vaclav Havel’s Anthropology and Cosmology (English, #25, 2000)