Long Night of the Watchman, The

Cloth $35
Edited by F. Flagg Taylor IV, 352 pages, 6" x 9", Preface, introduction, translator's introduction, footnotes, notes on individual tests, index

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Long Night of the Watchman, The

Essays by Václav Benda, 1977–1989

Taylor, F. Flagg, IV, editor

The Long Night of the Watchman brings into English translation the writings of the renowned Czech anti-Communist dissident and Catholic thinker Vaclav Benda (1946-1999). An early signatory of Charter 77, the Czechoslovak human rights association, Benda would twice serve as a spokesman. He was a founding member of VONS (the Czech acronym for the Committee to Defend the Unjustly Persecuted) and served a four-year prison sentence for his dissident activities.

Benda was a keen analyst of Communist totalitarianism who was heavily involved in many facets of resistance. The writings collected in this volume thus offer a unique perspective on life under a Communist regime. Readers are given eyewitness accounts of crucial, yet little known events such the Christian pilgrimage to Velehrad in 1985. We are also transported back into Benda’s workplace as the repercussions of his signing of Charter 77 unfold. And Benda’s extended reflections on topics such as the family and totalitarianism and the fate of the Catholicism under Communism display his subtle and exacting mind.

The volume is divided into three sections. “Reflections” is comprised of relatively brief texts usually prompted by some event or action, while “Reports and Defenses” is made up of short documents written for a specific purpose and often related to the regular work of Charter 77. The middle section, “Essays and Inquiries,” contains Benda’s longer pieces of a more philosophical character.

With The Long Night of the Watchman, Vaclav Benda’s deeply humane voice and his unbending mind come to the attention of English readers.

“Among those who maintained the spirit of the Czech and Slovak people in the last decades of communist oppression, none was more obstinate in his convictions, or more resolute in his conduct, than Václav Benda. He did not court publicity, was hardly known in the West, and had no glamorous ‘dissident’ profile. But he was a deep and serious thinker, a humble Christian in his private life who also carved out a role for himself as an inspiring teacher of the young. This fascinating collection of his essays sheds a unique light on the Charter 77 movement which, by refusing to accept dictatorship and upholding the rule of law, sounded the death-knell for the Czechoslovak Communist Party.”
– Sir Roger Scruton, author of innumerable works, including, from St. Augustine’s Press: The Meaning of Conservatism, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture, On Hunting, Art and Imagination, Aesthetic Understanding, Politics of Culture and Other Essays, Philosopher on Dover Beach, Xanthippic Dialogues, and Perictione in Colophon

“Most people in the West have never heard of Václav Benda. That is about to change. Benda, a believing Catholic among Vaclav Havel's dissident circle, offers a distinctly Christian humanist vision for how to live faithfully, responsibly, and communally in a time of dispossession, oppression, and powerlessness. The West is now waking up to the shocking fact that we have more in essays could not possibly have come to us at a more crucial moment.” – Rod Dreher, author, The Benedict Option

“Václav Benda was one of the unsung heroes of the Revolution of 1989, a bear of a man who combined intellectual distinction with deep Catholic piety and personal charm. This collection of his essays should help acquaint the generation that knew not Joseph (Stalin) with what was really at stake in the Cold War, and how the victory over communism was won by those who, like Benda, chose to live in the truth, regardless of the cost.”
– George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies Ethics and Public Policy Center

“In the 1970s and 1980s I was also one of the inhabitants of Czechoslovak “parallel polis.” As signatories of Charter 77 we were doomed to live contained and isolated under the totalitarian Soviet Empire. We found ourselves in a situation seemingly without hope or expectations for improvement. But we didn’t feel entirely hopeless and even lived joyfully with the strong sense of purpose and meaning under the existing tyranny. This was in large part thanks to the bold and creative individuals around us, such as Jan Patoĉka, Václav Havel and also Václav Benda, the author of the essays collected in this book. Such men managed to lead and inspire others by their personal example. Their lives and writings prove that it is the free spirit that sets human history in motion again in her dead-ends; that it is the creative ‘un-captive mind’ that enables humans to find a way of their captivity.”
– Martin Palouš, Charter 77 signatory and former Ambassador to the United States