PRAGUE - The fifteenth anniversary of the Velvet Revolution on November 17, 1989, which brought an end to 41 years of communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia, is an opportunity to ponder the meaning of moral behavior and free action. Today we live in a democratic society, but many people - not only in the Czech Republic - still believe that they are not true masters of their destiny. They have lost faith that they can really influence political developments, much less influence the direction in which our civilization is evolving.
During the communist era, most people believed that individual efforts to effect change did not make sense. Communist leaders insisted that the system was the result of history's objective laws, which could not be challenged, and those who refused this logic were punished - just in case.
Unfortunately, the way of thinking that supported Communist dictatorships has not disappeared entirely. Some politicians and pundits maintain that Communism merely collapsed under its own weight - again, owing to "objective laws" of history. Again, individual responsibility and individual actions are belittled. Communism, we are told, was only one of the dead ends of Western rationalism; therefore, it was sufficient to wait passively for it to fail.
The very same people often believe in other manifestations of inevitability, such as various supposed laws of the market and other "invisible hands" that direct our lives. As there is not much space in such thinking for individual moral action, social critics are often ridiculed as naive moralists or elitists.