Jan Patočka (1907 - 1977) was a Czech philosopher, dissident and spokesperson of Charter 77. He is considered one of the most famous modern philosophers.
Growing up during the First Republic, Patočka was inspired by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. Between 1925 and 1932, Patočka studied philology and philosophy at Charles University in Prague. He later made study trips to Paris, Berlin and Freiburg, where he became familiar with the philosophers Edmund Husserl, Eugen Fink, and Martin Heidegger and their works. As a result, phenomenology became one of the bases of Patočka’s philosophy.
Patočka’s career was interrupted three times during his lifetime: first during the Nazi occupation, then in the 1950s as a result of the Communists purges, and finally again at the beginning of the normalization period that followed the crushing of the “Prague Spring.” It was at this point that the philosopher, who had stayed away from politics until then, became aware of the need for citizens to get involved in political action.
In 1972, Patočka began organizing clandestine seminars in private apartments, in which he and other banned intellectuals tried to offer a free and uncensored education. In 1977, Patočka became on of the first spokespersons for the Charter 77 movement, together with the political leader Jiří Hájek (who had been the minister of foreign affairs during the Prague Spring) and the playwright Václav Havel. Soon afterwards, Patočka became the target of the Czechoslovak State Security (StB).
The philosopher was constantly interrogated by the police regarding his activities with the Charter. On March 3 1977, Patočka was held and interrogated by the police for ten hours. Following this particularly long interrogation, Patočka had to be hospitalized. He died of a brain hemorrhage ten days later.
Patočka’s funeral turned into a silent demonstration against the regime, and this despite the close police control. In fact, the regime went as far as to forbid the selling of flowers at the cemetery during the funeral.
sources: Paul Ricoeur, “Jan Patočka: A Philosopher of Resistance.” The Crane Bag 7, no. 1 (1983): 116-18.
Karel Bosko, L'humanisme Endurant: Tchécoslovaquie, 1968-1989. Geneva: Labor et Fides, 2010.