The son of a lawyer, Benda studied a doctorate of Philosophy at Charles University in Prague, and was also president of the Students' Academic Council. His academic career ended when he refused to join the Communist Party in the early 1970s. Benda was active in the dissident movement against the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, and in 1977 became a signatory to Charter 77. As a result of his political activities he experienced harassment from the government and economic exclusion, being forced to work for brief periods in a large number of different jobs.
In 1977, he also wrote a short samizdat essay called "Parallel Polis" (Czech: paralelní polis), calling for his fellow dissidents to abandon hope that the repressive social, economic and political institutions in Czechoslovakia could be changed by protest. Instead, Benda called for new "parallel institutions" to be created, which would be more responsive to human needs and may someday replace the existing corrupt institutions. He argued that as the communist state would drain any efforts at reform, it was better to start new ones than expend energy fighting old ones. The essay was translated into English in 1978.
Benda's role as a spokesman for Charter 77 resulted in him being arrested in May 1979 and charged with subverting the state, for which he was imprisoned until 1983. After his release he resumed his role as spokesman. He was also a founder-member of the Committee for the Defense of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS). While Benda was imprisoned with Vaclav Havel in Ostrava, they co-wrote a text for the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1980.
A devout Catholic, Benda joined the Christian Democratic Party in 1989, becoming chairman in 1990. The party later merged with the Civic Democratic Party. Benda's politics were distinct from his former dissident colleagues, and he became an increasingly isolated figure in Czech politics. He was a supporter of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, a position which was unpopular in the Czech Republic.
From June 25 to December 31, 1992, Benda was Chairman of the Chamber of the Nations.
Benda's ideas about a Parallel Polis were later revived by a group of scholars at the University of Washington, and a four-story building called Parallel polis has opened in Prague, housing a bitcoin-only cafe, co-working space, makers lab, and "Institute of cryptoanarchy" in Holešovice.
- Bourdeaux, Michael (22 June 1999). "Vaclav Benda". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
- "Vaclav Benda". Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Cuthbertson, Anthony (2014-11-03). "World's First #Bitcoin Only Café Launches in Prague @Paralelni_polis #hackers". International Business Times UK. Retrieved 2016-11-30.
- Ševčík, Pavel. "Paralelni Polis - Paralelní Polis - Paralelní Polis". www.paralelnipolis.cz. Retrieved 2016-11-30.