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« John Chaney: A Goon-gate Update. | WILLisms.com | The Not-So Supreme Court »

Natan Sharansky's Case For Democracy.

If you have yet to read Natan Sharansky's The Case For Democracy: The Power Of Freedom To Overcome Tyranny & Terror, pick up a copy and read it. Do it.


The Case For Democracy is just that: a case for democracy; it is an argument that the promotion of democracy is not only inherently moral, it is also in the best strategic interests of the free world.

The book is remarkably fair, stating, then responding to, an array of potential criticisms of the thesis. But, in doing so, the book is generally free of strawmen. Sharansky gives fair hearing of a variety of alternative viewpoints, even acknowledging validity in some of them.

Ultimately, though, Sharansky (former political prisoner of the Soviet Union, current Israeli politician) makes perhaps the most lucid, most convincing case, in print, on behalf of freedom in the world.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt allegedly coined a phrase used to describe American foreign policy over much of the 20th century. The Daily Standard notes:

"Sizing up Anastasio Somoza, Nicaragua's brutal (but pro-American) dictator, Roosevelt quipped, 'Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch.'"

While the United States is not in the business of toppling every dictator in sight, nor should we be, America now is beginning to link how regimes treat their own citizens with how the U.S. treats them.

President Bush read The Case For Democracy last year; the way he speaks about freedom in the world has become much more clear and confident since then. It confirmed what he believed already and helped him frame his case.

Indeed, Newsweek magazine notes:

"Natan Sharansky is George W. Bush's favorite author. Since his re-election, the U.S. president has used every opportunity to praise 'The Case for Democracy,' the new book by the former Soviet dissident, now an Israeli cabinet minister. 'That thinking, that's part of my presidential DNA,' Bush told The New York Times. Last Wednesday, appearing with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder in Mainz, Bush said: 'Sharansky's book confirmed how I was raised and what I believe.' Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice quoted Sharansky's ideas in her Senate confirmation hearing in January."

Sharansky's book is full of political philosophy, but it also has some great anecdotes. It grounds the ideas in events and history-- in the real world.

On Ronald Reagan-

Sharansky asserts that Reagan as a pivotal figure of history, a leader whose voice, heard behind the Iron Curtain, helped millions know they would one day be free, and whose actions made that freedom happen. Reagan also defied his nay-sayers.

The book points out this memorable Reagan speech:

"In an ironic sense Karl Marx was right. We are witnessing today a great revolutionary crisis, a crisis where the demands of the economic order are conflicting directly with those of the political order. But the crisis is happening not in the free, non-Marxist West but in the home of Marxism- Leninism, the Soviet Union. It is the Soviet Union that runs against the tide of history by denying human freedom and human dignity to its citizens.


What I am describing now is a plan and a hope for the long term -the march of freedom and democracy which will leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people."

When Reagan said those words, in 1983, people cackled. In hindsight, yeah, obviously the Soviet Union was fragile, but in the 1970s and 1980s, nearly every expert at the CIA, in academia, in diplomacy, predicted the Soviet Union would last, indeed that it was growing in strength and would endure, that it would adapt. They ridiculed Reagan for his moral clarity.

In 1981, Reagan gave a speech at the University of Notre Dame, just months after taking office, in which he prophesied:

"The years ahead are great ones for this country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization. The West won't contain communism, it will transcend communism. It won't bother to dismiss or denounce it, it will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written."

Meanwhile, his critics, in prominent publications like Foreign Affairs, said things like this:

"The logic of the Reagan Administration's policy toward the Soviet Union is based on one key underlying assumption: that Western policy generally and American policy specifically has the capacity seriously to affect Soviet internal developments. This assumption is simply fallacious and spawns maximalist and unrealistic objectives."

From the book:

"The distinguished historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., expressing the sentiments of nearly all of the Sovietologists, intellectuals, and opinion makers of the time, said that 'those in the United States who think the Soviet Union is on the verge of economic and social collapse, ready with one small push to go over the brink are wishful thinkers who are only kidding themselves.'"

Critics called Reagan an "ideological crusader" and said his response to them was "dangerous" and "pathological," a "fatal form of Sovietophobia." In 1984, John Kenneth Galbraith, celebrated Harvard economist, noted:

"...for the first time in its history the Soviet leadership was able to pursue successfully a policy of guns and butter as well as growth. The Soviet citizen-worker, peasant and professional---has become accustomed in the Brezhnev period to an uninterrupted upward trend in his well-being."

Again, in 1984, Galbraith argued that "the Soviet system has made great material progress in recent years," asserting that "the Russian system succeeds because, in contrast with the Western industrial economies, it makes full use of its manpower."

In 1985, Paul Samuelson, Nobel Prize winner in economics, writer of economics textbooks all over the country, said:

"What counts is results, and there can be no doubt that the Soviet planning system has been a powerful engine for economic growth. The Soviet model has surely demonstrated that a command economy is capable of mobilizing resources for rapid growth."

Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright, the guy with the prestigious scholarship named after him, longtime chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, mocked Reagan's assertion that Gorbachev's reforms of the Soviet Union were "no more than the final, feeble, foredoomed effort to hold off the historically inevitable collapse of a wicked system based on an evil philosophy." On April 19, 1989 (just months before the fall of the Berlin Wall), in the Chicago Tribune, Fulbright said:

"We suspect that the reforms being carried out in the Soviet Union and Hungary may be evidence not of the terminal enfeeblement of Marxism but of a hitherto unsuspected resiliency and adaptability, of something akin to Roosevelt's New Deal, which revived and rejuvenated an apparently moribund capitalism in the years of Great Depression."

We all know how that turned out.

Sharansky credits Reagan for bucking the skeptics and pursuing a policy that led to the defeat of the Soviet Union.

But the book is not merely about Ronald Reagan. It has so much more.

WILLisms.com will try to cover some of the other angles of the book in future posts. In the meantime, pick up a copy. Read it. It will put the recent events in Egypt and Lebanon in perspective.

Posted by Will Franklin · 1 March 2005 06:32 AM