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January 1, 2005

Sharansky and the Democratic Peace

R.J. Rummel

Natan Sharansky (with Ron Dermer) has written an important and informative book, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror (New York: Public Affairs, 2004). I highly recommend that visitors to this website read it.

It is not my purpose to provide a book review. Here, I only want to hit the highlights that relate to this website. I add below more comments on the book by Cal Thomas.

Sharansky details his years as a dissident and prisoner in the Soviet Union, and especially focuses on what he learned after he was allowed to immigrate to Israel and participate in its government. But, this is not an autobiography. His personal background is only an introduction and context to his beliefs about democracy and the experiences he had in trying to persuade the West, especially the United States and Israelis, to act on them.

First, and most important, Sharansky well recognizes the democratic peace. He writes, "Democracies, it is often observed, do not go to war with one another." This principle, now a law of international relations, is the foundation of the book. He provides no reference for it, and how he came to this principle remains an interesting question. I only was willing to assert it back in 1979 after tons of research and tests. Perhaps he came to it by observing history and international relations, which is quite possible once one thinks about it.

He presents a number of important ideas related to this democratic peace:

Much of the book is concerned with how too many officials in the democracies are oblivious about this understanding. Especially, he shows how they are willing to accommodate and appease dictators. Stability, to them, is the heart of a foreign policy, and anything that upsets that is to be avoided -- better the devil you know then what danger might arise from opposition to him.

Sharansky focuses on two ways this mentality has guided foreign policy. One was in the willingness to accommodate the Soviet Union, especially through detente. Reagan, he argues, threw this out, recognized the Soviet Union for the evil it was, and thereby hastened, if not caused, its collaspe.

Second, this mentality was shown in the democracies not only accommodating, but also working to strengthen and support Arafat's creation of a repressive dictatorship over the Palestinians and making war on Israel. Sharansky's description of the American State Department's habitual cynicism about democracy in the Middle East, and specifically for the Palestinians, is what we see almost everyday in the American media.

His basic recommendation? He first describes how linking American trade benefits for the Soviet Union to its internal reforms and human rights helped down the communist system. Then, he argues that linking trade, aid, and other benefits is the way for democracies to do the same to promote human rights in the world's nondemocracies. He also, as I have suggested , calls for the democracies to set up their own exclusive organization outside of the UN to help foster democracy.

Sharansky presents some useful concepts. One is that of moral clarity to see evil (p. xxii). We should clearly distinguish between the good of democracies and the evil of nondemocracies. In my terms, we should be willing to call a dictator a thug or murderer, which most are.

In pursuing this moral clarity, he introduces the characterization of nondemocracies as fear societies. This is useful, for it captures the basic ordering principle of nondemocracies. People obey for fear of the consequences. Opposite to this is the free society. And he sees this, appropriately, in black and white -- there are only fear and free societies.

Finally, he tries to explain how fear societies work by the concept of doublethink. There is the very small minority of true believers who support a nondemocratic regime. There is also the small group of dissidents, who are willing to suffer imprisonment, and even torture and death, in order to speak out against the regime. And in the middle are the majority of doublethinkers, those who give their obedience to the regime, say and do what is demanded to them out of fear, while in their heart and mind they are dissidents.

Sharansky's conclusion: "In the twentieth century, America proved time and again that it possessed both the clarity and courage that is necessary to defeat evil. Following that example, the democracies of the world can defeat the tyranny that threatens out world today and the tyrannies that would threaten it tomorrow. To do so, we must believe not only that all people are created equal but also that all peoples are created equal." (p. 279)

Toward a moral foreign policy

By Cal Thomas

In nominating Condoleezza Rice to replace Colin Powell as Secretary of State, President Bush has chosen someone who is a kindred spirit. The two not only subscribe to the same religious beliefs, they also believe that America has been commissioned to share its freedom with the rest of the world.

Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident and current Israeli government official, told me the president invited him to the White House a few days ago to discuss Sharansky's new book, "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror," which he said the president had nearly finished and Dr. Rice was also reading. The book is a powerful argument for spreading freedom around the world as the ultimate weapon against totalitarian societies and fundamentalist movements.

Sharansky states his premise in the introduction:

I am convinced that all people desire to be free. I am convinced that freedom anywhere will make the world safer everywhere. And I am convinced that democratic nations, led by the United States, have a critical role to play in expanding freedom around the globe.

Dr. Rice and the president believe in the same doctrine about freedom. An insight to her thinking is found in a Feb. 6, 2003, address she gave at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. As President Bush listened intently, Dr. Rice spoke of struggle, from her days in segregated Alabama (some of her friends were killed in the Birmingham church bombing in 1963), to the battle against terrorism in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. She said that directing the energies from our struggles toward the good of others is something that channels the negatives of pain, bad memories and a sense of unfairness toward a beneficial objective.

"America emerged from the losses of September 11th as a nation that is not only stronger, but hopefully better and more generous," she said. "Tragedy made us appreciate our freedom more - and more conscious of the fact that God gives all people, everywhere, the right to be free. It made us more thankful for our own prosperity, for life, and health -- and more aware that all people everywhere deserve the opportunity to build a better future."

This philosophy, or faith, is what motivates the Bush Administration's policy in Iraq, Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East and the world. It is about as noble a purpose as one can have -- sharing freedom with others who do not have it.

There is an important distinction between the freedom desired by Southern blacks in the days of Dr. Rice's youth -- and nations under Soviet domination in the years of Natan Sharansky's imprisonment -- and the freedom the administration wants to offer the Middle East.

Southern blacks and millions in Eastern Europe and Russia yearned to breath free. It is arguable whether those throughout the Arab and Muslim world want our kind of freedom, which they see as decadence. Most of them appear to regard what they consider their spiritual freedom as having greater value than the political freedom we enjoy.

Sharansky pays tribute to skeptics who believe in the doctrine of freedom as a divine right, and questions whether that part of the world in which we are now engaged resembles Eastern Europe during Soviet domination: "While democracy has spread across the globe, the Middle East remains a sea of tyranny. There are 22 Arab states and not one of them is democratic, even by the weakest of definitions. Moreover, there has never been an Arab democracy, and with the exception of a handful of tyrannies around the world, the world's most repressive regimes are in the Middle East. So while President Bush may 'know' that freedom is the 'future of every nation,' many others can be forgiven for disagreeing." (Italics his.)

Condoleezza Rice does not disagree. While Colin Powell sees the world in more secular tones -- nuanced and in shades of gray -- Dr. Rice and the president sing from the same hymnbook. If they are right about the contagion of freedom, they may unleash a movement that can positively affect more people than the collapse of the Soviet Union. If they are wrong -- and the evidence is far heavier on this side of the argument -- the consequences, to borrow a theological term with which they are familiar, could be Armageddon.

The stakes don't get any higher than this.

R.J Rummel, Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Nobel Peace Prize finalist, has published twenty-nine books, and received numerous awards for his research. See his short bio.

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