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A Lowering of Arms: Few in the West expected the Soviet Union to collapse

Natan Sharansky with Ron Dermer

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EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a three-part series of excerpts from The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky with Ron Dermer. They are taken from the book's introduction.

Our world has changed so much over the last fifteen years that it may be difficult for today's reader to get a sense of the degree of skepticism there once was in the West over the possibility of a democratic transformation inside the Soviet Union. In the early 1980s, when some were actually arguing that the Soviet Union could be challenged, confronted, and broken, the possibility was dismissed out of hand. 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."

An even better measure of the skepticism of the era was the absolute shock that greeted the collapse of the USSR. The most prescient politicians, the most learned academics, the most perceptive journalists did not foresee that hundreds of millions of people could be liberated from decades of totalitarian rule in just a few months. In April 1989, just seven months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Senator J. William Fulbright, who had served for 15 years as chairman of the Senate's Foreign Relations Committee, co-authored an article dismissing the views of those in the "evil empire school" who believed that Gorbachev's reforms 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."2 Instead, Fulbright offered insight into how the "détente school," in which he included himself, understood the changes that were then taking place behind the Iron Curtain:

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.

Read the entire article on the National Review website (new window will open).

Posted: 12/08/04



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