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Freedom Fighter: A review of The Case for Democracy

Gerard Alexander

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Natan Sharansky has taken on two daunting challengers: the Soviet state and the Israeli voter. He has emerged bruised but proud from both encounters. Back in the USSR, he was a refusnik, a Soviet Jew who petitioned to emigrate to Israel but was refused, professionally marginalized, and persecuted. When he responded by becoming a leading spokesman for dissident Soviet Jews and a liaison to Westerners, he was accused of espionage and treason and sent into nine years of prison, isolation, and Gulag--events grippingly described in his prison memoir, Fear No Evil (1988). He was eventually released, and in Israel he became a leader and a parliamentary representative of the large, new Russian-Jewish immigrant community. In cabinets of both Left and Right, Sharansky has been a consistent hawk in a country under siege. Now, both he and his new book have been warmly received in America, including at George W. Bush's White House. From political prisoner in one country to cabinet minister in another and favorite of the president in a third, Sharansky has lived a remarkable, globalized life.

The Case for Democracy has two agendas. The first is to condemn one of the great moral failings of the past century and, still, of our time: the naïveté of many Western democrats in their dealings with dictatorships. Sharansky identifies two lapses in particular. Many Westerners mistakenly read the acquiescence of repressed people as evidence of their support or consent for their regime; these observers fail to appreciate that "freedom from tyranny is... universally desired." Second, even when they seek to democratize, many Westerners conclude that the best way to undermine dictatorships is to reassure, rather than confront, their leaders. In Fear No Evil, Sharansky reserved particular disdain for Westerners who believed that most Soviet citizens supported their regime, and who advocated foreign aid, trade, and the military build-down of détente, which he believes strengthened rather than weakened the Soviet state. Now as an Israeli, he has contempt for the parallel belief that Palestinians are culturally suited for corrupt authoritarianism as well as the parallel strategy of offering concessions (as in the Oslo Accords) to radicals.

Read the entire article on the Claremont Review of Books website (new window will open).

Posted: 11-May-05



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