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Miscellaneous thoughts and ramblings
Monday, October 31, 2005
Book Review -- The Case For Democracy
The Case For Democracy:
The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror

By Natan Sharansky with Ron Dermer

This is a very important and illuminating book, and it is clear to me now why Condoleezza Rice and President Bush invited Sharansky to the White House to discuss it. It is a new (at least novel to me) but very clear way to view international affairs that has the potential to transform the world. It is neither liberal nor conservative; it may be what neo-conservative has always been since the term was born.

Natan Sharansky was a Soviet dissident and was imprisoned for many years for his work to allow Soviet Jews to emigrate. He has seen a totalitarian regime from the inside and has an intimate understanding of how they maintain stability and how they are toppled.

Free Societies versus Fear Societies

Sharansky divides the world into two kinds of societies -- free societies and fear societies. The mark of a free society is that anyone may walk into a town square and criticize the government without fear of arrest or harm. Citizens of free societies may also leave and move to other countries as they wish. In fear societies this is not the case. The media in a fear society is typically entirely state controlled and anti-government speech is punished as a matter of course.

Sharansky's thesis is that the free societies that are most hostile to us (think France, Germany) are far more reliable allies than the fear societies that are most friendly to us (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, whatever pro-US African dictators may be in power this month). He asserts that while free societies may have strong disagreements on substantive issues, because their governments are ultimately accountable to their citizens an actual war between free societies is unthinkable. Wars are expensive and lethal and free societies will exhaust every other option before resorting to fighting. As much as we may dislike France, the thought of actual military hostilities between us is laughable.

Fear societies, on the other hand, are always dangerous neighbors, even when the regime in charge appears friendly to us. The reason is that fear societies require external enemies to bolster internal support and squash dissent. So fear societies, even while making peace treaties and trade agreements will domestically foment hate towards their neighbors. No wonder that Egypt, which is the second largest recipient of US foreign aid and is a signatory of a peace treaty with Israel, has viciously anti-US and anti-Israel stories in their state-sponsored media. Also no wonder that the 9/11 hijackers were from a totalitarian country whose government has always been thought to be a strong ally of the US but whose media and sponsorship of mosques worldwide spread virulent anti-Americanism – Saudi Arabia.

Anatomy of Fear Societies

Fear societies are inherently inefficient, Sharansky teaches, both because their economies don't benefit from the entrepreneurial drive that fuels free economies, and because massive resources must be constantly spent in detecting and quashing internal dissent. This is an enormous burden, and Reagan recognized that without constantly appropriating resources from conquered countries the Soviets were on the brink of internal collapse. This seems obvious now, but at the time all the major Sovietologists were declaring that the Soviet Union was poised to overtake us economically. (Sharansky has some hilarious quotes of people with impeccable credentials predicting Soviet superiority weeks before the Berlin Wall fell. Wisdom requires more than mere information.)

This explains a phenomenon that I never noticed: the fear societies with the most pro-US governments have the most anti US-populace (Saudi, Egypt) and the fear societies with the most anti-US governments have the most pro-US populace (Iran). This is at least partially because our opposition to dictatorships wins us support among their citizens, just as Soviet dissidents took hope when we were firm with the Soviets.

Why Freedom Must Come Before Peace

With many examples from his experiences in the Cold War and with clear extrapolation to the War on Terror and to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sharansky sketches what would actually be a road map to peace. He warns about the dangers of warming relations with totalitarians, the strategy called détente during the Cold War. He argues that this has three important flaws: it gives the totalitarian regime much-coveted international legitimacy; it crushes the spirits of internal dissidents; and it never produces a reliable ally for the reasons already stated. Interestingly, in the U.S. his understanding has not been reliably adopted by either Republicans or Democrats. He is particularly critical of the damage done by Nixon and Kissinger, as he sees it, in postponing the Soviet Union's fall, and lauds those who had the courage to confront evil when they saw it: Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (a Democrat), President Ronald Reagan, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Sharansky recommends the following steps:
To summarize, once a society becomes free, no peace treaty is necessary; until then all peace treaties are worthless.

The Case for Democracy

This book is essential (and fairly effortless) reading, and finally clarified to me issues that are misunderstood if seen through traditional conservative / liberal lenses. For example, when Bush gave his historic speech vowing to work for a Palestinian state as soon as it liberalized its society and elected leaders who were committed to fighting against terrorism, I (like other conservatives) thought this was the "when pigs fly" plan. I thought Bush was cleverly permanently deferring Palestinian statehood by erecting a prerequisite they could not meet. I thought it was therefore a great plan. Liberals objected because they thought it was expecting too much from Palestinians. Both conservatives and liberals therefore agreed that Palestinians could not become democratic. Bush and Sharansky disagree. I never understood that. Bush knows that in Palestinian society there are dissidents that would create a society that at least respected the right to disagree. That society may not love Israel or America, but that society would at least be the first to care for the welfare of Palestinians. Peace would immediately follow. Once you read this book, you discover Sharansky's intellectual fingerprints all over current affairs. He is even mentioned in Krauthammer's article cited in Nomad's recent post, reminding us that stability is a fool's goal and that the only true stability rests on freedom.

If, as Bush predicts, the 21st century will be liberty's century, and our children will see the establishment of representative governments worldwide, then there will be a handful of men who will always be remembered as having stamped this vision on the globe. Sharansky will be one of them. So will Reagan. Bush, if he sticks to his principles, will be another.
Previous book reviews:
Freakonomics Doctor Bean
The Bell Curve Doctor Bean
Ender's Game Ralphie
Guns, Germs, and Steel Doctor Bean
Ender's Game Doctor Bean
One Book List Oven
"Sharansky's thesis is that the free societies that are most hostile to us (think France, Germany)"

Why are we "hostile"? Because most of us, but not all, disagree with SOME of your policies?
Isn't that a pretty hostile anti-German statement? Especially if you consider
Germany's aid to Katrina's victims or German relief experts at work in New Orleans or what we do in the war on terror and in Afghanistan.

"a handful of men who will always be remembered as having stamped this vision on the globe. Sharansky will be one of them. So will Reagan. Bush, if he sticks to his principles, will be another."

Shouldn't he then follow the advice of the State Department and GAO and be tougher on Saudi Arabia? As outlined here:
The US-Saudi relationship: Oil supply at the expense of US security and moral values

Enjoy your coffee!
Jorg: Welcome! I totally agree with you. Note that later I make that explicit:
"Realize that disputes between free societies are never as dangerous as the mere existence of a fear society -- i.e. Germany, France and the US should understand that their quarrels are those between friends."

As to your last link, I'm sure Sharansky would agree as well. By "hostile", I simply meant in rhetoric, especially 2 years ago when the war was being debated. I was just trying to make Sharansky's point that no matter how much two free societies disagree, they are better friends than a free society can ever be with a fear society.

I hope I'm more clear now.
Was hostile the word chosen by Sharansky?

I can see how it might offend our European allies, as it offended jorg. I think our allies have every right to disagree with some of our policies, but that doesn't have to mean that they are hostile, which I think is a strong word.

Bean, when do you have time to read all these books? I guess that's why you're posting at 5:14 AM...
Wanderer: No, "hostile" was my poor choice of words. I should have used a weaker word to make Sharansky's point.

I mostly read on weekends and for a few minutes at bedtime. I read during synagogue services when you're praying. I get interesting insights. You go to heaven.
Of course, another reason that going to war with France (or Germany) would be laughable is because, well, it would be laughable.

(Sorry, Jorg, couldn't resist)
Dr. Bean, thanks for the clarification!

Ralphie, laughing is healthy. ;-)
BTW I thought your summary of the Sharansky book was excellent - almost feel like I don't need to read the book, though it sounds very interesting.
Wanderer: Thanks. This means you want me to refer more patients to you, right? Read the book anyway. You'll like it.
Jorg: You're welcome. Any thoughts from Germany about what's happenning in France?
Do you mean the riots in France? I don't know. German politics is a mess right now as well. I haven't followed French domestic policies. All I know is that both countries are so busy with themselves that Pakistan's earthquake victims are left alone: Pakistani Fulbrighters call for more aid for quake victims

Or do you mean the French refusal to cut the ridiculous and counter-productive agricultural subsidies and being a pain in the ass for the EU commission which is negotiating with the US at WTO? EU rejects bold US proposal to cut farm subsidies; progress on "open skies"
Jorg: I meant the riots but am happy to learn about the agriculture subsidies, too.
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