Non­fic­tion

The Case for Democ­ra­cy: The Pow­er of Free­dom to Over­come Tyran­ny and Terror

Natan Sha­ran­sky; Ron Dermer
  • Review
By – September 24, 2012

Natan Sha­ran­sky, the for­mer Pris­on­er of Zion,” and present mem­ber of Sharon’s cab­i­net, has writ­ten a provoca­tive and impor­tant book that has already received a great deal of buzz. It appears that Pres­i­dent Bush not only invit­ed Sha­ran­sky for an hour-long meet­ing after read­ing The Case for Democ­ra­cy, but passed it on to Con­doleeza Rice, thus mak­ing it required read­ing for his inner cir­cle. An author could not ask for bet­ter pub­lic rela­tions than that! 

Sha­ran­sky makes a com­pelling argu­ment that you can­not trust what he calls fear soci­eties” — gov­ern­ments that are run by dic­ta­tors. He argues that the pol­i­cy of détente, a pol­i­cy iden­ti­fied with Nixon and Hen­ry Kissinger that would have rec­og­nized the legit­i­ma­cy of the Sovi­et dic­ta­tor­ship, was a pol­i­cy doomed to fail­ure, and that it was the Rea­gan admin­is­tra­tion that under­stood that only demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­ern­ments could, in the long run, be trust­ed. Sha­ran­sky cred­its Rea­gan with con­fronting the Sovi­ets by pro­mot­ing a demo­c­ra­t­ic rev­o­lu­tion in Rus­sia and its satel­lite states. This pol­i­cy includ­ed sup­port for the Jack­son- Vanik Amend­ment, which tied Amer­i­can trade with the Sovi­et Union to the emi­gra­tion of Sovi­et Jews. By mod­i­fy­ing its tyran­ny, the com­mu­nist fear soci­ety” ulti­mate­ly col­lapsed under pres­sure from the Unit­ed States. True peace, argues Sha­ran­sky, can only be achieved by soci­eties that are com­mit­ted to democracy. 

When it comes to a solu­tion to the Israeli- Pales­tin­ian con­flict, Sha­ran­sky has much to offer. He argues that the Oslo Accords were doomed to fail­ure from the start because Arafat’s dic­ta­tor­ship could nev­er lead to peace. Sha­ran­sky points out that all fear soci­eties need an exter­nal ene­my, and Israel played this role for the Pales­tin­ian lead­er­ship, thus solid­i­fy­ing Arafat’s hold on his dic­ta­tor­ship. Sha­ran­sky con­tends that before peace can be achieved in the Mid­dle East, democ­ra­cy must first be imple­ment­ed among the Pales­tini­ans. As one of Sharansky’s crit­ics put it, the Pales­tini­ans must first become Swe­den before they can have a Pales­tin­ian state. 

One can under­stand the impres­sion The Case for Democ­ra­cy made on Pres­i­dent Bush. Com­mit­ted to a demo­c­ra­t­ic Iraq, Sharansky’s argu­ment rein­forces his belief that only the cre­ation of demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties can cre­ate real peace in the world. Sha­ran­sky, like the pres­i­dent, believes that free­dom is a uni­ver­sal right and not sub­ject to a people’s his­to­ry, cus­tom or tra­di­tion. Sha­ran­sky, how­ev­er, also offers a caveat in sup­port of his argu­ment, and one won­ders if the pres­i­dent, giv­en his deter­mi­na­tion to use elec­tions in Iraq as a mark­er for declar­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic progress in that divid­ed coun­try, has not­ed it: 

Until the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of Iraqis and Afghans live with­out fear of speak­ing their minds, elec­tions are just as like­ly to weak­en efforts to build democ­ra­cy as they are to strength­en them… the goal of those who gen­uine­ly want to advance democ­ra­cy …would be bet­ter served by wor­ry­ing less about how quick­ly elec­tions are held and more about the atmos­phere in which they will even­tu­al­ly take place” 

This also holds true for the recent elec­tion held by the Palestinians.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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