January 25, 2008


Two presidents, one idea: The “March of Freedom” From Reagan to Bush (Paul Kengor, December 2007/January 2008, Policy Review)

The Westminster address envisioned the expansion of freedom and democracy into that part of the world that needed it more than any other: Eastern Europe, the Soviet empire, “the heart of darkness,” as Reagan called it. Until there was freedom and democracy there, he said, there would be no peace.

Nor was he merely predicting such a change; he would make it the policy of his administration. He would try to reverse the Soviet hold on the region and thereby reverse the Soviet empire, reverse the Cold War, and reverse the course of history.

Such an effort, said Reagan, would constitute a “crusade for freedom.” In the 1950s, he had signed on to General Lucius Clay’s Crusade for Freedom; now he was resurrecting and spearheading it. He added, “This is precisely our mission today: to preserve freedom as well as peace. It may not be easy to see, but I believe we live now at the turning point ” — a historic crossroads.

Ronald Reagan left the presidency the third week of January 1989. By the end of that year, Solidarity candidates had swept 99 of 100 seats in a free and fair election in communist Poland, the Berlin Wall had crashed in a soon-to-be-reunified Germany, Vaclav Havel had left prison for the presidency of Czechoslovakia, and the continent ’s worst living dictator, Romania’s Nicolai Ceausescu, had been lined up against a wall by the masses and shot on Christmas Day — a day he had sought to ban. Two years later, the Soviet Union itself ceased to exist, and the Cold War was over.

Now, as a retired Reagan began what he called “the sunset of my life” in California, a sunrise of freedom set the world aglow.

During the 1970s, Reagan had often bemoaned the lack of freedom in the world, turning in his speeches to data from Freedom House marking the number of free and unfree nations. As president, he dedicated himself to improving those numbers.

By the early 1990s, we could look to the same source to demonstrate the degree of success of the “march of freedom”: In 1980 there were 56 democracies in the world; by 1990, there were 76. The numbers continued upward, hitting 91 in 1991, 99 in 1992, 108 in 1993, and 114 in 1994. Thirteen years after he’d entered the Oval Office, the number of free nations had doubled; by 1994, 60 percent of the world’s nations were democracies.

By the end of the violent twentieth century, which had seen over 50 million perish in two world wars and over 100 million murdered by communist governments, 120 of the world’s 192 nations were free. Outside of Western Europe, 90 percent of Latin American and Caribbean nations were considered democracies, along with 91 percent of Pacific Island states and 93 percent of the nations of East Central Europe and the Baltic area — i.e., the former Soviet region.

Yet there was one part of the world immune to this wave of freedom: the Middle East — the least democratic region on the planet and, perhaps not coincidentally, the most violent. A 1999-2000 survey by Freedom House (done, importantly, before September 11, 2001) found that an astonishing zero of the 16 Arab countries in the Middle East were democratic, the worst rate on the globe.

Now, against great odds, another Republican president is attempting to extend Ronald Reagan’s march of freedom to that one area on earth where it has been most resisted.

What's amusing for those old enough to recall the Cold War is that the same sorts of racialist arguments that were used then, about how Slavs/Asians/Germans/etc. were Naturally predisposed towards totalitarian government, are being recycled and applied to Arabs. More amusing still, neocons and libertarians on the Right join in the chorus, with Palestinians or whomever somehow unsuited to democratic self-governance.

It's the sort of thing Darwinists can believe -- even though they were on the opposite side last time -- but that religious conservatives have to reject utterly, which is why it was Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush who led these stages of the Crusade.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 25, 2008 8:51 AM

That's it. The heresy is that the loved Egyptian night is good enough for the lesser breeds.

Now without question, there is no "racial" predisposition to bad government. A culture may be on the wrong path and may need reformation by whatever means necessary, but the individual men and women liberated fron those defective cultures are as "racially" capable of civilizaion as any of us. Ponder only the transformative age of European conversion to see how this works out.

The problem arises when race and culture are conflated. We saw this in the 19th Century racialist theories, and we see in now in the poltroon impulse to abandon our neighbors to their own sloth and heathen folly.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 25, 2008 6:45 PM

Lou: Exactly. The problems the Arabs have with democracy and good government aren't genetic, but cultural: partly too much tradition (corruption, sexism, Koran literalism), which a dash of some modernism and secularism would help cure. OJ will never admit this, though, because in the past modernism and secularism brought them socialist dictatorships. My response: there's more to modernism and secularism than socialist dictatorships.

Posted by: PapayaSF at January 26, 2008 12:03 AM