Let Freedom Ring

Reviewed by Jeremy Rabkin

The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror
by Natan Sharansky with Ron Dermer
PublicAffairs, 2004, 303 pages.

Signup for FREE ACCESS to all content
on AzureOnline


t required tremendous courage and resolution for dissidents to mount public challenges to Soviet repression in the 1970s. Yet even among such heroic figures, Natan Sharansky achieved exceptional prominence. His arrest and imprisonment, for example, provoked personal protests by U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his successor Ronald Reagan. In fact, it was Reagan’s direct intervention that ultimately secured Sharansky’s release from prison and his safe arrival, on that same day, in Israel. A mere ten years later, Sharansky won a place in the Israeli Knesset as head of his own political party. He continued to serve in various capacities in the cabinets of Benjamin Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and Ariel Sharon, even as his own party dwindled to insignificance. Throughout, Sharansky combined the spirit and daring required of a dissident under tyranny with the agility and tact of a successful politician in a free society.
Such a combination is rare. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a much grander figure in the opposition to Soviet Communism, was never able to find a role in the political life of post-communist Russia. He did not let his fierce antagonism to Soviet tyranny prevent him from voicing sharp criticism of the West and from pursuing open quarrels with fellow dissidents. Sharansky, by contrast, managed to merge his initial priority—securing the right of Soviet Jews to emigrate—with the larger struggle against Soviet repression. He was thus able to make common cause with secular intellectuals like Andrei Sakharov, Christian visionaries like Andrei Amalrik, and an assortment of Ukrainian and Baltic nationalists, all of whom were united in the fight against Russia’s Communist regime.
From Sharansky’s point of view, the struggle against Soviet repression ended in success, as most of his initial goals were achieved. By contrast, Israel’s efforts to achieve peace with its Arab neighbors, the dominant concern of Sharansky’s political life over the past decade, have been far less successful. Sharansky’s new book, The Case for Democracy, thus urges that the central lessons of the campaign against Soviet tyranny be mobilized anew in the struggle for peace—not only in the struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, but also in the wider struggle between Western democracies and the world’s remaining tyrannies, particularly those that connive with terrorism. In a book that combines memoir and political manifesto, Sharansky bears his own witness to the truth that powerful ideas can achieve astonishing results, if applied with the right proportions of imagination and discipline.
Sharansky does not advocate ideals divorced from reality. Rather, he argues for a better understanding of political realities. For instance, he insists that those who sought accommodation, or détente, with the Soviet Union in the 1970s turned a blind eye to the true nature of the Soviet state and its implications for the prospects of peace: “There were few leaders in the West who could look beyond the facade of Soviet power to see the fundamental weakness of a state that denied its citizens freedom.” The same mistake, he argues, characterized efforts to make peace with Yasser Arafat’s corrupt terrorist regime in the 1990s. This sort of realpolitik is not merely lacking in moral clarity. In the end, it lacks political realism.
Sharansky further argues that real peace requires the willingness to set a higher goal than an end to violence. To subordinate every concern to the immediate cessation of violence means, in effect, that those who threaten violence will always have the upper hand. Furthermore, temporary agreements with those who threaten violence will never be reliable. “While the mechanics of democracy make democracies inherently peaceful,” he writes, “the mechanics of tyranny make nondemocracies inherently belligerent.” Since peace with dictatorships is not, then, a reliable peace, it follows that the goal of Western nations should be to extend democracy—in the Palestinian territories, in Arab nations, and ultimately in the world at large.
This, Sharansky explains, was his main concern during the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations of the 1990s, when he urged successive prime ministers to link Israeli concessions with guarantees for human rights in Palestinian territories. In expounding the general logic of this strategy, Sharansky makes a good case that support for human rights can be not just a pious ideal, but also sound strategy.

Jeremy Rabkin is a professor of government at Cornell University and author of The Case for Sovereignty: Why the World Should Welcome American Independence (American Enterprise Institute, 2004).

Signup >>
Forgot password? >>

From the

Levi Eshkol, Forgotten HeroIsrael’s third prime minister offers a different model of Jewish leadership.
I.B. Singer's Cruel ChoiceFate and freedom for his characters, for himself.
The Jews’ Right To Statehood: A DefenseA new look at Zionism from the perspective of universal rights.
Lawrence of JudeaThe champion of the Arab cause and his little-known romance with Zionism.
Zohan and the Quest for Jewish UtopiaAdam Sandler's hit comedy reflects a deep divide between Israeli and American Jews.

All Rights Reserved (c) Shalem Press 2018