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on 24 May 2005
Many of us remember Anatoly/Natan Sharansky, who suffered under the Soviet system for his advocacy of freedom. After American presidents Carter and Reagan pressed his case, Mr. Sharansky was finally released by the KGB, and allowed to emigrate to Israel. Having experienced living in a "fear state," where people are forced to support a system that oppresses them, he understands the effects that such a system has, and the power that can be unleashed when it is overthrown.
In this book, Mr. Sharansky shows how tyrannical systems of government are never good governments with which the West can safely interact, but that they create instability and terror, both within their borders and without. He makes the point that the thinkers in the West must come to realize that there is a world of difference between free societies and fear societies, and that to make a peaceful world, the West must make the call for freedom a cornerstone of its foreign relations.
This is a fascinating and perspicacious work, and in it Mr. Sharansky makes a very convincing argument that the West must press for freedom around the globe. He is clear that many governments are far from perfect, but that when a government recognizes basic freedoms, it can and will move towards more freedom and more peaceful relations with the rest of the world. Overall, I found this book to be enlightening and totally convincing, and am quite sure that it reflects a good deal of thinking within the Bush White House.
So if you want to read a fascinating and thought-provoking book, then you must read this book. Also, if you want to understand an underlying thrust of the Bush administrations foreign strategy, then you must read this book. I give it my highest recommendations!
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on 29 January 2005
Sharansky argues that the best weapon against tyranny is the creation of free societies. He argues that the West can and should intervene, using the tactic of linkage. If a tyrannical regime (presiding over a "fear" society) wants to trade with free societies, such trade must be linked to them changing their human rights record: the population must be able to express their views freely without fear of reprisal.
The most uplifting aspect of the book is Sharansky's narration of the collapse of the soviet union. The most depressing aspect is the hash that he considers everyone - Europe, the US, successive Israeli governments - has made of moving towards a separate Palestinian state. I was feelling quite optimistic about the role of the security fence in removing terrorist violence, but he reminded me that leaving the Palestinian regime to continue as a "fear society" condemns its people to more years of poverty, doublethink, and propaganda.
He makes no connection to the micro-level, but I think his message applies there to. Just as a free, democratic society functions better than a fear-filled dictatorship, which inevitably carries the seeds of its eventual implosion, so a family with authoritarian parents is doomed to disaster as the children defect to freer climes as soon as they have the physical and mental power.
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on 2 June 2008
Natan Sharansky knows more about resisting tyranny than most, having been incarcerated in a prison of one of history's greatest tyrannies-the Soviet Union, as he illustrated in his incredible memoirs Fear No Evil: The Classic Memoir of One Man's Triumph over a Police State

In this book he puts under the microscope the totalitarian states of the world, dissecting the inner workings of fear societies.

Sharansky contrasts fear societies with free societies. The profound moral difference between a free society and a fear society, as Sharansky shows us, is that people in free societies can publicly express their own ideas and persuade people to accept these ideas as well.
Sharansky points out that "moral clarity provides us with a place to stand, a reference point from where to leverage our talents, energies and ideas to create a better world. Without moral clarity, without a referewnce point, those same talents, ideas and energies are just as likely to do harm as good...A world without moral clarity is a world in which dictators speak of human rights even as they kill thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions, tens of millions, even hundreds of millions of people. It is a world in which the only democracy in the Middle East is percieved as the greatest violator of human rights in the world. It is a world in which a human rights conference against racism, such as the one that took place in Durban, South Africa a few years ago, can be turned into a carnival of hate".

Sharansky reminds us that there has never been a war between two democracies. He attacks those who believe that democracy cannot work in certain countries, pointing out that the same was said about Germany and Japan during and just after the Second World War. Today Germany and Japan are among the world's strongest democracies and human rights societies in the world.
Sharansky also condemmns the distortions by the world media, painting the masses in tyrannies such as that of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and the Taleban in Afghanistan, as being contented. He compares this to leftist intellectuals in the West who praised the Soviet Union as a paradise on earth at a time when Stalin was killing tens of millions of men, women and children.

While Sharansky is hopeful for an eventual peace settlement betwen Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, he is adamant that this must be tied to improvements in human rights and basic freedoms in Palestinian society. He condemmns the Oslo Process for strengthening and attempting to appease the mass murderer and tyrant Yasser Arafat and his ruthless terror network.
He points out how the human rights principles that once guided him in the Soviet Union remain the cornerstone of his approach to the peace process, that a neighbour who tramples the rights of his own people will eventually threaten the rights of the author's people, and that the only way to create Arab-Israeli reconciliation is to press the Arab world to protect human rights.

Sharansky reminds us that those who hoped for a quick fix to the conflict should not have been surprised when the Oslo process collapsed and Arafat began his war of terror against the Israeli people. For seven years Arafat had been doing what all dictators do, using his power not to promote peace and better the lot of the Palestinian Arabs but rather to turn the Palestinian Arabs into a battering ram against the Jewish State. Money allocated to improve the Palestinian Arab's living standards was diverted to support a vast network of terror.
"By allowing and often encouraging Arafat to create a fear society, a peace process that should have been steadily reducing a century old animus had instead exacerbated it".

Sharansky stresses that he is not opposed to legitimate criticism of Israel's policies. However to distinguish legitimate criticism from anti-Semitism he has come up with what he calls the 3 D Test. If the criticism of Israel contains demonization of the Jewish State, double standards against the Jewish State, or delegitimization of the Jewish State, then it certainly can be termed anti-Semitic.
Sharansky believes that bthe war between the Jews and the Arabs is not a tribal war but a part of the first world war of the 21st century between the world of democracy and the world of terror.
Leftwing extremists who support tyranny ands terror and who do not want people to be free, will of course try to rubbish the book.
But for true lovers of freedom and human rights, this is an essential guide to understanding the great struggle we are faced with at the beginning of the 21st century.
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on 30 September 2005
If you want to get a clear and easy to understand explanation of why many Americans use freedoma and democracy in often interchangable roles, read this book. I'm not talking about the highly educated elite, I'm talking about the middle of the road person who experiences, on a daily basis, what it means to be truly free.
My favorite paragraph is when the author discusses how the elite in a free society start to lose perspective about what is truly totalitarian and what is not. The line between a free society and a "fear" society is blured in the elitest mind so that they end up supporting leaders like Castro, Hussein, and others in the guise of what's "right."
Great and easy read for everyone.
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on 9 August 2014
This is a fantastic book, which shows that change for the better in countries with dictatorial regimes is actually more straightforward than we think. We have the power to stop dictators, which is in the interests of people living in those countries, who want their freedom, as well as our own interests, because, as the book explains, all dictatorships have an inherent belligerence, which will one day threaten us. In addition, democracies are more prosperous and, therefore, better for the global economy, because freedom allows people to unleash their creative potential, generate new ideas and organise things better and more transparently.

If you want to really understand why Hamas, Vladimir Putin and the mullahs and ayatollahs in Iran are behaving the way they are, then read this book. It is inspiring and hopeful and, in my opinion, predicted the Arab Spring before it happened. (It also suggests that Russia has an unfinished revolution too, as the title of Michael McFaul's book also does.) What I would also say is that I am disappointed that this book has been sold alongside neocon books. Yes, neocons do want to see democracy spread, but, as Sharansky and Dermer point out, supporting democracy and freedom is not something that only right-wingers can do. Left-wingers can too and frankly, I wish they would more.
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on 23 December 2016
With shades of Orwell's 1984 - people divided between conformists, dissidents and doublethinkers and a state in need of external enemies - this is a logical and well written exposition of the importance of identifying and defying 'fear states' by the free countries on which they are reliant. Politicians in a free state, whether they like it or not, are obliged to pay attention to the needs of citizens. Politicians who do not allow free speech can only be undermined by those who can. The book takes us from Russia, where the undermining worked, to the Middle East, where tyrants have been supported. Things are difficult, but a ray of hope is offered here.
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on 24 June 2006
Natan Sharansky's book , "The Case for Democracy" is an ingeniously written work that can be used as a manifesto on foreign policy by the USA and the rest of the western democracies. He succinctly made a strong case for democracy in this book and also stresses on the fact that liberty abroad and home security are intricately linked. It goes to support the long held view that there can be no peace and justice without democracy. This is best explained by the fact that as liberal democracy is spread all around the world as desired by the people, the oppressed people in those countries turn to feel liberated and with that goes individual and collective efforts that not only improves their standards of living , but also improves worldwide security. The author holds that the link between foreign policy and human right is paramount for security. This belief is illustrated in his pyramid of the three sources of power.

At the bottom of the pyramid are the ordinary people who are privileged to live in a free and democratic society. In the middle are their leaders who are voted in or out of power through free elections that are held over certain periods of time. At the top of the pyramid is to be found the society or commonwealth of free nations where liberty, freedom and development reigns. Consensus holds the free societies together, through the recognition of the right to dissent. But then the free societies also need the moral clarity to identify evil .

Sharansky explained that the courage to dissent is the first human quality to confront evil in a fear society. While fear societies are unsustainable, the practice of "realpolitik" and maintaining the "status quo" that focuses on strategic interest alone without moral obligations tend to breathe more air into the lives of fear societies. Free societies make little effort to press for democracy in the fear societies because of excuses that: some cultures and civilizations lack the enthusiasm for democracy, chaos and instability may result from the transition, and not enough strings are there to make the fear societies to change.

Madness! Sharansky made the effort to link foreign policy with respect for human rights, a course that is considered as unavoidable to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to establish a democratic Palestinian state.

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on 21 February 2005
When I bought this book I had not really looked well who wrote it. The title suggested it was just the book I'd been looking for for sometime. I had noticed for sometime that people frequently talk about democracy as if it were and end in itself. Things are called `right' because they are democratic and `wrong' because they're not democratic. But surely democracy is not and end in itself. Why democracy? What good does it bring? Are democratic countries really better of than non-democratic ones? And if so, in what ways? And for whom is it better?
As I started reading the book I realized who the author is: former USSR-dissident Sharansky who is now an Israeli politician who appears to have some influence on the current US diplomacy. This made me a bit cautious while reading: is this book really independent or just intended as a justification of Israeli and US policies? I have tried to carefully follow and consider the line of reasoning. Basically, this is what the author says:
The core proposition of the book is that promoting peace and security is fundamentally connected to promoting freedom and democracy. The author says the mechanics of democracy will always make a democratic country develop a tendency towards peace. Whereas a minority of individuals will prefer war to peace, a majority will never do so. They will tend to choose peace, stability, and security. And because democratic leaders know they depend on the people they cannot consistently ignore this drive towards peace. Non-democratic leaders create fear and control and do not depend on the people's whish. The thread of war will often be a desirable thing for dictators. By creating external enemies they have a legitimation to enforce loyalty and get rid of regime opposers. This makes (the thread of) war attractive to them.
A second core proposition is that democratic countries need to press for democratic reform in non-democratic countries. While some argue that democracy can't be created from the outside (making it 'artifical') the author gives convincing examples of how democracy has been successfully been established under outside pressure to the benefit of people. The author himself witnessed firsthand how the US successfully pressed for democracy in the USSR. But an even more impressive example may be Germany. Who would have believed around 1940 that Germany would be a blossoming democracy within 15 years? Saying that a democracy cannot be established without outside help sounds to me like saying the police should not interfere when a man is molesting and terrorizing his family. It sounds like saying: "O, no let's not interfere, at least he is not harming the neighbors. If that family truly wants to be more free and equal they have to establish that for themselves. Maybe the wife and kids are not the kind of people who want to be free?" While this sounds absurd on this level, we do it all the time when it concerns states.
A third proposition is that all peoples deserve to be free and are potentially capable of democratic self-rule. Sometimes people claim that democracy is a Western invention that will never take hold in certain parts of the world because it would contradict the culture of the people involved. The author successfully defies this logic by showing how democracy has spread and is still spreading throughout the world, including in `improbable' places like Japan, South America, and Russia. Saying that some people are better off without freedom and democracy reminds of how many people once justified slavery, apartheid and so on.
If the author is right (and I tend to think he is) this would have great implications for international diplomacy. The dominant trend in democracy has been to prefer stability over pressing for democracy and social reform. There is a strong belief that it is support strong leaders who control their angry peoples firmly so that there will be at least some level of stability. The author turns this logic upside down: he says the tendency towards war begins with tyranny; the remedy is freedom and democracy, not the other way around. By saying this, the author is not only criticizing the laissez faire attitude of the United Nations but certainly too the longstanding traidition of make-friends-with-dictators-diplomacy of Israel and the US. Only very recently the US seem to have embraced the line of thinking of Sharansky.
If the author is right, promoting democracy serves two goals at once: it serves human rights of individuals and enhances international stability and peace. I guess he is quite right. This does not mean that war will be needed and is always justified agains tyrannies. On the contrary! The more consistently and unanimously the UN will manage to press for democracy, the more non-violent means will be sufficient so that many wars can be prevented. Having said that, I want to add that e should not only point the finger and put pressure on countries like many Middle Eastern countries and North Korea. Democracy should not be taken for granted anywhere. Also in countries now called democratic I believe there is a need to further enhance democracy.
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on 9 February 2005
Natan Sharansky has written a simple and straightforward book, which brings with it the hope for a brighter world future. In it, he argues that democracy, or, as he describes it "freedom", as defined by a series of simple conditions, will always bring with it security and prosperity. This is a book with a clear message, which ought to be read and owned by anyone interested in diplomacy, politics or the human condition and society. You will not be disappointed, you will not be confused. This is a book which represents an ideology which will grow and grow in the next few years and decades, and could transform the world.
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HALL OF FAMEon 6 January 2006
In a recent interview, Natal Sharansky said that he was pleasantly surprised when he heard his concepts being used, almost verbatim in expression, in President Bush's Inaugural Address in January 2005. It makes sense, however, that the President would pick up on the themes expressed by Sharansky. A former Soviet dissident who spent nearly a decade as a political prisoner, Sharansky embodies the idea of resistance and struggle for the ideal of freedom. After his release from the Soviets, Sharansky immigrated to Israel, where he became a political figure and member of the Cabinet, continuing to argue for the kinds of freedom that citizens of Western countries have increasingly come to take for granted, but which are in fact very precious and fragile in many respects.
Freedom in Sharansky's view is rooted in freedom of expression -- freedom to say what one thinks, both politically and socially, without fear of governmental reprisals. This is the core freedom from which most every other political freedom derives, in Sharansky's framework. This is the heart of democracy, and explains why repressive regimes on the left and right politically often take freedom of speech, press, assembly and other freedom of expression rights away from the people.
Sharansky's idea of freedom has strong international ramifications for him. Sharansky's primary ideal, stated in the President's Inaugural Address, is that the democratic countries are inherently safer as international partners than autocratic and repressive regimes, and the democracy always tends toward peace as a primary goal. The people in democratic societies tend not to support terrorism and not to support warfare.
Sharansky's ideals are strongly stated and well argued. There is a strong element of political idealism here -- democracies are unfortunately rather good at waging war and supporting some activities that might be defined by others as terrorism; however, Sharansky's primary thesis is correct in that few democracies will hold these up as goals or ideals for which the nation strives, and warfare and terrorism will be seen as aberrations.
Sharansky spends time in the realm of the practical rather than simply theoretical. He surveys recent and current international relations and American/Western foreign policy with regard to the break-up of the Eastern Block and Soviet Union as well as the Middle East. Sharansky's argument here is that the press for democratic reform that worked in the case of the former communist republics should not be abandoned in the case of the Middle East in an effort to sustain a peace with repressive or autocratic regimes.
The one primary failing in this text from my perspective is that it does not adequately account for Israel's own continuing problem with the issue over Palestinian self-governance. That would undoubtedly take a book of its own to do, but Sharansky could have acknowledged the difficulties in this area, as it would undoubtedly have an impact on the way his wishes for affairs in the broader Middle Eastern context would be conducted.
Worth reading, particularly as it is on the Presidential bookshelf at the moment.
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