Philip Zelikow looks at some new books that grapple with the events of 1989 and after that led to the fall of communism.
In 1964, Burnham, the author of the nightmare vision that so provoked Orwell, was helping William F. Buckley edit the National Review. (Reagan would later award Burnham the Medal of Freedom.) At the time, Burnham’s latest book had administered another powerful dose of pessimism. Titled Suicide of the West, in it Burnham argued that modern liberalism had lost the fervor of classical liberalism. The modern variant treated peace and security as equal to or greater than the commitment to preserving freedom. Since the focus on peace denigrated the use of power against a ruthless foe, Burnham predicted that the West was slowly committing suicide.
History dealt Burnham’s argument a strange hand. He would be pleased to see that a belief in defending the West was a factor in the American and European revival. But the positive, dynamic ideal offered in Western European countries and Japan was so magnetic precisely because those countries seemed to be discarding their traditional reliance on force and hard power.
At supreme moments of crisis in 1989 and 1990, critical choices were indeed made in favor of peace, in favor of nonviolent change. But those choices were made by men groomed from adolescence to be model Communist leaders. The suicide was in the East, not the West. And the suicide was not an act of self-destruction. Theirs was an act of creation.