To the Editor:
COMMENTARY’s symposium, “Human Rights and American Foreign Policy” [November 1981], expresses a wide range of opinions and criticisms. No matter how cogent these are, it is time to get beyond this level and begin to describe American policies that can build a world with brighter prospects for human rights. It will be an experimental undertaking—as were the efforts of previous administrations—but if we remember our mistakes and keep our eye on the eventual objective of a freer and more just world, even the misguided efforts of the past will have been worthwhile.
The policy must be based on the realization that the origin and bastion of human rights is the world of democratic states defended militarily by the United States. Human-rights organizations exist almost exclusively in this democratic world. The concept of separate and powerful legal institutions that can undergird individual and group rights of any kind has been developed by and thrives almost exclusively in this world. Only countries bound together by the common understandings of democracies and their respect for law can ever hope to build a world of law or a world of peace.
The first essential of a human-rights policy is to maintain the strength, viability, and dedication to human rights of the democracies. Unfortunately, since our democratic and legal principles are universalistic, based on the dignity of all individuals, and since only a reliable world order can insure the peace that the future of democracy requires, we cannot maintain our dedication to these principles without competing in their terms for the allegiance of all peoples.
We compete in two complementary ways. We try to educate the peoples of the world in the possibilities of a more humane existence (the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the publications of Amnesty International or Freedom House, State Department reports on human rights, and the Voice of America are examples of such educational efforts), and we arrange to defend and expand the areas ruled by a democratic order (World War II, the democratization of the Axis powers, and the establishment of NATO and OECD are examples of this effort). Most discussions of human rights as an aspect of American foreign policy are discussions of education or communication for human rights. But the focus of education and communication should in the last analysis be on supporting the extension of the democratic world.
Although there have been many setbacks, nations that fit into and potentially form a part of a worldwide democratic community have been proliferating since World War II. There are now more independent democracies than ever before in history. The recent institutionalization of democracy in Spain, Portugal, and Greece extends significantly the consolidation of democracy in Europe that occurred at the end’ of World War II. The small republics of the Caribbean and the South Pacific are functioning democracies, as are most of the Andean countries. The largest non-Communist countries of Africa and Asia are functioning if imperfect democracies. Democratic freedoms are accepted as standards to be worked toward in many countries in the world in which they have not been fully institutionalized, especially in Brazil, Thailand, and Malaysia. Democracy is the accepted standard of government of the dissident opposition to tyranny almost everywhere, as in the two Chinas and Iran.
In this context, the focus of American human-rights policy should be on strengthening the expansion of democratic systems. First, this means that the nascent “community of democracies” (see James Huntley, Uniting the Democracies) should be given additional form and cohesiveness through expanding its common economic, military, and cultural institutions; and that improving American relations with often estranged democracies (from France to India and Nigeria) should receive such priority that these states eventually become fully functioning members of the community. Secondly, all members of the community should make special efforts to help provisional democracies (such as Spain, Greece, Peru, and Ghana) succeed economically and politically. There should be no quixotic endeavor to transform all states suddenly into democracies, but opportunities occur in all states to support positive experience with more democratic forms. Finally, the United States, as the leader and thus chief ideological model or lightning rod of the democracies, must explicitly support adherence to the highest ideal of human rights everywhere in the world. The American government’s condemnation of such crimes as apartheid, forced labor, torture, or of such denials of rights as those to union organization, free movement, or a free press should be clear and firm, wherever these occur. Private and democratic-community efforts to eliminate these practices through the glare of publicity or legal sanctions should receive American government encouragement. (Pursuing human rights through universalist structures like the UN which are dominated by non-democratic governments is unlikely to result in a reliable extension of human rights.) Open governmental pressure or quiet diplomacy to achieve improvements in human rights in all countries should be a part, but not necessarily the most important part, of this effort. Whatever the mode of action, it should be remembered that the main reason for such efforts is to validate consistently the claim of the democratic community that its extension will serve the interest of human rights in all countries, for these interests are basic to its own structure.
In the American struggle for human rights, the central goal of our political history and the condition of our survival, there are many twists, tactical retreats, Pyrrhic victories, and lessons learned, but we must continue to remember what our mission is, let others know what it is, and be unashamed of standing up for our universal ideal. Far from imperialist, democracy and human rights are the bitter enemies of imperialism. Only through them can the people of every nation and sub-nation choose to preserve those parts of their past that they cherish and yet at their own pace choose to change into the future they design. With continued effort eventually every people will come to respect and then realize this possibility.
Raymond D. Gastil
Director, Comparative Survey of Freedom
New York City
To the Editor:
The symposium on “Human Rights and American Foreign Policy” is evidence of a deep soul-searching process. Perhaps you might be interested in the views of someone who for almost fifty years has lived in Latin American countries.
The human-rights question should be seen as part of the general problem of whether and to what extent U.S. foreign policy finds it necessary to limit its political and economic cooperation in the Third World to countries which are in line with the concepts of Western democracy.
As Howard J. Wiarda has observed in The Continuing Struggle for Democracy in Latin America (Westview Press, 1980), if almost no country in Latin America is in line with these concepts, the question must be raised whether something is wrong with the overall formulation, at least in its application to the Third World.
What is wrong is, in my opinion, the obvious fact that in Latin America (as in most of the other Third World countries) the realities are fundamentally different. Without disregarding the dissimilarities among the twenty republics of Latin America, they nevertheless hold certain things in common. The attitude and behavior of their people have been formed by ethnic aspects and magic-tribal allegiances rather than by features characteristic of the people of the Western world. As to their political views and behavior, the Enlightenment, which had a decisive influence in the political development of the Western democracies, never played a part in Latin America.
The inability of Latin American countries to cope with their economic and social problems resulted in a degeneration of their political life. Their apparently democratic structures became subject to heavy pressures and manipulation. This has become more accentuated during the last thirty years with the explosive increase of population. In 1900 the population of Latin America amounted to 60 million; in 1950 it was 160 million. In 1980 the figure was 330-340 million, and it will be 650-670 million in the year 2000. . . . The Soviet Union and Cuba took advantage of this vulnerable situation to infiltrate on all economic, social, and political levels. In many cases, when a country was on the verge of economic and political collapse, this led to the intervention of the armed forces—often at the invitation of the political parties who had proved unable to handle the problem.
Again, making the necessary allowances for great differences among the different countries, the basic problem was (and still is) a problem of survival against Marxist infiltration and subversion organized by Cuba and of finding a way. to accommodate the social and economic pressures of the new masses. The first need of these masses is to come into this world under adequate hygienic conditions, to receive medical assistance, and to grow up and live their lives in accordance with their abilities and education. The chance for ordinary people to lead their daily lives under reasonable human conditions is the first human right with which the Latin American countries are vitally concerned.
The modem challenge of a demographic explosion in countries that have been underdeveloped since they entered modern history 150 years ago can be met only with extraordinary measures of super-rapid development on all levels: natural resources, education and job training, higher education, and the creation of incentives for investors and workers, which will make production and achievement attractive to them.
The question is, therefore, whether a country faced with these problems of survival under the pressure of external subversion and internal underdevelopment is justified in taking extraordinary measures of self-defense.
The intervention of the armed forces in Latin America should be seen as precisely this: as self-defense in the interest of the survival of their countries. The armed forces are the only institution that is able and willing to defend the nations of Latin America against Marxist infiltration and subversion and to lead a process of rapid economic development. The problem of authoritarian governments should be seen in this context, and it is at this point that the distinction between authoritarianism and totalitarianism becomes of decisive importance. The authoritarian governments of Latin America do not intend to stay in power permanently. They have taken over for a necessary emergency period of transition—generally between eight to ten years. According to the published plans—i.e., in Chile and Brazil—toward the end of this period at the latest general elections are to take place and parliamentary democracy in the Western sense of the word is to be restored.
During this period of transition, devoted exclusively to a forceful program of political and economic modernization by strong governments of an authoritarian type, a gradual process of political liberalization begins: freedom of the press is restored and newspapers of the opposition are freely published (although with a continuation of the restrictions on Communist propaganda), the judicial mechanisms for the protection of the individual through due process are gradually reestablished, and the administrative authority of the government becomes gradually subject to and limited by legal norms. At the same time, steps toward a true (as distinct from manipulated) participation of the people are taken on the basis of the principle of subsidiarity: the self-administration of individuals is developed at first on the level of small communities and villages. Local activists are given preference over rhetorical programs from the central government, which frequently do not reach remote communities. The next step will be local and then provincial elections as a first stage before reestablishing general national elections.
When parliamentary elections are reestablished it will be essential to bring elements of longer-term economic and social thinking into the political process. Preferably this is to take place through the establishment of a second chamber (Senate) in which a certain number of seats are given to personalities of recognized ability and merit. . . .
What is, therefore, at stake in Latin America (and most of the Third World) is an overhaul and redefinition of democracy. An indigenous understanding of realities and political practices is necessary for a reformation and reassessment of democracy, which perhaps might be termed “authoritarian democracy” (see David Collier, ed., The New Authoritarianism in Latin America, Princeton University Press, 1979).
The question of human rights is part of this “new democracy.” But in Latin America, as in most of the Third World, the most basic human right is the right of ordinary people to lead their lives without being poor and hungry and without being subject to terrorism—from guerrillas or from arbitrary government officials. Other human rights, like exercising political activities not restricted by any government interference, periodical parliamentary elections open to all parties (even those who negate state and society), etc., are also important. But here, perhaps, a distinction must be made between the human right of survival and other rights which belong to categories of the Western quality of life. The priority given to some rights and not to others is a difficult question of relative value judgments: to balance the good that we can do for the human right of survival against the negative costs of (temporarily) limiting other rights.
The future of so-called “authoritarian democracy” in Latin America will depend on the speed of economic and social progress and on the success of the value-balancing procedures. It will depend, above all, on an early liberalization of the “quality-of-life” rights.
In many Latin American countries which live under authoritarian governments, results are already visible. Brazil and Chile, for instance, have restored freedom of the press to an almost total degree: the only limitation is on the preaching and practice of violence and Communist propaganda. The guarantees of the rights of the individual vis-à-vis the power of the police have advanced. The individual can appeal to independent law courts against measures of the police. There are only some measures of “protection of democracy” left: against violence and Communist subversion when it is used to overthrow democracy. The speed and degree of the total restoration of due process will depend on the continuation and intensity of terrorist activities. When these are abandoned, measures to repress them will be suspended.
There is evidence that the population is more interested in the elimination of poverty and in being able to participate in economic progress (in 1979 in Chile 50.7 percent of the total budget was used for social purposes against 40.5 percent in 1970), than in the frequently hypocritical practices of pseudo-democracy under previous governments.
The least that the countries of Latin America can expect from the U.S. and Europe after many years of frustration under such pseudo-democratic governments is to be given a chance to try their present experiment.
Gerhard Wolfgang Goldberg
Institute for Sociology
Würzburg, West Germany
To the Editor:
Universal respect for human rights is, undoubtedly, a worthy goal in itself. If, however, we conceive of human rights as one of several foreign-policy goals, all equally important, . . . then making it a cornerstone of our foreign policy could constrain our freedom of maneuver considerably. Human rights ought not to be pursued at the expense of our main goal, which is to deter Soviet expansionism. . . .
Democracy is not a plant that thrives equally well everywhere; instead, it grows out of a particular historical-intellectual tradition, one that has taken centuries to develop in the Western world. Although there are obviously some exceptions, . . . the overwhelming majority of democratic states are advanced industrial countries; therefore, a reasonable degree of affluence seems to be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the existence of this form of government. To think that the United States can easily succeed in imposing its own form of democracy, and its own concept of human rights, on every country of the world, no matter how poor or backward, is to fall victim to a peculiarly American, and dangerously naive, form of optimism. To that extent, I certainly agree with the position that seems to have been adopted by the Reagan administration.
I disagree strongly, however, with the attempt, currently being made by some members of the administration, to provide a theoretical justification for following elementary rules of prudence in foreign policy. To create an elaborate theoretical structure based on the distinction between “totalitarian” and “authoritarian” governments, as Jeane Kirkpatrick has attempted to do, seems to me to be both unnecessary and self-serving. Mrs. Kirkpatrick has apparently made this distinction in order to differentiate the Communist from the non-Communist world. She wants to make clear who our potential enemies are: Marxist-Leninist states, she argues, are by nature militarily expansionistic. Yet when have Albania or Romania—both staunchly Stalinist regimes—recently attacked any of their neighbors? . . . What Mrs. Kirkpatrick seems to mean is that the expansionism of the Soviet Union and Cuba represents a potential threat to the security of the United States, while such dictatorships as Brazil and Chile pose no such threat; if this is what Mrs. Kirkpatrick means, she should say precisely that.
What I have suggested, furthermore, is not to be construed as saying that we should not be concerned with human rights; we should indeed be concerned with them, but as an adjunct to our foreign-policy interests. If we are concerned with human rights, we should be concerned with them all over the world: the fact that an innocent person is in pain should anger us, regardless of where the pain is generated. . . .
The difficulty, of course, is in implementing such a policy while still conducting our diplomacy in a prudent and rational way. Wherever feasible, the United States should draw away from dictators. We should not automatically assume that all so-called “liberation movements,” fighting against oppressive regimes, are inevitably threats to United States geopolitical interests. If we are going to be perceived as too closely associated with oppressive regimes, then people throughout the world will, in the long run, I believe, turn against us. Thus we ought to be more wary of supporting such governments than we have been in the past, even if it is in our short-run interests to support such regimes.
If our enemy is Soviet military expansionism, it can indeed be stopped by force of arms; if, however, the “Marxism-Leninism” against which we are fighting is a “fire in the minds of men” in the Third World, as Max Lerner suggests, then it can only be combatted by lighting a “counter-fire”: the ideal of liberty.
In our defense of American interests abroad through diplomacy and through persuasion, we must, as the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once reminded us, be both as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. In other words, it is necessary to combine realism and idealism, rather than stressing one at the expense of the other.
To the Editor:
Noam Chomsky, in his effort to be a hard-headed realist, makes a mistake common to leftist ideologues. He assumes that no government action can be rooted in a humane intention. He is as myopic as those who insinuate that all government actions are intended to propagate human rights.
Midge Decter, along with other conservative ideologues, identifies U.S. interests with liberty: “. . . the U.S. position, so definitively important in the maintenance of liberty on earth. . . .” She appears to confuse congruence with identification, much as GM once held that the nation’s welfare was one with its own. She mistakes an associative relationship for a causal one. The U.S. has not transcended the need to struggle to preserve its own liberty. Our social system rests upon an abundance of fuel (notably oil), food, and industry. International instability threatens our oil supply; massive erosion of topsoil threatens our food supply; short-term greed (corporate and middle class), coupled with governmental unwillingness to use interventions in the industrial sector creatively, threaten production.
Massive backruptcies and large-scale unemployment at a time when food is short could result in chaos. This could strain the American political system as no other crisis in our history. Our own political liberty, which Miss Decter takes for granted (i.e., threatened only by external or subversive forces), could become a casualty. Most certainly it will unless measures are taken to provide for contingencies. Miss Decter seems blind to democracy’s internal fragility. No nation can justifiably identify itself with liberty, only the struggle for liberty. Our national short-sightedness precludes optimism at this time.
Jeane Kirkpatrick is Noam Chomsky’s liberal opposite. She portrays President Carter and human-rights advocates as mindless moralists. In fact the Carter approach is as rational and “hard-headed” as the conservative one. Mrs. Kirkpatrick asserts that “the human-rights establishment of the Carter period believe[d] that because authoritarian regimes such as those found in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay tolerate social injustice and sometimes use violence arbitrarily, they perpetrate the gravest offenses against human rights.” She implies that human-rights advocates believe totalitarian regimes perpetrate “less grave” injustices. . . .
Mrs. Kirkpatrick ignores a far more plausible rationale for emphasizing human rights in American foreign policy, a rationale whose prime concern is identical with the conservative agenda: national interest. This rationale presupposes that domestic injustice in any nation causes civil unrest and political instability. The United States depends heavily on many regimes that use gross repression to maintain their power. But logistics and limited resources inhibit America’s capability to counter insurgency with military support. . . . When U.S. policy is limited to encouraging repression, it rests on a very shaky foundation: continued support for repression only increases the chances of and opportunities for subversion. . . .
Alliances are only as stable as the regimes which make them. U.S. support for human rights in a consistent and reasoned fashion would give authoritarian leaders the incentive to reduce some of the grosser injustices and their people some cause to work toward reform without bloodshed. And it would give the Soviets far less room to maneuver with their primary tool, revolutionary ideology. . . .
In this age of liberation movements, the democratic ideal retains its moral authority. America needs to use this actively instead of passively hoping it will become a touchstone for other non-democratic nations. This is the rational basis for asserting human rights as the cornerstone of our foreign policy. . . .
It is reasonable to assume that if America can support repression to maintain an authoritarian ally in power, it can also support reform. Currently America’s sole demand seems to be that our beneficiaries will be our enemy’s enemy. This is absurd; whatever support we provide protects their interests even more than our own. The government of El Salvador has far more to lose than the U.S. if the rebels overthrow it; its leaders can lose their power and their lives. The U.S. could support reforms which the Salvadorans would have to accept if they wish to retain political power. This, I believe, must have been the thinking of the Carter administration. One need not accept a Marxist notion of historical inevitability to see that civil discontent has destabilized political systems all over the world. I know of no instance where an authoritarian regime has clearly secured its long-term authority through repression.
In fact, given the ideological climate in the Third World, political development seems more likely to be socialistic than democratic. The neoconservative assumption that authoritarian governments are more likely to become democratic than are totalitarian governments is true. But this assumption ignores the plausibility that the former will become totalitarian instead of democratic. Discontented people are more likely to embrace an ideology which opposes those who support their repression than a philosophy which dismisses it as an unfortunate necessity. States ruled by an authoritarian system are more likely to be pushed into socialism than they are to develop into democracy simply because the democratic system is not at present offering the people any concrete hope for reform.
A rational response to Soviet subversion should aim to convert people to a democratic ideal. Soviet success in propagandizing the socialist ideal attests to the viability of such a course. This does not mean that authoritarian regimes will work selflessly to develop democratic institutions; that is patently absurd. Institutions do develop gradually. But democratic institutions can only develop in the presence of a democratic ideal. Conservatives and liberals alike should keep this in mind. . . .
Kenrick W. Hackett, Jr.
To the Editor:
Obtaining concessions on trade agreements to aid Soviet Jewry is vastly different from refusing to negotiate arms-control agreements. Zbigniew Brzezinski should be capable of making that distinction. His implication that concern for Soviet Jewry might block arms negotiations with the Soviet Union . . . reveals an eagerness to create a scapegoat for the failure of the Carter administration’s foreign policy.
Melville, New York
To the Editor:
When Noam Chomsky holds the U.S. responsible for the present pitiable state of the Vietnamese people, he is right, but not in the way he supposes. Had we been able, as Mr. Chomsky still is not, to perceive that the South Vietnamese authoritarian regime, with all its iniquities, held a better prospect than the totalitarian North for democratic change and economic prosperity, and had we been able to act upon this understanding, the outcome for these unfortunate people would have been more salutary.
In this respect, we must indeed bear responsibility for the tragic results.
New York City
To the Editor:
Some years ago I initiated a brief but frustrating correspondence with Noam Chomsky, challenging outrageous accusations he had been making against the U.S. and Israel. A long, drawn-out reply from him was bitter in tone. . . . He engaged in an exhaustive tirade, excoriating America’s “aggression” against South Vietnam (no mention of Hanoi and its surrogate, the Vietcong). He continued with a withering attack on Israel. My protest that the PLO was not a national-liberation front as he had claimed earned me a sharp rebuke. Again and again he offered to supply me with well-documented proof exposing the alleged wickedness and aggressiveness of the U.S. and Israel, “if,” as he wrote, “you are interested.” Then he ended on an unexpected note: “But I do not get the impression from your letter that you are interested so I will not proceed.” . . .
So before I turned to Mr. Chomsky’s contribution to your November issue, I had the strong feeling he would not be able to resist the opportunity to use the symposium as a sounding board for a renewed attack on the U.S. and Israel in the area of human rights. The irascible professor ran true to form.
To the Editor:
I read with interest the symposium on “Human Rights and American Foreign Policy.” With the predictable exception of Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, and (to a lesser extent) Charles William Maynes there appears to be widespread agreement about the necessity of recognizing the inherent tension between Realpolitik and morality; this is best summed up in Peter L. Berger’s statement: “The Machiavellian resolution [of the tension] would destroy the very legitimacy of the American state; the resolution of abstract idealism would likely destroy its empirical survival.” The real enemy is Soviet totalitarianism, and where authoritarianism is the only feasible bulwark against the Soviet threat, then violations of human rights by these regimes must be tolerated.
Despite the weighty arguments against any kind of indiscriminate crusade for human rights (because the totalitarian model is intrinsically an assault on human rights), there are aspects to this debate that are virtually ignored by the contributors to the symposium, although Max Lerner’s emphasis on establishing a counter-mystique of anti-revolutionary ardor . . . and Robert Nisbet’s telling argument that a totalitarian dogma makes it necessary to destroy all traditions, . . . strike me as particularly relevant—and closer to the points I am about to raise.
- If we are going to make the case that totalitarianism is a priori an evil, and against the very nature of existence itself, . . . then we must explain why the authoritarian alternative cannot seem to draw the quality of leadership and nobility of character that would justify an anti-democratic, elitist, hierarchical form of authority. . . . The Shah and Somoza may have identified strongly with anti-Communism, but, I suggest, they invited their own destruction because they affirmed no values that could compete with those of the Left or the religious Right.
- If you catch someone standing outside an oven at Auschwitz, ready to turn on the gas, or if you corner a thug who has just assaulted a helpless old lady, you may be sure your adversary finds little inspiration in defending his moral right to oppose your threats of retaliation. By definition he is committing a crime. . . . But what about Fidel Castro, as he watches Alexander Haig threaten to take “unspecified action” against his own country if shipments of arms continue to El Salvador (the proof is as yet inconclusive)? Castro feels no compunction for his deeds; on the contrary, when he senses the innate belligerence of Haig’s stance, he feels the justification of the beleaguered martyr, whose cause becomes just that much more intensified. Indeed, I suggest that merely the threat of military action, the warlike rhetoric, betrays an appalling ignorance of the psychological level on which this debate is taking place. Castro does not think of himself as a Mafia gangster; nor does he consider himself to be deliberately destroying the foundations of civilization (although his actions may in fact be producing this effect). . . . In the case of the extreme Left, the assumption that military coercion is the best antidote to the spread of revolutionary ideas is wrongheaded in the extreme. . . .
- The Soviet experiment (at a cost of 30 million lives) must be seen against the background of a metaphysical reality: that the subjective ego, the private self-consciousness of the individual, means little in comparison to the rights of the community, and that the final push for power comes not from that egoism, or lust, we associate with tyrants like Hitler or Genghis Khan, but from a terribly distorted idea of the effacement of the individual, a collectivist substitute for the religious idea of ego-transcendence—the giving up of one’s personal self for the whole. . . . I think it most important that we recognize this metaphysic in our dealings with the Soviets, and that we seek to understand the different manner in which the Soviets react to this struggle. . . .
- The human-rights violations in authoritarian countries which are identified with the United States take place not because the authorities there do not share our values; they take place because in the considered opinion of those who know, this is the most efficacious means of dealing with the threat from the Left. The violations, then, take place with the covert sanction of American experts in counter-insurgency warfare. This is where the real hypocrisy lies: Pinochet does not torture or liquidate his opponents because he is a beast; he chooses these means because they work. Period. If the United States really cared about these violations, it should be able to offer alternative means of combatting dissent. It does not; therefore Noam Chomsky gets a hearing with his devastating (but one-sided) exposé, The Political Economy of Human Rights. The action of the CIA in hiring the Mafia to assassinate Fidel Castro seriously compromised those forces of morality which work to warn the world of Stalinist Gulags. And the death squads in El Salvador represent the worst manifestation of the Kirkpatrick doctrine. . . .
- Our tolerance for the Chinese version of totalitarianism proves conclusively that it is not so much the ideological aberrations of Communism (with their consequent dismissal of the rights of millions of people) that we fear, but that we feel an unconscious and irrational revulsion toward Communism as it projects itself through the Russian character. There is something that goes much deeper in our reaction to the Russian bear than mere fear of Communism; it is the cold, faceless, monolithic form of the Soviet commissar that represents the very antithesis of what is American, individualistic, vulnerable, and diverse. . . .
- It is important to realize the significance of what is happening in Iran today. We are both consciously and unconsciously secularized. It is difficult for us to understand a mythology that by its very nature is absolutist and in constant reaction to Western values. The vast majority of the masses in Iran are proud of their fundamentalism; for them God Himself is in charge of the country, and they take comfort in the myth that it is God’s will that every form of opposition is destroyed. . . . The arguments of an Alexander Haig against those of a Khomeini amount, at least in the minds of dedicated Iranians, to the arguments of Satan in opposition to Allah. By this I do not mean we should necessarily condone the actions of the present regime in Iran, but we must, as in the other instances I have adumbrated, recognize the moral and psychological elements that make the issue a little bit more complicated than assuming that all would have been well had we backed the Shah more forcefully, or that the Muslim revival in the Middle East can be solved by strictly punitive measures.
- Finally, I should like to pose the question: if Marx had not hallucinated his way to a view of human history and civilization that has threatened to wreck the foundation of pluralism and tradition . . ., what would take the place of the great struggle in which the eminent writers of COMMENTARY are now engaged? Is it not possible to see the Communist menace as the means to challenge our Western tradition, and to see that if we conceive of this struggle purely in terms of exposing the evils of Soviet totalitarianism, we will miss out on the discovery of the allegorical significance of this challenge? . . . I believe the fundamental weakness in the whole approach of the Committee on the Present Danger (and all such thinking) is that it does not properly address itself to the urge within man to seek his perfectibility. While it seems tragically obvious that external systems such as Communism have abjectly failed to deliver up this perfection, nevertheless, within man’s psyche still resides the quest for a transcendent wholeness (of which Communism is a distorted substitute) and a flourishing individuation (of which American capitalist pluralism is but the unfinished model).
Robin Woodsworth Carlsen
Victoria, British Columbia
To the Editor:
. . . The use of the terms totalitarian and authoritarian is misleading. A common and serious error is to regard the political spectrum as a straight line from Left through Center to Right. Rather, the political spectrum is a circle with complete oppression at one end of the diameter and relative individual freedom at the other. There is no substantive difference whether total or severe oppression is reached by traveling this circle to the Right or to the Left. Stalin’s leftist Communism and Hitler’s rightist fascism produced equally devastating results for individual freedom. Oppression is equally reprehensible whether perpetrated by Communism under Stalin, Mao, Kim II Sung, Pol Pot, Castro, or Brezhnev or by fascism as perpetrated by Hitler, Amin, Pahlavi, Mustafavi (a/k/a Khomeini), the Ku Klux Klan, or a Latin American junta or dictator.
Currently there is one major difference. Not since the defeat of Nazism in 1945 has a right-wing dictatorship moved outside its own borders. But Communism, since its ascendancy in 1917, has followed with dedication and success its stated goal of world domination and subjugation. Unfortunately, it is often abetted in the West and particularly in the United States by those who most vociferously claim to be champions of individual freedom.
The Reagan administration seems to be on the right course. It is to be hoped that it has the will to persevere and the essential public support to override the selfishness and stupidity of professional politicians. In any event, the tergiversation and weakness of the Carter administration were nearly fatal—and may yet prove to be so.
I applaud the opinions of Oscar Handlin, Sidney Hook, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Max Lerner, Seymour Martin Lipset, and Michael Novak. The contributions by Midge Decter and Robert Nisbet are outstanding.
James T. Connell
St. Louis, Missouri