In a highly focused work, Foreign Affairs deputy editor Caryl finds that the year 1979 engendered a remarkable crop of history-changing leaders.
The author defines a counterrevolutionary as “a conservative who has learned from the revolution.” This befits the leaders he profiles here—Deng Xiaoping, Margaret Thatcher, Ayatollah Khomeini and Pope John Paul II—who emerged from the fires of the turbulent 1970s. They were, alternately, called revivalist, reactionary or radical, but they were the leaders of the hour, for better or worse, defining the direction of ideological currents up until the present. With the United States mired in political cynicism, an energy crisis and stagflation, the Soviet Union took advantage of a loosening of détente by bolstering its strategic presence in Afghanistan that was to help pull down the entire communist structure. In Iran, the people demonstrating against the hated shah rallied behind Khomeini, returning from long years in exile, radicalized and resolved to harness the popular discontent in an Islamic Republic. Similarly, in China, with the death of Mao Zedong, newly rehabilitated warrior Deng recognized the need to direct the pent-up pressures from the Cultural Revolution in a gradual leaking of private enterprise that unloosened decades of communist orthodoxy and unleashed economic growth. Meanwhile, the unlikely conservative leader Thatcher sailed to power by repudiating the postwar consensus on the British welfare state and embracing a merciless economic refurbishment involving monetarism and privatization. Another popular movement, among beleaguered Polish miners, got an enormous boost from the visit of the new pope, John Paul II, formerly their own Karol Wojtyla, who lifted the fear from the long-subjugated masses of Eastern Europe. As ably shown by Caryl, the events of this cataclysmic year would continue to bear fruit for years to come.
An astute assessment of the efforts of a group of historic newsmakers.