DICTATORSHIPS AND DOUBLE STANDARDS: Rationalism and Reason in Politics by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick

DICTATORSHIPS AND DOUBLE STANDARDS: Rationalism and Reason in Politics

Email this review


By the time Ronald Reagan discovered her in Commentary magazine and made her US Ambassador to the UN, Kirkpatrick was established as a new-style neoconservative: a liberal Democrat recruit to the American Enterprise Institute. That celebrated Commentary article on the difference between totalitarianism and authoritarianism is here, along with nine other previously published pieces--all of which seek to reduce the influence of rationalism, reason, and morality in public policy in favor of pragmatic realism. To Kirkpatrick, authoritarianism is a traditional form of political power, based on fealty to a ruler, and characteristic of premodern or modernizing societies; totalitarianism is a modern phenomenon linked to the effort to remake society in accordance with a utopian--and, usually, egalitarian--plan. Though authoritarian regimes may keep their people in poverty, they only repress them politically: they simply maintain preexistent inequalities. Totalitarian regimes, on the other hand, attack social relations in order to remake society and, failing (complete equality being impossible), wind up repressing people in all aspects of their lives. In overlooking this distinction, Kirkpatrick argues further, American foreign policy, and particularly that of the Carter administration, failed to recognize the capacity of authoritarian regimes--that of the Shah in Iran, of Somoza in Nicaragua-for making modest reforms. It's the totalitarians--the Soviets, Cubans, Chinese--who can't reform themselves; they should be the targets of our wrath, not the traditional authoritarians whose regimes we only destabilize in trying to liberalize. Exactly what these modernizing societies are supposedly developing toward is not evident, since Kirkpatrick manifests no interest in the economic modernization of the Third World: Somoza is all right for the Nicaraguans because he's right for the Nicaraguans. (The Sandinistas she equates with the Ayatollah.) Kirkpatrick's assessment of domestic politics, in four of the articles, reflects her foreign policy views. She decries the influence of the ""new class"" of intellectuals and professionals on the political party structure; in place of the traditional ties of party bosses to their constituents, they would democratize both parties with the effects that the McGovern reforms had on the Democrats. Without raising a moral argument for the past, she in turn would keep all things as they are: an unthinking, indeed bogus conservatism--lacking even realism to commend it.

Pub Date: July 21st, 1982
Publisher: Simon & Schuster