Courtesy Reuters

On Learning to Live with Authoritarian Regimes

Among the problems experienced by democratic societies in managing their foreign affairs, none have been more beset with dilemmas both moral and practical, nor accompanied by more dispute and self-doubt concerning fundamental aspects of the democratic faith, than those arising as a consequence of relations with authoritarian regimes.

In the aftermath of recent revelations of unlawful practices in high places in the United States and of other traumas both here and abroad, a riptide of conflicting reactions has set in. Some have been moved to view the differences between democracy and authoritarianism as a matter of degree. As an antidote to an earlier self-righteousness and the inclination to regard our actions in the world with excessive self-indulgence, this reaction to the American fall from virtue has definite therapeutic benefits. But in extreme measure, it has reinforced the loss of confidence in democratic societies as the chosen people of human progress, and in the capacity of self-government to cope with the growing complexities of national and international life.

In reaction against this perceived loss of democratic morale, there has emerged a militant support for a more "moral" foreign policy, for different and sometimes incompatible reasons. Some assert the primacy of moral, and particularly of human rights, considerations in foreign policy as a matter of principle-against what is felt to have been the recent excessive preoccupation with strategic power considerations. Others evoke support for human rights issues (along with an increased mobilization of military power) as an element in a renewed ideological offensive against the Soviet Union.

The result of these conflicting reactions has been a period of disorientation on a score of issues confronting the United States and other democratic societies. Some of these issues are transient and tactical; others now temporarily obscured involve more fundamental adjustments as part of a longer term process of learning to live with authoritarian regimes. As a step toward sorting out some of the moral and practical elements involved in these adjustments, there are set forth

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