How Democracies Perish

In This Review

How Democracies Perish

By Jean-Francois Revel
Doubleday, 1984
376 pp. $17.95
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A bitter indictment of Western democracies, especially Europe's, for failing to understand and to counter Soviet expansionism. Revel, a well-known journalist and analyst of the totalitarian temptation, believes that both systems, Soviet communism and Western democracy, are probably doomed: "but [the Soviet] corpse . . . can drag us with it into the grave." According to Revel, the Soviets have the will to dominate the world, will use every instrument at their command and, in addition, can count on Western complicity or acquiescence. He doubts that democracy can defend itself-a pernicious sentiment, proven neither by the historical record nor by close analysis. There is much to ponder in this book about the Soviets and our difficulties in countering them, but apodictic statements about the self-destroying passions of the West seem overdone. In the Reagan-Thatcher-Kohl era it seems odd to conclude: "Unlike the Western leadership, which is tormented by remorse and a sense of guilt, Soviet leaders' consciences are perfectly clear, which allows them to use brute force with utter serenity both to preserve their power at home and to extend it abroad."

For so pessimistic a theme, the book is remarkably sprightly, a premature, sardonic obituary. Facile, alarming, probably symptomatic, the book should provoke readers to look for other works that help to clarify what Revel rightly diagnoses as the central problem of the next decades: Will Western democracies survive, will they escape war and servitude?