The Triumph of Broken Promises: The End of the Cold War and the Rise of Neoliberalism
By Fritz Bartel
Harvard University Press, 2022, 440 pp.
Why did the West win the Cold War? In this powerful new interpretation, Bartel argues that the struggle between democracy and communism was fundamentally a contest over which system of government could best harness industrial modernity to improve the lives of its people. The fateful moment came in the 1970s, when economic and energy crises forced leaders in both the West and the East to shift from the “pursuit of plenty” to painful policies of austerity and fiscal discipline. In these new circumstances, capitalism and state socialism competed over which system could best navigate the disappointment of citizens. In Bartel’s view, the Cold War ended because the Soviet system was simply unable to legitimate itself in an era of broken promises, whereas Western leaders were able to gain support for their austerity moves under the banner of neoliberalism. The book’s originality lies in how it weaves together Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s program of reform, known as perestroika, and the conservative economic turn under U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Bartel demonstrates that the Cold War was defined not just by military power and security competition but also by less visible struggles within the opposing camps to renegotiate their versions of the social contract.