Fairbanks- Revolution Reconsidered.pdf

By contrast the notion of the spontaneity of the

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for us. By contrast, the notion of the spontaneity of the masses—people rushing into the streets shouting and shooting—provokes in us some of the same uncomfortable feeling that it did in aristocrats in the eigh- teenth century. Fifth, the notion of transition to democracy has tremen- dous appeal both to those governments said to be undergoing a democratic transition and to the Western governments that are helping them. Many failures of human rights and democracy can be explained away by saying, “Well, the country is still in transition.” “Transition to democracy” had the same attraction as the English ideology called “the Whig conception of history”—the notion that En- glish liberty gradually developed from the time of Magna Carta in 1215 through the Glorious Revolution of 1688, to the parliamentary reform bills of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Reverence for a particu- lar past is thus combined with a taste for innovation. Transition to de- mocracy has a similar appeal: It is not harsh and does not make negative judgments on other cultures or on communism, yet it incorporates a clear notion of reform—the idea of other societies becoming better and better. The charms of this concept lie deep in contemporary man’s psyche. Perhaps the notion of transition to democracy partakes of a general love in contemporary times of vagueness or indeterminacy. Con- sider the European Union: It is not clear if it is a federation, a confedera- tion, or an alliance—somehow, it is drifting between all those things. Humanitarian interventions are neither wars nor aid operations, but some- thing in between. As Allan Bloom points out, love affairs have been superseded by “gray and formless” things called relationships. Revolution is a notion implying sudden discontinuity and movement to a new regime. If there is no new regime, a revolution has failed. “Tran- sition to democracy,” in contrast, does not necessarily imply how long the process will take; at least this was the idea as it came to be applied in practice to the Balkans and the former Soviet Union. In its application it was in some ways a distortion of the original idea, which spoke of ruptura and breakthrough, and whose most salient cases were rapid transitions. In 1992, when almost everyone thought that Russia had essentially made a change to democracy, the Russian “transition” did not seem essentially different from those of Spain or South Africa. But by 2006, it had become clear that the situation in Russia is very different. Transition to Democracy in the Former USSR “Transition to democracy” as an approach worked adequately in most of Eastern Europe and in noncommunist East Asia. It did not work well at all in the former Soviet Union, in federal Yugoslavia or Albania, in China or Cambodia, in the Middle East, or in sub-Saharan Africa. In the majority of “transitional countries” there was not the expected sequence
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Charles H. Fairbanks, Jr. 51 of stages (opening, breakthrough, consolidation) but a complicated, confused process with no clear direction. In the former Soviet Union,
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  • Spring '14
  • AnitaC.Pritchard
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