Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Two Revolutions: 1776 and 1991

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Two Revolutions: 1776 and 1991

Article excerpt

GREAT achievements such as the collapse of communist totalitarianism in Eastern Europe and now the USSR deserve close examination. If we apply what American philosopher-journalist Herbert Croly called "trained and disciplined intelligence" to understanding how the victory was won, we may encourage further gains in the years ahead.

The vanquishing of Soviet communism resulted in the first instance from the triumph of the ideas of the American Revolution. Now, at the time of their global ascendancy, it's easy to forget how lonely they were when Adams and Washington, Franklin and Jefferson first advanced them on the world stage.

These ideas had a variety of sources: the English tradition of personal liberty; the ideals of the Enlightenment; and the Puritans' unwavering recognition of the fundamental worth and equality of each individual before God. But the combination of these root elements and the addition of the Founders' exceptional leadership were distinctly American.

Even after individualist ideas won out in the former colonies, they were remarkably isolated in the world at large. In "The Old World's New World" (Oxford, 1991), historian C. Vann Woodward reminds us of how much of the European literature on the American experiment viewed it critically. For European tastes, the American Revolution was too much organized to meet the needs and claims of ordinary people. For a century and a half thereafter, the French Revolution, with its state-centered vision of how virtue was to be obtained, occupied the passions of Europe's putative revolutionaries. It would be a long time before the "self-evident truths" that all persons "are created equal ... endowed with certain unalienable rights ... to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness," would become dominant around the world; but their ultimate success underlies the great revolutions of 1989-91.

Credit must go, of course, to the millions of people across Eastern Europe and the USSR whose commitment to individualism and freedom has been greatly enlarged and extended. Some of them engaged in memorable acts, but many others served simply by bringing heightened expectations of their due as individuals. …

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