The Revolutions of 1989

By Vladimir Tismaneanu | Go to book overview

6

THE MEANINGS OF 1989

Jeffrey C. Isaac

American political theorist Jeffrey C. Isaac in this thoughtful article offers a critical interpretation of the prevailing, often contradictory, viewpoints regarding the revolutions of 1989 and the role of dissident notions of freedom and rights in the dismantling of the Leninist regimes. Inspired by Karl R. Popper's critique of historicism, Isaac rejects monistic interpretations that assign one single meaning to these events and proposes a multifaceted approach that would recognize the plurality of significations associated with them. The most important element in his analysis is the effort to recuperate and deepen the vision of political life and action developed in the thinking and practice of East Central European dissent. In this respect, his approach is radically different from G.M. Tamás's and Tony Judt's visions of dissidents as naive dreamers, deprived of profound connections with the societies they claimed to speak for.

Readers should notice Isaac's plea for an open-minded, nondogmatic vision of democratic politics. Acknowledging the merits of liberalism, he argues that the legacy of what East European critical intellectuals used to call “antipolitics” should not be lightly dismissed. In other words, unlike those who herald the advent of liberal democracy as a nonproblematic accomplishment, Isaac thinks that the new ideas and styles of politics generated in the experience of dissent, including nonparliamentary forms of participation and the ethos of civil society, represent democratic possibilities relevant for the future of democracy in the “East” and the “West”

* * *

History, as an entirety, could exist only in the eyes of an observer outside it and outside the world. History only exists, in the final analysis, for God.

(Camus, 1956, p. 189)

The historicist does not recognize that it is we who select and order the facts of history…Instead of recognizing that historical interpretation should answer a need arising out of the practical problems and decisions which face us, the historicist believes that…by contemplating history we

-125-

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The Revolutions of 1989
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I - Causes 17
  • 1 - What Happened in Eastern Europe in 1989? 19
  • 2 - Amidst Moving Ruins 51
  • 3 - What Was Socialism, and Why Did It Fall? 63
  • Part II - Meaning 87
  • 4 - The Breakdown of Communist Regimes 89
  • 5 - The Year of Truth 108
  • 6 - The Meanings of 1989 125
  • 7 - Nineteen Eighty-Nine: the End of Which European Era? 165
  • 8 - The Legacy of Dissent 181
  • 9 - Overcoming Totalitarianism 198
  • Part III - Future 203
  • 10 - The Future of Liberal Revolution 205
  • 11 - The Leninist Legacy 213
  • 12 - The Post-Totalitarian Blues 231
  • 13 - The Velvet Restoration 244
  • 14 - The Neighbors of Kafka: Intellectual's Note from the Underground 252
  • 15 - Is Communism Returning? 258
  • Index 263
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