State of Mind

By Hnatiuk, Joseph | Winnipeg Free Press, May 13, 2017 | Go to article overview

State of Mind


Hnatiuk, Joseph, Winnipeg Free Press


Winston Churchill once wryly observed that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.

Now Condoleezza Rice, former U.S. secretary of state and national security adviser to ex-president George W. Bush, provides compelling evidence supporting the British statesman's viewpoint.

In a book combining memoir with polemics, Rice recounts her roles in the White House and shares her life experiences as an academic, policy maker and African-American citizen, offering readers an engaging supplement to her previous book, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington (2011).

Fluent in French and Russian, Rice is also an accomplished pianist, a testament to her pursuit of personal achievements. Raised in the segregated environs of Birmingham, Ala., by upwardly mobile parents who believed the American Dream could be realized through hard work, discipline and education, and not only through the struggle for equality, she acknowledges underlying reasons for the racial tensions of the 1960s but admits the civil rights movement was not wholly embraced by her family.

She begins her wide sweep of democracy's global struggle with a patriotic summation of how America's Constitution fashioned the world's first self-governing nation, but acknowledges 18th-century hypocrisy of slaveholders like Thomas Jefferson who stressed "equality for all" in a document designed to protect people's rights.

In Rice's view, the question of balance -- or "how to make the state strong enough to perform key tasks but not so strong as to threaten individuals" -- remains the key to a successful democracy. Rice measures progress in other parts of the world against America's long racial struggle for a free society, noting that "in 2016, Freedom House ranked 145 out of 195 countries as free or partly free."

There's much grist for the mill in Democracy : Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Kenya, Colombia and some Middle East countries are templates for a comparative analysis of governance systems that rely on ballots instead of the heavy hands of dictators or military juntas.

Lamenting Russia's lost opportunity for democracy following the U.S.S.R's disintegration in 1991, Rice reconstructs President Vladimir Putin's ascendancy, revealing how one man dismantled "the institutional basis for democracy" begun by former U.S.S.R. leader Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika policies. …

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