Friday, September 2, 2022

Be Careful What You Wish For


Friends, the death of Mikhail Gorbachev got me thinking about the man's legacy and about how the West's victory in the Cold War was, arguably, a mixed blessing.  My latest article explores these themes.  Check it out:

Gee, Thanks, Gorby!

The death of the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, has, understandably, triggered an avalanche of tributes to the man who oversaw the dénouement of the Communist Bloc, and America and the West's victory (by default) in the Cold War. What so many of these commentators forget is that both outcomes were entirely accidental, from Gorbachev's perspective, and by no means are his leadership and legacy praised as fulsomely in his native land as they are in the West. For us, Gorbachev's failures amount to his most signal virtues, but, since the Cold War was a zero-sum contest, that is only to be expected.

Gorbachev's most important contribution to world history, it can be argued, was his stewardship of the Soviet Union in its death throes, when he narrowly beat back a coup launched by communist hardliners, and when the dangers of autocratic regression, and even military aggression, were very considerable. A cornered animal is, by all accounts, a dangerous one. A cornered and wounded animal is the most dangerous of all.

The purpose of this article is neither to praise nor condemn Mikhail Gorbachev, however, but to reconsider the consequences of the Soviet Union's almost universally unexpected demise, and of America's greatest triumph: the crushing defeat of not one, but two, totalitarian ideologies in the 20th century.

Once the Soviet Union had been toppled, Americans and people throughout the West were inclined to celebrate, and indeed we did for a while enjoy lower defense costs, less exposure to the threat of nuclear annihilation, a tenuous monopoly on moral rectitude (amid a surge in the worldwide popularity of representative democracy and free enterprise economics), and a chance to refocus ourselves on meeting domestic challenges. For those in the USSR and Eastern Europe who were freed from communist misrule, the gains were even more notable, even if the transition to Western-style democracy and capitalism was not always smooth.

What we tend to forget, however, is that 40+ years of Cold War tensions, anxieties, and burdens also came with major upsides. The technological advances that arose as a side-effect of Western versus Soviet competition in space exploration and weapons manufacture are well known, but the chief advantage of our adversarial Cold War posture is rarely admitted: we were, for roughly two generations, largely united in facing down the threat of communist aggression. Americans and Europeans, who could agree on little else, could and did come together to defend the West's values, institutions, and territorial integrity from an odious form of imperialistic collectivism that was rightly seen as an existential threat, and all the more so when it acquired nuclear weapons and the capacity to deliver them on a gargantuan scale anywhere on the globe. And not only were America and Europe united in this noble quest, but so were, by and large, the Democratic and Republican parties in the U.S., and the liberal/progressive and conservative movements.

The Soviets gave us a very precious gift, therefore: a common enemy, and one which was tailor-made to capture our attention, to hone our focus, to motivate us to achieve new and evermore marvelous feats in the technical, industrial, economic,social-cultural, and political domains, and to distract us from the centrifugal forces that might otherwise have overwhelmed us.

And therein lies the tragedy of Gorbachev's accidental obliteration of his very own “evil empire”. Its consignment to the dustbin of history left triumphant Westerners like ourselves with no one to strive against, and, just as importantly, no one to hate. No one, that is, but ourselves.

True, bloodthirsty Islamic terrorists and rogue state tyrants gave us a slight but scrumptious aftertaste of the moral certitude and sense of purpose we had enjoyed during the Cold War, but they were no substitute for the likes of Stalin, Mao, and Brezhnev. To a large extent, therefore, since 1991, we Westerners have turned against each other to satisfy our moralistic and combative urges, and against even our own institutions, values, and erstwhile heroes.

The rapid progress and popularization of cultural Marxism, the denigration of Western societies as racist, sexist, homophobic, and systemically unjust, and the low esteem in which Western Civilization, the U.S. Constitution, Christianity, and capitalism are now held, all point to an insidious sickness permeating Western society.

We live in a time when young Americans view socialism more favorably than capitalism, and Gen Z is the most atheistic and agnostic in American history. Meanwhile, the professors and college administrators charged with inculcating the accumulated wisdom of the West, and sound moral values, in the rising generation are veering further and further left – left of Marx himself, in certain respects. Self-described conservatives are essentially absent from the leadership structures and faculties of higher ed, and elementary and secondary education is scarcely any better. Wokeness, cultural Marxism, and identity politics are increasingly the dogmas on which our new civic religion is based. This kind of civilizational rot threatens to demolish the West far more effectively than Soviet tanks and apparatchiks ever could.

In short, the Soviet Union and communism's defeat and destruction, and the triumph of America and the West in the Cold War, ironically stole from us our greatest strengths: our unity and our self-belief. Much as the USSR collapsed fundamentally because its own elite no longer believed in its foundational ideology, nor in the wickedness of its ideological foes, we too face obliteration, because our elites have also turned their backs on the institutions, values, and principles that made the West what it is today.

When we are finally done celebrating communism's downfall, therefore, we will have to face the unpleasant reality that, without an evil empire on which to fix our gaze, all we have left to look at is our own reflection. And, at least to our current ruling class, the picture that emerges is every bit as terrible and hideous as what they once perceived on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Their judgment is atrocious, needless to say, but that will be little comfort as they lead us to perdition.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred, and blogs at: He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9.


And here it is at World Net Daily: 


In other news, Yours Truly stars in a hard-hitting Sputnik News piece about the absurdity of President Biden's recent efforts to demonize "MAGA Republicans".  Sleepy Joe doesn't scare me one little bit! 


  1. Ray to Nick

    Okay, good article. No offense, but I disagree about "The Gorb" beating back "a coup launched by Communist hardliners." Perhaps a few points are in order here, my opinions of course, and I don't pass my opinions off as facts.

    1. The 8 "coup" leaders were all part of an elite group that had engineered the rise of Gorbachev to power, to include the KGB leader.
    Why would they engineer a "coup" against the man who put them in power and was keeping them in power?

    2. Strange that during the "coup" against Gorbachev that all communications remained intact. The airports remained open. telephone service went uninterrupted, newspapers published, no arrests were made. Not the usual coup where outside communications are usually cut immediately.

    What can I say. Was this a planned fake coup designed to deceive people into believing that the dictatorship of the Soviet Union had disappeared and freedom was in bloom everywhere in the new Russia at "warp speed".

    Maybe I'm reading too much into all this. My imagination is running away with me. Still lingering doubts about a "coup" that only lasted three days, killed only four people, and set one armored vehicle on fire.

  2. Ray to Nick

    What the hell! Time for another cold war isn't it? This time with more sophisticated weapons, but with the same type of damn fool politicians and war-mongers calling the shots globally, and making big, big bucks at the same time. More fun than ever. Let the excitement begin. I'm sure there must be some really small missiles now that you can actually program to fly up you the enemy's butts, and atomize them. Wow! Cool man!

  3. Dr. Waddy from Jack; Your argument that the fall of the communism we all understandably believed of mortal danger to the civilized world was an astounding development ,is very creditable. I lived it and it was! We were certainly not expecting it! We had not the experience or perception to anticipate the effect on western civilization you have so plausibly described ,of the collapse of European and some Asian Marxism!

  4. Ray, you're right that it was an odd "coup" in August 1991. It was certainly more of a "coup" than anything Trump ever did, mind you. From what I recall, Gorbachev was put under house arrest, so that suggests that the coup plotters were indeed ready to dispense with his leadership. What they weren't ready for, apparently, was violence. Pretty naive. I mean, did they really think they could put the genie of freedom back in the bottle without spilling some blood? Coups require great nerve to carry off. It certainly is intriguing to contemplate what the world might be like if that cabal had possessed more moxie. Tiananmen Square kept the CCP in charge for decades. I see no reason why the CPSU couldn't have clung on to power for just as long.

    Are we hurdling towards another Cold War? A "Cold War Lite", maybe. As you suggest, Ray, lots of money will be spent, and great profits will be made, but unless we find an enemy more imposing than Russia it's hard to imagine that Cold War, Part Deux will define the next forty years of history, say...

    Jack, I don't think anyone saw the collapse of the Communist Bloc coming, and few had great insight into what would happen next. If you had predicted back then that Marxism would simply reinvent itself as "wokeness", "equity", and the like, and become more puissant than ever, most would have scoffed. And yet...

  5. Dr. Waddy from Jack: In the mid '80 s National Review published an article titled "The Coming Crackup of Communism". I don't recall the author's name. Might have been Jude Wannisky or Richard Pipes.Don't think it had much impact. No frenzied mass exodus of commie cadre to a suddenly unwelcoming Cuba. No ushanka hats or mammoth pelt overcoats required.

  6. Ha! There were those who were clear-eyed about the weakness of the Soviet Union and of communist societies. Be that as it may, there were VERY few who saw in those weaknesses the preconditions for a collapse of the system. I'm still not convinced that such a collapse was ever likely. I suspect we got truly lucky and that Gorby's incompetence and a bunch of other happy coincidences rescued us from a perilous situation.