Transpartisan Note #92
by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner
Our colleague Ralph Benko writes ‘Seven Reasons To Read Gorbachev: His Life And Times‘ for Forbes Online (Mar. 31, 2018). The Fall 2017 Gorbachev biography, by Pulitzer Prize winning Amherst history professor William Taubman, underscores the crippling way in which the left/right spectrum hobbles effective political action. Gorbachev’s reform ran into a nationalist reaction.
From one perspective Gorbachev careened from crisis to crisis, domestic and foreign, in the grip of forces changing Europe and the world in ways neither he nor anyone else expected. Attempting to corral the forces of change and expansion into communist ideology, Gorbachev failed to prevent an attempted coup, the fall of the Soviet Union or his own ouster from power. Taubman tells this story.
Jack F. Matlock, Jr, American Ambassador to the USSR from 1987-1991, who wrote of Russia in Issue #2 of The Transpartisan Review, calls Taubman’s biography ‘Comprehensive, judicious, utterly absorbing . . . [giving] rare insight into the man who changed his country and world politics. A model of careful research and compelling narrative skill, this biography is destined to become a modern classic.’
Benko draws attention to important ways Gorbachev’s struggle illuminates today’s politicsincluding the way Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan created a tight and lasting friendship during their terms in office. Benko says, for example, setting out one of his seven reasons for reading Taubman’s Gorbachev biography:
Fifth, Gorbachev reveals the story of a political leader in mortal combat with a massive bureaucracy. For those of us following the struggle between our current president and what is romantically, if wrongheadedly, called the ‘Deep State,’ there are profound lessons to be learned. By the way, speaking as one who has served therein, the ‘Deep State’ gives the bureaucracy way too much mystique. Its main weapon is inertia, not laser death rays.
Ideology — left, right and other — presents a part of the political picture. The integration of freedom and order presents every ideology a task, a puzzle to be solved. As our politics transitions beyond the limits of left/right ideology, a transpartisan awareness may help us see new alliances creating greater freedom within new forms of order.
Taubman’s Gorbachev biography spotlights the workings of that dynamic process. Read Benko on Taubman and Taubman on Gorbachev for useful explorations of how history changes as ideology accommodates social forces—or fails to. The transpartisan vision suggests that recognizing the best ideas in each ideology expands the possibility of finding the best ideas overall.
(Image of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev relaxing at Reagan’s California ranch by Bob Galbraith and in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.)