How does the miraculous year 1989 look ten years later? We asked a number of friends to respond to some questions about the fall of communism and the standing, afterward, of the democratic left. The responses are a characteristically Dissentish mix of celebration and anxiety. I would certainly have been torn between the two. Celebration because the collapse of a tyrannical state and a repressive empire is always something to celebrate—though we don’t seem to remember how to do it: where are the songs that commemorate the fall? Has anyone written an ode (“a lyric poem marked by exaltation of feeling”) for the occasion? Do we have a script for ceremonial re-enactments of the glorious moment? In fact, anxiety has succeeded in undercutting our celebratory passion. n
The fall of communism led to an upsurge of nationalist emotion and a series of bitter conflicts over land and power. The conflicts are mostly local and limited; the power at stake isn’t the power to kill millions of people, only thousands; the great tyranny has been replaced by smaller, weaker, more dispersed tyrannies. But if this is a gain for humanity (it is), it isn’t the gain we hoped for. The ethnic killing and cleansing have cast a shadow over the memory of ’89.
Still, some surprisingly decent regimes have risen from the debris of empire. And the left is free at last of its Stalinist incubus. We will have new opportunities to defend equality and democratic participation. At the end of the century and the millennium, the world, and our part of it too, is a little brighter.
A small example of the new opportunities is provided by the political fight over Social Security and the budget surplus here at home. We print two articles describing what’s going on and suggesting what ought to be done. The two make similar arguments but in such different tones, expressing such different political sensibilities, that they form a useful pair.
Jim Rule’s piece in the last issue, the articles on Kosovo, and the Cohen/Ackerman debate about public support for opera, have brought us a lot of mail. We devote four pages to letters in this issue, and would happily keep doing that. Some magazines solicit letters, sending provocative articles to people likely to be provoked. That’s a good policy; it makes for a lively letters section, but we don’t have the staff to carry it off. So let me solicit letters here. We are eager to publish readers’ comments, arguments, protests, even, though we will do this less often, appreciative notes. It is best to write early in the quarter. Sometimes we can’t print letters because they repeat criticisms that we have solicited for the Arguments section. But a magazine like Dissent needs dissents, and we will print as many as we can.