The Corner

Jihadology, Pt. 2

Forget “Jihadology” — Walter Laqueur isn’t all that impressed with its supposed model, Sovietology:

The subsequent story of American Sovietology was somewhat less inspiring. In the late sixties and the years after, the belief gained ground that the Soviet system was a developmental dictatorship of social justice aimed at making the Soviet people not only more prosperous but also freer. Books appeared claiming that Stalinism had many positive aspects because it had carried out a cultural revolution. Anyway, the purgers and the Gulag had been greatly exaggerated; only relatively few Soviet citizens had suffered or lived in fear. Altogether, the Soviet system was more democratic and less aggressive than a previous prejudiced generation of Sovietologists had thought. It was a different kind of democracy, and while still somewhat behind the Western living standards, it was gradually catching up. In brief, the West had a great deal to learn from it.

Of course, such views were not shared by all Sovietologists, and it is also true that during this period they had hardly any influence on the shaping of U.S. policy. (But it should not be forgotten that even CIA in these years greatly overrated Soviet economic performance.) In brief, the story of academic Sovietology, with all its achievements, is also a story of pitfalls of every kind and misjudgments. In a recent memoir, I have tried to explain why things in this and other area studies can go wrong.

John J. Miller is the national correspondent for National Review and the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. His new book is Reading Around: Journalism on Authors, Artists, and Ideas.

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