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A gloomy picture for democracy

How Democracies Perish by Jean-Francois Revel, Doubleday & Co., $17.95 in hardcover.

Revel takes up the scalpel of a forensic pathologist as he carefully examines the corpses of past democracies. His observations are incisive; his logic is faultless. However, his pessimism about the future of modern democracy is a little overbearing.

Indeed, if anything bad is to be said about this book, it is that Revel is excessive in stating his point of view -- no great sin considering the vast amount of claptrap published which denigrates western democracies.

Revel has extensive experience in the field of journalism. It is from this exposure that he draws his basic thesis: a democracy will most certainly fail if its citizens can be convinced that another form of government is superior. To this end, the propaganda struggle between democratic and non-democratic states is as important if not more important than the martial struggles between such states.

In this propaganda struggle, a non-democratic state has a clear advantage: Not only can it determine what its citizens know about the outside world; it can also shape external perceptions of the state in question.

As Revel points out, most journalists in western democracies are concerned with presenting the truth on any given situation. Their inability to obtain reliable information across controlled borders makes it impossible for the western press to write as extensively about the failings of non-democratic states as they do about democracies.

This not only creates a distinct bias against the democratic states. It also serves to create divisions in western societies. Journalists whose stories concentrate solely on verifiable facts can be unjustly characterized as dupes of the non-democratic states.

This implicit control of information disseminated within democracies in itself works against the proper functioning of democratic states.

Revel has touched on the fate of democracies in previous books. It is hard to agree with his rather dismal predictions in How Democracies Perish, however. If the entire human race were as gullible as he fears, the world would never have advanced to the point of its first democracy, much less to where we are today. Also, while the situation is far from perfect, history has made people less sanguine today about making the change to a dictatorship of the proletariat than in times past.

How Democracies Perish is quite enjoyable reading. It presents a clear picture of the interactions of democratic and non-democratic states. It is a must for any budding young pols in our midst.

James F. Kirk->