Jonathan S. Tobin: The Analogy Between 1989 and 2011: The First Bush and Obama

Roundup: Media's Take

[Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of Commentary magazine.]

The Washington Post’s Anne Applebaum has a wonderfully insightful op-ed in today’s paper in which she rightly points out that the proper analogy to the series of revolts breaking out across the Arab world is in the events of 1848, not 1989. The fall of the Berlin Wall was a historic moment in which tyrannies fell, but today’s events have much more of the feel of the great revolts that ended Europe’s age of reaction 163 years ago. Moreover, as Applebaum notes, the outcome of the 1989 demonstrations that led to the collapse of the Soviet Empire was very different from the probable outcomes of the various struggles in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya, with perhaps other countries to follow.

The truth about 1848 is that Europe’s year of revolution ended unhappily for the advocates of democracy. Hapsburg Austria and Tsarist Russia joined forces to brutally crush Hungary’s independence movement. Revolutions against monarchies around the Continent met with defeat everywhere. Another royal dictator, by the name of Napoleon III, soon replaced even France’s Second Republic.

But, as Applebaum correctly asserts, the defeats of 1848 were not permanent. The ferment that characterized the year of revolt would eventually bear fruit in a Europe that would ultimately reject the status quo of authoritarian monarchism. It is in this sense that we can hope that the current wave of revolution in the Middle East will be a good thing in the long run....

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