Canberra Times - July 2020

... "The 'comfort cult', as Amalrik called it - the tendency in seemingly stable societies to believe "that 'reason will prevail' and that 'everything will be all right'" - is seductive. As a result, when a terminal crisis comes, it is likely to be unexpected, confusing, and catastrophic, with the causes so seemingly trivial, the consequences so easily reparable if political leaders would only do the right thing, that no one can quite believe it has come to this ...

Just how rotten is the United States' political system? The answer is rotten, as in it will only take a small kick for the whole edifice to fall in, let alone a big kick like COVID-19.

The idea is about as fanciful as the collapse of the Soviet empire seemed in 1987, when President Ronald Reagan famously demanded: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Yet, a short time later, a little chink in the Iron Curtain at the Hungary-Austria border saw the whole rotten regime collapse.

Almost nobody predicted it, with the notable exception of Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik. Amalrik is not as well known as dissidents like Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn because he was killed in a car crash in 1980 - but not before his writings had been smuggled out to the West. Amalrik was unlike other dissidents, who sought East-West accommodation and a little softening of the Soviet hard line while still under a communist regime (because the end of the regime seemed a hopeless cause).

Instead, Amalrik pointed out in detail the inherent rottenness of the Soviet communist system, which he said would be gone by 1984. He was not far out. He pointed out the circumstances in which a great power succumbs to self-delusion because it imagines itself to be indestructible.

Charles King, Professor of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., wrote an essay in the most recent Foreign Affairs magazine outlining Amalrik's theory of great power decay, very cleverly avoiding directly applying it to the US.

King wrote: "The 'comfort cult', as Amalrik called it - the tendency in seemingly stable societies to believe "that 'reason will prevail' and that 'everything will be all right'" - is seductive. As a result, when a terminal crisis comes, it is likely to be unexpected, confusing, and catastrophic, with the causes so seemingly trivial, the consequences so easily reparable if political leaders would only do the right thing, that no one can quite believe it has come to this ...

"Viewed from 2020, exactly 50 years since it was published, Amalrik's work has an eerie timeliness. He was concerned with how a great power handles multiple internal crises - the faltering of the institutions of domestic order, the craftiness of unmoored and venal politicians, the first tremors of systemic illegitimacy. He wanted to understand the dark logic of social dissolution and how discrete political choices sum up to apocalyptic outcomes." ...
Read full commentary at Canberra Times