The Past and Future of Public Diplomacy

When the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe, and soon afterwards the Soviet Union itself, collapsed virtually without a shot fired in defense of the old order, many in the West were at a loss for a plausible explanation. That the legitimacy of communist rule had already been profoundly eroded not only in the satellite countries but in the Soviet homeland itself prior to the events of 1989-91 could hardly be doubted. Yet the possibility that the overseas information programs of Western governments, especially those of the United States, might have been instrumental in that development has rarely been entertained by our academic and media experts. This is no doubt due in part to the long-standing contempt and disregard for government “propaganda” among opinion-forming elites in the West, but it also reflects deeply rooted yet very questionable assumptions about the sources of political legitimacy, the character of historical change, and indeed human nature itself. Many in the West are simply unable to accept that ideas rather than economic circumstances can have inspired a political revolution.

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