Dictatorship and Double Standards

Dictatorships and Double Standards

"Dictatorships and Double Standards" is an essay by Jeane Kirkpatrick, published in the November 1979 issue of Commentary, which criticized the foreign policy of the Carter administration. The article is credited with leading directly to Kirkpatrick's becoming an adviser to Ronald Reagan and thus her appointment as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. Hence, the views expressed in Kirkpatrick's essay influenced the foreign policy of the Reagan administration, particularly with regard to Latin America.

Kirkpatrick argued that by demanding rapid liberalization in traditionally autocratic countries, the Carter administration (and previous administrations) had delivered those countries to anti-American opposition groups that proved more repressive than the governments they overthrew. She further accused the administration of a "double standard" in that it had never applied its rhetoric on the necessity of liberalization to the affairs of Communist governments.

The essay compares traditional autocracies and Communist regimes:

"[Traditional autocrats] do not disturb the habitual rhythms of work and leisure, habitual places of residence, habitual patterns of family and personal relations. Because the miseries of traditional life are familiar, they are bearable to ordinary people who, growing up in the society, learn to cope . . . ."

"[Revolutionary Communist regimes] claim jurisdiction over the whole life of the society and make demands for change that so violate internalized values and habits that inhabitants flee by the tens of thousands . . . ."

Kirkpatrick concluded that while the United States should encourage liberalization and democracy in autocratic countries, it should not do so when the government is facing violent overthrow, and should expect gradual change rather than immediate transformation.


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