On a different topic: Nelson Mandela’s shift on markets; Isaac Chotiner at TNR “Conservatives haven’t wrestled with Mandela’s legacy because they haven’t wrestled with the Cold War” (I worry about this with respect to libertarians, too, as I think I mentioned here about Pinochet last year); astonishingly enough, Newt Gingrich on Mandela.
I’ll note that Mandela’s substantive shift discussed in the first linked article means that the round of “how dare you praise Mandela now when you didn’t praise him in the 1980s” criticism in the last week is at least partly misguided. That’s not an excuse for having been soft on apartheid, but one could have opposed apartheid and still thought that the pre-1990 economic vision of the ANC was a dangerous one– then changed one’s evaluation of Mandela when he changed his evaluation of the economic world.
I’ve been wondering in the last week whether there’s a tendency to explain the transition in South Africa in terms that are excessively South Africa-specific. Would De Klerk have acted as he did without the simultaneous events in Eastern and Central Europe, or the democratization of the Philippines, South Korea, Chile? The position of “anticommunist authoritarian tyrant supported by the US” looked a lot more precarious by 1990 than it had in previous decades, and the position of “reformist leader who transforms the old order” was looking a lot more appealing in the age of Gorbachev. Conversely, as noted in that article, “nationalize the means of production” was a lot less appealing by then, too. “Peaceful transition to a democratic polity with a mixed economy” in short, isn’t something that necessarily would have happened in 1980 or 1985; it became a plausible map for partly non-local reasons. This was all once a commonplace but I think it’s been lost sight of; South Africa either gets treated as sui generis or gets compared only to other African countries.