Commentary magazine published one of the most important essays of the 20th century in November 1979: “Dictatorships and Double Standards” by Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, who would go on to become President Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations. Right-wing authoritarian regimes, she explained, controlled only the levers of power and thus didn’t tamper with the “habitual rhythms” of traditional societies; nor were they bent on revolution. Thus, they left their countries intact. Communist systems and ideology sought to remake societies, claiming “jurisdiction over the whole life” of their peoples, and therefore destroyed them utterly from top to bottom for decades to come.
Though Kirkpatrick’s focus was communist regimes in the Third World, no better example of this can be found than Russia, a superficially Europeanized society that sustained more than 70 years of communism. When the Soviet system finally collapsed in 1991, the result was not stability but a decade of near-anarchy. With such an inheritance, Vladimir Putin’s tyranny followed organically.