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Book Review November 27, 2002
 
Mikey McFaul and the Three Bears
By John Dolan Browse author Email
 
 
Russia

Russia's Unfinished Revolution: Political Change from Gorbachev to Putin

By Michael McFaul, Cornell University Press, 2001

This book is a four-hundred page testimonial to the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the American Russia-watching mafia. In its pages, Michael McFaul condemns himself again and again with staggering non-sequiturs, self-serving lies, crude misrepresentations of his own past and the recent history of Russia, and repeated failures to meet even the most basic standards of academic rigor.

The failures to meet academic standards are the most glaring fault of the book. What can one say of an academic work that attempts to chart Russia's "course to democracy" without once even attempting to define its central term, "democracy"? Was this mere incompetence? God knows there is incompetence and provincial gaucherie enough in McFaul's work, from the Preface, in which he informs us that "In 1799, France was still deep in the throws [sic] of revolutionary turmoil...," to his Conclusion, which ends with some of the most inadvertently comic attempts at grand chiasmus since Cicero wore out his whipping-arm on his duller pupils.

But McFaul's simple-minded concepts and clunky prose serve his and his masters' purposes. There's all too much method in this muddle. As his long, successful career has shown, McFaul possesses a canine cunning which has more than compensated for his canine intelligence, sending him to the top of a profession which values collegiality far more than brains. And his most glaring intellectual failures, starting with his failure to define "democracy," show the cunning of the sidling, canine mind. If McFaul had attempted to produce a clear definition of this term, it would have become impossible -- even for him -- to imply that Yeltsin's garish kleptocracy ever approached anything which could be called "democracy."

McFaul's method of dealing with inconvenient theoretical questions such as the question of whether 1990s Russia ever attained anything which could be called "democracy" is consistent, simple and efficient: he relegates such thorny complications to footnotes in which opposing texts are listed -- without comment, without rebuttal, without any engagement at all. The most stunning example of this technique comes on page 338. Here, near the end of the book, McFaul interrupts one of his many rhetorical flights about how Russia's transition to democracy "has been a long one" with this footnote:

"Of course, many still argue that there has been no transition to democracy at all. Others have argued that Russia is still an authoritarian regime, not due to historical legacies but as a result of Yeltsin and his reforms. See [followed by list of academic books]."

It does seem a bit odd that in a book wholly devoted to Russia's transition to democracy, the fact that there exists a whole body of academic work asserting that Russia has no democracy should be mentioned only once.

In a footnote on page 338.

Without comment.

I would be curious to hear the views of "the many scholars" mentioned in McFaul's "Acknowledgements," who "devoted hundreds of hours to reading drafts of the manuscript" on this matter. Here are the academics named by McFaul as having read the manuscript:

Anders Aslund, Vladimir Bokser, George Breslauer, Valerie Bunce, Larry Diamond, John Dunlop, Lynn Eden, Matthew Evangelista, Jim Fearon, Jim Goldgeiger, Gordon Hahn, David Holloway, Andrew Kuchins, Gail Lapidus, David Laitin, Sarah Mendelson, Nikolai Petrov, Thomas Remington, Scott Sagan, Stephen Stedman, Lisa McIntosh Sundstrom, Steven Solnick, Svetlana Tsalik, Kathryn Stoner-Weiss, Barry Weingast.

All those whose names appear on this list are encouraged to write to me, c/o the eXile, to clarify what might otherwise seem like collusion in a prima facie case of violation of basic academic integrity for reasons of crude ideological bias. Replies will be published without alteration in the eXile.


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dolan@exile.ru
 
 
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