Title: Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente
Author: Jeremi Suri
Categories: International History, Intellectual History, Foreign Policy, Politics, Détente, Protest, Dissent
Time Period: 1958-1972
Jeremi Suri examines Cold War foreign policy in the United States, the USSR, France, China, and Germany during the 1960s through a domestic lens. He writes a new narrative of the decade, starting with a stalemate between the great powers in the early 1960s, proceeding to a crescendo of protest relying on an international "language of dissent," and culminating with a conservative counter-reaction by the great powers that used détente not to establish an international "balance of power," but rather as a way to establish a domestic "balance of order."
Suri begins with the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he argues that the nuclear build-up and muscular rhetoric of the United States and Russia under Kennedy and Khruschev constrained their foreign policy options. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 demonstrated how nuclear arsenals could be as much of an albatross as an asset, and after this event an uneasy Cold War status quo descended at the price of any real progress. Charles De Gaulle and Mao Zedong, meanwhile, attempted to build up "charismatic authority" by cultivating revolutionary rhetoric, circumventing traditional institutions, and trying to carve out more independence in the international power system. In both cases, however, Suri describes how their embrace of revolution ended up backfiring on them as part of a larger global "language of dissent" arose. Suri argues that structural changes, namely a demographic and higher education boom produced a generation of educated youth that drew on a common language of protest against Cold War authorities. In the West, much of this protest centered around the consequences of a liberal state attempting and then failing to extend its ideology abroad while failing to live up to the liberal promises of progress at home. Lyndon Johnson, for instance, tried to build an "International New Deal" and failed miserably in Vietnam, which became a global touchstone for youth protest.
Suri's major contribution comes in his reinterpretation of détente, which had been interpreted by historians largely as a "balance of power" between nuclear countries who assured each other of mutual annihilation. Instead, Suri argues that world leaders were horrified by the tidal wave of protest that culminated in 1968 and turned towards the international sphere to reign in these domestic forces. From 1969-1972, leaders swept in a profoundly conservative political climate aimed at stifling dissent. By portraying themselves as crucial players in maintaining the uneasy international peace of détente, leaders charged protesters with endangering progress towards peace. In doing so they retrenched a conservative status quo at the cost of progressive change, ushering in a postmodern society of skepticism and popular disillusionment with government.
Key Themes and Concepts
- Path of narrative: Cold War stalemate in early 1960s -> crescendo of global protest through 1968 -> conservative reaction of detente post-1968
- Post-1968 detente as a conservative reaction by leaders to suppress domestic protest and increase their prestige at home
- Competing elite and dissident ideologies
- International "language of dissent" coalesced among educated youth
- Structural changes: demographic baby boom + growth of higher education = youth language of dissent
- Turn towards a "balance of order" rather than a "balance of power"
- Stresses international history and common movements between nation-states
- "Charismatic authority" of De Gaulle and Mao ends up backfiring (embrace of popular protests and can't control them)
U.S. History Qualifying Exams: Book Summaries
by Cameron Blevins
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