The Grand Illusion

Letter From Paris

Twenty years from now, when future historians look back at the 1980's, some of them may be tempted to call it the "Decade of the Grand Illusion." For not since les années folles, as the French still call the giddy 1920's, has the Western world lived in such a state of deceptive euphoria.

The besetting sin of all democracies, the Achilles Heel of the democratic system, as students of history have known since the age of Ancient Greece, is a chronic reluctance to face facts. This unwillingness is encouraged by the perennial vice that lies at the heart of the democratic system, and for which the ancient Creeks also coined a valuable term: demagogy.

Nothing has contributed more to enhance the Grand Illusion of the 1980's than the sudden collapse of the Marxist myth and the dramatic disintegration of the Soviet Empire. This astonishing development caused people on both sides of the Atlantic to look back upon the Reagan years as a kind of Golden Age, not unlike the Grand Siècle of Louis XIV. But just as the spendthrift character of Louis XIV's overly splendid reign was, less than a century later, one of the contributing causes of the collapse of the Ancien Régime and the onset of the French Revolution, so the fanciful illusion that a country can go on living permanently above its means, accumulating enormous budget deficits and astronomic balance-of-trade...

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