Sakharov’s Impossible Dream

Cathy Young has a good piece today in the Boston Herald on the Sakharov prize being awarded to the Russian human rights group Memorial:

The treatment of Sakharov’s legacy in Russia today brings to mind the adage that there is no prophet in his own country. Yet it is not just in Russia that his ideas are both relevant and, much of the time, sadly unattainable.

Sakharov advocated a foreign policy rooted in regard for human rights – a principle that many people in the West today see as suspect, a prescription for arrogant meddling into other nations’ business if not for reckless interventionism. Among Sakharov’s key beliefs, Bonner noted in her remarks, was the view that “politics can and should be moral – without a moral foundation, it turns into political machinations” and that “ultimately, the choice that is morally right is also the most pragmatic.”

In the year after Sakharov’s death, when tyrannies around the world were falling and liberal democracy was on the march, such idealism seemed feasible. Can it still be a useful guide for us today, or is it an impossible dream?