The world is on fire. People's lives all over the globe are souring and uncertain. Futures are frightening, more so than at any time since the 1930s. The steel doors of dictators are being opened by courageous middle-class democrats whose precious accomplishments are immediately threatened by religious extremists and the usual thugs. Economies are sinking, or on the verge, in Europe and the United States, with awful repercussions everywhere. Most depressingly, political leadership worldwide is not up to extinguishing the flames. Many leaders are weak and lost; most want only a promised land for themselves. In hours like these, governments and people stop hoping, stop talking seriously, and draw their guns.
Look at Russia, that autocratic democracy led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a kind of Stalinist hippie. Tens of thousands of all political stripes flooded the streets of Moscow and elsewhere to protest the parliamentary elections "won" by the party of this weird would-be dictator. Protesters held that Putin cheated, though his minions failed to gain 50 percent of the vote. Portentously, the opposition consisted of communists, liberals, fascists, and a well-off middle class. And now a billionaire arises to challenge Putin in the coming presidential election. Will the prime minister crack down hard, or is that no longer possible in post-communist Russia? Will uprisings in Russia proper spill and spread—to the Islamic mafia in Chechnya, to Georgia, Ukraine? Once upon a time in 1917, a Soviet revolution ignited convulsions worldwide.