Moscow is today more nationalistic, less democratic and more confrontational toward the West than it has been since before the fall of communism. Power is being consolidated, former Soviet republics are hearing dictatorial growls from Moscow and a chill reminiscent of the Cold War is in the air.
Yet, wrote the Times, "Russians were the third most satisfied people with their country's direction, at 54 percent, despite Western concerns about authoritarian trends."
Of the largest nations on earth, the two that today most satisfy the desires of their peoples are the most authoritarian.
High among the reasons, of course, are the annual 10 percent to 12 percent growth China has experienced over the last decade, and the wealth pouring into Russia for the oil and natural gas in which that immense country abounds. Still, is this not disturbing? In China and Russia, the greatest of world powers after the United States, people seem to value freedom of speech, religion or the press far less than they do a rising prosperity and national pride and power. And they seem to have little moral concern about crushing national minorities.
Contrast, if you will, the contentment of Chinese and Russians with the dissatisfaction of Americans, only 23 percent of whom told the Pew poll they approved of the nation's direction. Only one in five Americans said they were satisfied with the U.S. economy.
Other polls have found 82 percent of Americans saying the country is headed in the wrong direction, only 28 percent approving of President Bush's performance and only half that saying they approve of the Congress. In Britain, France and Germany, only three in 10 expressed satisfaction with the direction of the nation.
Liberal democracy is in a bear market. Is it a systemic crisis, as well?
In his 1992 "The End of History," Francis Fukuyama wrote of the ultimate world triumph of democratic capitalism. All other systems had fallen, or would fall by the wayside. The future belonged to us.
Democratic capitalism, it would appear, now has a great new rival -- autocratic capitalism. In Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, nations are beginning to imitate the autocrats of China and Russia, even as some in the 1930s sought to ape fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
The game is not over yet. We are going into extra innings.