Meeting the Demands of Reason
The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov
Publication Year: 2009
The Soviet physicist, dissident, and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov (1921-1989) was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975. The first Russian to have been so recognized, Sakharov in his Nobel lecture held that humanity had a "sacred endeavor" to create a life worthy of its potential, that "we must make good the demands of reason," by confronting the dangers threatening the world, both then and now: nuclear annihilation, famine, pollution, and the denial of human rights.
Meeting the Demands of Reason provides a comprehensive account of Sakharov's life and intellectual development, focusing on his political thought and the effect his ideas had on Soviet society. Jay Bergman places Sakharov's dissidence squarely within the ethical legacy of the nineteenth-century Russian intelligentsia, inculcated by his father and other family members from an early age.
In 1948, one year after receiving his doctoral candidate's degree in physics, Sakharov began work on the Soviet hydrogen bomb and later received both the Stalin and the Lenin prizes for his efforts. Although as a nuclear physicist he had firsthand experience of honors and privileges inaccessible to ordinary citizens, Sakharov became critical of certain policies of the Soviet government in the late 1950s. He never renounced his work on nuclear weaponry, but eventually grew concerned about the environmental consequences of testing and feared unrestrained nuclear proliferation.
Bergman shows that these issues led Sakharov to see the connection between his work in science and his responsibilities to the political life of his country. In the late 1960s, Sakharov began to condemn the Soviet system as a whole in the name of universal human rights. By the 1970s, he had become, with Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the most recognized Soviet dissident in the West, which afforded him a measure of protection from the authorities. In 1980, however, he was exiled to the closed city of Gorky for protesting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In 1986, the new Gorbachev regime allowed him to return to Moscow, where he played a central role as both supporter and critic in the years of perestroika.
Two years after Sakharov's death, the Soviet Union collapsed, and in the courageous example of his unyielding commitment to human rights, skillfully recounted by Bergman, Sakharov remains an enduring inspiration for all those who would tell truth to power.
Published by: Cornell University Press
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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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Preface and Acknowledgments
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Andrei Sakharov (1921–1989) was one of the towering fi gures of the late twen-tieth century. He contributed much to our understanding of the origins of the universe, and his criticisms of the Soviet Union contributed in no small measure to its collapse. In this biography, I have focused on Sakharov’s ideas, especially his political ideas: the infl uences that caused him to espouse them, how they ...
Note on Transliteration
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Transliteration of Russian words follows the Library of Congress system. The only exceptions are to render the “ks” in, for example, Aleksei, as “x”—hence, Alexei—and the names of persons and places well known in the West in the way they are spelled in the West—hence “ Yeltsin” instead of “El'tsin,” “Gorky” in-stead of “Gorkii,” “Trotsky” instead of “Trotskii,” “ Yakovlev” instead of “Iakovlev” ...
Part I Earliest Influences: 1921–1945
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1 A Childhood of Culture and Ideas
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The Soviet Union in which Andrei Sakharov was born and grew to maturity was radically different in many ways from the monarchy that preceded it. Mesmer-ized by the opportunity to remold human nature and create a communist society devoid of everything that had corrupted human existence prior to the Bolshe-vik Revolution in 1917, the original leaders of the Soviet Union were genuine ...
2 Expanding Horizons
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...oppression, or experienced any psychological or spiritual crisis in his youth that was severe enough to turn him against his own government, or even to cre-ate in his own mind the impression that there was something fundamentally wrong with it. Not even the physical destruction of several members of his fam-ily seemed to generate an antipathy for the Soviet regime. Because its mem-...
Part II Designing Weapons for the Maintenance of Peace: 1945 –1956
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3 Tamm’s Protégé at FIAN
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...“Never before or since have I been so close to the highest level of science—its cutting edge.”1 This is how Sakharov described in his memoirs the work he did at FIAN. Reading them one appreciates the enthusiasm Sakharov felt at the time for the academic discipline he had recently chosen as his profession. Sakharov probably had some inkling of what being Igor Tamm’s protégé would ...
4 Arzamas-16—The Secret Installation
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To facilitate the task of assessing the progress Zeldovich and his colleagues were making on the construction of a Soviet hydrogen bomb, Sakharov, Tamm, and two other physicists who were part of this project, Vitalii Ginsburg and Iurii Romanov, were moved to different offi ces and given new calculators. Because their task was by no means an easy one, Sakharov found himself working longer ...
5 The “Layer Cake” and Other Weapons
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...was Stalin’s as well: after a devastating war, to make the country strong enough to ensure peace. Precisely because I had invested so much of myself in that cause and accomplished so much, I needed, as anyone might in my circumstances, to create an illusory world, to justify myself. . . . The state, the nation, and the ideals of communism remained intact for me. It was years before I fully understood the ...
Part III A Scientist with a Social Conscience: 1956 –1968
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6 Radioactive Fallout and Other Matters of Conscience
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By the late 1950s Sakharov was suffi ciently appalled by what he had seen of the Soviet ruling elite that on one occasion, in the winter of 1958, he described the top leaders of the Soviet Union, whom he had recently observed in meetings he attended in the Kremlin, as “monsters.”1 In time these same leaders would Obviously descriptions such as this refl ected Sakharov’s growing disillusion-...
7 Confronting Khrushchev
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...and bewildering as the theoretical physics Sakharov had made his profession. On one occasion, when he learned that Sakharov, on his own initiative, was working on a thermonuclear device the Soviet government had not yet ap-proved, Slavskii criticized Sakharov for his actions publicly (though without naming him), telling him and the other physicists assembled at a formal staff ...
8 The Nuzhdin Affair
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...years.53 In addition, it showed Sakharov that, despite his earlier contretemps with Khrushchev, he could still infl uence government policy, which in turn con-fi rmed the soundness of his earlier decision that he remain at Arzamas and work for changes within the Soviet system, while at the same time doing the “grand science” he enjoyed.54 Even more important was that the test ban treaty, because ...
9 A Dissident at Last
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Andrei Sakharov joined the dissident movement shortly after it became a rec-ognizable phenomenon in the mid-1960s. A Soviet dissident could be generally described as someone who regarded the Soviet system as fl awed, based his criti-cisms on moral principle, believed in the inherent dignity and worth of the in-dividual, and whose efforts to change the Soviet system for the better prompted ...
Part IV Challenging the Soviet Goliath: 1968 –1973
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10 Reflections on Progress, Coexistence, and Intellectual Freedom
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Refl ections made Sakharov famous. Incredibly, some 18 million copies were sold or distributed globally in the fi rst year of its publication.1 An American edi-tion, with an introduction, notes, and commentary by the American journalist Harrison Salisbury, was published in 1968 and remained in print in the United States for many years.2 From 1968 to 1992, no fewer than sixty-fi ve editions of ...
11 An Equal Partner in Politics and Life
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...a series of incidents in which Solzhenitsyn behaved badly, severely strained their personal relationship, which in any case ended when Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974. But in 1968 the two men, feeling vulnerable, quickly recognized how much they needed each other and how much they might help each other. The proximity of Sakharov’s dacha at Zhukova to that ...
12 Moral Anchor of a Dissident Movement
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...have prohibited a harmonious relationship, drew Sakharov and Bonner closer together and made their union stronger both personally and politically.21 What one partner lacked, the other supplied. Together, they instilled genuine fear in In the early 1970s Sakharov became a central fi gure among the dissidents. For this reason he could not remain aloof from the effort to create permanent orga-...
13 The Regime Reacts
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Western capitalists and imperialists.140 A naïf like Sakharov, he implies, should stick to what he knows best (in Sakharov’s case, presumably physics) and leave Here again one sees the Soviet leadership, through its spokesman, arrogat-ing to itself the individual’s right to his own convictions and the collateral right to act responsibly on the basis of them to infl uence the government’s policies. ...
Part V “Domestic Enemy Number One”: 1973 –1980
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14 Orchestrated Vituperation
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...“Sakharov, that traitor.” This is how Sakharov characterized the slander he heard several Soviet citizens utter in September 1973, not long after the press campaign began, when they spotted him on a beach in Batumi on the shore of the Black Sea. He and Bonner had hoped to fi nd a brief respite there from the incessant attacks.1 Sakharov does not reveal in his memoirs what his reaction ...
15 Debating Solzhenitsyn
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Sakharov’s revelation in early September of the Princeton invitation caused his relations with Solzhenitsyn to worsen. The two men met for the last time on December 1, 1973. At the meeting, Solzhenitsyn argued strenuously against Sakharov’s leaving the country. When Sakharov assured Solzhenitsyn he had no intention of defecting in the unlikely event he received a visa, Solzhenitsyn, ...
16 Détente and Human Rights
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...this elite possessed was hardly a suffi cient basis on which to make policy. Trans-lating abstract recommendations into policies people would accept and uphold required political skills that the governors in Sakharov’s good society, accus-tomed as they were to deferring to the technocrats and scientists, might not possess. Indeed, it was entirely possible that despite their superior knowledge ...
17 Nobel Laureate
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...the “strategic instability” created by the MIRVing of missiles because the Sovi-ets could MIRV so many of their missiles that they might seriously consider a nuclear fi rst strike. He was much less concerned about the Americans in this regard because he acknowledged their basically peaceful intentions and their recognition that nuclear war was unwinnable. Finally, Vladivostok was defi cient ...
18 The Noose Tightens
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...coherently—as he did in the interview with the Italian journalist—without using the term, by stressing the origins of the Soviet system not in totalitarianism but in Leninism and Stalinism. Nevertheless, Sakharov’s use of the term is under-standable. With his family harassed to the point where it had to disperse, with détente fostering hopes about the Soviet Union that Sakharov believed were il-...
Part VI In Exile, Unrepentant: 1980 –1986
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19 Arrested but Still Defi ant
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On January 22, 1980, the day he expected the government to arrest him, Sakha-rov was determined to follow his usual routine.1 In the early afternoon, in a limousine the academy provided him, he set off for the Lebedev Institute to attend its weekly seminar on theoretical physics. Although he had had no for-mal duties at the institute since 1969, he retained an offi ce there and enjoyed ...
20 Finding Hope in Quantum Physics
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The exhilaration Sakharov felt when Liza fi nally received an exit visa did not last long. However gratifying it was in personal terms, his success in forcing the Soviet government to capitulate momentarily could not obscure the harsh re-ality that the dissident movement, by 1981, was in extremis. In the late 1970s the government decided to destroy the dissident movement in its entirety, and ...
21 The Soviet Leadership Softens
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In the late summer of 1985, when Bonner’s prospects of going abroad and Sa-kharov’s of leaving Gorky never seemed worse, the new Soviet leadership, un-beknownst to both of them, was reconsidering its refusal to grant Bonner a visa. On August 29 the Politburo discussed her application formally. Gorbachev, who, as general secretary, chaired the meeting, ascribed Bonner’s behavior to ...
Part VII The Conscience of Perestroika: 1986 –1989
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22 Return to Moscow
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On his fi rst full day back in Moscow, Sakharov returned to the Lebedev Institute to attend its weekly seminar on theoretical physics. If he did so in the expecta-tion that he could resume his activities as if nothing had changed since he was last there in January 1980, he was wrong. As he entered the seminar, the scien-tists who were present applauded him, and during the course of it an adoring ...
23 A Different Kind of Perestroika
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What, then, did Sakharov think the reform of the Soviet Union required? How, if at all, did his proposals and prescriptions evolve from 1987 to 1989, and how much did they correspond to what Gorbachev was enacting concurrently under On the Soviet economy, Sakharov’s views became more radical. In 1987 and through most of 1988, as Gorbachev proposed reforms that modifi ed economic ...
24 The Congress of People’s Deputies
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...might otherwise be committed in the future. Indeed, its operative assumption was that only by remembering past crimes could the commission of future ones be prevented. In this respect Memorial was trying to be proactive, and its em-phasis on the rule of law and the autonomy of the individual made it the one or-ganization Sakharov joined about which he had no serious qualms either while ...
25 Apotheosis Postmortem
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In the four days between Sakharov’s death, on December 14, and his funeral, on December 18, Gorbachev negotiated the terms of the funeral with the same ambivalence he had demonstrated when Sakharov was alive. Even in death, Sakharov was someone whose support he wanted, whose reputation he envied, and whose political opposition he resented. Moreover, how Gorbachev reacted to ...
Conclusion Sakharov’s Legacy
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In assessing Sakharov’s infl uence after his death, the fi rst thing to determine is the effect he had on the collapse of the Soviet Union, arguably the most signifi -cant event of the late twentieth century. Though he made a substantial contri-bution to this event, he never advocated the overthrow of the Soviet system or He contributed mostly by pressuring Gorbachev to continue and to widen ...
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Ekaterina Sofiano (Andrei Sakharov’s mother), ca. 1910–1919. MS Russ (6923). By permission of the Sakharov with Igor Kurchatov on the grounds of the Institute for Atomic Energy, Moscow, 1957. AIP Emilio Sakharov, first wife Klavdia Vikhireva, and children, ca. early 1960s. AIP Emilio Segre Visual Archives. Phys-Sakharov and his second wife, Elena Bonner, 1973. MS Russ (6995). By permission of the Houghton Li-Sakharov, Gorky, 1975. In the apartment of Yurii Tuvim on the day Nobel Peace Prize was awarded. MS Russ ...
Page Count: 480
Publication Year: 2009