Even the most progressive politicians and statesmen have limited reserves of drive and dynamics. At a certain point they begin to lag behind events; fail to keep pace with life, with the times.
Their life's work, their brainchild, is transformed into their prisoner. It looks like a cruel and undeserved historical punishment or even worse -- a mockery.
The dramatic relations between Margaret Thatcher and Thatcherism, and between Mikhail Gorbachev and perestroika, quite vividly illustrate this painful process.
My choice of Thatcher and Gorbachev as examples of this seeming historical injustice is not arbitrary. First, they are the latest casualties of it. Second, the two of them -- Maggie and Gorby -- are eternally chained to each other in the public eye.
Margaret Thatcher was the first major Western politician to spot Gorbachev before he became the master of the Kremlin. They disagreed on virtually everything but, nevertheless, deeply sympathized with each other.
They last met in Paris in November. Now, after Thatcher's resignation, the meeting takes on symbolic proportions. Time and again Gorbachev looked at his wristwatch, as if he were afraid his interlocutor's time would run out before they could conclude their conversation. The same can be said about Gorbachev himself.
Both left Paris in a fighting spirit. Both claimed they hadn't the slightest intention of resigning. Thatcher was in a combative mood, determined to defend Thatcherism. Gorbachev was in a combative mood, determined to defend perestroika. Thatcher refused to submit British sovereignty to the Deutsche Bank. Gorbachev refused to submit Moscow's supremacy to the republics.
Some mutual problems awaited them at home: mutiny among their own ruling parties, inflation, social unrest, tax revolts. Even Northern Ireland looks a lot like Nagorno Karabakh.
After they left Paris their paths rapidly diverged. "Morning is wiser than evening" the Russian proverb says. Next morning, the "Iron Lady" resigned to avoid a humiliating political defeat.
Gorbachev, back in Moscow, unleashed a new offensive against his rivals. He didn't resign. He just apologized for the sorry state of the country.
But is that enough? I don't think so. Nor were those apologies accepted. Opinion polls don't reflect a Soviet public in a forgiving mood.
Gorbachev has already secured his place in history as a great statesman, even greater than Lenin. After all, Lenin removed one-sixth of the globe from the civilized world while Gorbachev is trying to restore it.
Gorbachev demolished the prison, but he failed to build a house. People can't live in a prison, but they can't live without a house.
In demolishing the prison -- which was a Herculean task -- Gorbachev overspent his positive historical dynamics. There is no wind left in his sails, and the promised land is as far away as before.
I can imagine his frustration. I sympathize with him. But I don't accept the idea that he is irreplaceable and indispensable to perestroika.
Objectively, this idea must be not soothing but humiliating for him. It implies that perestroika will never survive without its father. But the best proof of the vitality of perestroika, the best proof of its bright future, would be its independent existence from its creator.
From a purely human viewpoint it is understandably the desire of a statesman to see his life's work done in his lifetime. But this political romanticism has, objectively, a distinctively reactionary coloration.
In a society of laws this kind of political romanticism would not be dangerous. It would be checked by countervailing powers and by the high political culture of its citizens and their long democratic traditions.
But in a society just emerging from dictatorship this kind of attachment to a brainchild can be fatal for the creator and the creation.
For every great actor the most challenging part is how to leave the limelight. How many great careers were destroyed because actors couldn't withdraw gracefully! It takes great courage to sweep to power. It takes great wisdom to wield power. But it takes the ultimate vision to relinquish power. Only by doing so may one show that power hasn't corrupted him. Or her.
Thatcher foresaw and predicted the brilliant debut of Gorbachev. By her memorable resignation she did the last service to her darling in the Kremlin. We know that bad examples are very contagious. Are the good ones too?
MELOR STURUA, a veteran political columnist with Izvestia, is a fellow at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.