The Intellectual History of Post-communism: Why We Need It, and How Not To Write It
by Venelin I. Ganev, Miami University of Ohio
Over the last 27 years developments in the former “second world” have attracted a lot of attention, and yet some aspects of post-communism remain understudied. One of them is the impact of ideas, ideologies, and intellectual traditions on post-communist politics. Opinions on the subject usually oscillate between two extremes. According to some authors, virtually everything that transpired in Eastern Europe after 1989 should be linked to “neoliberalism” (a term amply used but rarely defined) and therefore analyses of post-communist transformation should focus on the alleged depravities of this particular ideology. According to other scholars, ideas mattered little if at all: their accounts focus on the matrixes of incentives self-interested elites faced, the political calculus guiding politicians’ actions, and the consequences of post-communist rulers’ utility-maximizing behavior. What has been largely absent from the literature are interpretations of post-communism that avoid the crude simplicities and polemical obsessiveness that characterize run-of-the-mill critiques of “neoliberalism” while shedding analytical light on the ideational dimension of post-communist politics.