Ernest Gellner: Selected Philosophical Themes - Vol. 2

By Ernest Gellner | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

The pluralist anti-levellers of Prague

Differences which can be summed up in a few words can mean, in historical reality, enormous, complex and difficult social transformations.

PAVEL MACHONIN

The destiny of the so-called socialist societies of eastern Europe is one of the great questions of our time. The communist counter-reformation may plunge eastern Europe into the same kind of somnolent torpor which the original Counter-Reformation imposed on southern Europe, and from which it has not yet really recovered. The abortive Prague Spring will remain a good source of evidence for what countervailing forces are available, which could possibly save eastern Europe from such a fate. It was a revolution of intellectuals, a fact which may perhaps have always augured ill for its final outcome, though it was a hopeful sign for the quality of its literary and scholarly accompaniment.

One of its most remarkable products-quite possibly the most remarkable one-is a tome of some 620 pages, Czechoslovak Society, which its authors still managed to bring out towards the end of 1969. 1 It is a collective work by diverse members of a team which had co-operated in a big study of social stratification in socialist Czechoslovakia, with its major survey carried out in 1967, and which had the very important support of the official statistical services. The various chapters are written in Czech and in Slovak, but at the end of the book there is a nineteen-page summary in English.

It is unfortunate that this work is likely to remain inaccessible to most of its potential readers for some time at least The English summary at the end does not even remotely do justice to its richness of thought and documentation (nor, alas, is its English particularly attractive or wholly free from ambiguity).

For the main thing which needs to be stressed about this volume is that it constitutes a very remarkable achievement. Had it been produced in politically stable or uninteresting conditions, in a country whose contemporary condition makes no special claim on our interest, and were it available in an easily accessible language, it would still make its mark as a very major contribution to the literature on social stratification in industrial societies, and would become one of the most important texts in the field. It would still

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