Political Development in Eastern Europe

By Gabriel Almond; Jan F. Triska et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
MODERNIZATION AS AN EXPLANATION OF POLITICAL CHANGE IN EAST EUROPEAN STATES

Paul M. Johnson

It is by now commonplace to note that many of the intellectual tools used in the past by Western scholars to guide their research and organize their findings on the Communist states of Eastern Europe have come under attack, at least since the 1960s, as inadequate to describe and account for certain highly salient trends and tendencies recently observed in the domestic and international politics of the region. The increasingly heterogeneous patterns of politics that emerged in Eastern Europe and the USSR following the death of Stalin steadily undermined the empirical applicability of the only broad conceptual framework then in wide use -- the "ideal type" of the "totalitarian" society.

The erosion of this dominant paradigm by the steady accumulation of anomalous observations led (after some delay) to a widespread search for new organizing concepts by the scholars in the field who were least locked in to the pattern of cold war polemics. That pattern had been much facilitated by the assumptions of the close approximation of these regimes to the totalitarian ideal and of their essential imperviousness to modification through domestic forces.

The initial reaction of many analysts was to attempt to salvage some of the academic investment in the totalitarian model with its careful description of the self-reinforcing mechanisms that served to stabilize and even extend the more exotic traits of "high Stalinism." This was to be accomplished through more precise distinction between the "really essential" defining characteristics of the totalitarian system (now seen as fewer than before) and "contingent" traits whose presence was likely but not essential to the basic configuration. Totalitarian systems, it now appeared, had various subtypes other than the previously recognized fascist and Stalinist variants.

Nevertheless, despite considerable elaboration in terminology, applications of the revised standard version of totalitarianism remained basically the same. They still emphasize the essential durability of the basic differentiating features

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