Ernest Gellner (1990): The Collapse of the Eastern European Marxist Faith
This is a passage from the 1990 Tanner Lectures series: Ernest Gellner (1990): The Civil and the Sacred analyzing the collapse of the Eastern European Marxist faith to which Vladimir Lenin had played St. Paul to Karl Marx as Jesus.
What is "civil society"? What does it do that is useful for a society?
What happens to a modern industrial economy if there is no "civil society"?
Why did the Eastern European Marxist belief system contain the idea that when it was in power it could survive without--indeed, needed to do away with--"civil society"?
What does Gellner mean by his claim that the Eastern European Marxist belief system was at bottom a middle class, a "bourgeois", idea--a reflection of the beliefs of the middle class in combination with their social and economic position?
Gellner divides really-existing socialism--the Eastern European Marxist faith in power--into five epochs: Origin, Terror, Thaw, Squalor, and Collapse. Why did Lenin's and Stalin's (and Mao's) rule-by-terror not weaken, but actually strengthen the belief system?
Most faiths survive empirical disconfirmation. Jesus Christ does not return while people who have known St. Paul are still alive. YHWH with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm does not raise up an Anointed One from the House of David to reestablish his and Solomon's kingdom. And yet the faiths thrive... Why was the Eastern European Marxist faith different from these others?
Gellner's analysis does not seem to apply at all to the vicissitudes of Marxism and the Communist Party in China--to "socialism with Chinese characteristics". I cannot ask you to provide answers as to why what Gellner lays out as the apparently-inescapable process of dissolution and decay followed by collapse of the Eastern European Marxist faith did not happen in China. But do think hard about it: understanding why the historical trajectories have been so different is one of the most important and most mysterious historical questions of our time.
Read not just the excerpted passage at http://www.bradford-delong.com/2017/02/weekend-reading-from-ernest-gellner-1990-the-civil-and-the-sacred.html, but the whole Tanner Lecture at http://tannerlectures.utah.edu/_documents/a-to-z/g/Gellner_91.pdf!