Varieties of Transition: The East European and East German Experience

In This Review

Varieties of Transition: The East European and East German Experience

By Claus Offe
MIT Press, 1997
249 pp. $18.00
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In the substrata of Offe's book two large issues weave in and out. First is whether the forms of thought by which analysts normally deal with political change measure up to the scale of Eastern Europe's transformation. To the extent that established concepts are dwarfed by a wholesale recasting of both state and economy, he answers no. He struggles with what it means for one of these spheres to have three processes under way at once -- nation-building, state formation, and deciding who gets what, when, and how. The East German case drives his analysis, but he insists on the importance of differences in the ways East European states have experienced these transitions. The second large issue involves the relevance and adequacy of the Western model for these societies. Because the author believes the political and economic architecture of Germany or the United States inheres as much in their traditions, cultural patterns, and states of mind as in formal institutions, he sees their relevance as limited. And because he is aware of the pathologies in these models -- principally their failure to solve the problem of social justice -- he doubts their adequacy. At this level the analysis is more a sketch than a rigorous argument. Stimulating as this sketch is, in some of its more challenging places a clumsy translation from the German makes the text less than a treat to read.