Capitalism by Democratic Design? Democratic Theory Facing the Triple Transition in Central and Eastern Europe

  • Claus Offe
Part of the Studies in Contemporary Economics book series (CONTEMPORARY)


Convergence theories of the sixties and seventies predicted that the two rival political economic systems would more or less rapidly assimilate each other and inevitably move toward each other. The East was to be enriched with market elements, while the “mixed” economic order of western capitalism had already adopted elements of state intervention into production and distribution processes. The problem with this theory, as is now becoming apparent, was that only the West was capable of “mixing”, whereas the socialist societies were constantly on the verge of “capsizing” through concessions made to political liberalization (party competition, freedom of opinion), national independence, decentralized forms of ownership, and competitive price formation, to say nothing about “economic democracy”. Western admixtures were regularly taken back. Everywhere the self-transformation of socialist societies foundered on the political elites’ justified fear of downward paths. The “oil-spill thesis”, which predicts that the entire system will be spoiled when just a single “alien” element or move is introduced, turned out precisely not to apply to those systems for which it was meant to hold true in the twenties by von Mises, i.e., western capitalist democracies. All the more clearly, however, was it corroborated for the state socialist regimes. As is shown by the results of the debates of the sixties and seventies over economic reform in the eastern block, these regimes did not manage to incorporate their opposite principle in both sufficient and harmless dosage.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Bates, R.H., 1965, “Contra Contractarianism: Some Reflections on the New Institutionalism”, Politics and Society16 (1988): 387–401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Easton, D., 1965, A Systems Analysis of Political Life, New York, Wiley.Google Scholar
  3. Elster, J., 1990, “When Communism Dissolves”, London Review of Books, 24 January.Google Scholar
  4. Deacon, B. and J. Szalai (eds.), 1990, Social Policy in the New Eastern Europe, Aldershot etc., Avebury.Google Scholar
  5. Habermas, J., 1985, “Ziviler Ungehorsam — Testfall für den demokratischen Rechtsstaat”, in: idem, Die Neue Unübersichtlichkeit, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp: 79–99.Google Scholar
  6. Habermas, J., 1990, Die nachholende Revolution, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp: 179–204.Google Scholar
  7. Hirschman, A.O., 1981, “The Changing Tolerance for Income Inequality in the Course of Economic Development”, in: idem, Essays in Trespassing. Economics to Politics and Beyond, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 39–58.Google Scholar
  8. Holmes, S., 1988, “Precommitment and the Paradox of Democracy”, in: J. Elster, R. Slagstad (eds.), Constitutionalism and Democracy, Cambridge, Cambridge UP: 195–240.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Kosta, J., 1991, “Okonomische Aspekte des Systemwandels in der Tschechoslowakei”, in: R. Deppe et al. (eds.), Demokratischer Umbruch in Osteuropa, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp: 302ff.Google Scholar
  10. Lipset, S.M., 1981, Political Man. The Social Bases of Politics, expanded edition, Baltimore, Johns Hopkins UP.Google Scholar
  11. O’Donnell, G., P.C. Schmitter and L. Whitehead (eds.), 1986, Transitions from Authoritarian Rule, 5 vls.,Baltimore, Johns Hopkins UP.Google Scholar
  12. Schöpflin, G., 1991, “Post-Communism: constructing new democracies in Central Europe”, International Affairs 67, 2: 235–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Staniskis, J., 1991, “Dilemmata der Demokratie in Osteuropa”, in: R. Deppe et al. (eds.), Demokratischer Urmbruch in Osteuropa, Frankfurt, Suhrkamp: 326ff.Google Scholar
  14. Stark, D., 1990, “Privatization in Hungary: From Plan to Market or from Plan to Clan”, East European Politics and Societies 4, 3: 351–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Stark, D., “Privatization Strategies in East Central Europe”, unpublished manuscript.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claus Offe
    • 1
  1. 1.University of BremenDeutschland

Personalised recommendations