John Clark and Aaron Wildavsky, The Moral Collapse of Communism: Poland as a Cautionary Tale (San Francisco: Institute for Contemporary Studies Press, 1990). 431 pp., $24.95.
No one predicted the sudden and epidemic collapse of communism in 1989. Many are now trying to explain it. The importance of this book, what makes it stand out from most of the dozens of other works on the communist experience in Eastern Europe now appearing, is that it has an overarching and arresting theme that, properly understood, points to such an explanation.
That theme is encapsulated in the book's title: the collapse of communism is, essentially and profoundly, a moral collapse. Stated as baldly as that, the proposition might seem both banal and empty of explanatory power. But as it is elaborated and explored by Clark and Wildavsky--in a style that is always sophisticated and often mordant and witty--it is novel and illuminating, casting light not only on the reasons for the failure of the communist regimes but on the prospects for progress in the postcommunist period.
A natural first reaction to predictive failure is to search for particulars of which one was unaware or which were overlooked. Many social scientists have been led to search for a host of such particulars, usually political and economic ones. How misleading were Soviet statistics? How divided were communist leaders? How run down were East German factories? How deeply diseased are distributive systems in the East? What is it that markets know that central planners cannot?