Necessary Imperfections

Ernest Gellner's Conditions of Liberty is the best treatment of civil society to emerge from a post-Cold War perspective. Gellner himself these days is in Prague much of the time, studying the process of regeneration from the inside.

Issue: Winter 1994-1995

Ernest Gellner, Conditions of Liberty: Civil Society and Its Rivals (New York: Allen Lane, Penguin Press, 1994), 225 pp., $27.95.

There seems to be no theory of why communism collapsed that does not send us scurrying back to take our own temperatures. Contemplating the post-communist world, we find ourselves falling into medical metaphors. After so long a political illness, what can it be that constitutes "health"? We cannot merely take our bearings from Europe and America. They are certainly vital and healthy in a number of striking respects when compared to the corruption and pollution of the communist world, yet every time we consider what would be communist regeneration, we seem to be driven to think of what would be ideal for us. Because others have been ill, our spiritual hypochondria seems to be getting worse. Certain ideals have been given a new lease of life by the collapse of communism and they threaten to give a whole new life to utopia.

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