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How Liberalism Became ‘The God That Failed’ in Eastern Europe

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How Liberalism Became ‘The God That Failed’ in Eastern Europe

The Guardian,

5 min read
4 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Having ridded themselves of communism, Central and Eastern Europeans feel that liberalism is letting them down.

Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Eye Opening
  • Engaging


In his classic 1949 anthology of essays, The God That Failed, leftist author Arthur Koestler described his and other prominent Europeans’ conversion to and subsequent disillusionment with communism. When the Soviet communist empire collapsed in 1989, Central and Eastern European intellectuals almost unquestionably came to accept liberalism as the only vehicle to achieve social justice, prosperity and human fulfillment. Yet is liberalism turning into another “failing” god? In this edited excerpt of their book The Light That Failed: A Reckoning, Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes ask this question in a thought-provoking essay, which will be of interest to anyone troubled by the rise of illiberal populism across the West.


The main goal of the “velvet revolutions” in Central and Eastern Europe has been to live a “normal life” according to the Western European model.

Unlike other revolutions in history, the velvet revolutions that ushered in the post-communist era in Central and Eastern Europe didn’t aspire to some utopian ideal of a perfect future society. Rather, the revolutionaries aimed to adopt the lifestyle of Western European countries.

Post-communist leaders sought to establish normalcy by adopting Western-style political institutions, embracing Western values of liberalism and pluralism, and transitioning swiftly to capitalist economies.

Resentments against the pressure to conform to the West and growing economic inequality have sparked the desire for an alternative political agenda in Central and Eastern Europe.

Two decades following the collapse of communism, however, many Central and Eastern Europeans came to resent the social...

About the Authors

Ivan Krastev is a fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna and the chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia. Stephen Holmes is professor of law at New York University School of Law. 

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