The Evolution of Regimes: What Can Twenty-Five Years of Post-Soviet Change Teach Us?
by Stephen E. Hanson, College of William & Mary
The twenty-fifth anniversary of the collapse of the USSR naturally provokes us to reflect on the course of Eurasian and world history in the post-communist era. Upon closer examination, however, it is not clear what significance the precise time span of two and a half decades has for the scientific study of political and institutional change. A review of the social science literature indicates that we are very far from having any consensual understanding of how long processes of regime evolution typically take—and thus, how to establish the relevant time span for judging the scientific accuracy of initial predictions about the outcomes of post-communist “transitions.” I argue that the first step in assessing the lessons of post-Soviet political change to date, from a social-scientific point of view, lies in defining the term “regime” more precisely, so that scholars can at least agree when one regime has ended and another begun. In this respect, Weberian sociological theory provides useful conceptual materials for a more general theory of “regime evolution” within which the empirical results of the first twenty-five years of post-Soviet change can be situated.