on January 26, 2001
Democratic and totalitarian states might differ on key variables, but both are modern - resting on industrial civilization & the commercialization of agriculture. But how they got there is another matter. At the most general level, Barrington Moore Jr.'s "Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy" seeks to explain differing national paths towards this modernity. More specifically, he seeks to analyze the evolution of modern political systems through their social, economic and institutional bases. Even more specifically, he posits a bold thesis that the particular relationship between peasants and landowners in a given country, more than any other factor, determines whether that country will eventually become democratic, communist, or fascist. And more specifically still, Moore argues that in countries where landowners were able to secure political power independent of the crown, and become bourgeois managers of commercial agriculture in a way that created minimal political grievance among those who worked the land, then the result was capitalist democracy. However, in countries like Russia, China, Germany and Japan where this process was halted, forced, abortive, or out of sequence, then the result was dictatorship. In the communist cases, this dictatorship came about through a revolution from below, spurred on by disgruntled peasants against a non-commercial, non-bourgeois landowning class; while in the fascist cases the modern revolution came down from "above" as landowning elites used the tools of the state (preindustrial bureaucracy) to impose modernity on a politically powerless peasantry.
In proving his argument, Moore gives evidence in the following manner: "the inevitable analytical necessity of isolating certain manageable areas of history can lead to partial truths that are misleading and even false unless and until one subsequently puts them back into their proper context" (224). In other words, Moore recognizes that his relative historical isolation of the landowner/peasant relationship can obscure a whole range of other factors from the analysis (international relations, culture, religion, etc.). Therefore, due to the acknowledged danger posed by such an isolation, much of his book is spent "re-situating" the landowner/peasant relationship back into its particular national context (through his detailed case studies) in order to "control" for other variables like religion and culture by showing their importance to be only secondary at best in explaining paths to modernity. Because of this richly detailed method, one can say that Moore is quite methodologically sophisticated. He acknowledges both the value of Marxist class analysis, and the value of Weberian consciousness analysis, without falling prey to their economic and cultural determinism - or without falling prey to determinism of any kind, for that matter: "All of this does not of course mean that some inexorable fate drove Germany toward fascism from the sixteenth century onward, that the process never could have been reversed" (436).
Furthermore, Moore warns of the dangers of excessive methodological quantification. His case studies are not shy about using statistics to prove their claims, but he consistently offers a healthy dose of skepticism against researchers overly reliant on numerical data (using partial truths that are misleading and false outside their context, to paraphrase his earlier quote). Moore is also fond of the occasional counterfactual to illustrate his historical claims, as shown in one of the research questions that underpin his inquiry: "is this activity necessary to the society? What would happen if it stopped or changed?" (471). For instance, he asserts that America's "capitalist revolution" (the Civil War) could not have happened if northern industrialists had not been able to build a political coalition with western farmers, against the South, by awarding them free land. Therefore, if the western territories had not been open to settlement, then America's capitalist revolution might have been delayed or irrevocably shattered.
On the whole, Moore displays a broad knowledge of the existing literature in his citations, as he reviews a wide body of work on each of the cases studied. The only glaring problem with his methodology per se is that its obvious grand historical/comparative focus makes for a lack of parsimony and exactitude. The book is full of linguistic qualifiers ("largely", "partially", "may have been", etc.), vague, ambiguous, semi-causal arguments like "considerations such as these show the difficulty of connecting the specific terms landlord and peasant to any general notion of social classes" (190), and weak theory-building statements such as "the instability of French democracy during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is partly due to this fact" (426) (without, of course, specifying what causes might make up the other part(s) of the explanation). In Moore's defense, however, one would have to admit that a grand comparative work such as his cannot bother to empirically sketch out the causal relationship at work in each and every local, regional and historical micro-case.
A further strong point of Moore's work is its predictive power. While the road to modernity has ended for the countries in question, there are still countries today that are dealing with the same kinds of landlord/peasant issues as they attempt to commercialize agriculture in line with economic globalization. Furthermore, the political lessons of the book can even shape our future understanding of his six cases themselves, as they evolve beyond modernity. For instance, Moore prophetically (for 1966) states that "contemporary Chinese society, despite severe difficulties and setbacks, shows signs of moving ahead. By learning from Soviet mistakes, China could conceivably surpass Russia" (230). And now they have. While Moore's theory would not have predicted China's post-Soviet success with any statistical exactitude, it is a measure of Moore's perceptiveness as a historically grounded comparativist that he could even arrive at such a speculation.
on July 6, 2002
In "Social Origins", Barrington Moore conducts a study of economic, social and political change in the modern era. Moore survey's modern societies from England to Japan comparing social and economic structures with emphasis on class stratification.
Moore uses a hybrid Marxist analysis and turns it on its head by finding common conditions favorable to democracies and conditions that lead to fascist and commmunist dictatorships. Moore finds some common factors to successful transition to include a need for social change to accompany technological change, the strength of a "middle class" and the need to address the concerns of agrarian society.
In the end Moore believes that the industrial change took place at great cost in every society. The key to successful transistion to democracy was in how this "industrial revolution" was implemented.
Whether one agrees totally or not, "Social Origins" never ceases to be stimulating in its analysis.
on June 6, 2000
Moore is an intellectual tour de force. In this book he attempts to explain how democracy developed in some states, while other, seemingly similar, states turned to fascism and authoritarianism. While I certainly cannot cogently summarize Moore in a small paragraph, it remains a book and an argument that needs dissemination. In general, the key to understanding how states develop is to understand the balance of class power within each society. The choice of regime, or rather the regime type that develops within a state, is determined by the dominant class and with whom that class aligns. According to Moore democracy develops if the bourgeoisie gains enough power to break the hold of the aristocracy and the failure to do so can not only doom democracy, but it also raises the possibility of fascism. Moore supplements his theoretical augments with an ample amount of well-analyzed historical case studies. In the end, even if one does not agree with his arguments or conclusions, the book still needs to be read, understood, and engaged by anyone who wants to understand democratization.
on May 3, 2007
Moore seeks to examine the paths to modernity adopted by various countries and the subsequent political outcomes. Principally, more concentrates on the emergence of democracy, fascism, and communism. Moore argues that each path to modernization is characterized by a certain level of revolution. The driving factor to the development of the political path is at which level in society does the revolution begin; the aristocracy (above), the bourgeoisie (middle), or the peasant (below)? As such, the dependent variable can be summed up as political systems, while the independent variables stem from class interactions (landed aristocracy, the state, bourgeoisie, and peasant). Of particular importance for Moore is the relationship between the landed aristocracy and the state. In situations where the aristocracy is weak, the potential for peasant revolution is great. In situations where the state is strong, it retains the coercive force to repress potential uprisings. These relationships, coupled with the relationship between agriculture and commerce - particularly whether or not the landed aristocracy has made a move towards the commercialization of agriculture.
Moore begins his work in discussing the capitalistic, democratic path to modernity as characterized by England, France, and the United States. In the case of England, the landed aristocracy moved towards the commercialization of agriculture. This essentially eliminated the wide peasant base from the equation, thus removing a potentially revolutionary class. Additionally, the move towards commercialized agriculture decreased the power of the absolutist Crown. Furthermore, the commercialization of agriculture leads to the development of towns and a trading class (bourgeoisie). Once combining forces, the landed aristocracy and the bourgeoisie were able to rebel against the Crown and demanded political recognition. Following a long civil war, a parliamentary (democratic) system of government was established. In this case, the emergence of the bourgeoisie was imperative for the democratic transition. This illustrates Moore's classic line "no bourgeoisies, no democracy."
In order to explain the path towards communism, Moore examines the case of Russia and China. In the case of Russia and China, the landed aristocracy failed to make the transition to commercialized agriculture. This failure led to the continued existence of massive peasant population. This massive peasant population created a tremendous barrier for the transition to democracy, and subsequently possessed a high revolutionary potential. With a weak state unable to function repressively, the environment was ripe for a revolution from below; a peasant revolution led to a communist government.
Moore's last path of modernization, fascism, is illustrated by case studies of Germany and Japan. Although Germany and Japan undertook a capitalist path to modernity, the outcome was drastically different from those nations achieving a democratic outcome. In Germany and Japan, the landed aristocracy formed a ready alliance with the burgeoning commercial and industrial classes. This allowed for the transition to commercial agriculture as well as an expansion in the industrial sphere. This transition, coupled with capacity of the state to repress rebellion and dissension allowed for the emergence of a fascist form of government.
In short, Moore seeks to explain the various paths to modernity; democracy, fascism, and communism. These paths to modernity are primarily driven by relations between class groups, and the type of transition to commercial agriculture.
on October 4, 2011
Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World is a masterful example of comparative historical analysis. More than any of the pieces I have been reading these past few weeks, Barrington Moore, Jr. is able to build as solid of an argument for the three major "routes to the modern world" from agrarian society as he does for the importance of qualitative methodologies in general. In other words, what he analyzes is as important, I believe, as how he goes about analyzing it.
This is a sprawling, rolling text. And I think it is helpful to mention a few design elements of the book before tackling it. First off, you have to read the Preface. Do not just brush past that for Chapter I. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy--much more like a tome from one of the political theorists of centuries past (Montesquieu's Preface to The Spirit of the Laws comes to mind)--has a lot of important ideas crammed into the Preface. In fact, if you do not spend some time on just those first eight pages of the Preface, Chapters I-III, will wash over you like some ugly biblical wave of powerful historicity. Moore's preface is the lifeboat that will keep you afloat. With that simple, but honest admission out of the way, we can move forward.
But instead of moving on to Chapter I, I suggest we do something criminal--something I am positive Moore would not want us to do--by skipping past the first six chapters and peaking ahead to the last three. Why do this? Well, it is because Moore does something a bit odd with the design of the book. In building his causal arguments of the main factors that propel a national state from an agrarian society to an industrial society, Moore, in a way, places the evidence before the argument. This is why I said the Preface was so important earlier, because without it, trying to understand what Moore is after can seem somewhat frustrating for the reader. This unique and imaginative design creates the surreal experience for the reader of being a watcher of history unfolding before you. You actually get the sense that you do not know how things are going to turn out.
Even though we all know that Chapters I-III on England, France, and America will end with these national states enjoying democratic regimes, and that Chapter IV and V on China and Japan will lead to more autocratic regimes, and that Chapter VI on India will lead to a muddled mess (you knew that one about India, right? ha! Do not forget that this was book was published in 1966)--even though we as good political science students know all this already, Moore, by electing to wait until the end of his book to outline clearly his main argument, allows the reader to truly appreciate the complicated narrative of case-specific facts that must not be allowed to rust alone and forgotten and that must be properly polished and used to prop up the enfolding process of time and rich textuality if we ever hope to understand what went into, what caused the modern world to be modern.
Cool, right? Anyway...
So here is the soulless version of Moore's argument, stripped of all the goodies of time; three avenues exist, he argues, to get from peasant-infested agriculture to modern industry:
- Route of Bourgeois Revolution, a combination of capitalism and parliamentary democracy (of which he cites England, France, and America in Chapters I, II, and III).
- Route of "Revolution from Above," the fascist variety, still with capitalism, though with ugly top-down reactionary politics (say hello to Japan in Chapter V).
- Route of Peasant Revolution, this sucker leads to communism (China, he emphasizes here in Chapter IV).
There is also something of a fourth route, if one can call it that:
- Route of Stillborn Revolution, it seems that India had yet to work out its "backwardness" by the time Moore was authoring this in the 1960s (Chapter VI).
This is the main gist of his book. And what, then, are the empirical data leading to this conclusion? That, of course, cannot be given away in this small review. I say that it is much better to digest the book for yourself. Enjoy!
on May 20, 2015
Preface to this review: This is a great book is a great work and this review is a review of the work and offers an extension to today by utilizing Samuel P. Huntington, Theda Skocpol, and Schneirov & Fernandez. Skocpol was a student of Barrington Moore and offers one of the greatest critiques of his work. She offers one of the best intellectual views of his work. I also utilize Edward Friedman when criticizing India and China. These insights help point out some of the flaws, but remember this book is a cornerstone of understanding development of capitalism and understanding modernity
The Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy by Barrington Moore is very well researched book providing a Marxist approach to answering the question of what conditions cause certain societies to be democratic and non-democratic. Moore argues that economic factors rather than cultural ideology. Moore suggests there are three different routes to modernization. The first route is the bourgeois revolution that is a bottom up revolution that is democratic capitalist; he uses England, France, and the United States as his examples. Moore then states that the second route is top down reactionary capitalist route that leads to fascism and he sites Germany and Japan in the book. The third route that Moore highlights is the peasant led Communist route where he analyzes Russia and China. Moore’s argument is that all of these countries developed differently through class structures and through the change of agrarian societies to industrial societies. Moore states that these transitions are violent upheavals. The main point that Moore states is that there cannot be a democratic revolution with out a strong bourgeoisie. This paper will begin by laying out the basic argument that Moore makes and then critiquing it by utilizing Theda Skocpol, Edward Freidmen, and Samuel P. Huntington.
Moore sites England, France, and The United States as having a strong bourgeois impulse. This bourgeois impulse is the key factor in determining a democratic society. If the bourgeois impulse is strong in the beginning stages of modernization then the country will be democratic. Moore argues that there are three variables that determine a democratic revolution.
The first variable is the commercial impulse or the growth of the urban base commodity markets. Moore points out the degree of commercialization or the spread of urban-based commodity markets occurring throughout all three routes to modernization. This variable is important in describing how an agrarian society can transition to a more industrialized society.
In the case studies that Moore outlines he states that the countries that democratized had a strong bourgeois impulse. The countries that have a fascist route have a moderate strength bourgeois impulse. The countries that have had the least or no bourgeois impulse were the communist countries. The determining factors are of a democratic revolution still hinge on political propensities and the opportunity for class alliances between the agrarian classes. If the bourgeois impulse is strong then the bourgeois classes will set the tone of the political discourse, as seen in England. If the bourgeois impulse is moderate then the upper classes will set the political discourse. Theda Skocpol states it comes down to three variables, which are the formation of commercial agriculture, whether it will be labor-repressive or prefer market agriculture. A strong bourgeois class will favor a form of market commercialization over a labor repressive one as seen in England and the U.S.
The second variable is the potential for a peasant revolt. For a potential peasant revolt the bourgeois element needs to align with the peasantry or lower orders to help create a more democratic revolution. If these variables are in place then there will be a bottom up revolution.
The third variable is the propensity for a peasant revolt. This all relies on the concept of the peasantry having a cross-class alliance with the bourgeois element. The peasantry provides the insurgency needed to encourage the revolution. The key aspects of the peasantry fall on whether the agrarian state can be fully transformed into a commercial state. In order to have a commercial society the peasantry needs to be eliminated. In the case of the American Civil War the North was industrializing very quickly and becoming a commercial society where as the South was still heavily rooted in an agrarian, feudal system. The act of slavery was a hindrance to commercial interest of industrialization.
A fascist system with a moderate to low bourgeois impulse will have a more favorable outlook for labor-repressive agriculture and will likely fuse with the monarchy. In a fascist route the Upper landed class will align with the emerging bourgeois class instead of the peasantry. If this class alignment happens then there will be little effect to industrial progress or modernization. However, it will lack the democratic element and will be unstable. This is an example of a top down approach. If there is no bourgeois element then the government will have to step into the role of the bourgeoisie. The state will act as the industrializing actor and will lead to the communist route and will leave little room for democracy.
Moore’s analysis is well researched and contributes greatly to the understanding of the origins of how states become democratic, fascist, and communist. It is a great explanation and creates a great basis for the understanding of modernization and democratization, but there are flaws within his argument.
The first critique is in regard to the bourgeois impulse. Moore, when looking at the bourgeoisie and judging its degree of strength by a system-wide analysis, determines these factors based on the number, dispersion, and the density of urban upper class people participating in commerce. Was the emergence of the bourgeois impulse the reason for creating transition or was it the desperation of power among all people in society? If one applies the same method of assessment to the different classes would there be a different result? Many people did not benefit from the change of the system structure, yet when looking at the people separately they did not all have bourgeois ideas. This could be explained by the fact that the hegemonic bloc was in a transition and that even people who benefited from an agrarian society would choose to follow the new ideology of a market system.
The second critique of Moore is within his market system versus the labor-repressive commercial agriculture system. His idea is somewhat flawed in that he determines a market system is not controlled by some governmental agency. Moore states that the English are market-commercial in that they were primarily relying on themselves to extract surplus. Skocpol states that: “England employed Parliamentary decrees to enclose lands, used control of parish political offices to regulate the movement of labourers via administration of justice and the Poor Laws.” This is being done with the help of a governmental power. The same can be said with Japan. Moore states that Japan’s relationship was the reverse to that of England. Moore continues by saying Japan used the government to push off tenants from their land. England also used poor laws, and other political mechanisms to force tenants off of their land.
The third critique is concerning the terminology that Moore uses when dealing with the Marxist political sociological outlook and how it is seen as inadequate when compared to Marxist interpretations. Skocpol remarks that the state will work against short term and long-term interests to preserve the mode of production. Moore’s folly is that he focuses on the landed upper classes and asserts that bourgeois economic activities are influences. So if every bottom up revolution does not replace the previous landed upper class then the revolution was a result of the political action by the upper class and not the bourgeoisie.
Other criticisms made by Edward Friedman about Moore’s analysis of India and China. The criticisms about India and China come from the apparent inconsistencies that Moore demonstrated when talking about Leninist economic systems. Friedman criticizes Moore about how he championed the superiority of Socialist China but he failed to see that India had a Leninist government. Friedman asserts that China and India were not economically different and that Moore knew India’s economy mimicked the economy at the end of Lenin’s last years in power. Maoist China and Nehru-Gandhi’s India both were Leninist economies. Moore wrote previously that Leninism had stagnation built into the structure and would was seen as a dead end. In Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Moore equates violence under Leninism with liberal modernization but he did not account for the importance of freedom. Moore justifies that violence is necessary for democracy to happen and cites France as an example of violence being the necessity for democracy. India had a democracy but was economically Leninist. The problem then becomes that if violence is necessary for democracy and then praise is put upon a country like India that is economically Leninist, and then violence under the Leninist state is justified because at the time it was seen as modernizing. It was only after the revelation of the failure of Leninist economies that the model was dismissed as backward. Friedman ultimately states that Moore was writing from a place of bias and states: “Moore wrote from the inevitably prejudiced palace of the present.”
Moore’s theory that for a successful transition to democracy requires violence is suited for older revolutions but how does one describe the revolution in the later part of the twentieth century? Samuel P. Huntington speaks to this question by stating that the democratic revolutions from 1974 onward transitioned with very limited violence. This is not to say that there was no violence, in fact almost all democratic transitions had some violence. In the later twentieth century revolutionary democratic countries were less violet for a few reasons. The governments were less likely to impose violence against opposition parties. A second reason is that different measures of violence are associated with different transitions of democratizations. The reason for this is that reformers in the regime were powerful enough to help initiate a transition to democracy and therefore could do it with little violence. The third reason was that government sometimes resisted the use of violence if there was a more wide spread middle class element. Countries would be more likely to use force if the country had a relatively low level of socioeconomic development. Finally there was less violence from in the later twentieth century because the opposition parties and their leaders insisted on the use of nonviolence. Huntington states that the use of nonviolence is key in helping countries shift toward democratization. Huntington states in opposition to Moore’s claim that there needs to be violence for a successful revolution by stating between the 1860’s and 1960’s violent revolutions happened but they resulted in few democratized state. Between 1974 and the 1990’s the revolts that were very violent produced almost no democratic revolutions. Moore states for the democratic path to happen there needs to be a major violent upheaval. Huntington shows that in the twentieth century there were many countries that took the democratic path and transitioned successfully with little violence.
Barrington Moore’s book is a great work that tediously goes into the histories of different states and helps explain the different routes to modernity. This book is a great positive contribution to the scientific enterprise of understanding modernizations. It is easy to criticize the book today with the power of hindsight and to see many of his flaws. The flaws a fairly small compared to what Moore
on March 9, 2001
One of the very best introductions to how the modern world came to be -- at a high level of detail. This is political economy as it should be written.
on April 25, 2007
In an age where `democracy' is almost sanctified and nations lacking a democratic system are alienated by the international community, books like Barrington Moore's are of immeasurable value. In his Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Moore does a phenomenal job in tracing the emergence of democratic systems in the West back to the specific types of the relations between monarchs, landlords, bourgeoisie, and peasants. His using `method of agreement' and `method of difference' alike in his comparisons of the different societal relations in Europe and Asia gives the reader the chance to think beyond a national context and therefore strengthens the theoretical value of his arguments.
The main shortcoming of Moore's otherwise `classic' book is that the author pays very little attention to the international and systemic contexts that strongly effect the developments in national systems. This omission, which seems a deliberate attempt for the sake of theory-building, is likely to lead the readers to a flawed understanding of `democracy' as a `national' phenomenon. I personally think that the international/systemic context cannot be detached from the national ones and even argue that the former is to take precedence in our analysis, for it is the variable that renders certain developments possible and others not.
To understanding the rise of fascism to power in Germany and in Italy we have to take into account the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century European context, in particular the balance of power among the major powers. In the German case, its being a `late-industrialized' country, its rivalry with Britain for the hegemony in the continental Europe, and its `dissatisfaction' with the existing status quo provided a favorable condition for the non-liberal/non-democratic forms of governments. After all, it was the same Germany whose `constitutional republicanism' circa 1890 was regarded by Woodrow Wilson as "the shining model of self-government" to be emulated by the United States. The Italian case is more interesting in that Italy before the World War I was among the few `stable' democracies in Europe. Yet only four years after the war, in1922, Mussolini regime managed to come to power in Italy (not due to the relations between different classes of the Italian community, but mostly because of the Italian dissatisfaction both with its development level and the European status quo. Thus, not ignoring the influence of societal factors, we may say that powerful states that are dissatisfied with the international status quo are more likely to establish non-democratic forms of government.
As for the development of communism in Russia and China, we have to include their `dependent' situation vis-à-vis Western powers. While the economic dependence of these countries (actually, almost all countries which are called `Third World' today) prevented them from following independent economic policies and having an indigenous capitalist class, their political dependence impeded the development of nationally-oriented regimes in these countries. The later rise of totalitarian regimes was therefore partly a response to the economic and political dependence of these countries. Thus, we may say that it was the combination of poverty, injustice, and dissatisfaction that `paved the way' to non-democratic forms of governments in Russia and China.
on May 16, 2002
for someone who loves political theory, this is an excellent book to read that delves deeply into what causes revolutions and what creates a dictatorship and what creates a democracy. the only problem with this book is that it can't seem to take an account of why India is still a democracy. the peasants won in india, but they are still a democracy.
on June 7, 2009
There are already several fine reviews, so I will only add that Moore's is a masterful work, which, in my opinion, is enlightening. Perhaps, because of the author's style, the book is no very engaging, but it is not dry either. In any event I think that the professional historian and the educated layperson alike can savour it. So I add my review, my rate being between 5 (content) and 3 (pleasure, sometimes falling to 2, sometimes raising to 4). I highly recommend it.
Other interesting books I would recommend would be the following: 1) "War in Human Civilization" by Azar Gat (war explained, not just narrated); 2) "History of Government" by S.E. Finer; and 3) Political Thought: 3.1. and 3.2: "The West and Islam. Religion and Political Thought in World History" plus "A World History of Ancient Political Thought" by Antony Black