Barrington Moore Jr.
(12 May 1913
- 16 October 2005
) was an American political sociologist
: his most famous work was Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World
(1966). Other works include, Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery
(1972) and Injustice: the Social Basis of Obedience and Revolt
Education and private life
After graduating from Williams College
, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa
, he took his Ph.D. in sociology
from Yale University
in 1941. Moore then worked as a policy analyst for the OSS
during World War II
, under Herbert Marcuse
. At the OSS he met Elizabeth Ito, who shortly thereafter became his wife. Betty, as she was called, became the editor of all of his manuscripts. They had no children.
Starting in the 1950s he was based at Harvard
's Russian research center, where he wrote books about the Soviet Union
. In 1958 he published a book of essays on methodology and theory entitled Political Power and Social Theory
, in which he attacked the methodological outlook of 1950s social science
. While at Harvard, his students included comparative social scientists Theda Skocpol
, and Charles Tilly
Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy
Moore's groundbreaking work, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966), was the cornerstone to what is now called comparative-historical analysis in the social sciences. In that work he studied the conditions for the sociogenesis of democratic, fascist and communist regimes, looking especially at the ways in which industrialization and the pre-existing agrarian regimes interacted to produce those different political outcomes. He drew particular attention to the violence which preceded the development of democratic institutions.
Moore lists five conditions for the development of western-style democracy (through a "bourgeois revolution") (pp.430):
- the "development of a balance to avoid too strong a crown or too independent a landed aristocracy"
- a shift toward "an appropriate form of commercial agriculture"
- a "weakening of the landed aristocracy"
- the "prevention of an aristocratic-bourgeois coalition against the peasants and workers" [which would lead to fascism]
- a "revolutionary break with the past".
Moore's concern was the transformation of pre-industrial agrarian social relations into "modern" ones. He highlighted what he called "three routes to the modern world" - the liberal democratic, the fascist, and the communist - each deriving from the timing of industrialization and the social structure at the time of transition.
In the simplest sense, Social Origins can be summarized with his famous statement "No bourgeois, no democracy" (p.418) though taking that idea at face value undercuts and misinterprets the nuances of his argument.
- In England, the effect of the "bourgeois impulse" was to change the attitudes of a portion of the landed elite towards commercial farming, leading to the destruction of the peasantry through the enclosure system and the English Civil War which led to an aristocratic, but moderate democracy.
- In France, the French Revolution did directly include the bourgeoisie, but it was the overwhelming influence of the peasantry that determined "just how far the revolution could go." The peasantry remained thereafter a reservoir of reactionary attitudes.
- In the United States, the industrial north's victory over the Southern planter elite in the Civil War cemented the U.S. path to modernity through liberal democracy, but only after southern planters "acquired a tincture" of urban business - essentially changing their attitudes towards capitalist accumulation. The result, however, was that once this transformation took place, the Northern capitalists ended Reconstruction and allowed the South to instigate Jim Crow.
Moore also directly addressed the Japanese transition to modernity through fascism and the communist path in China, while implicitly remarking on Germany and Russia.
- For Moore, the influence of the bourgeoisie in Japan was significantly more limited than in England, France, and the U.S. Instead of the capitalist accumulation through the "bourgeois impulse" as it did in those three cases, Japan's late transition to industrial modernity was induced through "labor repressive" agriculture - squeezing the peasantry to generate the necessary capital for modernization. This "revolution from above" served to cement a reactionary alliance of a weak bourgeoisie and powerful landowners that culminated in fascism.
- In China, the overwhelming strength of the peasantry vis-a-vis the bourgeoisie and the landed elites resulted in the Chinese Revolution, but ironically they were its first victims. Here, the bourgeoisie allied with the peasants, and created a "revolution from below."
One can see Moore's theme of the bourgeoisie again here - in the states that became democratic, there was a strong bourgeoisie. In Japan and China, the bourgeoisie was weak, and allied with the elites or peasants to create fascism or communism, respectively.
Dennis Smith, "Obituary: Barrington Moore — Author of a daring sociological classic", The Independent
, 17 November 2005