Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World by Barrington Moore Jr.To quote a professor of mine, the one-sentence version of this book is Kill your peasants. Kill them early? Youll be a liberal democracy in the 20th century like England. Kill them late? Youll be a communist basket case.
On a more serious note, this book is a masterpiece of comparative politics/comparative historical analysis. Its a kind of book that couldnt be written today (This cant be falsified! some annoying reviewer would say), but its still an impressive and plausible theory of political and economic development.
Moore argues for a class-based account of modernization. Against Marxist accounts that emphasize the bourgeoisie or the industrial proletariat, Moore argues (to use the subtitle) for the importance of lord and peasant in determining the effect of modernization on political development. A lot of reviewers here complain about the meandering character of the argument, but Moore actually does a great job of summarizing his arguments at the beginning and ends of chapters, and he gives you a summary of the whole argument in Part III of the book... gotta look for these little clues.
The basic version of the argument is that the structure of agricultural production in a country determines how it modernizes. If the aristocracy turns to commercial agriculture, as in Britain and France, and peasant society disappears, you will have a revolution that leads to the emergence of democracy. If the aristocracy turns to commercial agriculture but fails to destroy peasant society, such as in Eastern Europe, Germany, and Japan, you get fascism. If there is no turn to commercial agriculture at all, you get this huge peasant mass that lingers into the 20th century and becomes a reservoir for peasant revolution as in Russia and China.
The turn to commercial agriculture requires both the opportunity and desire to commercialize. The opportunity comes from the relative rigidity of feudal law--the weaker feudalism is, the easier it is to commercialize. The desire comes from the growth of towns and royal taxation, both of which increase the desire of the aristocracy for cash. The /structure/ of commercial agriculture matters too. For example, commercialization happened in England through the enclosure movement because aristocrats wanted land to raise sheep for wool and kicked the peasants off the land. But in France and Germany, the two dominant agricultural products--wine and grain--were both labor-intensive to grow requiring the aristocrats to keep peasants on the land.
The status of peasants also matters, not just the aristocrats. Peasants were generally freer in France and England than in Eastern Europe and had relatively more power over feudal lords. This made labor-repressive agriculture more difficult in England and France. In Germany, feudal elites were able to crushed multiple peasant revolts including in the famous Bauernkrieg of 1524-5. Peasants were especially weak in Prussia, which allowed the Prussian Junkers to re-enserf the peasants.
As for the urban elite, or the bourgeoisie, what matters for Moore is whether this class is an antagonist toward peasants/urban workers. Even though the aristocracy and peasantry are decisively important, the emergence of a strong bourgeoisie is a necessary condition for the emergence of democracy (no bourgeoisie, no democracy). In the case of England, the aristocracy was sufficiently integrated with the bourgeoisie and shared a common enemy in the monarchy rather than the peasantry/urban workers. In the French case, no alliance between the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy emerged that was sufficiently strong to repress the peasantry before the Revolution, and the French Revolution successfully destroyed enough of the ancien regime to prevent a bourgeois-aristocratic coalition from emerging. However, in the case of Prussia, Bismarcks infamous iron and rye coalition held together through labor and agricultural repression as well as militant nationalism. The German bourgeoisie was not strong enough to pursue an alliance with the peasantry or workers against the aristocracy and allied instead with the Junkers. In the cases of China and Russia, no significant bourgeois class emerged before their revolutions.
To summarize, Moore argues for two necessary conditions for democracys emergence: a balance between a landed aristocracy and a monarch, and the absence of an aristocratic-bourgeois alliance against the peasants and workers. Failure of either of these conditions prevents democracy from emerging. Excessive power in either the aristocracy or the monarchy leads to static and unresponsive political institutions in the modern period that are replaced through peasant revolutions. Moore anticipates much future work with this point such as the reversal of fortune hypothesis of Acemoglu and others--regimes that are very successful in one historical period or under one set of economic institutions tend to be unsuccessful at adapting to new economic conditions. This is because, again to anticipate a lot of future work on institutional development, institutions are path-dependent and tend to resist internal reform. Concerning the other condition, an aristocratic-bourgeois alliance against peasants and workers prevents a revolution from below and the expansion of political participation.
Moores class-based explanation of comparative pathways to modernization is apt to be criticized for its equivocation between class interests and individual interests. As Olson famously pointed out, if some policy is in the interest of some group, it does not follow that it is in the interest of each and every member of that group to support the policy. Moores focus on class interests is a feature of structural explanations as well as the scope of the outcome to be explained.
Even if Moores class-based explanation relying on the structure of agricultural production seems simplistic, it is worth observing that efforts to put the theory of democratization a sounder analytical foundation (e.g. Acemoglu & Robinson) dont substantively disagree with Moore that much.
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Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World
By Barrington Moore, Jr. Boston: Beacon Press. Most users should sign in with their email address. If you originally registered with a username please use that to sign in. To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. Don't already have an Oxford Academic account? Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.
Moore, Barrington. Boston: Beacon Press. Unavoidably, the book leads him to explore the role of commercial agriculture and urban classes as key factors in determining the various political outcomes in the following contexts: eighteenth century England and France, the U. Civil War, revolutionary China, fascist Japan, and post-colonial India. He finds that breaking the power of landed agrarian elites is key for the rise of democratic regimes. Moore claims that the upshot of these events was that commercial life in both the country and the city grew up largely in opposition to the crown.
In Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Barrington Moore seeks to explain the developmental tra- jectories that transform agrarian.
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By Barrington Moore, Jr. Boston: The Beacon Press, Most users should sign in with their email address. If you originally registered with a username please use that to sign in. To purchase short term access, please sign in to your Oxford Academic account above. Don't already have an Oxford Academic account? Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford.
Barrington Moore Jr. He graduated from Williams College , Massachusetts , where he received a thorough education in Latin and Greek and in history. He also became interested in political science , and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In , Moore obtained his Ph. His wife died in They had no children. His academic career began in at the University of Chicago , in he went to Harvard University , joining the Russian Research Center in
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