Book Reviews

07 fevereiro, 2008

175) Barrington Moore: Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy

Barrington Moore Jr
Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of Modern World
Original publication: 1966
(Harmondsworth: Penguin,1979)

Barrington Moore's book is one of most illuminating books in the field of comparative politics that were written in this century. Barrington Moore's thesis is that the landed gentry and peasantry are important forces in determining the social and political order as countries are transformed from agrarian to industrial communities. Comparing eight major countries, in both the East and the West, Moore looks in detail at the varied political roles played by the varied political roles played by these two groups and identifies three main paths from pre-iindustrial to modern world - bourgeois revolutionary, capitalist and reactionary, and communist. Moore's book enables the reader to better understand the English and American civil wars, the character of Japanese fascism and the social and economic nature of non-violence in India. In general, he offers fascinating insights into alliances and conflicts which have arisen between classes and interests over the bones of privilege, commerce and property.

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments

Chapter I. England and the Contributions of Violence to Gradualism
1. Aristocratic Impulses behind the Transition to Capitalism in the Countryside
2. Agrarian Aspects of the Civil War
3. Enclosures and the Destruction of the Peasantry
4. Aristocratic Rule for Triumphant Capitalism

Chapter II. Evolution and Revolution in France
1. Contrasts with England and their Origins
2. The Noble Response to Commercial Agriculture
3. Class Relationships under Royal Absolutism
4. The Aristocratic Offensive and the Collapse of Absolutism
5. The Peasants' Relationship to Radicalism during the Revolution
6. Peasants against the Revolution: The Vendee
7. Social Consequences of Revolutionary Terror
8. Recapitulation

Chapter III. The American Civil War: The Last Capitalist Revolution
1. Plantation and Factory; An Inevitable Conflict?
2. Three Forms of American Capitalist Growth
3. Toward an Explanation of the Causes of the War
4. The Revolutionary Impulse and its Failure
5. The Meaning of the War

Note: Problems in Comparing European und Asian Political Processes

Chapter IV. The Decay pf Imperial China and the Origins of the Communist Variant
1. The Upper Classes and the Imperial System
2. The Gentry and the World of Commerce
3. The Failure to Adopt Commercial Agriculture
4. Collapse of the Imperial System and Rise of the Warlords
5. The Kuomintang Interlude and its Meaning
6. Rebellion, Revolution, and the Peasants

Chapter V. Asian Fascism: Japan
1. Revolution from Above: The Response of the Ruling Classes to Old and New Threats
2. The Absence of a Peasant Revolution
3. The Meiji Settlement; The New Landlords and Capitalism
4. Political Consequences: The Nature of Japanese Fascism

Chapter VI. Democracy in Asia: India and the Price of Peaceful Change
1. Relevance of the Indian Experience
2. Mogul India: Obstacles to Democracy
3. Village Society: Obstacles to Rebellion
4. Changes Produced by the British up to 1857
5. Pax Britannica 1857-1947: A Landlord's Paradise?
6. The Bourgeois Link to the Peasantr/ through Nonviolence
7. A Note on the Extent and Character of Peasant Violence
8. Independence and the Price of Peaceful Change

Chapter VII. The Deniocratic Route to Modern Society
Chapter VIII. Revolution from Above and Fascism
Chapter IX. The Peasants and Revolution
Epilogue: Reactionary and Revolutionary Imagery
Appendix; A Note on Statistics and Conservative Historiography


THIS BOOK ENDEAVORS TO EXPLAIN the varied political roles played by the landed upper classes and the peasantry in the transformation from agrarian societies (defined simply as states where a large majority of the population lives off the land) to modern industrial ones. Somewhat more specifically, it is an attempt to discover the range of historical conditions under which either or both of these rural groups have become important forces behind the emergence of Western parliamentary versions of democracy, and dictatorships of the right and the left, that is, fascist and communist regimes.

Since no problem ever comes to the student of human society out of a blue and empty sky, it is worthwhile to indicate very briefly the considerations behind this one. For some time before beginning this work in earnest more than ten years ago, I had become skeptical of the thesis that industrialism was the main cause of twentieth-century totalitarian regimes, because of the very obvious fact that Russia and China were overwhelmingly agrarian countries when the communists established themselves. For a long time before that I had been convinced that adequate theoretical comprehension of political systems had to come to terms with Asian institutions and history. Hence it seemed at least a promising strategy to investigate what political currents were set up among the classes who lived off the countryside and to devote as much attention to Asian as to Western societies. The book presents first (in Part 1) a discussion of the democratic and capitalist route to the modern age as this transformation worked itself out in England, France, and the United States. My original intention had been to complete this section with similar chapters on Germany and Russia in order to show how the social origins of fascism and communism in Europe differed from those of parliamentary democracy. With some misgivings I decided to discard these two chapters, partly because the book was already quite long, partly because first-rate accounts became available during the course of writing to which it was impossible for me to add anything by way of interpreting the social history of these two countries. At the same time I have still drawn freely on German and Russian materials for the purpose of comparative illustration and in the theoretical discussion of Part III. The bibliography lists the sources that have formed the basis of my conception of German and Russian social history. Abandoning explicit accounts of Germany and Russia has at least the compensating advantage of permitting more extended discussion (in Part II) of the Asiatic versions of fascism, communism, and parliamentary democracy, in Japan, China, and India, where agrarian problems remain acute. Since the history and social structure of these countries is often quite unknown to educated Western readers, critics may show some indulgence to an author who writes more about what he knows less.

Against such a selection of cases it is possible to object that the range is too wide for effective coverage by one person and too narrow to yield sound generalizations. About the possibility that the undertaking was too big it would be inappropriate - for the author to say more than that there have been many times when he would have agreed heartily. Critics of the second type might point out that none of the smaller states Switzerland, Scandinavia, or the Low Countries on the democratic side, the smaller areas of communist victory or control on the other, such as Cuba, the satellites of Eastern Europe, North Vietnam, North Korea receive any consideration. How is it possible to generalize about the growth of Western democracy or of communism while excluding them? Does not the exclusion of the smaller Western democratic states produce a certain anti-peasant bias throughout the whole book? To this objection there is, I think, an impersonal answer. This study concentrates on certain important stages in a prolonged social process, which has worked itself out in several countries. As part of this process new social arrangements have grown up by violence and in other ways which have made certain countries political leaders at different points in time during the first half of the twentieth century. The focus of interest is on innovation that has led to political power, not on the spread and reception of institutions that have been hammered out elsewhere, except where they have led to significant power in world politics. The fact that the smaller countries depend economically and politically on big and powerful ones means that the decisive causes of their politics lie outside their own boundaries. It also means that their political problems are not really comparable to those of larger countries. Therefore a general statement about the historical preconditions of democracy or authoritarianism covering small countries as well as large would very likely be so broad as to be abstractly platitudinous.

From this standpoint the analysis of the transformation of agrarian society in specific countries produces results at least as rewarding as larger generalizations. It is important, for example, to know how the solution of agrarian problems contributed to the establishment of parliamentary democracy in England and the failure as yet to solve very different ones constitutes a threat to democracy in India. Furthermore, for any given country one is bound to find lines of causation that do not fit easily into more general theories. Conversely too strong a devotion to theory always carries the danger that one may overemphasize facts that fit a theory beyond their importance in the history of individual countries. For these reasons the interpretation of the transformation in several countries takes up the largest part of the book.

In the effort to understand the history of a specific country a comparative perspective can lead to asking very useful and some-times new questions. There are further advantages. Comparisons can serve as a rough negative check on accepted historical explanations. And a comparative approach may lead to new historical generalizations. In practice these features constitute a single intellectual process and make such a study more than a disparate collection of interesting cases. For example, after noticing that Indian peasants have suffered in a material way just about as much as Chinese peasants during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries without generating a massive revolutionary movement, one begins to wonder about traditional explanations of what took place in both societies and becomes alert to factors affecting peasant outbreaks in other countries in the hope of discerning general causes. Or after learning about the disastrous consequences for democracy of a coalition between agrarian and industrial elites in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Germany, the much discussed marriage of iron and rye one wonders why a similar marriage between iron and cotton did not prevent the coming of the Civil War in the United States; and so one has taken a step toward specifying configurations favorable and unfavorable to the establishment of modem Western democracy. That comparative analysis is no substitute for detailed investigation of specific cases is obvious.

Generalizations that are sound resemble a large-scale map of an extended terrain, such as an airplane pilot might use in crossing a continent. Such maps are essential for certain purposes just as more detailed maps are necessary for others. No one seeking a preliminary orientation to the terrain wants to know the location of every house and footpath. Still, if one explores on foot and at present the comparative historian does exactly that a great deal of the time the details are what one learns first. Their meaning and relationship emerges only gradually. There can be long periods when the investigator feels lost in an underbrush of facts inhabited by specialists engaged in savage disputes about whether the underbrush is a pine forest or a tropical jungle. He is unlikely to emerge from such encounters without scratches and bruises. And if he draws a map of tharea he has visited, one of the natives may well accuse him of omitting his own house and clearing, a sad event if the researcher has actually found much sustenance and refreshment there. The outcry is likely to be all the sharper if at the end of the journey the explorer tries to set down in very brief form for those who may come later the most striking things that he has seen. That is exactly what I shall try to do now, to sketch in very broad strokes the main findings in order to give the reader a preliminary map of the terrain

we shall explore together.

In the range of cases examined here one may discern three main historical routes from the pre-industrial to the modem world.

The first of these leads through what I think deserve to be called bourgeois revolutions. Aside from the fact that this term is a red flag to many scholars because of its Marxist connotations, it has other ambiguities and disadvantages. Nevertheless, for reasons that will appear in due course, I think it is a necessary designation for certain violent changes that took place in English, French, and American societies on the way to becoming modern industrial democracies and that historians connect with the Puritan Revolution (or the English Civil War as it is often called as well), the French Revolution, and the American Civil War. A key feature in such revolutions is the development of a group in society with an independent economic base, which attacks obstacles to a democratic version of capitalism that have been inherited from the past. Though a great deal of the impetus has come-from trading and manufacturing classes in the cities, that is very far from the whole story. The allies this bourgeois impetus has found, the enemies it has encountered, vary sharply from case to case. The landed upper classes, our main concern at the start, were either an important part of this capitalist and democratic tide, as in England, or if they opposed it, they were swept aside in the convulsions of revolution or civil war. The same thing may .be said about the peasants. Either the main thrust of their political efforts coincided with that toward capitalism and political democracy, or else it was negligible. And it was negligible

either because capitalist advance destroyed peasant society or because this advance began in a new country, such as the United States, without a real peasantry.

The first and earlier route through the great revolutions and civil wars led to the combination of capitalism and Western democracy. The second route has also been capitalist, but culminated during the twentieth century in fascism. Germany and Japan are the obvious cases, though only the latter receives detailed treatment in this study for reasons given above. I shall call this the capitalist and reactionary form. It amounts to a form of revolution from above. In these countries the bourgeois impulse was much weaker. If it took a revolutionary form at all, the revolution was defeated. Afterward sections of a relatively weak commercial and industrial class relied on dissident elements in the older and still dominant ruling classes, mainly recruited from the land, to put through the political and economic changes required for a modern industrial society, under the auspices of a semi-parliamentary regime. Industrial development may proceed rapidly under such auspices. But the outcome, after a brief and unstable period of democracy, has been fascism. The third route is of course communism, as exemplified in Russia and in China. The great agrarian bureaucracies of these countries served to inhibit the commercial and later industrial impulses even more than in the preceding instances. The results were twofold. In the first place these urban classes were too weak to constitute even a junior partner in the form of modernization taken by Germany and Japan, though there were attempts in this direction. And in the absence of more than the most feeble steps toward modernization a huge peasantry remained. This stratum, subject to new strains and stresses as the modem world encroached upon it, provided the main destructive revolutionary force that overthrew the old order and propelled these countries into the modern era under communist leadership that made the peasants its primary victims.

Finally, in India we may perceive still a fourth general pattern that accounts for the weak impulse toward modernization. In that country so far there has been neither a capitalist revolution from above or below, nor a peasant one leading to communism. Likewise the impulse toward modernization has been very weak. On the other hand, at least some of the historical prerequisites of Western democracy did put in an appearance. A parliamentary regime has existed for some time that is considerably more than mere facade. Because the impulse toward modernization has been weakest in India, this case stands somewhat apart from any theoretical scheme that it seems possible to construct for the others. At the same time it serves as a salutary check upon such generalizations. It is especially useful in trying to understand .peasant revolutions, since the degree of rural misery in India where there has been no peasant revolution is about the same as in China where rebellion and revolution have been decisive in both pre-modern and recent times.

To sum up as concisely as possible, we seek to understand the role of the landed upper classes and the peasants in the bourgeois revolutions leading to capitalist democracy, the abortive bourgeois revolutions leading to fascism, and the peasant revolutions leading to communism. The ways in which the landed upper classes and the peasants reacted to the challenge of commercial agriculture were decisive factors in determining the political outcome. The applicability of these political labels, the elements that these movements do and do not share in different countries and at different times, will I hope become clear in the course of subsequent discussion. One point, on the other hand, is worth noticing right away. Though in each case one configuration emerges as the dominant one, it is possible to discern subordinate ones that become the dominant features in another country. Thus in England, during the latter part of the French Revolution and until after the end of the Napoleonic wars, there existed some of the elements of a reactionary configuration recognizable as a dominant feature in Germany: a coalition between the older landed elites and the rising commercial and industrial ones, directed against the lower classes in town and countryside (but able at times to attract significant lower-class support on some issues). Indeed this reactionary combination of elements turns up in some form in each society studied, including the United States. To illustrate further, royal absolutism in France shows some of the same effects on commercial life as do the great bureaucratic monarchies of tsarist Russia and Imperial China. This type of observation encourages somewhat greater confidence in the possibility that empirically based categories may transcend particular cases.

Nevertheless there remains a strong tension between the demands of doing justice to the explanation of a particular case and the search for generalizations, mainly because it is impossible to know just how important a particular problem may be until one has finished examining all of them. This tension is responsible for a certain lack of symmetry and elegance in the presentation, which I deplore but have been unable to eliminate after several rewritings. Again the parallel with the explorer of unknown lands may not be amiss: he is not called upon to build a smooth and direct highway for the next band of travelers. Should he be their guide, he is thought to acquit himself adequately if he avoids the time-consuming backtracks and errors of his first exploration, courteously refrains from leading his companions through the worst of the underbrush, and points out the more dangerous pitfalls as he guides them warily past. If he makes a clumsy misstep and stumbles into a trap, there may even be some in the party who not only enjoy a laat his expense, but may also be willing to give him a hand to set him forth on his way once more. It is for such a band of companions in the search for truth that I have written this book.

Problems in Comparing European and Asian Political Processes

THERE WAS A TIME in the still recent past when many intelligent thinkers believed there was only one main highway to the world of modern industrial society, a highway leading to capitalism and political democracy. The experience of the last fifty years has exploded this notion, although strong traces of a unilinear conception remain, not only in Marxist theory, but also in some Western writings on economic development. Western democracy is only one outcome, and one that arose out of specific historical circumstances. The revolutions and civil wars discussed in the three preceding chapters were an important part of the process leading to liberal democracy. As we have just seen, there were sharp divergences within the same general line of development that led to capitalist democracy in England, France, and the United States. But there are differences far greater than those which exist within the democratic family. German-history reveals one type of development culminating in fascism, Russian history a third. The possibility of an eventual convergence among all three forms is not one to be dismissed offhand; certainly there are some ways in which all industrial societies resemble one another and differ from agrarian societies. Nevertheless, if we take the seventh decade of the twentieth century as our point of observation, while continuing to realize that like all historical vantage points it is arbitrarily imposed, the partial truth emerges that non-democratic and even antidemocratic modernization works.

For reasons that will become clearer in subsequent chapters, this claim may be less true of forms of modernization culminating in fascism than in communism. That remains to be seen and is not the issue here. What is beyond all doubt is that by very different means both Germany and Russia managed to become powerful industrial states. Under Prussian leadership Germany was able to carry out in the nineteenth century an industrial revolution from above. What impulse there was toward a bourgeois revolution and what was revolutionary was not bourgeois - petered out in 1848. Even the defeat of 1918 left essential features of the preindustrial social system intact. The eventual if not inevitable result was fascism. In Russia the impulse toward modernization prior to 1914 was very much less effective. There, as every one knows, a revolution whose main destructive force came from the peasants destroyed the old ruling classes, still mainly agrarian as late as 1917, to make way for the communist version of an industrial revolution from above.

All these familiar facts serve to press home the point that such words as democracy, fascism, and communism (and also dictatorship, totalitarianism, feudalism, bureaucracy) arose in the context of European history. Can they be applied to Asian political institutions without being wrenched beyond all recognition? At this moment it is not necessary to take a position on the general question of whether or not it is possible to transfer historical terms from one context and country to another beyond remarking that, without some degree of transferability, historical discussion breaks down into a meaningless description of unrelated episodes. On a strictly philosophical plane these questions are sterile and insoluble, leading only to tiresome word games as a substitute for the effort to see what really happened. Objective criteria, it seems to me, do exist for distinguishing between superficial and meaningful historical resemblances, and it may be helpful to say just a few words about them.

Superficial and accidental resemblances are those unconnected with other significant facts or that lead to a misapprehension of the real situation. For example, a writer who stressed similarities in the political styles of General de Gaulle and Louis XIV let us say their punctilious enforcement of the etiquette of deference would be setting out misleading trivialities if he were doing this as more than a joke. The different social bases of their power, the differences between seventeenth and twentieth-century French society, are far more significant than these superficial resemblances*. On the other hand, if we find that in both Germany and Japan prior to 1945 there was a whole series of causally related institutional practices whose structure and origins are similar, We are justified in calling this complex unit by the name fascism in both cases. The same is true of democracy and communism. The nature of the connections has to be established by empirical investigation. It is quite

likely that in themselves the essential features that go to make up communism, fascism, or parliamentary democracy will fall short of providing an adequate explanation of the principal political characteristics of China, Japan, and India. Specific chains of historical causation that do not fit into any recognizable family of sequences may have to bear a substantial share of the explanatory burden. This has been the case in the study of Western societies; there is no reason to expect it to be otherwise as we turn to Asia.

* If it were possible to demonstrate that the resemblances between de Gaulle and Louis XIV were indeed symptoms and consequences of a deeper and more significant connection, they would cease to be superficial. One cannot in advance rule out the possibility of such discoveries. Slips of the tongue seemed trivial until Freud uncovered their connection with serious human concerns. Once again it is necessary to stress that such questions can be settled only through studying the facts.