Review: Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Barrington Moore Jr.

During the past eight (!) weeks I have wondered what conclusion the author will reach and present at the end of Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. I might be intellectually challenged (I think not but it is a possible explanation) but as I close the last page I can detect none. Absolutely none.

The book explores how different societies have reached what might be described as a “modern” stage, starting off with England, France and the US, discussing different features of the Puritan revolution (Cromwell), the French revolution and the US Civil War.

This part was interesting and made me wonder at the gaps in my knowledge about the socio-political history of Sweden. (As a side it made me ask my parents, who specialise in modern political history, for advice on literature… which made me realise that the reason for my lack of knowledge is caused by the lack of systematic knowledge in this area – instead they pointed me to lots of different sources from which I might piece together a theory. This indicates it is a valid research topic. If I had been a researcher, that is ;-) )

The second part tried to make the same kind of analysis regarding the Chinese, Japanese and Indian examples. This too was interesting and made me aware of certain aspects of their histories of which I had not been aware before.

The third part tried to sketch different routes to modern society, based on the six examples, and in that tried to find patterns. This too was interesting, but I started to think that the author needed to present some conclusions, fast, and that they be more extensive than “there are different ways to modernity and perhaps it’s possible to categorise them based on how a society was composed at the beginning of the process”.

Lastly, the work is dated. Especially when he draws on the Indian example, but also when he discusses Russia, Germany and Italy, as he frequently does, the age of the book is obvious – my edition is dated 1966 and no data the author refers to are later than 1963. In a stagnant society this wouldn’t matter, but I don’t think anyone can argue for the world being in 2010 what it was in the early/mid-60’s.

The really REALLY relevant part is the epilogue, named “Reactionary and Revolutionary Imagery”. Here the author discusses, based on the previously presented material, how the people who have the political power in any system at a time of change behaves, to stay in power; typical symptoms such as specific ideological content, behaviours, values and arguments used, feelings they try to speak to. Here it is relevant to note that he had no idea whatsoever what the early 21st century would bring as he speaks of devaluation of science, an appeal to “feeling”, moral virtues and a return to past ways of doing things, including a return to “nature”.

I would be very interested to hear him discuss our present times. This will not happen, as he died in 2005.

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One thought on “Review: Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Barrington Moore Jr.

  1. Pingback: När folkmakt, när elitmakt? | Svensson

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