Barrington Moore Jr.
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Barrington Moore Jr.

Barrington Moore Jr. American historian and sociologist

American historian and sociologist
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American historian and sociologist
Countries United States of America
Occupations Sociologist Historian Philosopher
Type Philosophy Social science
Gender male
Birth 12 May 1913 (Washington, D.C.)
Death 16 October 2005 (Cambridge)
Education Williams College, Yale University
The details

Barrington Moore Jr. (12 May 1913 – 16 October 2005) was an American political sociologist, and the son of forester Barrington Moore. He is famous for his Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (1966), a comparative study of modernization in Britain, France, the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Germany, and India, focusing on the sociohistorical conditions of totalitarianism. His many other works include Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery (1972) and an analysis of rebellion, Injustice: the Social Basis of Obedience and Revolt (1978).

Education and private life

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 1941, Moore obtained his Ph.D. in sociology from Yale University. He worked as a policy analyst for the government, in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and at the Department of Justice. He met Herbert Marcuse, a lifelong friend, and also his future wife, Elizabeth Ito, at the OSS. His wife died in 1992. They had no children.

Academic career

His academic career began in 1945 at the University of Chicago, in 1948 he went to Harvard University, joining the Russian Research Center in 1951. He was emerited in 1979. Moore published his first book, Soviet Politics in 1950 and Terror and Progress, USSR in 1954. In 1958 his book of six essays on methodology and theory, Political Power and Social Theory, attacked the methodological outlook of 1950s social science. His students at Harvard 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"):

  1. the "development of a balance to avoid too strong a crown or too independent a landed aristocracy"
  2. a shift toward "an appropriate form of commercial agriculture"
  3. a "weakening of the landed aristocracy"
  4. the "prevention of an aristocratic-bourgeois coalition against the peasants and workers" [which would lead to fascism]
  5. 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 bourgeoisie, no democracy" 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 implement 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." Moore criticized attempts by other sociologists to retroactively identify some kind of useful "function" served by the Chinese system of imperial government, and argued that the more likely reason for its prolonged survival was that most people, especially peasants, simply accept their social system "unless and until something happens to threaten and destroy their daily routine."

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.

The wide range of critical response to Social Origins was examined by Jon Wiener in the journal History and Theory.

On tolerance

In 1965, Moore, Herbert Marcuse, and Robert Paul Wolff each authored an essay on the concept of tolerance and the three essays were collected in the book A Critique of Pure Tolerance. The title was a play on the title of Immanuel Kant's book Critique of Pure Reason. In the book Moore argues that academic research and society in general should adopt a strictly scientific and secular outlook and approach theories and conjectures with empirical verification. Marcuse's famous essay on “Repressive Tolerance” is one part of this book.


  • Soviet Politics – The Dilemma of Power: The Role of Ideas in Social Change, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1950.
  • Terror and Progress, USSR: Some Sources of Change and Stability in the Soviet Dictatorship, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1954.
  • Political Power and Social Theory: Six Studies, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1958. Erweiterte Ausgabe: Political Power and Social Theory: Seven Studies, Harper & Row, New York, 1965.
  • Barrington Moore, Jr., Robert Paul Wolff, Herbert Marcuse: A Critique of Pure Tolerance, Beacon Press, Boston, 1965.
  • Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World, Beacon Press, Boston, 1966. ISBN 0-8070-5073-3.
  • Reflection of the Causes of Human Misery and on Certain Proposals to Eliminate Them, Beacon Press, Boston, 1972.
  • Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt, M.E. Sharpe, White Plains, NY, 1978. ISBN 0-333-24783-3.
  • Privacy: Studies in Social and Cultural History, M.E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY, 1983.
  • Authority and Inequality under Capitalism and Socialism (Tanner Lectures on Human Values), Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1987.
  • Moral Aspects of Economic Growth, and Other Essays (The Wilder House Series in Politics, History, and Culture), Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY, 1993. ISBN 0-8014-3376-2
  • Moral Purity and Persecution in History, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2000. ISBN 0-691-04920-3.

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