Barrington Moore Jr.

This article is about the sociologist. For the forester (his father), see Barrington Moore, Sr.
Barrington Moore Jr.
Born (1913-05-12)May 12, 1913
Washington D.C., U.S.
Died October 16, 2005(2005-10-16) (aged 92)
Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.
Alma mater Williams College
Yale University
Occupation Political sociologist

Barrington Moore Jr. (12 May 1913 16 October 2005)[1] 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"):[2]

  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"[3] though taking that idea at face value undercuts and misinterprets the nuances of his argument.

Moore also directly addressed the Japanese transition to modernity through fascism and the communist path in China, while implicitly remarking on Germany and Russia.

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. [4]

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.[5] Marcuse's famous essay on “Repressive Tolerance” is one part of this book.


See also


  1. Dennis Smith, "Obituary: Barrington Moore Author of a daring sociological classic", The Independent, 17 November 2005, 59.
  2. Moore,Jr., Barrington (1993) [First published 1966]. Social origins of dictatorship and democracy: lord and peasant in the making of the modern world (with a new foreword by Edward Friedman and James C. Scott ed.). Boston: Beacon Press. p. 430. ISBN 978-0-8070-5073-6.
  3. Moore,Jr., Barrington (1993) [First published 1966]. Social origins of dictatorship and democracy: lord and peasant in the making of the modern world (with a new foreword by Edward Friedman and James C. Scott ed.). Boston: Beacon Press. p. 418. ISBN 978-0-8070-5073-6.
  4. Jon Wiener, "Review of Reviews: Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy," History and Theory 15 (1976), 146-75.
  5. Moore, Barrington, Herbert Marcuse and Robert Paul Wolff, A Critique of Pure Tolerance (Boston: Beacon Press, 1965)
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