Social Origins of Dictatorships and Democracy

Moore Barrington’s book, Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966), examined the birth of democracy and capitalism from land ownership changes. The author also elaborated on the development of notions of communism and fascism developed from feudalism. An in-depth analysis indicates the eruption of commercial interest even during the feudal and ecclesiastical times. For instance, Moore clarifies to readers the role of urban social classes and commercial farming in the emergence of modernity.

According to Moore (23), a change in the perception of the value of land led to the agrarian explosion. For instance, men realized that land was a commodity that could be commercialized flexibly. Further, the author’s claim that democracy arose from breaking the ideology of dependence on elites of feudalism still stands relevant. For instance, in the 17th century, enclosures and civil wars were driven by commercial interests in rural and urban areas that surpassed the crown’s regulations. The acceptance of self-interest and economic freedom as the foundations of human society motivated the enclosures among the lords of manors. The bourgeois revolution led to the break of the peasantry and reduced the royal control of lands under peasant farmers. Aggressive self-interested groups were arguably driven by the profit motive as well as the opposition to the crown’s dominance. Thus, the force of the aggressive capitalists was able to strengthen the parliament and achieve more liberties in England. Thus, the issues came in England earlier, as yeomen maximized their right to property ownership and use by carrying out extensive grain farming and sheep keeping for wool. Moore also explained how these advancements led to blurring the lines of social classes between nobility, upper business class, and gentry. The power of the landed upper-class business people increased, as the monarch was only left to manage the reduced interests of public institutions. With the capitalists controlling their economic life, a more liberal form of governing found its way. It was the success of commerce in society that led to a breach in the top-down structure. Thus, the radical discontent groups burst out, openly causing violence that destroyed the institutions of the ancient regime. It ushered in a new era of governance, with new aspects of democracy and economic liberty.

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The author presented a different case for the development of modern French governance. While the landed upper class destroyed peasantry, it was upheld in France because the monarch was very powerful. The nobles of the English revolution, driven by self-interests, increased their wealth from commercial agriculture and trade. Moore (1966) clarified the critical point that explains why the English nobility grew faster. In France, the nobles took significant portions of the peasants’ farming produce. Therefore, the power of the monarch in society led to the flourishing of feudalism. However, the growth of self-interests made the nobles demand a larger share from peasants. Practices and ideologies of capitalism drove the unions of landlords towards a desire of ending the peasantry. The forces of the nobles to increase their dues were countered by the peasant protests. It can be argued that it was the growth in the self-interests of economic liberty of the nobles in Europe that fueled revolutions. A variation exists in the form of governance that followed each nation afterward. In the case of England, the landed nobles, encouraged by the commercial profit, left the peasants to themselves and practiced industrial farming for market purposes. Where absolutism was mild, the landlords opposed the peasants, promoting capitalism. In France, the nobles were powerful and remained landlords, keeping peasants as the de facto land possessors. The peasantry was forced to turn over some crops where the capitalist intents arose. The third variant is evident in Eastern Europe, that is, the East German lands. In the nation, the manorial reacted by reducing free peasants to servants so that they could export their grain output. On the other hand, the Russian variation occurred due to political influence rather than economic reasons.

The author argued that the results of the commercial pressure and the power that remained with the monarchies determined the form of governance that followed. In the case of England, the nobles adopted commercial farming. The peasants left and settled in urban centers, increasing their opposition to the king. It led to a civil war that resulted in a democratic form of governance. It is intriguing how Moore elaborates on the social cause of dictatorship in the context. In another case, where the capitalist impulse is weaker among the nobles, a large peasant population survived. In return, it led to a revolution that bore communist dictatorship at the hands of the strong monarchies. The landed elites held some labor from peasants on farms and transited to commercial farming. An addition of some form of industrialization bred the fascism forms.

Moore brought out his arguments in a clear manner, describing how social forces form dictatorships and democracies. It is convincing that the level of commercial impulse among nobles determined their uptake of industrialization. The resultant number of peasants in urban centers or rural sites determined their bargaining power with the ruling monarchs. Consequently, modern governing systems were created in the form of communist dictatorships or capitalist democracies.


Work Cited

Moore, Barrington. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Beacon Press, 1966.

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