Moore, Barrington

Moore, Barrington,

1913–2005, American sociologist and political scientist. Moore wrote a number of books on historical sociology that focus on Soviet society. Based at the Russian Research Center at Harvard, he published Soviet Politics: The Dilemma of Power (1950) and Terror and Progress: USSR (1954), both of which established the foundations of a political sociology of Soviet power. His best-known work is Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966), a masterpiece of comparative methodology that uses both Marxian and Weberian analysis and inspired similar studies in the sociology of historical processes. His other writings include Political Power and Social Theory (1958), Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery (1972), Injustice (1978), Privacy (1983), and Moral Purity and Persecution in History (2000).
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Moore, Barrington

(1913-) US sociologist and social historian, whose most influential work Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (1966) did much to rejuvenate comparative historical sociology, after an era dominated by overgeneralized functionalist and evolutionary accounts of social change. In his earlier works Soviet Politics – The Dilemma of Power: The Role of Ideas in Social

Change (1950) and Terror and Progress USSR (1954), Moore had himself utilized functionalist modes of analysis in suggesting that the functional requirements associated with the necessity to industrialize had placed a limit on attempts to realize a socialist society In Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, however, rather than working with the idea of a single set of functional requirements for modernization, Moore's argument is that three distinctive historical routes to the modern world can be identified:

  1. a democratic, and capitalist, route – ‘revolution from below’ – based on commercialized agriculture and the powerful emergence of bourgeois interests (England, France, United States);
  2. a route leading ultimately to fascism – ‘revolution from above’ – where the bourgeois impetus was far weaker and modernization involved recourse to labour-repressive modes of work organization in agriculture by a traditional ruling group backed by strong political controls (Germany, Japan);
  3. a route leading to communist revolution, where neither the commercialization of agriculture nor a recourse to labour-repressive techniques by traditional ruling groups proved effective in the face of peasant solidarity (Russia, China).

Not all Moore's conclusions about these three routes have found universal acceptance (see Smith, 1983). Rather, it is the subtlety of his sifting of historical data while addressing general questions, which has impressed many sociologists and which has done much to stimulate the post-functionalist flowering of historical sociology evident in recent years. Barrington Moore's own subsequent work has failed to reach the heights achieved in Social Origins. It is of interest, however, that in The Causes of Human Misery (1978), an exercise in seeking conclusions on moral questions, he makes the suggestion that while social science is in a position to identify ‘social evils’, it is far less able to identify the basis of the good society See also JUSTICE.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000