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Where and When Was Democracy Invented?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2000

John Markoff
Affiliation:
University of Pittsburgh
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Abstract

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Barrington Moore's Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy made explicit an influential but usually unstated principle for comparative political sociology. In his search for the social sources of different sorts of political systems, Moore devoted chapters to revolutionary or quasi-revolutionary upheavals in England, France, the United States, Japan, China, and India. He did not feel it equally important to consider the history of democracy in Scandinavia, the Low Countries, or Switzerland (not to mention Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). The lesser players on the world stage, buffeted by the prestigious ideologies of the greater players, tied to the latter's economies and sometimes assaulted by their armies, are less rewarding as research sites for comparativists looking for distinct national “cases” to test their ideas. Small, weaker powers are not, in this reasoning, independent cases of anything. One presumes the same logic led Moore to include only third world giants like China and India and not the many other countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Characteristically, it is Germany and Russia that Moore regards as the most significant cases of democratic failure omitted from his study: not Spain or Italy, let alone Bolivia or Burma.Barrington Moore, Jr., Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), pp. xi–xiii. Moore went on to tackle the missing German case in Injustice: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt (White Plains, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1978) and, more briefly, the Russian in Authority and Inequality Under Capitalism and Socialism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1987). In many a theory of “modernization,” England—or England and France—have been taken as prototypes or paradigmatic cases, and the broad outlines of their histories are therefore far more likely to have entered the education of American sociologists than the histories of other places in Europe or beyond. Sometimes the presumed centrality of one or more of these cases is made explicit, sometimes not.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© 1999 Society for Comparative Study of Society and History

Footnotes

For comments on an earlier draft and other suggestions I thank Hermann Giliomee, Michael Hanagan, Juan Linz, Verónica Montecinos, Dora Orlansky, Rudolf Rizman, Richard Rose, Lionel Rothkrug, Arthur Stinchcombe, Charles Tilly, and Sasha Weitman. A fellowship from the University Center for International Studies of the University of Pittsburgh is also gratefully acknowledged.
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