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September 23rd, 2012

Feature Essay: The books that inspired Daphne Halikiopoulou: “Barrington Moore’s work essentially identifies patterns, which for me is what comparative politics is about”

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Blog Admin

September 23rd, 2012

Feature Essay: The books that inspired Daphne Halikiopoulou: “Barrington Moore’s work essentially identifies patterns, which for me is what comparative politics is about”

0 comments

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Daphne Halikiopoulou is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Reading. In our latest academic inspiration piece, Daphne discusses how the work of American political sociologist Barrington Moore influenced the design of her PhD thesis and changed the way she analysed the world.

I first came to the LSE in September 2001 to study for an MSc in Comparative Politics. Having has just obtained a joint undergraduate degree in politics and international relations, my interests were more in international developments. Barrington Moore’s The Social Origins of Development and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Modern World sparked my enthusiasm in comparative politics, in establishing domestic patterns and understanding why certain development take place within rather than between states. Much later, the research design in my own PhD thesis became largely based on Moore’s study: a comparison of similar cases which follow different trajectories resulting in the establishment of different outcomes.

Moore’s approach is situated within the broader field of comparative historical sociology. In a nutshell, the book provides an explanation of why some countries became democratic and some did not. More specifically it seeks to explain why in their transition to modernity, England, France and the US became democratic, Germany and Japan became fascist and Russia and China became communist. In order to answer this question, he identifies three different routes, or patterns. These patterns develop on the basis of the class alliances that are formed during the transition for agricultural to industrial society. Social class hence forms his crucial unit of analysis. The explanatory factor is essentially the interaction between the crown, the landed aristocracy, the bourgeoisie, the peasantry and the proletariat.

The fascist route is revolution from above: fascism takes place when then the landed and industrial elites are both dependent on the state and ally with each other. The communist pattern is a revolution from below. It occurs where there is a strong state, a powerful landed elite, a weak bourgeoisie and a strong peasant revolutionary potential. Finally, the democratic route is premised on the existence of a strong bourgeoisie, hence Moore’s famous dictum ‘no bourgeioisie no democracy’. Five necessary preconditions are identified for the development of democracy including a balance that avoids too strong a crown or too independent an aristocracy; a turn to commercial agriculture; the weakening of the landed aristocracy; the prevention of an aristocratic – bourgeois coalition against the peasants and workers; and a revolution constituting a victory of bourgeois elements.

Like any comparative research, it has its problems. Perhaps the type of circular reasoning that we all find difficult to avoid; and the privilege if hindsight: surely it’s not enough to identify features that democratic countries exemplified prior to democratisation in order to establish why they became democratic. This raises the question of how far back we should go. France, for example, did not fulfil Moore’s conditions prior to a particular time. And of course, there is the falsification question: the absence of his preconditions did not prevent democracy in many countries, for example Sweden and Switzerland. In terms of detail and complexity, Moore fails to identify the degree of political power classes possessed. Often, his explanation has been criticised as being too narrow, overlooking the power of culture and ideas.

However, the very fact that Moore’s work raises these questions is proof of its significance in the field. Essentially, it identifies patterns, which for me is what comparative politics is about. Perhaps the most inspiring element of this book is the questions it poses and the way these are framed: paving the way for a design that may to a degree, depending on how the project is executed, fulfil the criteria of falsifiability and internal and external validity. This work has helped me realise the extent to which political science research is all about trade-offs, balancing parsimony and causal complexity. Therefore, for me, the inspiration was methodological as well as substantive, a guide to what type of questions we may ask in political science and how we may go about answering them. Why do different countries follow certain trajectories and what type of political science research should we undertake to provide viable answers? Moore’s way of thinking has pointed me to the direction of ‘under what circumstances’ questions, which can best be answered comparatively. All research is incomplete. But I suppose the main criterion is whether it manages to push the debate forward, in the way that Moore’s work certainly does.

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Daphne Halikiopoulou is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of Reading. She was a Fellow in Comparative Politics at the LSE government department for three years. Daphne obtained her PhD from the London School of Economics in September 2007. Her area of expertise is in comparative European politics and British politics. Her research focuses on nationalism and the sociology of religion and more specifically on issues such as citizenship, immigration, treatment of minorities (religious and ethnic) and the criteria for inclusion in and exclusion from the nation.

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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales
This work by LSE Review of Books is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales.