PROFESSOR F.C. OKOLI
Department of Public Administration and Local Government University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
The difficulties experienced by social scientists in theory building are identified and discussed, using Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy as a case study? Employing purely analytical and inductive methods, it was discovered that these difficulties manifest themselves in the inadequate conceptualization of the concepts of ontology, purpose, logic, description and explanation in theories of comparative analysis. Contextualizing and setting boundaries for these concepts -are likely to improve analysis, aid understanding and differentiate between and among categories of phenomena.
A. INTRODUCTION: NATURE OF DESCRIPTION AND EXPLANATION
Too often we social scientists tend to overlook certain critical elements involved in theory-building. We tend to forget that each theorist is merely presenting “word pictures” of particular phenomena he wants to examine. In this exercise what he says and what he really wants to say may not necessarily concise. In some cases, what is attributed to him even in the very text may not necessarily be what he has in mind.
But more importantly, we tend to gloss over differences between what he wants to achieve and the process or logic he adopts in achieving it. In presenting “word pictures” of the phenomena it is sometimes difficult to tell when description spills over into explanation. And if this boundary between description and explanation is not maintained, personal interpretation looms high. It is precisely this personal interpretation that makes subjective, if not ideological, leaning possible. Since it is often very difficult to maintain the boundary it becomes imperative for the reader to be wan,’ and ready to detect the spillover. This problem is of particular importance in the face of the proliferation of theories of development and under-development in the developing countries.
A starting point would be to consider the role and place of description and explanation in political analysis. This would enable the reader to be wary and equipped to detect ideological presentations. We start with description.
DESCRIPTION:- It has often been said that the method of traditional political science was merely descriptive. This was many years ago when political science was studied as part of history, and political scientists were happy to concentrate their attention on the political, properly speaking, governmental institutions, such as the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature. Occasionally, however, they found time to discuss major political events and actors. Of course, their main preoccupation was to describe these institutions, events and actors very clearly and in detail. In this exercise, they asked the obvious question: What? They did not look for causes in order to account for political events. In this setting, political science became more no Jess a study of “current events” or contemporary’ history. It no more then presented the “word pictures” of political institutions, events and actors. It did not account for events and, therefore, did not explain them.
EXPLANATION:- It was only when political scientists started to took for causes of events, or more appropriately, when they started to seek the antecedent causes of events in order account for or explain them that political science moved away from its traditional orientation. With this new orientation, instead of asking the bask descriptive question “What?, political scientists now ask the explanatory question: “How?” and “Why?” The dominant-preoccupation of political scientists became bow to explain what happened? How could one account for or explain what happened? Probing questions became one of the research arsenals of the political scientists. Why did it happen this way and not that why? Probing these causes and antecedent causes, is the essence of explanation and the basis of modern political analysis.
Since explanation will play an important role in our subsequent discussions, it may well worth our while to explore some of its elements. When we say mat explanation looks for causes and antecedent causes, we do not imply that this knowledge4s exhaustive. Rather, we only suggest that explanation enables us to understand, appreciate or comprehend events more clearly than before. By its nature explanation can hot provide us with all the answers. Therefore, the first basic element is that it is always:
- Conditional: This means that explanations are “true” in some cases and not in others. Since explanations are “true” in some cases and not in others, it then follows that they are:
- Inconclusive and indeterminate: When we say that explanations are inconclusive, we simply mean that they show why some events may happen; and not must happen and when we say that they are indeterminate-we simply mean that they are open-ended, vague, and, therefore, matters of tendencies. This nature of explanation, is very crucial because in me social sciences, you cannot be very certain or definitive in your assertions or predications. This is precisely because you cannot be sure that an event most occur, so to be on safe side you put it vaguely be saying “generally speaking”. Although evasive, this statement shields the political scientists from error of unsustainable assertions.
Because explanations do not apply in all cases, they are, therefore,
- Partial: Explanations are partial because they do not, and cannot take all the relevant factors that cause or account for the event under examination into consideration.
Because of the nature of explanations, especially in the social sciences, it becomes very necessary to subject any theory that purports to explain nay phenomenon to critical examinations. This is because no one explanation can pretend to close the book on any subject. Every explanation has another angle to it. In fact, a good explanation is the one that raises more questions than it answers.
This paper is intended primarily to expose the explanatory limitation of some of the theories of development and under-development currently making the round in the field, and to sound a warning to our students and, possibly, development planners, who may not be in a position to distinguish between ontology, purpose, logic of analysis, description and explanation in theory- building. For this exercise, we have chosen Barrington Moore’s (1967, Passim) Social Origins OF Dictatorship. And Democracy: Lords and Peasants in The Making Of Modern World, partly because it treats the developing countries as a residual category in its analysis of development paths, and partly because it offers a glaring example of this phenomenon (uncritical abstraction and tendentic, generalization). Although the book was published long ago, it made a lot of impact on the development planners m the developing countries, especially those who gulped enough doses of its “explanation” during their student days. Its review is, therefore, very relevant.
B. MOORE’S THESIS (ONTOLOGY AND PURPOSED)
Briefly, Moore’s central argument runs thus: Societies, wherever they develop and industrialize, do so in one of the three and only three ways. Each of these routes to industrialization involves violence and exploitation or oppression of one class by the other (invariably the rulers over the ruled). In specific terms; the first route taken by England, France and the United States of America, he calls the “bourgeoisie capitalist-democracy.” The second route was taken by Germany and Japan where the bourgeoisie, being too weak to carry out industrialization alone, joined as a junior partner in an alliance with a feudal land owning class to industrialize the society. This route, according to Moore, is Fascism. The third route taken by China and Russia, he calls Communism. To substantiate his thesis that these are the only possible routes to industrialization, Moore includes the case of India (apparently representing the developing countries) and argues that India’s attempts to avoid any of these three routes have failed, and goes on to prophesy authoritarianism for India if it is to industrialize.
C. LOGIC OF ANALYSIS: DESCRIPTION AND EXPLANATION
In the process of proving his thesis, Moore abstracts from numerous texts and, in some cases, out of context as himself admits in a reply to a critic:
Sometimes he means that my interpretation of an author’s, data leads me to a conclusion different from that of the author, as in the case of my use of the evidence in Mary Wright’s Last Stand of Chinese Conservation. That is a valid difference, I believe and one that Rothman also uses when for example, he draws different conclusions from those of E.P. Thompson (Moore, 1979:83)
Our first and obvious rebuttal to Moore’s admission is that two wrongs do not make a right. Moreover, speaking of the methodological approach, Moore takes an economic determinist posture in dealing with the issue of democratization. With respect to England, Moore maintains that three economically determined factors led to in emergence of democracy. The first was the existence of a landed gentry and nobility independent of the crown. The second was the adoption of commercial agriculture. ‘The third was the disappearance of the peasant problem. Concluding his discussion on England, Moore asserts that:
Governing in the context of rapidly growing industrial capitalism, the landed upper classes absorbed new elements into their ranks at the same time that they competed with them for popular support-or at the very least avoided serious defeat by ill-timed concessions. This policy was necessary in the absence of any strong apparatus of repression. It was possible because the economic portion of the governing classes eroded slowly and in a way that allowed them shift from one economic base to another with only a minimum of difficulty… (Moore, 1967:39),
With respect to the United States of American, Moore explains that the causes of the American Civil war which paved the way for the democratic transformation of the society were economically determined. According to him, the North wanted:
- government assistance in terms of over-head costs and institutional environment for its industry
- free wage labourers instead of slaves and
- expanding markets for its manufactured goods.
The South, on the other hand, wanted:
- expansion for its plantation economy
- more slaves for cheap labour in the plantations and
- good price and open market for its agriculture products, especially, cotton.
Summarizing, Moore confidently asserts that:
The fundamental issue became more and more whether the machinery of the federal government should be used to support one society or the other …it was more and more necessary for political leaders on both sides to be alert to any move or measure that might increase the advantage of the other… (Moore, 1967:136)
With respect to France, Moore explains that progress toward democracy revolved around three factors that were economically anchored. The first was the existence of nobility that lacked economic base and which, as a result, became an appendage to the crown, the second was the destruction of the aristocracy primarily because of its economic irrelevance, and the third was the dependence of the nobility on peasant obligations instead of on agriculture. Concluding, Moore insists that:
Up until about the middle of the eighteenth century the modernization of French society took place through the crown. As part of this process there grew up a fusion between nobility and bourgeoisie quite different from that in England. This fusion took place through the monarchy rather than opposition to it and resulted, to speak in what may be here useful if inaccurate shorthand in the “feudalization” of a considerable section of the bourgeoisie, rather than the other way around. The eventual result was to limit very severely the crown’s freedom of action, it ability to decide what sectors, in society were to bear what burdens. This limitations, accentuated by Louis XVI’s defects of character I would suggest, was the main factor that brought on the Revolution, rather than any extraordinarily severe conflict of interests along class or group lines…(Moore, 1967: 109).
With respect to Japan, Moore argues that absence of a peasant revolution paved the way for a revolution from above leading to fascism. According to him, the peasants could not carry out a revolution because of a number of economic factors.
First, the taxation system left some surplus at the disposal of peasants. Second a close economic-link existed between them and the feudal overlords. Third, commercial agriculture was facilitated by the existing institutional arrangements and the peasants took advantage of these to increase their gains. Concluding, Moore maintains that:
The oligarchical structure, internal solidarity, and effective vertical ties with higher authority all survived with very little change in the transition to modern production for the market… the adaptability of Japanese political to avoid the cost of a. revolutionary entrance onto the stage of modern history. Partly because she escaped these early horrors Japan succumbed in time to fascism and defeat… (Moore, 1967: 312-3),
With respect to China, Moore insists that:
- the failure of the landed gentry to commercialize agriculture,
- its preparedness to allow market mechanism to order economic force, and
- its alliance with the government to extract more and more surpluses from the
peasants, led to communism.
For as Moore explains:
The Chinese landlord tenant relationship was a political device for squeezing an economic surplus out of the peasant and turning it into the amenities of Civilization. In the absence of a big urban market, there was little reason to change it, perhaps even less possibility of doing so… Moore, 1967: 170-80)
In his attempt to pursue this economic deterministic-approach, Moore tends to consider different historical events at par. For example, the American Civil War, the English Civil War, the French Revolution, the Chinese Revolution, and the Meiji Restoration of Japan were all treated as though they happened at the same time and under the same conditions. Moreover, the international environment which necessarily affected events in these countries was not given adequate recognition. Thus, Moore treats the commercialization and rationalization of agriculture in the sixteenth century England and in the nineteenth century Japan as similar processes. But the international ramifications of these events and their differential settings, were sufficient to make decisive difference in the result that eventually emerged-democracy in England and fascism in Japan. For example, the Japanese foreign expansion during this time ensured steady and cheap supply of food items from Korea and Taiwan, thereby removing the need for urgent agriculture rationalization and commercialization and further strengthening the position and interests of the landed gentry. Even in his attempt to prove his economic theory of revolution, Moore tends to sweep other relevant and often more crucial factors under the rug. It is obviously difficult to believe that either the English Civil War or the American Civil War was essentially an economic struggle. In both countries, religious differences, constitutional issues, and economic factors played an important part. In the United States of American, racism was a significant factor also,
It is also difficult to see why Professor Moore chose American Civil war instead of the American Revolution in discussing the social origin of American democracy? Why did he choose the English Civil war instead of the Norman Conquest in discussing the economic relations between the landed gentry and the peasants? What, in fact, was the basis of comparison between American Civil War and the Meiji Restoration, English Civil War and Chinese Revolution? The nearest answer is that these events, even though unrelated both in time and setting provided useful materials to which Moore would tie his thesis.
This position may also explain why he emphasized the cultural factors if only to boost his argument for the casual role of economic relations between social classes.
On this Moore writes:
How much weight should one attribute to widely prevalent ideals, codes of behaviour, or values in explaining the result?… To explain behaviour in terms of cultural values is to engage in circular reasoning. If we notice that a landed aristocracy resists the commercial enterprises we do not explain this fact by stating that the aristocracy has done so in the past or even that it is the carrier of certain traditions that make it hostile to such activities: the problem is to determine out of what past and present experience such an outlook arises and maintains itself…(Moore,1967:485-86).
Had Moore emphasized cultural factors, his conclusions on Japan and Germany, for example, could have been modified. But even then, here and there in his description/explanation conflict, Moore falls back to cultural sources as when he tries to explain the revolt of the Samurai against the Japanese regime. He writes:
The ruling classes were looking for ways to recoup their fortunes. If they could shed certain anachronistic notions of feudal honour, they could make good use of modern technology in warlike ways that were not unfamiliar. As the Satsuma Rebellion shows, it was not easy to shed feudal romanticism… (Moore, 1967:252).
D. SUBJECTIVITY VS OBJECTIVITY
Up to this point we have attempted a general examination of Moore’s book, albelt on the face of it. But to appreciate the real ontology, purpose, and logic of his analysis, we have to rely on his own explanations. This is because:
When I use a word, Humpty Dumpy said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just that I choose it to mean-neither more or less…,(Moore, 1970:61)
Luckily, in a reply to a critic, Moore explains as follows:
Social Origins is mainly about different forms of social structure, their varying origins and political consequences… (Moore, 1970:84).
From this we understand that Moore is aware of the differentials in timing and setting of the societies but that he finds himself in a strait jacket, so to speak, by the objectives and certain conclusions he must reach, even at the risk of muddling events through and subordinating otherwise crucial explanatory variables to rather trifle ones. This also explains why his description often spills over into explanation. In still another explication, Moore says:
I have never been sanguine about revolution in the third world as embodying hope for the future of mankind, much as such revolutions against American attempts to prop up various form of political landlordism do seem to me justified…(Moore, 1970:83)
From this, it is clear why discussion of India Jakes the form it does and why his description of Indian situation turns out to be an explanation of failure. It also explains why the rest of the third world countries have been treated as a residual category in his analysis. The only route to modernization and industrialization open to India and other third world countries is littered with repression, violence and even revolution. Reformism and moderation cannot help India and other third world countries in their march toward industrialization. In this stance, Moore finds himself under the same roof with the architects of the modernity-tradition dichotomy, the classical development theorists who view existing social categories as antithetical to change, and Kenneth Jowitt’s (1971) Revolutionary Break Through and National Development. Unlike Jowitt who came out strongly to champion the cause of revolutionary break-through in the process of national development in line with Leninist strategies, Moore is more subtle in his advocacy of the same strategy. Moore goes round about, hoping to draw the same conclusion by drawing generalizations from other case studies.
To accomplish this task, he necessarily abandons his basic analytical tool-economic explanation – and takes up ideological and cultural explanations. “Thus, according to Rothman, British reforms in agriculture are laid to the ideology of the British, and Nehru’s failures are laid to an idealization of the village, an unwillingness to rely on certain forms of compulsion” (Rothman, 1970:80). While the message Moore wants to deliver is loud and clear, his method is distorting and subjective.
His subjectivity is clearly brought out in his discussion of Germany and Japan. Writing about the two countries, Moore concludes that internal divisions, bickering, upheavals and turmoil were successfully prevented by the revolutions from above, that, is, by the rulers. Consequently, this entrenched traditional ruling classes and prepared the way for industrialization and fascist regimes. Nothing seems more absurd!
Relying primarily on the accounts of some acknowledged authorities on Germany and Japan we want to argue that Moore was guilty of “abstract” explanation and hasty, if not purposefully misleading, conclusion. From these accounts, especially those of “abstracted” (1969: 212-255), we can claim that Bismarck’s Germany and Meiji Japan are similar as well as dissimilar in many significant respects. On the basis of their similarities they can be compared, whereas on the basis of their dissimilarities they cannot, of least not at per. If, therefore, as Moore says, both societies are “conservative-fascisms” the explanation for this convergence does not follow from his description of the societies at the time. This is because by the time of the Meiji Restoration, Japan has already enjoyed about 250 years of isolation from outside influences including ideas and values.
During this time too, she had achieved administrative consolidation by skilful political management of the internal division, which forced the aristocracy to ally with the rulers.
Jaguariabe argues further that this posture and the subsequent industrialization was forced on Japan by recognition of the fact that:
She was a feudal and quasi-medieval society in imminent danger of falling under the control of foreign western powers. After the first menacing visit of commodore Percy in 1853… Japan had to reach a clear understanding of the gravity of the impending menace to her national independence to grasp the ultimate causes of her weakness, and to obtain, in sufficiently large sector of her elite, the decision to counteract and to change the country as deeply and quickly as necessary to preserve her sovereignty. (Jaguariabe, 1973:249).
Thus, the eminent deference to central authority or bureaucratization in Japan seems to be occasioned by Japanese nationalism geared toward the preservation of things Japanese-cultural, social, religious, as well as, economic. Yet Moore ignores the social cultural variables that inveigled the Japanese into action and instead chooses to highlight the resultant or marginal economic implications of strategy of survival.
Moore’s discussion of Germany follows the same pattern. Before the German unification under Bismarck, the “States” of Germany have been exposed to years of exchange of ideas of all sorts from the continent because of their geographical locations. In fact, these “States” are the melting pots of ideological exposition whether French, English or American. Yet despite these ideas, especially those of the next-door neighbour of France, the position of the aristocrats on Germany remains basically unaltered. Even after the unification, which like the Japanese cases, seems to be occasioned by the desire to effectively attack other nations rather than to defend her territory, it is difficult to see why status quo prevails. Moore seems to be silent on this point.
But of importance to the whole conclusion on Germany is Moore’s own remark:
In the nineteenth century, as in earlier periods, the lines between wealth, nobility, gentry, and the upper reaches of business and professions were blurred and wavering. In numerous individual cases it is very difficult to decide whether a person belongs to one category or other… Quantitatively the osmosis between business and the landed aristocracy may not have been very different in nineteenth century England and Germany…(Moore, 1967:36).
Yet despite this obvious difficulty (in description/explanation), Moore proceeds to delineate the social classes in Germany in order to reach his vital conclusions and so prove his theses!
Whether we are discussing Germany or Japan, the question which Moore fails to answer revolves around:
- Why did the alliances in both societies take the forms they took?
- Why was it in the interest of one class, say the aristocracies to adopt the values of the bourgeoisie?
- In Germany in particular, why in spite of the influences from the continent, did the leadership fail to take a cue and develop capitates democracy as did its neighbours, and instead chose fascism?
These and other questions only prove that words mean what their authors war them to mean and more seriously for our discussion that no one theory can pretend to explain all social problems and that more often than not, descriptions metamorphose into explanations. These reservations are clearly recognized an-appreciated by Moore himself when he writes in the preface to his book:
Nerveless there remain a strong tension between the demands of doing justice to the explanation of a particular case and the search for generalization, mainly because it is impossible to know how important a particular problem may be until one has finished examining all of them. This tension is responsible for a certain, tack of symmetry and elegance in the presentation which I deplore but have been unable to eliminate after several re-writing (emphasis mine)…Moore. 1967:XVII)
We sympathize with Moore for his “lack of symmetry arid elegance” but well also contend seriously the logical coherence of his expositions and more important, the objectivity of his conclusions, especially after ‘reading the above quotation.
E. CONCLUSION: A NOTE ON THE AFRICAN REALITY
One very important point which Moore makes, and with which we are entirely in
agreement, is that the process of industrialization everywhere in the known industrialized
parts of the world has taken place at the discomfort, if not total subjugation, of the
The method, degree of ruthlessness or coercion and even the duration of this subjugation may vary from society to society depending on the historical, social, political, cultural and spatial characteristics of each society. Policy makers and development agents in the developing societies of-Africa should not gloss over this very crucial point.
However, this notwithstanding it is reasonably contentious to uphold as immutable Moore’s assertion that all societies of the world must conform to one and only one of the three paths to development enumerated by him. One very elementary fact which is observable from Moore’s analysis, and one which Moore himself apparently takes for granted, is the-largely ignored fact that his analysis is primarily about societies where the peasants and lords are already in conflict within the same productive mode. In other words, Moore is dealing with societies where there are distinctly observable classes of peasants and lords functioning together in one economic and political system, with one seeking an advantage over the other. Necessarily, under such a situation, the attendant conflicts between the two classes are bound to be resolved differently in different societies depending on the predominance of one or a combination of factors mentioned above. In societies where the lords and peasants have not been effectively integrated into one economic and political system, it becomes tenuous to apply Moore’s analysis without serious “reservation. If the peasants and the lords are not in direct conflict, the issue of conflict resolution becomes redundant.
With this note, therefore, if Moore’s inclusion of India is intended to extend analysis to all developing societies of the word, including Africa, we take the exception to observe that the African condition, at least, does not fit into his analysis. Professor Alli A. Mazrui (1980) has in his Reith Lectures, dwelt extensively on the peculiar African condition and its implications for African development. One thing which stands out clearly in his analysis is the centrality of colonialism in Africa’s march towards modern civilization.
Modern African economic and political history can neither be adequately written nor fully appreciated without due reference to the phenomenon of colonialism. Whether we see colonialism as an epoc or as an episode (Ajayi, 1969:497-509), in African development history, the fact remains that it (colonialism) has decidedly set the stage, the direction, and tempo of modern African development process.
In the pattern of Moore’s analysis, it is significant to observe that the phenomenon of colonialism in Africa was not a conflict between peasants and Lords. It was not even essentially an economic relationship between them. Both found themselves under the subjugation of one and the same oppressive and exploitative alien economic, political and social system.
The different reactions to colonialisms by both classes did not result in democracy, fascism or communism as Moore postulated. More importantly, they did not even result in the subjugation of one class by the other. Rather, they brought in their wake entirely new patterns of relationship characteristic of the peculiar nature of colonial operation. Both peasants and lords exist side each largely autonomous and dominant in its domain.
This aspect of colonialism in Africa has been perceptively discussed by Professor Peter P. Eke (1975:91-112) in his “Colonialism and the two publics in African a theoretical statement”. With respect to individual African countries, Professor Robert Price (1975:205-19), of the University of California, Berkeley, has observed the same phenomenon in Ghana. While C.S Whitaker, Jr. (1970), has done so in Nigeria. All these general and specific studies point to the fact that Africa’s thrust into modernity derives heavily from the phenomenon of colonialism and that eventual industrialization of Africa shall of necessity follow the path of the, resolution of the conflict, contradictions and disruptions consequent upon colonialism.
Meanwhile, the problem of African societies still remains how to bring the peasants, who constitute the bulk of African population, under effective control of the state apparatus. This problem has been summarized by Goran Hyden (1980), as that of integration and penetration. It is only when the peasants are effectively hooked into the state apparatus that questions of conflicts and their resolutions can be meaningfully discussed. As of now, the peasants in Africa still hold the trump card because they do not depend critically on any other social class in the society to survive.
Ajaj i, J.F. A. (1969): “Colonialism: An Episode in African History”” in L.H. Gannand Peter Duignan eds: Colonialism in Africa 1970-1960: The History and Politics of Colonialism 1870-1914Vol 1 Cambridge at the University Press,
Bendix, R. (1969): Nation-Building and Citizenship. New York; Garden City: Doubleday and Company, Inc
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Hyden, Goran (1980): Beyond Ujamaa in Underdevelopment and an UncapturedPeasantry. London: Heinemann Books.
Jaguarinble, Helio (1973): Political Development: A General Theory and a LatinAmerican Case Study. New York: Praeger.
Jowitt, Kenneth (1971): Revolutionary Break Throughs ad National Development:the case of Romania 1944-1965. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
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