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Social conflicts that led to bourgeois revolutions in England and France

sociology

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Social conflicts that led to bourgeois revolutions in England and France

The major aim of the paper below is to point out some of the major aspects that belong to Barrington Moore’s work “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy” with regard to the social changes and most of all social conflicts that eventually led to the conversion of societies from agrarian to modern industrial ones. The essay is entirely based on Barrington Moore’s up-mentioned work for it is extremely well focused on the subject offering valuable pieces of information related to the issue concerning the metamorphosis of agrarian societies into industrial ones and emphasizing on the principal conflicting forces that made it possible.



The paper below can be said to be structured in three main parts. The first one, which strongly resembles an introductory part, refers to an analysis of Moore’s most significant statements with regard to the way in which social conflicts lead to important changes within societies, consequently this first part is actually an attempt to summarize the main views of Moore concerning the causes of the advent of modern democratic industrial societies. The following three parts refer to specifically to the examples provided by the author relating to the issues presented in the first fraction of the paper, thus in the second part the case of England  will be analyzed, and in the second part that of France.

Barrington Moore considers that there is a pattern that characterizes the advent of modern society and that the foremost historical conditions that make possible the passing from agrarian societies which he define as being “states where a large majority of the population lives off the land”[1] to a modern industrial has as its peak revolution. The author main interest is the role played by the landed upper classes and that of the peasantry, at a lower level in the revolution process and, at a higher level, of general process of the transformation of society. Thus Moore believes that “there are three main historical routes from the preindustrial to the modern world”[2]. Accordingly, the first and the second routes are opened by the “bourgeois revolutions and the third one is opened by peasant revolutions. Obviously these three routes have astonishing different results. Thus, according to Moore the bourgeois revolutions lead to capitalist democracy, the abortive bourgeois revolutions lead to fascism, and the peasant revolutions lead to communism. The main examples the author offers in order to sustain his up- mentioned theory are: for the first route – the development of democratic and capitalist societies in England, France and the United States of America; for the second route the primary example are, of course, Germany and Japan, and finally for the second route Moore presents the case of China and that of Russia. the paper below deals only with presenting and analyzing the major characteristics of the first route and it is focused on Engalnd and France.

The first country that managed to make a step forward from the preindustrial society to the modern one was England. Unlike France, English industrialization process - that began somewhere around 1750 – was peaceful; this was probably because of the gradual evolution of constitutional and parliamentary institutions in the century prior to this year. Nevertheless England had its share of violent struggles embodied in the Civil War that had at its basis a series of social conflicts having their origins in a complex process of change that began several centuries earlier when “ a modern and secular society was slowly pushing its way up through the vigorous and much tangled overgrowth of the feudal and ecclesiastical order”[3]. In this process the most important role was held by the upper class. There are, of course, several features and factors that characterize the English development as a modern democratic society, the Wars of the Roses (1455-14850 led to the enabling of the Tudor dynasty, thus the Tudor peace combined with the continuing stimulus of the wool trade generated a social atmosphere that stimulated the growth of a commercial and even capitalist outlook in the countryside. Related to this aspect Tawney asserts: “the Tudor discipline, with its stern prohibition of livery and maintenance, its administrative jurisdictions and tireless bureaucracy, had put down private warfare with a heavy hand, and by drawing the teeth to feudalism had made the command of money more important than the command of men”[4]. In this sense it is marked the transition from the medieval conception of land (the basis of political functions and obligations) to the modern view of it (an income-yielding investment), thus landholding tending to become commercialized. Another important role in the advent of modern England is held by the political and most of all religious considerations of Henry VIII. It is suggested that “Henry VIII’s confiscation of the monasteries in 1536 and 1539 have helped to promote new, and commercially minded landowners at the expanse of the older aristocracy and its centrifugal traditions”[5]. But the major contribution Henry VIII had was to forever damage the role of the church in British society. It is interesting, but in the same time extremely important to notice that long before Adam Smith groups of Englishmen living in the countryside began to adopt the “economic individualism” ideology.

What had probably the most significant role in the destruction of the peasantry eliminating them as a factor from British political life, and the strengthening of the larger landlords was the enclosure movement. The term “enclosure” has had a variety of meanings; during the sixteenth century the most significant was “encroachments made by lords of manors or their farmers upon the land over which the manorial population had common rights or which lay in the open arable fields”[6]. Another meaning of the enclosures in England was: mutual agreements to consolidate plots and abandon the system of strips in the open field. The chief force behind peasant enclosures were the yeomen, who from the economic standpoint were: “a group of ambitious, aggressive, small capitalists, aware that they had not enough surplus to take great risks, mindful that the grain is often as much in the saving as in the spending, but determined to take advantage of every opportunity, whatever its origin, for increasing their profits”[7]. The yeomen had as major purpose to overcome the traditional agricultural routines and to reach new techniques in the hope of profit. Thus, it was the yeoman together with the landed upper classes the ones that promoted agrarian capitalism.

The Civil war was mainly due to the defective Stuart agrarian policy that favored the amplification of the conflict between the landed upper class and yeomen on one side and the royal attempts to preserve the old order. There are critics that consider the English Civil War a bourgeois revolution, nevertheless it is important to stress the fact that the conflict did not have as a result the taking of political power by the bourgeoisie. As a matter of fact the political power remained in the hands of the upper classes in the countryside not only during the eighteenth century but even after the Reform bill of 1832. the aristocratic class survived, but in a new form, for money rather than birth was now its basis. Thus, in the economics the Civil War did not produce any massive transfer of landed property from one group or class to another. Nonetheless, it is very important to state that the Puritan Revolution had major consequences in the are of law and social relationships. Moore underlines the fact that: through breaking the power of the king, the Civil War swept away the main barrier to the enclosing landlord and simultaneously prepared England for rule by a <committee of landlords>, a reasonably accurate if unflattering designation of Parliament in the eighteen century”[8].



The age of peaceful transformation within British society was the nineteenth century as parliamentary democracy established itself firmly. The existence of Parliament meant that within that society there was a flexible institution that assured the peaceful solving of conflicts among groups with that had conflicting interests among themselves. The Parliament also meant that the English political society was characterized by democracy, thus capitalism could spread out. Indeed it did, industrial capitalism spread out peacefully with few exceptions. By the end of the nineteenth century agrarian interests were attacked by the liberals mainly because the English upper strata had largely ceased to be agrarian for the economic base had shifted to industry and trade. England is to be considered an example when talking about the advent of modern industrial society from an agrarian one not only because it is the first country to do so but also because of the interesting processes that eventually led to this advent.

Unlike England, France did not enter the modern world through the independence of landed upper class, but on the contrary, the French nobility, or more specifically its leading sector, “became a decorative appanage of the King”[9]. In contrast with English nobles, the French were not characterized by a capitalist way of thinking. A pure evidence for that is the fact that during the eighteenth century the French nobility lived very largely from dues collected in kind or in cash from their peasants. Another factor stretching a major difference between the English society and the French one is the important role that the church always had in France. To briefly sum up the major difference between the two pre-Revolutionary societies is simply to notice the fact that France did not have a strong capitalist tradition before the revolution this is why the Revolution overwhelmed the nobility. Nevertheless together with the urbanization process, the bourgeoisie class started to appear. Thus the principal factors that created the economic relationships were capitalist influences coming out from the towns and the monarchy’s long efforts to control the nobility. As in England the response to the new world of commerce and industry was also held by a substantial fusion between the landed upper classes and the bourgeoisie. Moore correctly underlined that” if these abstract variables, king, nobility, and bourgeoisie, were the same in both countries, their qualitative character  and relationship to each other were very different”[10]. While in England the fusion between countryside and town was mainly directed against the king, in France the fusion took place through the crown with very different political and social consequences.

The true impulse for the advent of a modern society in France was given by Louis XIV through a unified state and habits of precision and obedience coming from the royal bureaucracy rather than from the bourgeoisie. At the height of absolutism the contradictions and paradoxes of the system become visible. In France it was the sale of offices that created a mixture of commercial and precommercial institutions and was also an attempt to reconcile them. The sale of offices was considered to be “the manna that never fails”[11] for it was at the root of the king’s independence of the aristocracy, of any effective control by a parliament, thus it favored the maintenance of royal absolutism. In the earlier stages of the growth of monarchy, the sale of offices had helped to make from the bourgeoisie an ally of the monarch against feudalism, but eventually this issue imparted feudal characteristics to the bourgeoisie. Therefore, “by giving bourgeois commoners a title of nobility and then making it impossible to supervise their activities closely, the sale of offices helped to build up a sense of corporate identity, immunity from outside influences, and <espprit de corps>”[12]. Nevertheless it is obvious that the monarchy deprived the landed upper classes of political responsibility and made the bourgeois follow their own interests.

During the second half of the eighteenth the French countryside experienced a limited enclosure movement as agriculture was penetrated by commercial and capitalist practices by feudal methods. It is important to be stated that feudal arrangements combined with those of royal absolutism constituted the political mechanisms through which the French landed aristocracy extracted an economic surplus from the peasants. Even though this capitalist penetration was limited and accordingly it failed to eliminate the peasantry, it came in such a way as to increase very sharply peasant hostility to the <ancient regime>. Peasants did not accept this attempt of agricultural revival and neither did they agreed with enclosures, in this sense their reluctance towards the monarch was amplified. Moore observes that “capitalism was seeping into the French countryside by every possible cranny, in the form of feudalism through the seigniorial reaction, in the form of an attack on feudalism, and under the banner of progress and reason through the officially sponsored enclosure movement”[13].




The French Revolution reveals the fact that French society broke apart from above as the monarchy became unable to cope with the institutional and personal interests that led to the revolution in the first place.  One of the main aspects that has a major relevance when discussing about the Revolution is the growth in number of landless people and of small property owners, accordingly two of the major demands among the poorer peasants was more land, and secondly they wanted to preserve the specific customs of the village community that served their own interests. This aspect is very important for it shows that the French society was extremely divided. The bourgeois did not want to preserve the old customs and attacked the privileges of the nobility. The French Revolution can be characterized as a very violent one; full scale peasant violence frightened the bourgeoisie and threw them into the arms of the nobility. Moore asserts that the peasantry was the arbiter of the Revolution but it was not its chief propelling force. The feudal system was indeed destroyed by the Revolution not immediately but in the afterwards more radical forms of it. After the first stage of the Revolution was over, the second one began. The leaders of the Gironde in which commercial and shipping interests were represented sought war. Afterwards a major conflict arose between Robespierre and his sustainers on one side and the bourgeoisie on the other. These were rough periods for French society, nevertheless the Revolution in its early phases were a huge step towards modern society having a huge ideological impact on the international sphere but nonetheless on the national sphere also. Some critics even assert that the social instability that characterized the period of the revolution actually influenced the appearance of the parliamentary democracy. Moore emphasizes the fact that the Revolution “mortally wounded the whole interlocking complex of aristocratic privilege: monarchy, landed aristocracy, and seigniorial rights, a complex that constituted the <anciene regime>”[14].

Both in the case of England and also in the case of France the revolutions had as their foundation major conflicts within the classes belonging to the society of that time. In England the landed upper class and the bourgeoisie were against the old regime, thus against the power of the monarchy too. Nevertheless the most important conflict that led to the rise of modern society was the destruction of peasantry. In France on the other side, the monarchic force was far stronger and it was through the reforms implemented by the king rather than from the bourgeois movement that the advent of modern society began. The revolutionary process was extremely more violent in France and it put out a series of major social conflicts: between the bourgeois and the peasantry in the first place, between the bourgeois and the old rule, between the peasants and the nobility. The faith of the peasantry was not as bad as in England, for that time being, of course. This multitude of social conflicts probably also had a major importance in these two countries becoming democracies.





[1] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p xi

[2] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p xv

[3] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 4

[4] Tawney, “Agrarian Problem”, p 188- 189, source Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 6

[5] Hill, “Puritanism, 34-35, source Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 6

[6] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 9

[7] Campbell, “English Yeoman”, 104, source Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 10

[8] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 19

[9] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 40

[10] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p56

[11] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 59

[12] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 60

[13] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p65

[14] Barrington Moore, “Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy”, Boston; Beacon Press, 1996, p 105








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