No Bourgeoisie, No Democracy

Moore The Economist revisits Barrington Moore:

In 1966 Barrington Moore, an American historian, pithily summarised decades of scholarly opinion in his formula, “no bourgeoisie, no democracy”.

But that view has been changing. Moore’s academic successors increasingly see the middle class as marginal to establishing a democracy. Some of them think that the poor are more influential, others that the main actors are particular individuals, not social groups. In much of the post-communist and developing worlds, the giddy hopes for liberal democracy that grew up after the Berlin Wall came down have given way to a period of disappointment and democratic stagnation. Despite the huge growth in the middle class, the number of elected democracies worldwide, as tracked by Freedom House, an American advocacy group, has been flat since the mid-1990s.

China’s 800m-strong new middle class has conspicuously failed to rise up against its rulers.

Russia’s smaller, weaker middle class seems to have colluded in the reversal of hard-won but fragile freedoms: hence the popularity (across all classes) of Mr Putin. In both countries, middle-class fear of instability seems to have trumped democratic impulses. Their middle classes have also provided some particularly ugly manifestations of aggressive nationalism: for example, during the controversy over the Olympic torch for last year’s Beijing Games, and in Russia’s war on Georgia.