INJUSTICE: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt by

INJUSTICE: The Social Bases of Obedience and Revolt

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Twelve years ago, Barrington Moore, of Harvard's Russian Research Center, set off an academic bomb entitled Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy; it wasn't so much Moore's controversial thesis (on the anti-democratic tendencies of agrarian elites) that created the uproar as the audacity of the project itself--a path-breaking foray into comparative history by a scholar who was not a historian, This new work will broaden the field and open him to assault by fellow-sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, and political scientists, in addition to historians. Utilizing material drawn from all these fields, he sets out to determine the conditions necessary for groups to rebel against perceived injustices, or, conversely, to remain passive (often by denying the existence of injustice). Moore tries to establish the validity of the concept of ""injustice"" through his notion of a ""social contract"" which he believes is always in the process of negotiation between rulers and ruled. The social contract refers to authority, the division of labor, and the allocation of goods. When this contract is broken by those in authority--i.e., when they go beyond the socially permissible--this is injustice. After showing, through a study of three cases of alleged acceptance of suffering (asceticism, the Untouchables of India, and the behavior of some concentration camp inmates) and psychological tests on authority (such as the Milgram tests), that at least the possibility of rebellion is always present, he devotes the bulk of the work to a study of German workers from 1848 to 1914. Moore convincingly argues that grievances almost always referred to some vision--either real or imagined--of a past state, i.e. a ""social contract,"" against which the present was contrasted. He also includes a provocative discussion of ""market"" and ""planned"" moral outrage in contemporary societies, which add new elements that hinder revolt. Unlike Social Origins, there are occasional lapses in rigor, but Injustice is bound to stir up serious debate both within the academy and without, and is essential reading for anyone with an interest in critical thinking.

Pub Date: May 24th, 1978
Publisher: M. E. Sharpe--dist. by Pantheon