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Colin Barker

Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery and
upon Certain Proposals to Eliminate Them

(September 1973)

From International Socialism (1st series), No. 62, September 1973, p. 30.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to Paul Blackledge.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Reflections on the Causes of Human Misery and upon Certain Proposals to Eliminate Them
Barrington Moore, Jr.
Allen Lane: The Penguin Press, £3.50

BARRINGTON MOORE, Junior has the reputation of being a radical American sociologist. His collection of essays makes one wonder if it is something in the character of the American right that has won him his reputation.

What is there here? Pomposity of manner, certainly. The manner of one who would be thought wise. These days, the truly wise must deploy some tough, no-nonsense realism. So in chapter two, Moore points out that cruelty and violence are largely used in the world, either to maintain the status quo, or to alter it. Tough, huh?

But that hard-bitten realism is not enough. We need too the strength of ‘major sociological generalisation’ to support that sense of a mind ranging far and wide across human experience. The following is a law that explains international politics:

‘... the mere existence of independent or “sovereign” political units is by itself sufficient to set in motion rivalries and insecurities that will before long have these units at each other’s throats.’

There we are: world wars, imperialism, international alliances, Cold War, United Nations – all explained. Anyone who asks, what do they fight over is clearly not opening his mind to the power of sociological generalisation.

The book also deals with government, intellectual freedom and imperialism in a similar manner, demonstrating along the way that Lenin would have been as nasty as Stalin given the chance, that we ought in the interests of freedom to invite a Nazi to give a few university lectures, and that really America isn’t dominant in the world at all, not really.

The last chapter considers the future of America. The reactionaries might win. The reformists might win. The revolutionaries might win (not very likely). There might just be chaos. We must certainly be sombre about the future. Though remember, ‘a sombre view is not a passive and fatalist one’. Carry on reflecting.

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