Journalism 133: Prof. Craig: Readability Exercise

Readability Exercise

The following material is from a political science text about the history of dictatorships and democracy.  Your job is to take the selected passage, do any homework necessary for it to make sense, then rewrite it in a way that an average reader might understand.  

  1. The general hypothesis that emerges from this brief recapitulation, hedged with that familiar ritual phrase ceteris paribus used by scholars to avoid thorny issues, might be put in the following way: A highly segmented society that depends on diffuse sanctions for its coherence and for extracting the surplus from the underlying peasantry is nearly immune to peasant rebellion because opposition is likely to take the form of creating another segment. On the other hand, an agrarian bureaucracy, or a society that depends on a central authority for extracting the surplus, is a type most vulnerable to such outbreaks.
  2. G.T. Robinson in his study of Russian peasant life before 1917 points out that the religious and other intellectual currents impinging on the peasants from the outside were wholly on the side of conservatism and strongly discounts the role of revolutionary ideas from the towns. The shortcoming of this hypothesis is that it focuses too much attention on the peasantry; a moment's reflection on the course of any specific preindustrial rebellion reveals that one cannot understand it without reference to the actions of the upper classes that in large measure provoked it.
  3. Driven back from material explanations one might turn naturally to hypotheses about the role of religion. At first glance this seems a promising tack; Hinduism might go a long way toward explaining the passivity of the Indian peasantry. More generally an organic cosmology that conferred legitimacy on the role of the ruling classes, couched in some theory of the harmony of the universe that stressed resignation and the acceptance of individual fate, might conceivably serve as a strong bar to insurrection and rebellion if the peasants accepted its norms.
  4. Where such bonds have been snapped or never existed at all, as in plantation economies operated with very cheap hired labor of a different race or by slaves, the possibilities of insurrection are much greater. Though slave owners in the American South seem to have had exaggerated fears, there has been reason enough elsewhere to fear insurrection: in ancient Rome, Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, parts of Spain in modern times, and quite recently on the sugar plantations of Cuba.
  5. No longer is it possible to take seriously the view that the peasant is an "object of history," a form of social life over which historical changes pass bur which contributes nothing to the impetus of these changes. For those who savor historical irony it is indeed curious that the peasant in the modern era has been as much an agent of revolution as the machine, that he has come into his own as an effective historical actor along with the conquests of the machine. Nevertheless the revolutionary contribution has been very uneven: decisive in China and Russia, quite important in France, very minor in Japan, insignificant in India to date, trivial in Germany and England after initial explosions had been defeated.
  6. If the agrarian program of the present Indian government fails to solve India's food problem, and there is substantial evidence for a pessimistic evaluation, a political upheaval of some sort will become highly likely. It will not necessarily take the form of a communist-led peasant revolution; a turn to the right or fragmentation along regional lines, or some combination of these two, seems much more probable in the light of India's social structure. By and large, during the process of modernization the circumstances of peasant life have seldom made peasants the allies of democratic capitalism, an historical formation that in any case is now past its zenith.
  7. Prior to World War II, fascism failed to take much root in England and the United States where capitalism worked reasonably well or where efforts to correct its shortcomings could be attempted within the democratic framework and succeed with the help of a prolonged war boom. Most of the anti­capitalist opposition to big business had to be shelved in practice, though one should not make the opposite error of regarding fascist leaders as merely the agents of big business.
  8. Militarism intensified a climate of international conflict, which in turn made industrial advance all the more imperative, even if in Germany a Bismarck could for a time hold the situation in check, partly because militarism had not yet become a mass phenomenon. To carry out thoroughgoing structural reforms, i.e., to make the transition to a paying commercial agriculture without the repression of those who worked the soil and to do the same in industry, in a word, to use modern technology rationally for human welfare was beyond the political vision of these governments.
  9. Reactionaries can always advance the plausible argument that modernizing leaders are making changes and concessions that will merely arouse the appetites of the lower classes and bring on a revolution. Similarly, the leadership must have at hand or be able to construct a sufficiently powerful bureaucratic apparatus, including the agencies of repression, the military and the police (compare the German saying Gegen Demokraten helf en nur Soldaten), in order to free itself from the influence of both extreme reactionary and popular or radical pressures in the society.
  10. Eventually the door to fascist regimes was opened by the failure of these democracies to cope with the severe problems of the day and reluctance or inability to bring about fundamental structural changes. One factor, but only one, in the social anatomy of these governments has been the retention of a very substantial share in political power by the landed elite, due to the absence of a revolutionary breakthrough by the peasants in combination with urban strata. Some of the semiparliamentary governments that arose on this basis carried out a more or less peaceful economic and political revolution from above that took them a long distance toward becoming modern industrial countries.


Back to JOUR133 home page
Back to Richard Craig's Home Page

Send comments and thoughts to