46 minutes | Jan 26th 2021

Bryn Rosenfeld on Middle Class Support for Dictators in Autocratic Regimes

A full transcript is available at www.democracyparadox.com.

Barrington Moore famously claimed, “No bourgeoisie. No democracy.” Many scholars before and after Moore have argued the middle class is necessary for successful democratization. But Moore had a specific image of the middle class. The bourgeoisie were not simply white-collar professionals. They were entrepreneurs who were independent of the landed aristocracy.

Bryn Rosenfeld recognizes a new source for the growth of the middle class. Many authoritarian regimes have established a state dependent middle class. A professional class who relies on the state bureaucracy for employment and think differently about their relationship to the regime than the bourgeoisie Barrington Moore portrayed.

Scholars have long recognized the heterogeneity of the middle class even while they described them as a homogenous group. The diverse interests and perspectives are part of what leads the middle class to demand democracy. But Bryn Rosenfeld finds there is also an autocratic middle class who rely on the state for their status and position. They view the process of democratization as a labyrinth of risk and uncertainty.

Bryn Rosenfeld is an assistant professor in the department of government at Cornell University. She is the author of The Autocratic Middle Class: How State Dependency Reduces the Demand for Democracy. Bryn is part of a new generation of comparative political scientists who blend field research with rigorous quantitative research designs to produce new insights into political behavior.

I have read my share of books on democracy published in 2020. Some are well-written. Others offer deep insights. So far, this is the most consequential book on democracy I have come across from last year. I do not doubt scholars will refer to its conclusions for years to come. It astonishes me this is Bryn’s first book. I expect to come across her name again in the future.

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