The Origins of the Industrial Revolution in England | |
|The Industrial Revolution of the late 18th and early 19th centuries was revolutionary because it changed -- revolutionized -- the | |productive capacity of England, Europe and United States. But the revolution was something more than just new machines, | |smoke-belching factories, increased productivity and an increased standard of living. It was a revolution which transformed English,| |European, and American society down to its very roots. Like the Reformation or the French Revolution, no one was left unaffected. | |Everyone was touched in one way or another -- peasant and noble, parent and child, artisan and captain of industry. The Industrial | |Revolution serves as a key to the origins of modern Western society. As Harold Perkin has observed, "the Industrial Revolution was | |no mere sequence of changes in industrial techniques and production, but a social revolution with social causes as well as profound | |social effects" [The Origins of Modern English Society, 1780-1880 (1969)]. | |The INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION can be said to have made the European working-class. It made the European middle-class as well. In the | |wake of the Revolution, new social relationships appeared. As Ben Franklin once said, "time is money." Man no longer treated men as | |men, but as a commodity which could be bought and sold on the open market. This "commodification" of man is what bothered Karl Marx | |-- his solution was to transcend the profit motive by social revolution (see Lecture 24). | |There is no denying the fact that the Industrial Revolution began in England sometime after the middle of the 18th century. England | |was the "First Industrial Nation." As one economic historian commented in the 1960s, it was England which first executed "the | |takeoff into self-sustained growth." And by 1850, England had become an economic titan. Its goal was to supply two-thirds of the | |globe with cotton spun, dyed, and woven in the industrial centers of northern England. England proudly proclaimed itself to be the | |"Workshop of the World," a position that country held until the end of the 19th century when Germany, Japan and United States | |overtook it. | |More than the greatest gains of the Renaissance, the Reformation, Scientific Revolution or Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution | |implied that man now had not only the opportunity and the knowledge but the physical means to completely subdue nature. No other | |revolution in modern times can be said to have accomplished so much in so little time. The Industrial Revolution attempted to effect| |man's mastery over nature. This was an old vision, a vision with a history. In the 17th century, the English statesman and "Father | |of Modern Science, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), believed that natural philosophy (what we call science) could be applied to the | |solution of practical problems, and so, the idea of modern technology was born. For Bacon, the problem was this: how could man enjoy| |perfect freedom if he had to constantly labor to supply the necessities of existence? His answer was clear -- machines. These labor | |saving devices would liberate mankind, they would save labor which then could be utilized elsewhere. "Knowledge is power," said | |Bacon, and scientific knowledge reveals power over nature. | |The vision was all-important. It was optimistic and progressive. Man was going somewhere, his life has direction. This vision is | |part of the general attitude known as the idea of progress, that is, that the history of human society is a history of progress, | |forever forward, forever...
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