Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution

Emergence and Background

1776 is also the year Wealth of Nations was published, and 1794 is when Eli Whitney got his patent for the cotton gin. The Industrial Revolution was the liberation of innovation in the realm of economics and technology. The ideas put forward by Smith and Ricardo served to justify the economic development that was now possible based on emerging innovations. In fact, it was the innovations that came first, and the justifications afterwards. Innovations in production methods, regional specialization, trade patterns, entrepreneurial initiatives, imperialist methods, etc., had been building for some time.

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A generation of 18th Century intellectuals understood that a new paradigm of change and innovation was coalescing in the world of economics and practical affairs. They could see great potential in the new paradigm: the paradigm was basically about liberating practical human creativity. They could also see that this liberation, in economic and practical terms, could not be fully realized within the existing social structures. The liberation of creativity in the economic realm required the liberation of creativity in the realm of governance as well.

What this all amounted to was a liberation of creativity in the realm of thinking itself — the formulation from whole cloth of new conceptual models, and their promulgation into a community of creative new thinkers, eager to consolidate a coherent model of the new paradigm. And these folks knew that the new model could not be sold to the existing regime. The model was politically revolutionary, and it had to be sold directly to the people. It was necessary to appeal to the reason of the ‘common man’.

Thus the final step in the liberation of creativity was reached: liberating creativity in the realm of popular thinking. The development of a ‘thinking, literate public’ was needed to enable the emergence of a revolutionary constituency. And such a public was also essential to the sound functioning of a republican form of government, where ideally the actions of the government are the expression of the will of the people. In such a system, one needs the people to be well-informed and thinking soundly.

The economic and practical innovations came first, leading to successive waves of liberation thinking, which we refer to as the Enlightenment. And those original practical innovations were at the same time the direct beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. It was all a single process, with the yang energy being expressed as the Industrial Revolution, and the yin energy being expressed as the Enlightenment. The two are not separate historical threads, but two strands of a single historical thread, a thread that culminated in popular mass revolutions, and the dominance of the republican paradigm.

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As for individualism, it came embedded in both strands. The Enlightenment strand invited the ‘common man’ to think for himself about ‘big ideas’, and to see himself as an empowered agent in the affairs of society. As a citizen in a republic, his relationship to the state was as an individual, a thinking voter. In the aristocratic paradigm, one’s relationship to the state was mediated by the social fabric, within which one had a ‘place’ as a member of a ‘class’. Meanwhile, the industrial / economic strand was about ‘each acting in his own self-interest’, rather than ‘each following the prescriptions of his traditional social niche’. A top-to-bottom infusion of liberation thinking carried with it an inherent tendency toward individualism.

Today we are once again on the cusp of a cultural transformation. And again, the impetus toward transformation emerges from practical / economic conditions. The paradigm of unrestrained economic development that was unleashed c. 1800, and which was supported by an amazing flowering of scientific and engineering creativity, led to a situation where we have spoiled our own nest on a planetary scale. Unrestrained development became a sorcerer’s apprentice out of control, producing more and more, while inadvertently destroying its resource base. Resource limits are the change-forcing condition today, whereas the potential-to-exploit-resources were the change-forcing condition c. 1800. Unrestrained development was one big two-century bubble, and it has now burst.

We have our modern equivalent of Enlightenment thinkers: the ecologists, the whole-system theorists, the purveyors of sustainability consciousness. Whereas the Enlightenment revolution was about discarding constraints, the sustainability revolution is about recognizing the necessity of constraints. Our modern whole-systems thinking can be seen as a delayed rebuttal to Enlightenment thinking. Time has passed, and we can now say, “See, you were wrong, and here’s why”. The Luddites already knew the rebuttals, but they were unsuccessful in their campaign to spread them.

We have our own version of Enlightenment thinkers, but we don’t have our own version of a revolutionary process. As in the Enlightenment, these thinkers know the new model cannot be sold to the existing regime — despite the fact that the regime is today sophisticated enough to misappropriate the buzzwords of the model, as in ‘sustainable development’, ‘renewable energy’, and ‘green technology’. The new paradigm is again politically revolutionary, and once again a generation of intellectuals has consolidated a model of a new paradigm, and has taken it directly to the people, appealing to the reason of the ‘common man’.

What we are missing today is an element of the elite establishment whose self-interest is aligned with the new paradigm. In the Enlightenment all the nouveau-riche entrepreneurs, the worldwide traders, the budding industrialists — and the investment-banking community — had much to gain from the new paradigm. The leadership of the American Revolution came from the top, from those who were already the established colonial elite. It was only the tip-top of the established hierarchy that had everything to lose — the monarchs, the titled nobles, and the apex of the religious hierarchies. This non-productive, parasitic class was past its sell-by date, and yet a truly massive project, involving all levels of society, was required to finally dethrone them.

Today all elements of the elite establishment are aligned with the existing political hierarchy. The visible top Western leadership class has been systematically alienated from its popular constituencies by the processes of globalization, privatization. The Bilder Berger process has created a class culture in which those leaders identify with their role in relationship to the shadowy globalist elite, and view their popular constituency as a flock to be managed. Visible Western leaders are dependent on this upward relationship for their political survival, just as third-world dictators are dependent on their foreign backers. The investment-banker class has emerged as the new royal class. Again it is a non-productive, parasitic class. But unlike the royalty of old, it knows how to maintain its tentacles of power in the face of changing circumstances.

Beginning of geographical discoveries and direct sea routes opened new avenues of trade and commerce. It formed the bedrock of Industrial revolution as mismatch between demand and supply led to new innovative ways of enhancing production.

Second factor was emergence of capitalist ideology. Profit making became the core of all economic activities in Europe. Capitalists financed the voyages of sailors in search of new markets and new sources of raw material. New industries were also financed by capitalists.

New inventions were made which enhanced productivity many fold. Invention of Steam Power, Use of Mechanical Power instead of Man and Animal power changed the way production was done Hargreaves’s spinning mill, improvement of Arkwright and Crompton over that spinning mill. Invention of steam engine led to birth of Cotton Jenny, a much improved cotton weaver.

Factory production arrived as new mode of production as community or home workshop production failed to meet burgeoning demands.

Colonial quests led to discoveries of new cheap sources of raw materials and profitable dumping markets for finished products.

Faster means of communication, commoditification of labor with introduction of wage System, development of new sources of energy like coal, new durable materials like steel were the other supporting factors for the rise of Industrial Revolution.

 

Industrial Revolution in Britain

A number of factors contributed to Britain’s role as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. For one, it had great deposits of coal and iron ore, which proved essential for industrialization. Additionally, Britain was a politically stable society, as well as the world’s leading colonial power, which meant its colonies could serve as a source for raw materials, as well as a marketplace for manufactured goods.

As demand for British goods increased, merchants needed more cost-effective methods of production, which led to the rise of mechanization and the factory system.

 

There were many conducive factors. Britain had adequate capital which was accumulated through colonialism Disappearance of serfdom and ‘enclosure movement’ provided huge surplus agricultural labor which looked for employment and became source of cheap labor. (As Industrialization started, land became valuable commodity. Big landlords started snatching the land of small farmers and this was termed as ‘enclosure movement’). Britain was also rich with natural resources. Iron and coal proved twin pillars of Industrial Revolution and Britain was lucky to have them in close proximity. Britain also had a stable polity unlike Europe. It also had a strong navy – a symbol of military might. Inventions, capitalist ideology and communication were other factors.

Salient Features of Industrial Revolution

First feature is that, Britain was the epicenter of this revolution in 1750.

Secondly, it started from textile sector. Britain used to spent huge wealth on import of foreign clothes like Dhaka Muslin, Calicut Calico and so on leading to huge forex drain. So, textile industries became a natural choice to start with.

It was also a revolution in infrastructure which was necessary for spread of it. Railways, steam boats (reduced dependence on wind sails with heavier load), Macadamized roads (pucca roads named after its inventor Macadam), new form of communication like telegraph and penny post (now it was possible to send post in a mere penny) etc lead to new globalization.

It gave birth to ideology of mercantilism which viewed world resources as limited and merchants vied for each other in a ‘zero-sum game’

A process of new globalization started in which colonies were integrated in a highly subservient manner.

It also affected agriculture. Cropping patterns were changed. Staple food crops were replaced with cash crops like cotton, indigo, tea, opium etc.

 

Impact of Industrial Revolution

Industrial Revolution also had certain other fallouts which were not expected. There was also opposition to these new developments. Luddite movement was such an event which was a movement launched by workers who attacked machines as they feared that machines will replace manpower. This and other movements forced Industrialists to give a serious consideration to worker’s condition

Social Impact – new urban centers (like Manchester, Leeds), slums, nuclear family, urbanization, exploitation of women and children, new class formation

Economic Impact – birth of capitalism, transnational trade, cheap goods, ruin of handicrafts

Political Impact – colonialism gets a new fillip, new division of countries as developed and und-developed, Europeanization of different parts of world, reforms movement like Chartist Movement started. Unions also began to form. New movements like – Socialism, Marxism also traces their roots to Industrial Revolution. Child labor laws were formed as exploitation of children increased

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