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Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution was to the Enlightenment what the Reformation was to Christianity. Enlightenment thinking taught that Man was the pinnacle of all things, that if a God did exist He played a pretty hands-off role, and that education would improve the lot of everyone and lead to irresistable progress in science, art, religion, and philosophy. When the Industrial Revolution finally got underway, Westerners had already been primed to see this as the implacable advancement of the human race.

In many ways, you couldn't blame them for the assumption. Militant socialists and ideological Communists have blamed almost as much evil on the Revolution as American Republicans have blamed on Stalin, but criticisms notwithstanding, the period between 1760 and the 1840s was something of a paradaisical era. Standards of living and wages improved for the common man, medicine made huge strides forward, work became more easily obtainable, and prosperity was the order of the day.

That's not to say everything was peachy: the Industrial Revolution also led directly and indirectly to child labor and enslavement, the break-up of the family, a general turn away from theism and religion, and a reliance on mechanization and technology rather than on know-how and skill. Because Man had made himself the center of the universe, he was turned more and more in on himself, becoming his own point of reference, and thus shutting out the biblical ideals that had previously held sway.

It's important to point out that historians constantly argue about the exact parameters and nature of the Industrial Revolution, and today it's become popular to refer to industrial revolutions (uncapitalized and plural) in the context of Marxist ideology and the forward march of nations. When did the so-called Revolution take place? Was it really a revolution or more of a gradual shift? Who was responsible? These are all chronically disputed questions, and to a high degree irrelevant.

The term "Industrial Revolution" as referring to the technological advancement of industry in Britain, Europe, and America was first used by a British economic historian named Arnold Toynbee (uncle of the great Arnold J. Toynbee). The parameters are traditionally set between 1760 and sometime in the mid-19th century, as scientists and inventors made huge strides forward, paving the way for advancements in agriculture, industry, and production.

By "advancement" is generally meant the ability to create vastly increased volume. In the pre-Industrial era, workers plied their trades at home, or not far away, and made everything by hand. A shoemaker, for instance, was able to make as many shoes in one day as he could make with hand tools and raw materials. He usually worked in his front room, or in a shed out back, and was largely working to meet demand. He got paid for every pair of shoes he made, largely because most of them were commissioned and not sold from a surplus store.

Once the Industrial Revolution had taken root, shoes were made in vast quantities in factories. The raw materials were dumped into machines, and eventually shoes came out the other end—in greater quantities than any single shoemaker could craft by hand in his entire lifetime. The natural result was that all the individual shoemakers were put out of business and had to go to the factory for jobs.

This was good in some ways: men generally ended up making more money, and after a some hiccups and difficulties they worked fewer hours in a day. They also had the benefit of wearing the shoes they'd made, and having the resources to put shoes on their whole family, along with machine-made clothes. Once unions were formed, they also had protection against abuse from foremen and bosses, and from overwork imposed by factory owners.

Unfortunately, there were a lot of bad effects, too. First of all, men had to leave home to go to work all day, laying the foundations for the break-up of the family. They also forgot their skills and earned their money through unskilled labor, thus forcing them into reliance on mechanization rather than tradecraft. Perhaps worst of all, as it became more difficult to live a subsistence lifestyle in the country, families migrated to cities in droves, so that farming took on a mass scale to feed everyone, while families formerly close to the natural world became cut off from it.

As a result of this cutting off, the lives of people became less oriented toward the created world, and more oriented toward manmade things. Since they no longer saw where their food came from and since every element of day to day life now depended on other humans rather than directly on God, churches became less full, and those that maintained a high membership became more concerned with furthering the object of human happiness and plenty rather than sound doctrine and proper worship.

Of course, these effects took a long time to play themselves out, and some of them are only coming to complete fruition in our own day. Many of these effects are also just as related to the ideology behind the Industrial Revolution (i.e., the Enlightenment), and aren't directly attributable to the Revolution itself. Ironically, some of the biggest opponents of the Revolution are those most influenced by the Enlightenment (atheistic Communists, for instance), but the fact that their views are inconsistent shouldn't keep us from seeing the roots of their ideas.

There was a lot more going on in the world during the period of the Industrial Revolution than agricultural and industrial progress. During that time, the United States became a nation, France turned from monarchy to a form of democracy, Queen Victoria ascended the throne, Karl Marx and Charles Darwin were both born, and the world was generally in turmoil. And yet, the Industrial Revolution is one of the most representative events of the period, and one that cannot be ignored if you intend to understand the modern world and our own times.

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