The Industrial Revolution

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The Industrial Revolution

Imagine living in a world in which rights governed society. The people participate in a free market, and property is seen as "an inviolable and sacred right" that cannot be taken away.(1) This glorious idea is called liberalism. Liberalism emerged whole-heartedly during the Nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution. Followers of liberalism believe in the rights of the individual, especially the right to property. Early in its developement, this idea caused deep clashes between the middle class, called the bourgeoisie, and the working class, called the proletariat. These clashes created opposition to the liberal movement; communism became the supporter of this opposition.

Many philosophers pushed the development of liberalism. The most persuasive were Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill. Smith is often considered the founder of liberalism. Smith "looked forward to a new world, which would escape the sophistry and meanness of medieval Christian thought, but would recourse to...authoritarian political oppression."(2) Smith wanted to make profits with little risk involved. He also believed a constitutional government would prevent government intervention with markets. Free markets allowed for more and cheaper goods, and they would benefit the greatest amount of people the greatest amount of the time. This was called laissez-faire. Smith also believed the state should be responsible for the "stipends of the priests."(3) This was government intervention of an individual right, freedom of religion. Because of Smith's beliefs towards religion, he was somewhat unpopular among Nineteenth-century liberals. These liberals chose to disregard Smith as the founder and preferred to regard David Ricardo as the founder of liberalism. Liberalism is defined as economy based on capitol. Ricardo wrote The Iron Law of Wages, which described the natural rise and fall of wages. He believed more children were produced when wages were high. When these children entered the workplace, the increase in able-laborers would lower wages. Then, fewer children would be born because they would not be affordable. Soon, a labor shortage would develop and wages would rise. Then the cycle would begin again.(4) If the government pushed for higher wages, the labor force would never decrease. In fact, it would always increase because wages would be high. Soon, there would be too many laborers and not enough money, leading the country into a depression. Another philosopher who pushed the liberal movement was John Stuart Mill. In 1859, Mill wrote On Liberty, which defines the beliefs of liberalism. He believed "human beings were motivated principally by self-interest and that individual freedom was a cherished necessity." (5) In this document, Mill comments on the rights of the individual. These rights include any "part of life in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested."(6) In other words, the individual should be free to govern one's self. All three of these philosophers pushed for individual freedoms and suppression of the government's power over the market. Only the individual would be able to make and change society through the market.

The Industrial Revolution actually began as early as the 1760s. During this time, a population decrease caused an energy lapse, which in turn caused an increase in the cost of Cottage Industry. Cottage Industry was the production of goods in the home; many bourgeoisie had money invested in this way of production. The bourgeoisie paid the workers higher wages with hopes that the peasants would produce more goods. Instead of producing more, the workers only worked less to receive the same amount of money. The workers were happy at the level they lived life. In their extra time, the workers were often found at taverns and doing absolutely nothing.

The bourgeoisie thought these acts by the workers were sinful, and they wanted to help "save" them. In order to help the workers, the bourgeoisie began industry. This idea kept workers busy and out of taverns, and it also let the bourgeoisie control their investments. Here they could observe and control the workers, called the proletariat. The working days were very strenuous some lasted sixteen hours, beginning at five in the morning and ending at nine in the evening.(7) Industrialist also began to control wages, making them excessively low.

During this time, middle class life was very well off. Families valued children, marriage, and hired servants. Children were often sent to schools and educated at least throughout high school. Women were set on a pedestal and often not forced to work. Hired servants performed jobs women fulfilled during the Old Regime. The middle class also began to marry for love. This became a very important ideal because people could afford to support themselves. Marriage was not needed just for money, procreation, and other assets, so it could be based on love.(10)

The proletariat lived an oppressed life. Women, men, and children had to work in factories in order to live. In these proletariat communities, ideas of the Old Regime still existed. For example, common law marriages, which were arranged marriages, still took place. Also, there was little privacy because the living quarters were very cramped. Therefore, the problems of one person often became the problems of the entire community.

Child labor was introduced during this period because families needed the money. Unfortunately for the children labor was very difficult and crude. The children were not educated, and they worked sixteen-hour shifts like the adults. The children were often abused at work. For example, in one factory the over-looker chained or whipped the children when they did not meet factory production needs. The children would not complain about the pain because they might get fired. In the future, companies would not hire them because the children would have poor working records.

With all this unfair employment, unions began to emerge. Unfortunately, they were considered illegal during most of the Industrial Revolution. The reason for this was because Adam Smith, the founder of liberalism, believed unions interfered with the free market by taking away the right of free property. Also, unions pushed for higher wages, which was against The Iron Law of Wages. The bourgeoisie also claimed unions would make the workers as lazy as before the rise of industry.

If a free market amounted to the greatest amount of individuals the greatest amount of the time, why were so many individuals unhappy? Socialists were the first to ask this question and find reasons for it. Their answer was that the bourgeoisie was alienating the proletariat. By alienated, they meant that capitalists took advantage of the proletariat's human nature to produce goods. Capitalism was a community effort, but only the middle class factory owners benefited from the profits. By exploiting the proletariat, capitalists stripped noble professions of their humanness, turned the family relation into a money relation, and turned human labor into a commodity based on supply and demand.(11) There were two major types of socialism: Owenism and Marxism.

Robert Owen believed workers that lived and worked in pleasant conditions were more productive because they were happy. They were more productive than those working for liberals in factories. Owen made his workers happy by providing them with nice housing and admirable schools for the children. He offered incentives for the individual to work harder, and he fed his workers well. Because Owen believed industry was a community effort, he gave his workers a nice community to live and work in.

Karl Marx may be considered to have the strongest opposition to liberalism. Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto, which challenged capitalism. He believed capitalism caused growing problems between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. Marx wrote "capital is a growing collective product, ...a social power," so he thought the wealth should have been divided equally among the individual workers, not just the industrialists.(12) Later, this way of thinking would give support for the Communist movement in Russia during the 1900s.

Socialists are the principle believers of this notion: "industrialization threatened to make the skills of artisans useless and to deprive them of control over their trades. All workers faced possible unemployment with little or no provision for their security."(13). They based thier work on the fact that during the Nineteenth century, liberalism left life for the individual among the proletariat far from grand and ranked the middle class individual high in society. Liberalism, which caused these class seperations, originated through early philosophers, such as Adam Smith. These philosophers set guidelines based on individual rights in order to improve society. In the Wealth of Nations, Smith wrote that government places "high duties and prohibitions upon all those foreign manufacturers which can come into competition of their own.... [This competition] is advantageous to the great body of the people."(14) Governments had to be suppressed in order to keep this competition, and therefore make the greatest amount of individuals happy the greatest amount of the time.


- Perry M. Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization, Volume III, (New Jersey: Prentice
Hall, Inc., 1997), 81.
- Athol Fitzgibbons, Adam Smith's System of Liberty, Wealth, and Virtue; The Moral and
Political Foundations of The Wealth of Nations, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), 193.
- Athol Fitzgibbons, Adam Smith's System of Liberty Wealth. and Virtue, 159.
- Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment and Frank M. Turner, The Western Heritage, Brief Edition,
Volume II, (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, Inc., 1996), 523.
- Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization, 141.
- Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization, 141.
- Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization, 125.
- Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization, 126-7.
- Kagan, The Western Heritage, 519.
- Dr. Darrow. Lecture notes. 10/2
- Dr. Darrow. Lecture notes. 10/14
- Karl Marx, "The Communist Manifesto," in Sources for the Humanities: Hisotory and
Religious Studies, First ed., 48.
- Kagan, The Western Heritage, 515.
- Rogers, Aspects of Western Civilization, 30.

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