According to Deirdre McCloskey, why do some of the traditional explanations for Western prosperity fail, and what in her view is the major, unique ingredient that accounts for it?
The West’s prosperity sustained an incredible rise of success over time that began in the mid-18th Century, exploded in the 19th Century, and continues today. In fact, income rocketed from $3 a day in the 18th century on average to $33 presently. Explanations for the boom of Western prosperity that began in the 18-19th Centuries vary from an abundance of natural resources, kings being forced to abide by laws, protection of private property, and imperialism; but on closer inspection, none of these theories hold water. All have been present in countries around the world, and yet no other countries shared the West’s explosion of affluence. Finally, Historian Deirdre McCloskey has deduced the single key reason for the West’s prosperity: a difference in the way of thinking about the working middle class. This middle class was composed of the factory owners, overseers of enterprises, and the people who organized production. These people were the ones responsible for the Industrial Revolution. Before the 18-19th centuries, the working class was snubbed by the aristocracy and unavailable to entry by the peasantry. The former despised the working classes due to the fact that they were arrogant snobs, whereas the latter, too busy subsisting, were jealous. Because they had a long established history of rights for all men and much less governmental regulations and interference in business, Englishmen were already way ahead of Europe in their attitudes. When the common person began to easily afford common goods, they realized that the working class was responsible, and acceptance slowly replaced hatred. The flare of prosperity in the Western World might’ve been caused by many factors, but without the acceptance of the hard-working middle class, it never would have been possible. Continue reading
(1) What, in a nutshell, was the Industrial Revolution?
The Industrial Revolution took place from the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century, beginning in Britain and spreading like wildfire through the rest of Europe and the Americas soon after. The explosion of technology and inventions heralded a new age for the western world. With machines and mass production of goods taking a huge burden off the shoulders of the people, the standard of living skyrocketed. The population boomed, income increased dramatically, and agriculture no longer required that almost all of the populace farm, so the masses were free to sell their labor in factories. Textiles were the first industry to be revolutionized with the invention of the spinning jenny and the cotton gin. Mills were invented soon after but since they lacked the vital quality of mobility, another invention soon took its place: the steam engine! Along with the steam engine came the locomotive; a speedy and efficient way to transport the common folk. For the people of the 18th century, this was as monumental a deal as the invention of cell phones! Coal and iron consequently evolved into their own mammoth industries. The Industrial Revolution was such an extreme influence on the world that it is second only to the domestication of animals and plants. It was not just a revolution for the rich, but literally changed the world for everybody. Continue reading
How does Friedrich Gentz distinguish between the American and French Revolutions? Do you see the influence of Edmund Burke in his thinking?
Sometime in the 19th century, Friedrich Gentz wrote two fairly important and opinionated works that distinguished between the American and French Revolutions, aptly titled the Origin and Principles of the American Revolution and the Origin and Principles of the French Revolution. According to Gentz, the American Revolution was based on a desire for liberty and tradition while the French Revolution was based on a desire to create an entirely new (and bloodthirsty) France based on Enlightenment thinking (see lesson 50 essay #4). In the American Revolution, the British were oppressing the colonists and unwilling to recognize the colonist’s basic traditional rights as British citizens and taxed them to the breaking point. The colonists had no choice but to rise up and fight for their independence. The French Revolution on the other hand was brutal and unorganized. The French citizens, who rose up against the nobles and clergy in search of a new world, were not afraid to execute anyone who got in their way. Throughout Friedrich’s works, we find influence from his fellow statesman Edmund Burke. For example, the two took the exact same views on the differences between the two revolutions. Although both Revolutions overthrew governments, took place in the late 18th century, and created perfect environments for extreme patriotism, there will always be more differences between the two than similarities and Friedrich Gentz was not afraid to state his interpretation of the facts. Continue reading
(3) Look online for additional resources about one of the atrocities described in the lesson on the Reign of Terror and summarize what happened in 200-250 words.
Before you read my report-thing, lets take a moment to appreciate how horrifying this topic is. The entire time writing it, I felt like throwing up–I hope you don’t throw up yourself when you read this.
During the Reign of Terror led by Robespierre, at least 27,000 people were executed or died in prison awaiting their turn at the guillotine. The mass deaths began with the law of suspects in 1793 where it was proclaimed legal to execute anyone suspected of harboring or being an anti-revolutionary. Anyone who objected was also relieved of their own head. The horror escalated when the guillotine was deemed not efficient enough and the Drownings at Nantes were introduced. Women, children, or men were bound together in pairs and piled into boats with boarded over holes in the sides. The boats were led out to the middle of the lake where the boards were pried off and the executioners leapt safely to their own completely sealed boats to watch the prisoners drown. The shootings at Angers in 1794 were almost more horrifying with a total of 2000 deaths by the method of prisoners being tied into a long line and shot into the ditches dug behind them. The many who were merely wounded were finished off by swords. Fittingly, Robespierre was himself executed as a grand finale to the Reign of Terror in 1794 after suffering from a shattered jaw in prison for an entire day. Continue reading
Explain the views of the French materialists.
“Terminator! 18th century edition…”
The French Materialists of the 18th century were essentially extreme atheists. Key figures in the development of the French Materialist view such as La Mettrie, Helvetius, and Baron d’Holbah, all believed that life had no spiritual aspects, and that there was only matter. La Mettrie introduced the ideas that the human body is simply a machine and that humans are programmed to perform certain actions. Consequently, we should never be blamed for our actions and should certainly never be ashamed of our pleasures. Helvetius craved morality without religion and thought every aspect of life is egoistic. Naturally, friendship must be egoistic as well, because we love what we see of ourselves in others. Baron d’Holbah added that humans only function properly due to chemical reactions and environmental stimulation. So we’re like a giant chemistry experiment. Unsurprisingly, from this view and others, he was labelled the “personal enemy of the Almighty.” Fortunately, the atheistic views of the French Materialists did not sweep the western world as widely as they could have.