Western Civilization^2 lesson 80

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.

What were the Carlsbad Decrees?

After the French Revolution and the terror of Napoleon, the Congress of Vienna gathered together for the sole purposes of nipping any and all revolutions in the bud and reinstating traditional European institutions such as Churches (Protestant and Catholic) and Monarchies. This sparked a conservative reaction in the participating countries, which lasted from roughly 1815-1830. Rulers of the Congress’s participating countries really cracked down on any kind of revolutionary activities. In 1819, when a crazy German liberal student murdered a conservative university member, the Austrian Minister of State, Metternich, called for a meeting of state. This behavior was unacceptable! Arrogantly, the state decided to erect rules persecuting any liberals and nationalists. These were called the Carlsbad Decrees and they were divided into three sections: eliminating nationalist fraternities and liberal professors; muzzling the press; and establishing an investigating committee. Controlling the people’s behavior according to the dictates of the state was the central idea of the Decrees. Because conservatism finally gave way to nationalist ideas over time, in 1848 the decrees were finally removed.

According to Rothbard, did compulsory state education emerge because governments simply wanted their people to become more knowledgeable, or were there other motivations at work?

Although compulsory government-enforced education is a fairly new concept, today we cannot imagine life without it. Back the medieval ages, the only forms of education were universities or cathedral schools. By the 16th century, a craze of compulsory education began sweeping over the West. Surprisingly, the leaders of the assault on voluntary education were none other than the religious reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin. Both desperately wanted to force their own ideas of religion on young minds. Their insidious influence reached France, Scotland, and even the Puritan colonies of America. Fredrick William I of Prussia and Fredrick the Great (also of Prussia) went along with the Machiavellian plan to force education upon the people, but not because they desired a country of independent and educated minds, but instead because they intended a compliant public whose only role was to honor and revere the State. In France, education transitioned from compulsory (during the French Revolution and Napoleon’s reign) back to free upon Napoleon’s banishment—until the late 19th century whereupon education artfully became mandatory once again and remains so today. Government mandated education crawled up from Hell with sinister intentions; the greater knowledge of the common people was never the intention, despite the common misconception today. Mandated school is prison!

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