The Industrial Revolution occurred first in England due to
the laissez-faire principles followed by the British government. These policies
enabled venture capitalists to finance the development of new technologies
which led first to a revolution in agriculture and then to the invention of the
steam engine. The steam engine revolutionized the means of production and then
the modes of transportation, making Britain the wealthiest country in the
world. This wealth enabled the British people as a whole to improve their
standard of living and lead Europe into the modern world.
Due to advances in food
production and to liberal political freedoms in England,
the population boomed and competition for profit made
the economy more productive. As more and more people
could afford English goods, factory owners sought more
efficient production and higher profits. In the process,
an industrial economy came into being. An avalanche of
new inventions utilized the new source of power, coal,
and the new building material, iron. Factory owners, though, maximized profits by exploiting the workers. What initially seemed the ideal dream of urban prosperity and
productivity, quickly became a nightmare for
the working and lower classes as conditions
worsened, diseases ran rampant, and the poor grew
conscious of their subservient position in the new
social order. In the second half of the nineteenth
century, London took the place of Manchester as the
prime example of an ideal industrial city. This “new
world city” began to blossom and burgeon, its
population exploding and its borders expanding.
Art and literature during the Victorian era reflected conflicting ideological conceptions of social justice; some of
the writers published pulp fiction to placate the
workers, while others agitated for political reform,
while still others encouraged a violent revolution. In
the long run, reformers won the debate and workers were able to secure a prominent position in the political system.
thinkers believed that the synthesis of science with
liberalism would lead to social progress; however,
the city grew into a squalid and corrupt industrial
complex. When the workers compared the conditions in
which they lived with the opulent lifestyle of the
rich factory owners, they challenged the foundations
of capitalism by demanding reforms. To prevent
revolution, the owners agreed to modify their
laissez faire ideals and grant political rights to
placate the poor. The more the city grew, though,
social unrest increased, and as a result of the
quest to dominate international trade, devastating
war enveloped the world.
Industrial Revolution created vast wealth while also improving the
standard of living for most people. Even so, this new industrial
economy produced cities that struggled to cope with poverty, and the
social gap between rich and poor increased substantially. Over an
period of several decades, workers agitated for legislation from
Parliament that would regulate child labor, improve workplace safety,
reduce the length of the work week, and finally give all men the right
to vote. Judged
according to utilitarian standards of social justice, the Industrial
Revolution produced progress because it achieved the greatest good for
the greatest number of people.
Revolution was meant to be an expansion of the
Enlightenment belief in progress, but capitalism,
ironically, ended up widening the relative gap
between the rich and poor, and the exploitation of
this growing rift by politicians led to the rise of
fascism, communism, and eventually world war.
England’s Industrial Revolution made progress in
technology and standards of living, yet as the poor
began to protest their worsening life style, the
government was forced to intervene.
technological revolution in the modes of production
of the 19th c. English economy demonstrated that
reason applied to social problems produces progress.
workers had to fight for their rights by using the
political system to demand their fair share of
prosperity: better salaries, better working
conditions, better housing, and the right to vote.
Conservatives countered by creating a mass media
culture designed to distract workers from protesting
the drastic gap between the social classes.