Thursday, February 9, 2012

Essay on Industrialization

Essay on Industrialization

Influence of Industrialization on the lives of Europeans
Industrialization originated in eighteenth-century England and was spurred by the introduction of the steam engines and modernization of the textile industry. In the nineteenth century industrialization moved on, spreading to the rest of Europe, America and Japan.

The workplace of most Europeans was significantly changed. Businesses grew bigger, and industrialization sped up the formation of  «corporations, monopolies, and cartels» (Watts). Financial capital turned into an important source of power, and petroleum and electricity became vital energy sources.


The industrialization «gave man a new conception of power in relation to his physical environment» (Kreis 2004), giving one a sense of power and control over one’s physical conditions. Man was now the master of nature to a greater degree than before, and so far the disastrous consequences of industrial activities such as pollution were not as evident.

With all the benefits of the advances in technology, the Industrial Age came at a social cost. It resulted in “social dislocation, overcrowded cities, inadequate housing, worker exploitation. child labor, new extremes of wealth and poverty, political conflict, and pollution”  (Kreis 2004).

The life of the rural communities was transformed no less than the life of the cities as people flocked to urban areas to join the ranks of industrial workers. As early as in 1815 the majority of  Europeans and Americans «lived in rural villages and worked the land» (Watts), but the process of movement that was to make Europe a predominantly urban area had already started.

The advent of machine production caused profound changes in the social layering of society. The shift of industrial workers had no land of their own, but were instead dependent on those who had the means of production in their hands, that is, factory owners.This modification led many to feel that they were passed over in the scientific and industrial breakthroughs, and added popularity to the  Marxist doctrine that gained recognition in the second half of the nineteenth century. Marx claimed that capitalism is another step in the long chain of different social setups where the lower-class society members were bound to remain in the lower social layers. Industrialization, Marx claimed, led to a perpetuation of the poverty and discrimination based on class.

The Industrial Age has elicited criticism from many thinkers, especially those belonging to the Romantic movement who believed it led to depersonalization of people and society, and destruction of nature, while others endorsed the growing might of man.

Success of humankind’s scientific and economic achievements has led many thinkers to support the policy of "laissez-faire", meaning that the less government intervention into society’s affairs the better. This view was supported by Bentham, a utilitarian philosopher who believed that the best decision is the one that best serves the interests of many people. Thomas Paine (1737-1809) also said that «the best government is the one which governs least» (Kreis 2004).

The utilitarianist philosophy was a step forward from the old irrational moral systems. The utilitarians backed the passage of the 1832 Reform Bill that gave the middle class the franchise. They argued for the drastic reforms in the social sphere, abolition of aristocracy and even monarchy, earning themselves the title of philosophical radicals. Utilitarians held to the idea expressed by Bentham in Fragment on Government (1776) that «correspondent to discovery and improvement in the natural world, is reformation in the moral» (Kreis 2004).

The establishment of the middle-class capitalist ideas in Europe, the success of the Western civilization gave impetus to the view of other nations as intellectually and culturally inferior. The ideas of racial supremacy led to the appearance of Social Darwinism, “the pseudo-scientific application of the theory of evolution to social and political issues”, that  «reinforced ethnocentrism and racial bigotry” (McNeill). To some extent these notions gave extra momentum to the First World War later on.

Thus, the palette of thought in the nineteenth century ranged from denunciation of the achievements of the industrialization that failed to bring improvement in human life to enthusiastic support for the process that radically advanced the economic development of society.
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