Changes in Political Philosophy.

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Changes in Political Philosophy.

Simultaneously, political thought was developing. The idea of a centralized authority which was more important than the individual citizen, either individually or in the mass, had had a fairly long run; it had not worked particularly well, either in the economic sphere or in any other, and thinkers were beginning to question it. All these codes and conventions, governing one's ideas, one's buying and selling, one's legal status, one's morals - were they really better guides than man's natural mother-wit? In France and in England the questioning went on; and it is to the middle years of the eighteenth century that we must look for the beginnings of that liberalism and laisser-faire which form the background of the Industrial Revolution. Many year's were to pass before they were to triumph; but they were in the air. Scientists, manufacturers, traders, the man in the street, no longer took restraint for granted. "Laissez-faire" or "Let us get on with our work" - this was the general wish.

Here it is worth while casting forward to see how these ideas developed; for one cannot understand the history of an age without knowing by what lights it worked. Nowadays, the people who talk most about applying reason to economic development think of the policies of Governments, Of "planning ", scientific tariffs and the like. The eighteenth-century and earlier nineteenth-century thinkers had a thorough distrust of Governments. They had seen too much of them under mercantilism. They had, on the other hand, complete faith in human nature.

They believed in freeing the individual, socially and economically; in letting him buy and sell as and when he liked, at whatever price h liked, choose his own trade and generally fend for himself.

A man knows what he wants, and how to run his own business, whether it be a blacksmith's shop or a big trading company, better than any outsider; let him alone, and he will, simply by following his reason and his instinct to get on in the world, follow the course of prosperity and usefulness.

The Frenchman Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) preached this doctrine from the social point of view; men, he said, were naturally good and wise but spoiled by civilization and its institutions; Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) in England attacked the forces of prejudice and privilege all along the line, in law, ethics, political science and economics; and Adam Smith, in 1776, published his great work the Wealth of Nations, which, showing up the muddle and folly of the old regulations of economic life, both in foreign trade and home industry, set the tone for his nineteenth-century successors, Ricardo, Malthus, McCulloch, Senior and James Mill.

Their theories demonstrated that if the market for goods and services were everywhere free, people and nations would do the work which suited them best and make the things which were wanted most,' thus reaping the full advantage of the division of labour.

The free movement of prices would ensure that it would pay best to produce the things which.

people needed most, since it was for those things that most would be offered. No one could decide for them as well as they could decide for themselves, and nothing could take the place, as a driving power, of their own will to get on in the world - their "enlightened self-interest " as Bentham called it. Laissez-faire----" let things alone " - said the economists, or rather "set things free to take their own course ". The old hindrances must be swept away.

These ideas did not triumph all at once. As usually happens, the people who had practical power picked and chose amongst them to suit themselves without much caring whether they were being logical or not. They effused, as we shall see later, to work the old laws fixing wages, on the ground that the buying and selling of labour ought to be free; they made no effort for a very long time to regulate hours and conditions in the new factories, or to prevent child labour, for the same reasons; and they left public health and education to look after themselves on the principle of laisser-faire. But they did their best to prevent working people from combining freely into Trade Unions, and they were very slow to take off the tariffs which hindered the free exchange of goods from abroad. And the political side of the new ideas - that is to say, democracy - lagged a long way behind. But from Adam Smith's time onwards the clutter of old regulations was discredited and the Industrial Revolution had its chance to go forwards.

Then there was the idea of progress�social as apart from technical. The belief was growing up among writers and thinkers that if only men would stop being superstitious and muddleheaded, and instead be reasonable, thinking out what they really ought to do, they could become in time perfectly good and perfectly happy. Instead of regarding this world as a necessarily unpleasant and imperfect place, which one simply had to put up with because Providence had made it so, these thinkers - men like Locke in England, Montesquieu and Rousseau in France - held that reason in political matters and 4cience in technical matters would lead us to an earthly paradise.

Needless to say, these theories could not in themselves! weave a yard of cotton, forge a single iron rail, or put a penny on the year's earnings of a single labourer; but the fact that they were in the air made it possible for those who had practical new schemes to get support for them.

So much for the general background of the Industrial Revolution. On the one hand, the increasing population, both needing food and goods and providing the labour force to get them; on the other, the new and growing body o scientific knowledge and the conviction that it ought to be applied for the benefit of humanity - no matter what changes in the established order that process might mean.


Next Population Growth

Natural Sciences

For another thing, the same ideas which lay at the root of the falling death rate and in particular the infantile mortality rate were having their effect in every other field.

To follow the whole history of this change would take us a long way off the track, for it began over two hundred years before our period and was little, if at all, concerned with economics.

But ever since the Renaissance there had been a great growth of curiosity about physical science; men had been thinking and experimenting, Galileo, Newton, and other great scientists had been making discoveries, and more and more,... see: Natural Sciences


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