The Question for this essay:We have studied many movements and revolutions. However, many students feel that the industrial revolution is pivotal in explaining western civilization over the French Revolution or the Enlightenment. Do you agree or disagree with them? Why? In explaining your answer, please discuss the impact of two of the above movements on the social and political landscape.
Enlightenment vs The Industrial Revolution Over the last three centuries, western culture has changed significantly. Before the Enlightenment was introduced to Europe many people were comfortable with their subpar standard of living, but it was writers like Montesquieu, Locke, and Rousseau that paved the way for our current ideas of democracy and natural rights (Hunt 580,531-532, 594-596). Before the Industrial Revolution, most people lived in rural areas and crafts and other goods were made by hand (Hunt 687), which is a stark difference from the West we know today where items are mass produced and the majority of people live in and around cities. Although both movements have carried into the modern day, I believe that the Enlightenment has had more of an impact on the western world because the Enlightenment changed government, social ideas from the Enlightenment led to reforms in factories, and the norms of the Industrial Revolution have changed drastically while Enlightenment ideas still prevail. One way that the Enlightenment has affected Western life more so than the Industrial Revolution is the fact that social ideas of the Enlightenment played into the life of factory workers. If the Enlightenment hadn’t have come before the Industrial Revolution the life of workers probably would not have improved much over the next century. John Locke was the one who gave the common man the idea that the people give their rulers all of their power (Locke 531). Once the Industrial Revolution rolled around it was translated into “workers give factory
owners all their power”. Without this understanding in people’s heads they probably never would have found the voice to demand that their working conditions take a turn for the better. Also, without the French Revolution taking place and French philosophe’s arguing for equal rights there is a good chance that people may have just accepted their harsh treatment without putting up a fight. Yet, it was with the ideas of the Enlightenment: that each man has certain unalienable rights that can’t be taken away by anyone (Hunt 594) mixed with an idea that no one has complete rule over another (Hunt 531), that caused factory workers to start on the road towards change. Put in another way, people were already used to having an absolute monarchy or something reminiscent (Hunt 535-539), so therefore it would have been easy for them to accept being ruled over by a factory owner. It was the influence of people acting on Enlightenment ideas in the French Revolution that made Europeans believe that the average person did not have to live with being bullied and stripped of their God-given rights. Secondly, the Enlightenment changed government while the Industrial Revolution more so primarily changed daily life. As we have seen throughout history and throughout the world today, daily life can only be dictated within the context of what the government allows. For example, the peoples of Russia, at this point in time, still live as serfs because it hadn’t been outlawed, so the aristocrats were still able to exploit the common man and dictate his life (Hunt 690). Another example would have been how The Dutch Republic was home to many writers, scientists, and other intellectuals during the 1600’s because they didn’t have censorship laws like the rest of Europe (Hunt 532-533). Now, we have seen that the Enlightenment has changed European governments, although gradually, throughout the 19th century. This is seen primarily in the French Revolution when France shocked the world by attempting to create a democracy and executing their King.
Although French democracy didn’t last long on that first attempt (Paris and the Politics of Rebellion), it still paved the way for governments to not only absorb Enlightenment ideas, but also for other countries to follow their model of rebellion. Since the French Revolution was led by the Enlightenment (Hunt 623) it is safe to say that the Enlightenment created the modern revolution, which has affected many countries throughout the world today and opened them up to independence from imperialism and brought monetary gain through industrialization. Lastly, the norms that were birthed from Enlightenment ideas have remained in our culture up to this day while people’s way of life during the beginning of industrialization has changed pretty drastically in the last century and a half. For example, at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, people worked up to 17 hours a day without any safety regulations (Hunt 690). Over the years, mostly because of Enlightenment ideas, workers have fought for their right not to have to put their lives and also their livelihoods in danger for the sake of lining someone else’s pocket. Also, sanitary conditions changed as people argued that filth and disease were no way to live. So, as a whole, it seems as though what the Industrial Revolution started out as was not what it ended with as most of the West begins to dive into the new Technological Revolution. As life since the Industrial Revolution has changed rather drastically, Enlightenment ideas remain pretty much unchanged. Our Bill of Rights upholds Enlightenment philosophies such as free speech, freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and a right to property, just to name a few. This was a document that was practically duplicated as country after country decided to turn to democracy. Now-a-days, if you ask pretty much any Westerner they will tell you that they hold these things as a person’s natural rights and that they can’t imagine living in a
world without them, which I believe proves that The Enlightenment has had a bigger impact on Western culture than the Industrial Revolution ever could have. While, I am not arguing that the Industrial Revolution wasn’t a huge turning point in Western culture, I am trying to articulate that the Enlightenment has had more of a timeless impact. While the Industrial Revolution did make work more bureaucratic and raised the standard of living it will never have near the impact that the Enlightenment inflicted on our governments and on our everyday lives. As industry is moved over seas and jobsites are becoming laxer we still have 18th century Enlightenment ideas to guide us into the future.
Works Cited Hunt, Lynn. The Making of the West: Peoples and Cultures 4th edition. Volume II: Since 1500. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012."Paris and the Politics of Rebellion." Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity., 20 Oct. 2016, chnm.gmu.edu/revolution/chap4a.html