Tuesday 26 December 2017

From Tradition to Liberalism

Once the Western world was traditional, now it is Liberal, how did it change? That is obviously a big question, but I think there were two periods that created big changes. Changes that were not obvious at the time but which grew into the Liberalism that we know today. The first was the Reformation, which allowed the idea of secularism to creep in, and secondly the Industrial Revolution. It is the second change that I am going to concentrate on here.

It wasn't until the 1820's that people started talking about the changes that had been going on for a century or more in England. Before that time the changes had been small and local, by the 1820's neither of those things were true. The wars against France from 1792-1815 had hidden much of the change as people thought they were things that were more to do with the war. When the wars ended people started to notice that these things were no longer temporary, instead they were becoming a permanent fixture of life in England.

During the wars men had moved great distances to serve in the army, navy or merchant navy. Often their families moved with them. For a short time these things wouldn't have had much impact, but the wars lasted for nearly 25 years. In Britain the wars were a time of great prosperity, ironically aided by Napoleon trying to cut the European markets off to British trade. What it instead did was to create two economies, a European economy controlled by France and a world economy controlled by Britain. The Royal Navy and Britains merchant fleet controlled world trade, so anything that Europe wanted from outside of Europe had to be supplied by Britain. A Britain that Napoleon had banned from trading with Europe, so all those goods had to be smuggled into Europe. And because everything was so scarce, it was all at top prices.

In Britain it was the exact opposite, it was the only market in Europe open to trade from the rest of the world. So it meant that prices were good and goods plentiful. Trade from Europe was of course affected, so Britain tried to build as much as it could of it's own goods. Things that once came from Europe were now build in Britain, which lead to a rise in the size and numbers of factories. It also meant that when the wars ended Britain was in an excellent position to take advantage of it's newfound economic power.

It also accelerated the importance of trade over landownership. Owning land was always the traditional way to create wealth, but land has a great disadvantage, there is only so much of it. It self controls how many people can become rich. Trade however has no such limit, certainly it is not unlimited, but at least in theory it can be portrayed as such. The wars from 1792-1815 put trade front and centre in British life. It wasn't some fringe activity as it had once been, now it was of prime importance to national survival. After 1815 the lessons learnt were not forgotten. Britain was a trading nation and any limits put upon trade were bad. Trade needed to be unrestricted. Therefore Britain became the first free trade nation. It also became the first nation to support the free movement of people, within Britain at least.

The factory owners needed workers and they resented anything that restricted their access to those workers. At that time Guilds still existed and so did Feudal restrictions. People were not free as we would understand it, they often had obligations that restricted how they could use their labour. The reason for this was that if a mans labour was used in one place he could not use it in another, in other words he could not be in two place at once. So a farm labourer working in a factory was not doing farm labour. But if crops aren't sowed at the correct time or they are not harvested at the correct time then the food that people need to eat doesn't exist. This created a conflict between the often middle class factory owners and the often Aristocratic landowners.

There was also a conflict with the guilds, men were bonded to their profession. It protected all of those who worked in that profession as it restricted the amount of people in that profession. The factory owners hated the guilds for two reasons, firstly it restricted the amount of workers they could employ and secondly it created competition. Over time they sort to destroy both of these restrictions and they did destroy them.

But while these conflicts were going on there was also an increase in population. So the conflicts were rarely a case of life and death to either people or businesses, instead they became ideological conflicts. More workers meant more competition for jobs, so people moved to get those jobs and this thing that most people thought was temporary became permanent. It removed people from their traditional life and forced them to adapt to a new way of life. A life controlled not by nature but by the clock.

The factory owners wanted the power of the feudal Lords, but most did not want the responding responsibilities that came with that. Some were very good bosses, providing housing and good wages. Others were not go good and all they cared about was profit. Sadly the people who worked in their factories were only important as workers and not as people. Most of these people came from the countryside and in those places, often very poor places, they had a social structure that they existed within. In the cities or towns they now worked in those social structures and the support network that existed had to be recreated. But it was in reality not reconstructed, instead it was a new creation. Indeed in time the factory worker and the farm labourer became rivals, with seemingly little in common.

Tradition which existed in the countryside was made an enemy of the city. Land was replaced with trade. Men controlled their own labour, they had no loyalty to anyone but themselves. Money replaced loyalty. They lost contact with the land and with the cycle of nature. Guilds that once protected workers were dissolved. Liberalism wanted no restrictions put upon trade and no restrictions put upon who it could hire. Liberalism won.

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