Q. In what respects did the roots of the Industrial Revolution lie within Europe? In what ways did that transformation have global roots?
• The roots of the Industrial Revolution lay within Europe because Europe’s political system, which was composed of many small and highly competitive states, favored innovation.
• Also, the relative newness of European states and their monarchs’ desperate need for revenue in the absence of an effective tax-collecting bureaucracy pushed European royals into an unusual alliance with their merchant classes, resulting in an unusual degree of freedom from state control and a higher social status for merchants than in more established civilizations.
• Globally, Europe after 1500 became the hub of the largest and most varied network of exchange in the world, which generated extensive change and innovation and stimulated European commerce.
• The conquest of the Americas allowed Europeans to draw disproportionately on world resources and provided a growing market for European machine-produced goods.
Q. What was distinctive about Britain that may help to explain its status as the breakthrough point of the Industrial Revolution?
• Britain was the most highly commercialized of Europe’s larger countries.
• Britain had a rapidly growing population that provided a ready supply of industrial workers with few alternatives available to them.
• British aristocrats, unlike their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, had long been interested in commerce. That commerce extended around the world, its large merchant fleet protected by the Royal Navy.
• British political life promoted commercialization and economic innovation in part through a policy of religious toleration, which removed barriers against religious dissenters with technical skills.
• British government favored men of business with tariffs, laws that made it easy to form companies and to forbid workers’ unions, infrastructure investment, and patent laws, while checks on royal authority provided a freer arena for private enterprise.
• Europe’s Scientific Revolution also took a distinctive form in Great Britain in ways that fostered technological innovation, focusing on observation and experiment, precise measurements, mechanical devices, and practical commercial applications rather than logic, deduction, and mathematical reasoning.
• Britain possessed a ready supply of coal and iron ore, often located close to each other and within easy reach of major industrial centers.
• Britain’s island location protected it from the kind of invasions that so many continental European states experienced during the era of the French Revolution.
• Britain’s relatively fluid society allowed for adjustments in the face of social changes without widespread revolution.
Q. How did the Industrial Revolution transform British society?
• While landowning aristocrats suffered little in material terms, they declined as a class as elite urban groups grew in wealth and ultimately eclipsed the landowning aristocracy as a political force in the country. Titled nobles retained their social status and found opportunities in the empire.
• The upper middle class, composed of extremely wealthy factory and mine owners, bankers, and merchants, benefited most from the Industrial Revolution, and many readily assimilated into aristocratic life at the top of British society.
• Smaller businessmen, doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, journalists, scientists, and other professionals became more prominent as a social group and developed their own values and outlooks that emphasized ideas of thrift and hard work, a rigid morality, and cleanliness. The central value of the culture was “respectability,” a term that combines notions of social status and virtuous behavior.
• As Britain’s industrial economy matured, it gave rise to a sizeable “lower middle class”—people employed in the growing service sector as clerks, salespeople, bank tellers, hotel staff, secretaries, telephone operators, police officers, and the like. This group distinguished itself from the working class because they did not undertake manual labor.
• The laboring classes lived in new, overcrowded, and poorly serviced urban environments; they labored in industrial factories where new and monotonous work, performed under constant supervision designed to enforce work discipline, replaced the more varied drudgery of earlier periods. Ultimately, members of the laboring classes developed new forms of sociability, including “friendly societies” that provided some insurance against sickness, a decent funeral, and an opportunity for social life in an otherwise bleak environment. Over time, laboring classes also sought greater political participation, organized after 1824 into trade unions to improve their conditions, and developed socialist ideas that challenged the assumptions of capitalist society.
• Artisans and those who labored in agriculture declined in prominence.