Friday 19 September 2014

The Great Misinterpretation. That crucial, wrong existential choice by the British circa 1800, at the advent of the industrial revolution

The beginning of the Industrial Revolution was in Britain, and so was the beginning of socialism, communism - political Leftism under its various names (bizarrely, Leftists are called Liberals in the USA).

Britain invented the modern world, and at the same time invented political Leftism.


I say invented 'political' Leftism, because the deepest roots of political Leftism are in anti-Christian radicalism - which is why all attempts to combine Christianity and Leftism have failed - usually by rejecting Christianity. So, when they were not actual or covert atheists, the early political Leftists were mostly religious radicals (and, of course, often advocates of sexual revolution).


So. Britain invented modernity and Leftism at about the same time. But was this a necessary co-occurrence? No it was not - Leftism was an error - a wrong and false interpretation of the facts - and often a dishonest error.

Specifically Leftism was an error of:

1. Misinterpretation

2. Attitude

After which, the error of attitude sustained the error of misinterpretation - as it so often does.


(The attitude prevents correction of error, because the error is moralized. To challenge the error is the interpreted as advocating evil. For instance, my thesis will seem evil to Leftists: because pointing at the factual or logical errors of Leftism, or its bad outcomes, is always interpreted as advocacy of... well... advocacy of whatever-Leftism-currently-happens-to-regard-as-the-ultimate-sin. What this ultimate evil actually is, has varied a lot over the years.)


Back at the beginning of the industrial revolution in England, around 1800, there was a point when large numbers of the poor who would have died before adulthood and failed to raise any children, did not die but instead stayed alive.

Increased efficiency of first food production, then production of industrial products, meant that people, and especially children, on the edge of death - in ever larger numbers - were fed, sheltered and sustained enough that they lived instead of dying.

The population began to grow, bigger than it had ever been. And there were lots more poor people - also, the poor people began to be more noticeable to the rich by becoming concentrated into cities instead of being hidden in hovels spread thinly across the countryside.


The rich and middle classes were the first Leftists - and these people misinterpreted the existence of more poverty as meaning that the industrial revolution created poverty by making the poor poorer.

Upon this error was erected the wildly-false theories of Engels and Marx and, and the many other early Leftists and proto-Leftists which became visible in the middle 1800s - Owen, Ruskin, later Hyndman, Morris, later the Fabians and so on.

Some were honestly mistaken - such as Morris, who was a very decent man; others, like Marx seem to have been self-servingly dishonest (certainly, Marxism seems to have been poisoned at source such that it went to the bad much more rapidly than any other brand of socialism).


The Leftists said that the industrial revolution had created mass poverty by making the poor poorer. But the reality was almost the opposite that the industrial revolution 'created' poverty by making the poor richer, by keeping them and their children alive, rather than dead.

In fact, in stark biological terms, the industrial revolution benefited the poor and it harmed the middle class and rich.

This is an objective fact, as should have been obvious by the rapidly increasing population - and indeed it was obvious from the later 1800s: the poor were very clearly out-reproducing the rich, and they were not dying en masse, but surviving en masse to create a new hereditary class.

This was of world historical significance: in Britain in the early 1800s and soon after in Western Europe and the USA, and for the first time ever, generation upon generation - the poor began to out-reproduce the upper and middle classes: the poor had what biologists term 'higher reproductive success'.


It seems that people became aware that 'something was happening'.

And throughout the nineteenth century, as the-penny-dropped here and there, for one person then another, the British people were confronted with a choice: the choice between either feeling grateful for what they had, or resentful for what they didn't.

The mass majority chose resentment, and gave their souls to the politics of resentment - that is to Leftism.

The same happened, sooner or later (it was later in the USA) everywhere in the developed world. And resentment is close kin to hatred.


And so, for eight or nine generations and increasingly, the population in the Western world has been taught the Leftist error and falsehood that the industrial revolution created poverty by immiseration.

And the West has been taught that the proper response is resentment: the indoctrination in resentment is so vast and intricate as to be un-measurable: modern man has been trained in victimology, and lives and breathes the ideology of resentment.

Why? Because Leftists are resentful of what they have not rather than grateful for what they do have; and this because they cannot be grateful because gratitude requires an object; a person to whom gratitude is owed; and Leftists (being necessarily and implicitly secular) do not acknowledge anybody to be grateful to.

In theory, Leftists are supposed to be grateful to abstractions such as The State, The Proletariat, The Party, The People or whatever. In practice, this is meaningless nonsense. So Leftists are not grateful but resentful.


And resentment - with its companions and consequences of pride-full hatred alternating with submissive despair - is the characteristic affect of modern political and public life.

No matter how much people have, no matter how comfortable and convenient are their lives, modern man feels entitled to more. Leftism is the public summation of millions of personal grudges and entitlements into the demand for ever more rights


The industrial revolution has come, and it will surely go, and the social leadership and the mass majority of people they have indoctrinated will never realize what hit them or what really happened. They have resented the industrial revolution, especially the good things it produced (life, rather than death), and they will resent - even more - the end of the industrial revolution.

Once established and inculcated, resentment is insatiable - it consumes all experience and evidence. Long ago, Britain made the wrong interpretation and the wrong choice, and Britain taught it to the world.

And this is what must be repented, individually and collectively. And it ought to start in Britain, since that is where The Great Misinterpretation began.


Britain was where the cancer of Leftism began, Britain is where it should first be ended. 

However, I see no sign of this at all - indeed quite the opposite, as the tone and content of public discourse relating to the recent referendum on Scottish independence showed. Nonetheless, that is what should happen.

But this cannot happen without first a Christian revival - positive reform is on-the-other-side-of repentance: we must start with repentance of Leftism (must start with repentance) - including Leftism's deepest roots in anti-Christianity. 

Because if gratitude is to replace resentment - and gratitude can only be accorded to a person, and no human person is an appropriate recipient of gratitude - then gratitude can only in practice and legitimately be to God.

And the British have locked-out God, and barricaded the door against Him.



Smythe said...

I guess if you define poverty as narrowly as the ability to have *proportionally* more of your offspring survive until adulthood, then yes, you are correct that the industrial revolution was a boon to the poor.

However, the reformation followed by industrial revolution, resulted in landed peasants who worked in the fresh outdoors, lived amongst a meaningful community, and produced their own food having all that destroyed. They were left as rootless, alienated, living in squalid slums and dependent on the capitalist for their meagre wages.

So yes, maybe more of their children survived but there was a terrible physical and spiritual impoverishment and only a saint would have been able to prevent himself from feeling resentful.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Smythe - I was simply assuming that life is better than death.

Anyone who disagreed with this preference had recourse to death.

Of course, if the debate takes for granted life, and moves onto quality of that life - perhaps to the average quality of that life in a world where many live who would otherwise have been dead... well, I agree that matters then become much less clear.

"if you define poverty as narrowly as the ability to have *proportionally* more of your offspring survive until adulthood, "

Actually, on average zero offspring would have survived before the industrial revolution for many poor people - so it would be more accurate to make the definition something more like 'the ability to have more than two offspring survive until adulthood (instead of none), and for each of them then to have more than two offspring'.

Bruce B. said...

This was an excellent post. One of your best. You did a good job explaining the relationship of the victim mentality to leftism.
I agree that the American use of “liberal” is inaccurate (and too flattering when applied to leftists). The closest thing to a “liberal” in America is a libertarian. I think what we call “liberal” is a hybrid of liberalism and leftism. The old leftists didn’t care much about individual autonomy/liberation. The new leftists do but, of course, they’re still preoccupied with victimology & egalitarianism too. So I prefer the term “left-liberal.” I think this phrase was first used by American libertarian Murray Rothbard.

Boethius said...

I've got this crazy theory that what really happened was that what we call industrial revolution was actually the amplification of the effects of usury through technology,creating a highly deformed and unnatural economy.

If Britain and Europe had retained the same attitude toward usury that it had during the middle ages would the modern economy be possible?

*The book of revelations suggests that the end times will be a period of increased wealth.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB- Thank you.

@Boethius - Qualified agreement. I think that usury is - like gambling - an evil; but it is not one of the greatest of evils. I believe some degree of usury can be part of a good and Christian society - although not of the very best and highest kinds of Christian society (or instance, I feel sure there is no usury in Heaven).

wrt the industrial revolution, it is clear that usury was necessary but not sufficient to the IR, not was it the proximate trigger. What enabled the IR was (following Greg Clark) the cognitive evolution of Western (initially English) populations such that significant numbers of people began to make frequent and major breakthroughs in key areas of science, farming, technology, engineering, organization etc.

Would this have been held in check by prohibition of usury? I'm not sure - to some extent surely, but how much, I don't know. Not entirely, I feel.

J. B. said...

This is a great post - pulling together many disparate subjects on which you have been writing for some time. Thanks for all your thoughts on these matters.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere between the idea that society has no obligation to the poor and the idea that the poor have no obligation to society there must be some sweet spot where all benefit and God is honored.

Being descended from people who only just escaped starvation in Europe and produced many fine, responsible, productive and upstanding Americans- myself regretfully not among them- I am uncomfortable with the idea that the lower classes are lacking in value. I find Carlyle pretty disturbing.

This attitude makes me a filthy socialist to some of the "neo-reactionaries". And yet I feel loyalty to my people. I won't say such a feeling is always good, but such memories may explain when offered the choice between Darwinian capitalism and socialism, people more often go for socialism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@dl - It seems to be a distinctively modern and secular deficiency to be unable to see any alternative attitude to poverty than pandering or hatred.

But this is not always a problem. Consider William Langland's deeply compassionate and dutiful yet robust and unsentimental attitude to the poor in Pier Plowman of circa 1380. Or more recently, the era of Brigham Young's rule of Utah.

jgress said...

So I think we can say that the Industrial Revolution was disastrous, but the disaster was more spiritual than material. Ability to survive and reproduce was improved, but alienation and resentment worsened.

Am I also right to suspect that an economic system more firmly grounded in Christian values, like Distributism, would result in a materially poorer but spiritually richer society?

dbk_999 said...

The best account of leftism has always seemed to me to come from Eric Voegelin. Voegelin's style of thought is probably too continental/Platonistic to be to your taste, but the general schema is like this:

On the invidual level, the individual's life is always beset with troubles: sickness, old age, labor, war, competition, sexual tensions, boredom, etc. There is always a temptation in fallen man
to believe that some reorganization of society or some other worldly action will abolish these existential evils (as opposed to accepting them and seeking salvation instead).

On the social level, the decline of the Church's influence (and the Sacrum Imperium in general)
led to an over-estimation of man's worldy powers in general, and in particular a deifcation of the
Nation-State as an actor in world affairs. This combined with the existential tensions mentioned
above to create a temptation to abolish the troubles of existence with state power, with Communism
being only the most extreme form.

Voegelin tended to locate the rise of this impulse in embryonic form in Joachim of Fiore and St. Francis, and getting more extreme with the reformation and Puritanism, and coming to full fruition in secular leftism.
Whatever details you could argue with, I think this formulation is unassailable in its general form.

Bruce Charlton said...

@jgress - Economics should happen *within* Christianity. There are probably several or many 'economic systems' which might result.

"materially poorer but spiritually richer society"

This is interesting. As a teen in the 1970s it seemed to clear to almost everyone that the material problem had been solved - poverty had been abolished; and the problem now was 'spiritual'. That was correct.

However, it turned out that 'spiritual' implicitly meant 'anything but Christianity' - and the sexual revolution was where the real spirituality was focused. (Leftism - Old Leftism of the working classes, trade unions, nationalization etc - had very obvioulsy run out of steam, ceased to inspire, and become corrupt.)

The eighties was the decade when the UK and USA turned-away from any serious attempt to refocus, and turned-back to material growth of trinkets and another level of mass media addiction.

But whatever secular cycles and revolutions there may be, they all make things worse because society becomes more and more secular at a deeper and deeper level - until we get to the current situation of alienated hedonistic despair.

The key to a 'good society' is that all social activities should be brought together within Christianity. But the average reality is the opposite - or nearly so.

Bruce Charlton said...

@999 - In explaining Leftism it depends what aspect you are trying to explain. In terms of social organization The Great Schism of circa AD1000 was probably the first event - with the Western church pursuing a more modernist, Leftist line (with the church and state systems more separate and more specialized) that the Eastern 'Orthodox' church This is what I describe in my book Thought Prison (link on the sidebar - now free online).

But other aspects of Leftism are more recent, and its formulation into explicit political groupings of socialism, communism etc was a 19th century phenomenon (of course there were earlier, partial, transitional forms).

But Leftism is not the opposite of Christianity, any more than modern secular Right Wing politics is compatible with Christianity.

As 'dl' indicated above, the 'good' is spread across both secular right and left - and so is evil; so that both contain some good elements, but both will tend to harm Christianity and take society further away from God and deeper into wickedness - but of different types.

jgress said...

@Bruce Charlton:

I absolutely agree that any economic policy cannot be successfully pursued outside a Christian context, nor for that matter any other kind of policy. I suppose my point was more that we should not expect a return to a Christian society to result in greater material welfare. We may well have to work harder to stay alive, but the pay-off would be greater sense of community and spiritual fulfillment.

I think many Catholics and some Orthodox believe in Distributism on the grounds that any society grounded solely in Capitalist or Socialist principles will inevitably deviate from the teachings of the faith. In other words, both the free market and central government need some limits if society is to remain Christian. A truly Christian economic system may well incorporate elements of capitalist or socialist systems, but it could not be a pure case of either.

Bruce Charlton said...

@jgress - Distributism seems like a one size fits all kind of thing. I don't see why independent smallholders are a more Christian kind of society than any other.

I find economics bewildering. In Britain hardly anybody works - both in the sense that hardly anybody has a significant job but also that hardly anybody is doing something useful. And among those who do something useful - even fewer are productive of useful things.

And on the other side lots of the best paid jobs and most prestigious are actively and significantly damaging - many of them are dedicated to preventing the few people who do something useful from actually doing it - but making them instead fill in forms, attend meetings, perform PC and legalistic rituals instead of working.

It is an anti-economy, not an economy - work is done *despite* the economy.