chapter  3
24 Pages

The industrial revolution: a threat or a promise?

The long 19th century – starting with the wars stirred up by the forces of the French revolution and ending with the killings in Sarajevo – has often been depicted as en era of the spread of bourgeois values, technological progress and increasing economic prosperity. At least in some countries we can find a gradual dissemination of cheap government and de-regulation of an authoritarian and dirigiste state. This picture can sometimes be difficult to combine with an alternative one, which emphasizes the role of great revolutions, wars and colonialism during this century. Also the picture of the industrial revolution taking place during this period is extremely mixed. On one hand, the industrial revolution and economic transformation is sometimes described in the form of a peaceful conquest propelled by technological progress and the opening up of markets. Such a narrative emphasizes the peaceful migration of innovations across national borders, the spread of new industries from region to region in several powerful waves, a widening but also a deepening of markets and, as a result, increasing per capita income almost everywhere. Largely in accordance with such a view Sidney Pollard some thirty years ago emphasized the regional character of the industrial revolution – crossing the borders of old national states. Hence a previous historiography of the industrial revolution using the geographical borders of national states as a point of departure was flawed, in his view. Within countries, as well, there were great differences in the level and structure of industrial growth.1 Without doubt such a view is difficult to reconcile with another, which continues to emphasize the role of the state and the national framework of the industrial revolution(s) taking place in Europe during the 19th century. For example Michael Mann insists that:

Thus by the time of the Industrial Revolution, Capitalism was already contained within a system of geo-political states, whose relations constituted an unstable mixture of trade and warfare, neither of which were indeed seen as being mutually exclusive by the powers. Transnational organizations, except in the field of banking, had almost disappeared. Economic interaction was largely confined within national markets, supported by impersonal dominions. Each geo-political state approximated

to a self-contained economic system. International economic relations were significantly meditated by states.2