<html><head /> <body> <META http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-16"><title>When Britannia Ruled ... by Industry</title><meta name="keywords" content="change,China,ching,david,economic,economics,europe,evolution,great,history,kingdom,landes,ming,poverty,quote,technology,uk,united,wealth,whig,industrial,revolution,britain,"><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; " align="center" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td style="background-color:silver; border-color:white; border-left-style:none; border-style:none; " width="730"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:larger; ">When Britannia Ruled ... by Industry</span></td> </tr> <tr> </tr> </tbody></table><br><table style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:medium; " align="center" bgcolor="white" border="0" width="50%"><tbody><tr> <td height="131" width="669"><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small;"><strong>Editors Introduction</strong></span> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The Industrial Revolution was a transformative point in human history. It led to rapid advancements in productivity, lower prices and higher standards of living. More significantly, it led to an extension of power over nonindustrialised parts of the world.</span> <p><img src="1367_intro_landes.gif" WIDTH="95" HEIGHT="130" ALT="David Landes" valign="top" align="right"> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">David Landes (right) discusses Great Britain's role as the instigator of the Industrial Revolution. He states, "The world was divided between one front runner and the highly diverse array of pursuers," and suggests that it took European follower countries over a century to catch up. For Landes, the correct economic, cultural and technical circumstances meant that the Industrial Revolution could only ever have happened in Britain.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In my book, <I>The Wealth and Poverty of Nations</I>, I have as the epigraph to one chapter a citation from William Macauley which states very succinctly the Whiggish point of view of material progress in Britain or in England:</span><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; "><blockquote>"If we were to prophecy that in the year 1930, this was written 1830, if we were to prophecy that in the year 1930 a population of 50 million better fed, clad and lodged than the English of our time will cover these islands, that Sussex and Huntingdonshire will be wealthier than the wealthiest parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire now are, that machines constructed on principles yet undiscovered will be in every house, many people would think us insane."</blockquote></span> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">And that was the Whiggish point of view, a history of material progress, and it's essentially, as Macauley treats it, an English story. He's interested in England, but the historian who tries to look at all of Europe, or the whole world, might still want to treat this as primarily a British story. A story of a Protestant civil society, a monarchy, ridden with all kinds of prejudices, but nevertheless very much committed to the identity, rights and status of each member of the society. A society that had long played a leading role in scientific achievement, a society that could look back on an extraordinary succession of inventions which had made possible a new mode of production that had given rise to what was soon to be called the Industrial Revolution.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">This society, which 20 years later was seen as the workshop of the world, which held the Great Exhibition of 1851 and which was the ancestor of all other industrial societies. Now, I don't mean that these other industrial societies did not make their own contributions, because I firmly believe that to succeed in creating a new form of production requires a great deal of effort from within, as well as learning from without.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In the book I say that when I was a student, I learned that Homo sapiens is an animal species of single origin. All humans today of whatever colour or size are descended from a common ancestor. Well, the same, I write, is true of the species industrial society. All examples, however different, are descended from the common British predecessor, and this Industrial Revolution changed the world and the relations of nations and states to one another.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">For reasons of power, if not of wealth, the goals and tasks of political economy were transformed. The world was now divided between one front-runner and the highly diverse array of pursuers. It took the quickest of the European follower countries something more than a century to catch up.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Now, along with this went an enhancement of British power and the spread of British rule. There were some setbacks. We in the United States have always paid a lot of attention to the American Revolution. I don't think you call it that in the UK, but in a way this is further evidence of British achievement. I mean, what better evidence is there that Britain produced an extension of itself that was able to cast off the rule of its creator? Everything, except for that American story, was a tale of growth, success and wealth. Not until the end of the nineteenth century do we see troubling signs of loss of leadership.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">And this, of course, gave rise then to a great debate as to whether Britain was losing ground. At that time rational economists argued that Britain was, in fact, not losing ground but making the right choices. Then subsequent generations of economists, particularly quantitative economists, have argued that the only reason Britain seemed to be losing ground was that other countries had better choices to make. Everyone was at bottom rational, and some rational people had more to work with than others did.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">This is a kind of orthodoxy, and it has been much shaken in our own time. I'd like to cite a number of the novelties and heterodoxies that have appeared in recent years. For example, there is W.D. Rubenstein, a student of British wealth and the author of <I>Capitalism, Culture and Decline in Britain 1750/1990</I>. He argues that Britain was never really the great industrial society it has been presented as. British industrialists have rarely made dynasties, and this was fundamentally a society of landed wealth, followed by a growing addition of the financial magnets who made their fortunes in banking and then went and bought land and joined the ruling elite.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">There's much to be said for this argument, but I must say that all of this doesn't change the fact that the increase in British wealth was largely based on the increase in output and productivity of manufacturers. I'll get back to that point. It's one dissent.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">A second dissent--you're all familiar with this one: "People have made too much fuss about the Industrial Revolution. It wasn't all that important, it wasn't that revolutionary." My friend and colleague Joel Mokyr prefers the term "Industrial Evolution." He argues that evolution can also include sudden rapid changes. Well, that way you have both the rapidity of revolution and the progressive gradual aspect of change and development. This point of view both reflects and has encouraged the cliometricians to revise the rates of growth of the so-called Industrial Revolution downward, to blur the changes in rate, to make the presence of a break disappear.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">This has been a sharp departure from earlier orthodoxy, the sort of thing that was written by people like the old Toynbee, or the English scholar Cunningham, or T.S. Ashton and others. This tendency to erode the revolutionary aspect has found many new adherents among cliometricians and would-be cliometricians.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I think of an old friend, Rondo Cameron, who used to go to every meeting and whatever the topic, whatever the theme, he'd say, "I've come here to denounce the term 'Industrial Revolution.'" People feel strongly about this sort of thing, and I've noticed that a number of textbooks now write "Industrial Revolution" with a question mark. Should we use that term? Yes, we better use that term, because it's a term everybody understands, but do we have a right to use it? So that's a second area of dissent and denunciation of received wisdom.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">A third objection that I've been struck by is the fact that some people feel that this emphasis on the Industrial Revolution is too much emphasis on Britain. It was, after all, in its origins and in its initial development primarily British. But the British way was not the only way to industrialise. There were other ways to skin a cat and other ways to industrialise.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In this regard I think of a book that's often overlooked but was terribly important when I was a student. I'm talking about J.H. Clapham's <I>Economic Development of France and Germany</I>. We were all required to read that. I don't know how many people read it now. This book was absolutely clear about the fact that these two countries followed different paths--that the Germans did have an industrial revolution, but the French had something more like industrial evolution. My friend Joe Mokyr could have made hay with that early and distinguished predecessor, or the later work of Alexander Gerschenkron on backwardness, the problem of overcoming backwardness. His primary message was that latecomers will industrialise differently from their predecessors. This is not only because things have changed but also because the very fact of lateness is going to require efforts and choices of technology which would not be the same for the earlier developers.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">To say these things doesn't necessarily mean that if it had not occurred in Britain the Industrial Revolution would have occurred somewhere else. I mean why not the European Continent, or conceivably Japan?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">There were people who said as much, that the Industrial Revolution might have occurred elsewhere and earlier. For instance, I think of John Hicks, who wrote that there could have been an industrial revolution in fifteenth-century Florence, if only Florence had had water. Actually there is water and they would have found ways to use it, but to me at least it's clear they were a long way from an industrial revolution.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">My former colleague Carlo Cipolla said, "Iron and coal are much more than cotton. You could have had an industrial revolution without Messrs Crompton and Arkwright, but you couldn't have had one without the steam engine and the new ways of turning pig iron into wrought iron and eventually steel." Well that's a point of view that reflects a long-established special prestige of power and hard goods. There are economic historians who feel that nothing of that kind of thing really matters. I would cite Gerschenkron again, who was convinced that catch-up would occur primarily in heavy industry. He argued that that's where the big gains would be made.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">In tsarist Russia, they were making blast furnaces bigger than anything known in Western Europe. The Russians had this obsession with heavy industry as the essence of a modern industrial society. It is certainly true that that was the position of the Soviet regime, which felt that textiles are fine, all that stuff is fine, but what really matters is iron and steel.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">That's the sort of thing that suggests that if it hadn't been Britain, someone else would have played this role. As a matter of fact, my recollection of the book by Patrick O'Brien and Sharla Keyder, <I>Economic Growth in Britain and France</I>, was the stress on alternative growth possibilities. O'Brien and Keyder are different from the heavy-industry school. They think that a country like France, stressing light industry and more luxurious products, would have had an industrial revolution without the British precedent.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">That brings me to my next modification or dissent, the feeling of some historians that all this fuss about the Industrial Revolution puts too much emphasis on Europe. Many economists and social scientists feel that if Europe had not done it, it would have happened elsewhere. I think of a sociologist who teaches at the University of Washington in Seattle, Daniel Chirot. He writes, "If Ming and Ching China had been fragmented instead of ecumenical units, if they had the competition that Europe knew among different political units, kingdoms, duchies and what have you, they would have had an industrial revolution." Now, Ming ends in the sixteenth century. Ching comes in then and continued into the twentieth century. It would have happened in China and I think most economists would argue along those lines.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">One of the things that I've been most criticised for is presenting this as a European story to begin with. Europe is the motor of economic development in the millennium that will very soon end. It hasn't ended yet. I've been criticised not only for saying that but also for saying that there were special characteristics of Europe that account for this European role.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">That is the way I see the story, and in particular I do not see Ming and Ching China accomplishing an industrial revolution if the Europeans had not done it. Not only because China itself slowed down and stopped inventing. It was one of the most prolifically inventive societies, but it more or less stopped for reasons that have still to be fully explored. What made things even worse was that when they came into contact with Westerners, Europeans with new things and new ways, they didn't take advantage of the opportunity to learn.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">That's one of the most important aspects of economic history, just as it is an aspect of education and teaching and personal relations. The world has its good learners and its bad. Any teacher knows that. There are students who learn well and quickly and others who don't. Why is another matter. Similarly there are societies that learn well and quickly and others that don't. Chinese society was a bad learner. A bad learner.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Why was China a bad learner? Because they knew they were more civilised than anybody else and so they were the kingdom in the middle surrounded by barbarians. They said as much. They weren't embarrassed to say it. No one told them about political correctness. The world was made up of civilised Chinese and barbarians. It was, therefore, very hard for them to adopt European technologies, because such adoption entailed an admission that somehow the barbarians could do some things that they couldn't do. An admission that the Chinese knew things that they didn't know. In fact, there were barbarians who made a point of this. Who said, "They should understand that we have a superior civilisation and they should learn from our example." Well, you can't say that sort of thing and expect to encourage an intellectual hospitality.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The Chinese did adopt certain branches of European knowledge which they found particularly useful in astronomical calculations, because in their system these astronomical calculations were useful in determining all kinds of decisions by the emperor and his court. They did that and there were some objects that they accepted eagerly, like clocks and watches, which astonished them.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">So they were quick to acquire these things, but only for the limited few in the court, and they never really learnt to make them themselves. They did try to learn, and there were shops set up, but they were a poor imitation of the European product, and part of the problem is that they were unwilling to admit that this was a very useful object for practical reasons. They almost glorified this object as a most wonderful toy, but they didn't understand its power, its social power.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">So, why don't the Chinese learn? I think the answer is as above. I have to say in fairness that there are some scholars who don't agree with me on this, among others Joanna Waley-Cohen, who has worked on Chinese armaments and thinks it's wonderful that they made guns in the seventeenth century that they were still using in the nineteenth. She does say that the Chinese were, in fact, eager to learn but had to pretend not to.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">One final dissent that has come to my attention very recently: There is a historian named Norman Davies who has written on the history of Poland and has taught in England, the United States and I think is now in Australia. He's done a book called <I>The Isles: A History</I>. The isles are what we think of when we talk of the British Isles. It's a very large and ambitious book, about 1,600 pages. As one reviewer said, "Don't take it to bed, you might hurt yourself."</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">This book argues that Britain did everything wrong. Britain lost heavily when it broke with Catholic Rome; it made the mistake of adopting a kind of Protestant triumphalism and glorifying the defeat of the Armada. In doing this it cut itself off from Continental Europe. Only now, with the European Union, will Britain have a chance to remedy 400 to 500 years of error.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">You see that is the Whiggish view of history turned on its head. The Whiggish view of British history as one of a sequence or a series of successful choices, of happy outcomes. Britain impoverished itself, separated itself from what could have been a whole world of fellow nations on the Continent, and maybe now only with the European Union we'll see these things corrected.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Now a question arises: What's left after these various dissents? I don't have to tell you that one of the purposes of dissent is to attract attention, to get an appointment, to get a promotion. I mean, very few people gain much by simply confirming the opinions of their ancestors. Now, we must be contrary, and this is clearly an area which has encouraged a great deal of contrarian writing. I know that many of you here are saying, "This man doesn't know what he's saying." What's left?</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">What's left are the troublesome facts of British preeminence and dominance over a period of centuries. We may be talking about a very small island you see off the western coast of Eurasia, but this little island can credit itself with the repulse of Spain, which was in its day the richest, most powerful nation in Europe and maybe the world. This was certainly what upset the Japanese when they met their first Spanish visitors. It just never occurred to them, because they thought of themselves as destined to run the world, to have people who would come from far away and talk to them in that tone. Anyway, the British repulsed the Spanish.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">They found themselves confronted with competition from the Low Countries, where the Dutch had themselves driven out the Spanish and established themselves as a separate nation. They defeated the Dutch, they inflicted naval defeats on them, they succeeded in imposing their navigation acts on the biggest commercial nation in Europe. They even made a success of the glorious revolution which was the Dutch invasion, and they managed to turn it to British advantage. The British often would say, "These islands have never been invaded since William in the eleventh century." Well, the Dutch invasion of the late seventeenth century was an invasion. They did so well in this contest with Holland that, when during the Napoleonic period the British conquered the Dutch possessions in Indonesia, they actually turned them back to the Dutch when they had the opportunity. I don't know of many historical instances of this kind of conquest and then voluntary return. The only thing they didn't return because they were very smart was Cape Town, the Cape Colony. So this is a triumph over their big Dutch rival. Of course, their biggest rival was France. This was a rivalry that went back hundreds of years and which the French still nourish and cherish.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Not only the French, but the French particularly, because you don't forget Agincourt easily. You don't forget Joan of Arc easily and you don't forget Napoleon easily. They're convinced the British won't change the name of Waterloo Station just to spite them, right! So this is the sort of thing that reflects once again on British success. We know, of course, that when it was necessary the British were in a position to act as paymasters to Continental coalitions.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">At one level, then, what are we talking about? We're talking about ships, of course. The British did much of what they did because they had the most effective navy in the world for a period of some centuries. Of course, when you talk about ships, you're talking about money. Where did the ships come from and where did the money come from? They came from a strong and growing economy, and whence this strength and this growth? Well, of course, agriculture mattered, in particular the production of raw material for industry, and so wool was a big part of the story. Capital mattered, the accumulation of wealth in a society in which there was not only wealth but the ability to move among different social orders to a degree that was not true elsewhere. A society that was very successful in persuading others to send money to Britain, but above all the heart of the matter was industry.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Now, I must make the point that this emphasis on industry and the Industrial Revolution, this is not something that chauvinists cooked up by way of enhancing self-esteem, it wasn't something that the British said to make themselves feel better. You know, you do have cases like that, and the world is full of nations which pride themselves in things that only they understand. That's a very common thing, and you can understand it psychologically, but that wasn't the case with the Brits.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">No, all you have to do is look at the efforts that outsiders were making to discover British secrets in the eighteenth century to realise that all the others knew the score. They knew that the British had gone ahead, had surpassed them, were getting richer, could do things they couldn't do. They began to send people over, spies, people of the most respectable family background, people who came over as friends with the thought they would get into this factory or that factory. All of this reflected an awareness by the Europeans, I'm speaking of the Continentals, of the late eighteenth, early nineteenth centuries, that they had somehow to learn to do these things or they would be left hopelessly behind not only in wealth but in power, that if they intended to compete with the British in these matters, they had to learn to do what the British were doing.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">There is a huge contrast between what was going on in Europe, what was possible in Europe and what was happening in Asia. I can't stress too much that, with the possible exception of Japan, I don't see industrial revolutions taking place in Asia--not then, not later, not until the British had done it and shown the way.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Now, why do I say that? I say that in the face of what most of my fellow economic historians would say and my fellow economists. Why? Because Europe really took a different path. It took a different path that separated it from what was happening in the so-called "Aristocratic Empires" of Asia, these empires with the small ruling class, the great mass of subjects to be exploited at will to the limit of the possibilities of exploitation.</span><br> <br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">That kind of thing meant that although Asia was not incapable of generating wealth, it was incapable of changing the mould of getting rich and creating wealth. These were commercial empires when they got past mere sustenance. These were people who got rich by trade, and that's a very different story from getting rich by industry. Among other things, luck plays a much bigger role in trade than in industry. To make it in industry, you have to be tenacious, patient, hardworking and preferably humourless. You really can't afford to enjoy life, because you're there to do something serious.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">This was the sort of thing that the Europeans learned to do. This was the sort of thing the Northern Europeans in particular learned to do, and it made all the difference. It was the basis of a slow but massive accumulation of wealth and, with it, a constant stress on new ways of doing things, big rewards to technical innovation. This was the kind of thing that made all the difference.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">So, on the one hand you have Europe and Britain as the leader. On the other hand, you have China and Islam. It's not that they don't have industries; they do have industries, but essentially the industries work the way they always worked. They're still using the same technologies that their ancestors knew. Now you can tell me, as I've heard from various Sinologs or Sinophiles, that they had new ways of doing things. There was that new clock, there was a design for a linen-spinning device, but they never used it.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">The thing that's most striking about these other societies is that they apparently forgot things. The thing that's most striking about the European story is that they don't forget. Once the knowledge is gained, there's someone there who's going to use it. He goes to someone else who's going to use it, so there are very few of these breaks in the way of doing things. All this, in spite of the fact that artisans often did their best to keep things secret. But as far as we know, once gained, always gotten, but that's not true in China. There are these big gaps in China.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">I talk in my book about a young man who made it his business to find out something about what his ancestors had done. He called them pebbles in the pearl river, because they were like a kind of sediment and he dug it up and so on. A lot of the work has been done by Western scholars, but that's a very different intellectual environment from what prevailed in Europe.</span><br> <br> <span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; ">Why is Europe able to do this? Why is Britain able to do this? Well, because of this whole business of nationalities and competition and identity which made all the difference in the way people were treated. If you didn't treat the people well, they'd go somewhere else. Much of Britain's success comes from immigrants bringing secrets with them. All of this is the sort of thing that was unknown in East Asia, and that's why Daniel Chirot said, "If only they had been fragmented, they could have had an industrial revolution." To this I would say that some people have a sense of themselves as part of a larger whole and some people have the sense of themselves as different from other people.</span><br><br><span style="font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; font-style:italic; ">This story is developed from a lecture given by David Landes at the London School of Economics and Political Science on May 10, 2000. Copyright The London School of Economics and Political Science.</span></td> </tr> </tbody></table> </body></html>