On how the English revolutionary ideology of improvement took its time

During a recent conversation that Patrick Crozier and I recorded (although as always Patrick did all the button-pushing and editing), about how the Industrial Revolution came about, Patrick asked a question that I didn’t answer at the time but which I think I can now answer, at least in broad brush strokes.

My thesis was and is that the Industrial Revolution was and is the English Revolution. It was an ideological event, sparked by mass literacy, just as the French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions were. (See all my Emmanuel Todd postings.) Patrick pointed out that, unlike those three very political revolutions, the English Revolution, if that’s what it was, sure took its time to mutate into the Industrial Revolution. The political bit of the English Revolution happened in the seventeenth century, but the big impact of the industrial bit of the English Revolution didn’t achieve lift-off until late in the eighteenth century.

At the time, I just said yes, hm, I’ll have to think about that. But now I have, and I think the answer is not that difficult to supply.

The three very political revolutions were successful, not in the sense they accomplished much that was good, but in the lesser sense that they did at least achieve political dominance, after which they did their best to improve things but ended up doing mostly their worst. They were all very destructive in their impact. And this all happened very quickly. Destruction and catastrophe doesn’t take very long to happen.

But the English Revolution stalled politically. The political bit of it ended in a draw, with the old monarchical and aristocratic institutions changing quite radically, but not being destroyed. And so, having failed to make the big breakthrough in the manner of the French, Russian and Chinese ideological breakthroughs, the English Revolution turned its attention to peaceful progress. To “improvement”, to use the word the English ideologists themselves used.

And, improvement takes time. As the English eighteenth century unfolded, presided over by a rather contentious and corrupt mixture of aristocrats and well-connected capitalists, the ideologists of improvement started to achieve actual improvements, step by inventive step. They were creative rather than destructive, and creativity takes time. I say “started”, but in truth they merely somewhat accelerated a process of step-by-step invention and innovation that had already got under way.

And that’s my answer, for the time being. Destruction happens quickly, and the quicker it happens the more it “succeeds”. Creativity, aka actual improvement, takes far longer.

This ideology of improvement spread, way beyond England, first to America, and subsequently to the whole then Germany, and now everyone. And the world outside Britain and America realised they couldn’t beat the damn Anglos with only their own atavistic and destructive methods, adorned by mere political rhetoric. To hold their own against the Anglosphere, they realised that they would have to copy it. So, they did. And the English ideology of constant improvement now rules the world. We now all live, with ever greater ease and comfort and contentment, in that world.

The English Revolution is, on the whole, not understood by modern educated people. Insofar as the typical Educated Modern has a theory of how all this happened, it is that the English achieved their industrial revolution pretty much by accident. In other words it wasn’t a “revolution” at all, because there were no revolutionaries in the usual sense. Selfish go-getters achieved a mass economic breakthrough that was neither anticipated nor even wanted in each of their individual, selfish little plans. Adam Smith, basically. But the English Revolution, which was and is the global industrial revolution, was an ideological event as well as a merely economic event. Modern educated people cannot see this, because that would involve realising that here was a gang of starry-eyed ideologists and idealists and altruists, with a radical and ludicrously optimistic plan for transforming the lives of all humans everywhere for the better, making omelettes and breaking eggs with relentless single-mindedness. And their plan ended up being triumphantly, fabulously, world transformingly successful. Educated Moderns just don’t have a mental box in which to place events like this. Ideologists always fail, always cause havoc. Even most ideologists nowadays proclaim that their alleged creative miracles, in the radiant future that they proclaim, must be preceded by a phase of destructiveness, during which they destroy all the human barriers to their vision, and of course the rest of us assume that this is all that they will ever accomplish.

But the English Revolution was not like that. It was a Revolution, but a Revolution which only began by being destructive. That part of it failed, in that the political regime that it tried to overthrow was merely modified somewhat. So instead, the English Revolution turned its collective mind towards creativity, and in that it succeeded, beyond its wildest dreams.

To any commenters who want to say it, let me say it first. I know that I haven’t proved, or even really argued, the above proclamation. I have simply proclaimed it. But although I haven’t proved it, I am nevertheless right about all this.

Patrick and I finally did our Industrial Revolution podcast

In this posting here just over a week ago, I showed you all a pile of books, and said that if all went well I’d be recording a conversation with Patrick Crozier in which I’d speak about these books (plus the writings of Anton Howes). I had in mind how each writer provided a piece in the puzzle of how the Industrial Revolution came about, and that I was going to fit all these pieces together. Mass literacy, ideology, revolution, both political and industrial.

Well, last week, Patrick and I finally did manage to record this discussion, which was mostly a monologue by me with occasional queries from Patrick, and now you can listen to it, and read Patrick’s commentary and notes with more links, by going here.

The recording was a definite success in one way, which is that my voice functioned really well, better than I thought, about one month ago, that it ever would again.

The heart of my claim is that the Industrial Revolution had a lot more in common with the “other” revolutions, in places like France, Russia and China than is now usually supposed, in the following sense: The Industrial Revolution was also an ideological event. It happened because starry-eyed ideologists had a glorious plan for the betterment of mankind. Very long story very short: The plan worked, magnificently. But this is not a story which intelligent and educated people nowadays can compute. Revolution equals blood, chaos and a world that is the opposite of what the starry-eyed ideologists said it would be. What most educated people now seem to believe is that the Industrial Revolution happened by mistake, when selfish go-getters pursuing only the narrowest idea of their own selfish interests happened to have a huge but unintended collective consequence. I say that industrial improvement, even if not exactly the “revolution” that happened, was deliberate.

Between them, the writers I assembled and talked about explained all this, although it takes me to fit the various pieces of the story together, to tell it in full. Said he modestly.

And so on and forth, for over an hour. When this unbalanced “conversation” ended, I was disappointed, because of what I hadn’t managed to say. Basically I outlined a theory, but the way I told it, it was severely lacking in illustrative detail, as Patrick’s questions forced me to acknowledge. But listening again this afternoon, I was comforted by the fact that although that criticism stands, I did at least say some interesting things. I didn’t illustrate them, still less go any way towards proving them. But at least I said them, as best I could. Which is to say, I tried to.

LATER: I can’t make the comments system at Croziervision work, so I will have to put my embarrassing apology for saying that John Lilburne was executed here instead. I’m embarrassed. Sorry.

My problem was that I read all the books in the pile quite a while ago, remembered the broad outlines that I concluded from them and forgot most of the illustrative details and backup evidence. In this respect the delay doing this was unhelpful. I hope to be writing out, for Samizdata, the thesis I merely presented in this podcast and will then at least try to allude to rather more evidence than I did in this. But I promise nothing.

Dan Hannan in Australia

Two years ago, which explains the non-up-to-date political references to such things as Brexit, Dan Hannan did a talk in Australia. I found my way to this talk via the Hannan website, and watching this short interview of Hannan by Marc Sidwell (Sidwell is a friend of mine but I’d not clocked this interview until now), and then at the end of that being recommended to attend to this CIS hosted talk in Australia, done, as I say, a couple of years ago, which goes on for a lot longer:

Hannan didn’t talk about the then President Trump in his main speech (which lasts a bit under 40 minutes), but he did during the Q&A. And on the Trump matter, Hannan sat resolutely on the fence. He regarded Trump as “unfit for office”, because a liar about his fornication, his taxes, and just generally, and he welcomed the good liberalising things that Trump has done, but he denounced the public spending spree that Trump presided over and encouraged. He regards the kind of tribalism that is totally pro- or totally anti-Trump as the problem. Transcending tribalism being the whole secret of “western civilisation”.

I take the point about tribalism, but I wonder if Trump could have done his good stuff, both domestically and abroad, without all those character flaws of his. His boorish manner is all mixed up with the fact that he didn’t waste any time trying to suck up to his opponents, the way rival Republicans always tend to do in the vain search for their admiration. Trump was effective because “uncivilised”.

On the broader subject of “western civilisation”, Hannan can’t help attributing the success of what PJ O’Rourke called “that fine trend in human affairs” to his own Anglosphere tribe. The Anglosphere tribe is, he seems to be saying, the anti-tribal tribe.

And I think I agree.

A 1950s YouTube video about cricket

Still gummed-up. Just too many things open, I assume.

One particular gummer-upper is leaving YouTube Videos open and paused.

Like this short bit of film (a bit over a quarter of an hour long) done in 1950 by the British Council about cricket and its magically universal, quasi-religious appeal. GodDaughter2’s Dad sent me the link to this many weeks ago, and I started watching, cringed a bit, but then, still determined to force myself to watch it all, in all its post-WW2, pre-Sixties non-glory, I kept the thing paused and open, until now.

In 1950 everyone English loved cricket, and assembled in suits at Lord’s to watch or, if they were a member of the miserable majority for whom that was impossible, no matter. All civilised or would-be civilised people, everywhere on earth, could listen to the cricket on the radio, thanks to John Arlott and his posh colleagues. Arlott himself spoke a bit un-posh, which meant that everyone could love cricket. Although of course, you were, then, ideally English-posh, you didn’t have to be English-posh. You merely had to aspire to that happy state, and who on earth, in 1950, did not do that? Then? Nobody. Look, even people in turbans could play or attend to cricket, no matter what their colour or their creed, or how amusingly and wrongly they spoke English, i.e. in the opposite way to the way other-narrator (besides Arlott) Ralph Richardson spoke English. You could be an Or-stralian, non-posh, even non-white and non-Christian and talk English like a music hall joke character covered in black make-up, and still be part of cricket. Cricket was ultra-inclusive.

There follow a string of comments to the effect that the world is crap now compared to what it was in the 1950s. (I dissent. For starters, I can now have a blog. Nobody could have a blog in 1950. Also, I enjoy T20 cricket as well as the day-after-day-after-day version of cricket which was all they had back in 1950.)

It all makes a fascinating contrast to the equivalent efforts now being made to make cricket really, properly inclusive, in the form of pieces of writings like this, by ESPN’s Daniel Brettig, about all the micro-aggressions that non-white cricket people still have to put up with these days, but really, really should not have to.

Why I now focus on American politics rather that British politics

If, when I choose to bang on about politics here, I further choose to bang on about the USA’s presidential election now, rather than about British political matters now, well, that’s because there’s so much more at stake over there just now. Here in Britain, our Corbyn moment came, and went. Corbyn threatened to turn us into Venezuela, but then we voters sent him packing. Would a Starmerian Labour British government be that much more of a disaster than how the Boris Johnson regime is turning out? Hardly. So here, we’re now back to a world where they’re all as bad as each other, approximately speaking. I would still prefer Labour to lose every forthcoming election ever, but Labour in their current state, winning? I could live with that, as could many others of my inclination.

But in the USA everything is still to play for, for as long as the Democrats remain in thrall to their lunatic fringe of Woke-fascist wreckers of everything civilised. I have long hoped, and am actually now starting very tentatively to even think, that Kamala/Biden will get such a thrashing in the election now under way that the Democrats may then decide to mend their ways, much as Starmer is now mending the ways of Labour. But it has to be a thrashing. A modified dead heat like last time won’t suffice. A lot of normals must change their minds in a way that the Democrats won’t be able to ignore. That happened in the recent election in Britain, and it changed everything.

The above paragraphs began life as the intro to something more specific about the US elections, but that didn’t work out. Also, I am off to the laundrette. More later, I hope.

Meanwhile, I did enjoy this.

The rise of global political parties?

I see that Brazil’s President Bolsonoro has been having a go at what Joe Biden said in the US Presidential debate, about Brazil and its rain forests and what he, Joe Biden, was going to do about them.

I am antique enough to remember when only Bolsheviks would plunge into what were then called “the internal affairs” of foreign countries. I suppose the EU was a big old exception to that rule, but that was only in a rather abstract and windy sort of way. Trouble is, modern communications, and I don’t just mean the internet although that is certainly part of this story, make such self-control ever more impossible. Thanks to the electric telegraph, and now its big bully of an offspring, the internet, it is the work of a moment to become acquainted with an argument in a far away country, and now, no matter who you are, you can join in. So, the idea that nobody should is doomed. Gonna happen. Just pick up a phone and start mouthing off to some foreign journo, and if you’re anyone at all big in the cheese department, they print it, or something related to it. Or, just say something about a foreign country shindig in one of your public performances, and those foreigners will maybe pick up on it anyway. Now, just sit down at your keyboard and bang away.

Communists, as I say, have been doing this ever since they got started in the middle of the century before last, during the first few years after the electric telegraph got started (Samuel Morse – 1844). Said the communists, contemplating this latest technological wonder: Workers (which was almost everyone in those days) of the World Unite! And from them on, whether in office or merely trying to be powerful, in public, in private and in the strictest secrecy, they interfered as much as they could in the internal affairs of other countries and they gloried in it. I mean, that was the whole idea.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, however, the world did not abandon nationalism. Quite the reverse. As it turned out, the most important customers of those international electric telegraphs were newspapers, who were printing strictly national versions of world events to suit their strictly national readerships, and businessmen, who didn’t much care and who just want to get rich.

So, towards the end of the twentieth century, most politicians were still going through the motions of not being too public in their disagreements or (perhaps more interestingly) their agreements with politicians in faraway countries. Who the people of The Republic of Elsewhere choose as their leaders is a matter for them, and we will work amicably with whoever they choose, for the greater good of mankind. Blah blah. In private it got more heated, but in public that was the etiquette to be followed, and it mostly was.

Maybe it’s only my personal proximity speaking now, but I’d say that the Reagan Thatcher moment was when this hands-off-the-foreigners rule started being seriously put to one side. Those two made no secret of the fact that the warmth of their connection was not just based on him being President of the USA and her being PM of the UK, special relationship, blah blah. No, they downright agreed with each other, and by clear implication, wanted each other to win all their various elections, against other locals, with whom they clearly disagreed. It helped that all this happened within the Anglosphere.

More recently, I recall President Obama making it very clear who and what he wanted to win the British EU referendum. He was told my many of those who did not share his opinion not to interfere in our internal affairs, but given that he wanted to interfere, there was nothing and nobody to stop him.

Now even the Nationalists are at it, forming what is quite clearly a sort of global National International. Trump and Trumpists everywhere (think Nigel Farage) are starting to show up on the same platforms and to be more than usually friendly towards each other. Trump fights for his corner, which is the USA. And he expects other political leaders to do the same for their countries and to be equally upfront about that. And he wishes them well in their elections, against other politicians who have different tastes in such matters.

Trump has also been sceptical about climate change, as has Bolsonaro, which is all part of why, thanks to all those electric telegraphs, the American Left now hates Bolsonaro with a passion and can spend its entire day hating him, should it be inclined. So, Biden having a go at Brazil is popular with a lot of the people whom he wants to be voting for him. And Bolsonaro makes a similar calculation and hits back at Biden.

There’s lots more I could say about all this, as I often like to say when I am about to stop, but one thing worth emphasising is that the old arrangement – keeping one’s hands off of the other fellow’s back yard and him doing the same – was an unstable equilibrium. It worked if everyone did that, near enough. But once any big time politician breaks from this cosy arrangement, the pressure on the others to follow suit is irresistible.

Signs for Trump that passed my LOL test

Found this here:

I don’t know if it’s real or merely computerised. My first guess was the latter, but if so it’s very well done. Either way, this passed the LOL test with me. I really did LOL when I saw it.

This one is definitely a computerised contrivance, but once again, I really did LOL:

This may be a bit out of date. Now that the Dems are starting to fear that the riots are hurting them and helping Trump, they are starting also to disapprove of the riots.

Am I the only Brit finding American politics massively more diverting than British politics just now?

I think it’s because we just saw off Corbyn and Corbynism, for the time being anyway, and as far as Corbynism being in official charge of things is concerned, whereas in America they haven’t yet had their vote on the same approximate subject, but very soon will. This means that the contrast between what is now at stake here and what is now at stake there is far greater even than it usually is.

I think that Trump will beat Biden by a thermonuclear landslide, but that could merely be because I hope that Trump will beat Biden by a thermonuclear landslide.

This taxi-with-advert couldn’t be cropped down to 1000×500

1000×500 is usually the size I crop taxis-with-adverts down to, for display here. Or to put it another way, first I chop them down into a big 2×1-shaped horizontal rectangle, and then reduce that down from whatever it was to 1000×500.

But I couldn’t do that to this taxi-with-advert, now could I?:

I may do so eventually, if and when this taxi-with-advert takes its place with another big gallery of taxis-with-adverts. But in the meantime …

This photo was photoed in January of 2014, hence the absence of 22 Bishopsgate, the Biggest Thing in the City of London Big Thing Cluster, yet despite that, so boring that it is still seems to be known, if known at all, as “22 Bishopsgate”.

The far less boring Scalpel was also yet to be built.

Wet riser inlet

While I’m on the subject of One Blackfriars, as I was last night, here is a rather charming piece of urban sculpture to be seen outside its front door, photoed earlier on the day I photoed the photo in the previous posting:

I’ve heard this expression but never understood what it was about. Having read this, I now understand it a bit better:

Wet risers are used to supply water within buildings for firefighting purposes. The provision of a built-in water distribution system means that firefighters do not need to create their own distribution system in order to fight a fire and avoids the breaching of fire compartments by running hose lines between them.

Wet risers are permanently charged with water. This is as opposed to dry risers which do not contain water when they are not being used, but are charged with water by fire service pumping appliances when necessary.

Part B of the building regulations (Fire Safety) requires that fire mains are provided in all buildings that are more than 18 m tall. In buildings less than 50 m tall, either a wet riser or dry riser fire main can be provided. However, where a building extends to more than 50 m above the rescue service vehicle accesslevel, wet risers are necessary as the pumping pressure required to charge the riser is higher than can be provided by a fire service appliance, and to ensure an immediate supply of water is available at high level.

Blog and learn.

Originally posted at Brian Micklethwait’s Old Blog