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.

But not such a merry Christmas for her

Most dogs whom we encounter in nice, polite, safe little England are dogs who have bonded with humans, whom the dogs love, unconditionally. But what happens when dogs don’t bond with humans, but only with one another? Then, they are liable to love humans in another way, as in: I love duck, or I love rabbit. To eat. Ooh look guys, fancy some tasty human?

DOCTORS are today fighting to save the life of a woman whose face was completely skinned by a pack of stray dogs.

Where did this horror happen?

Relax. In Russia:

The predators ripped off all Tatyana Loskutnikova’s clothes and gnawed her flesh down to the bone during the sickening attack in Russia.

In Russia they have hungry packs of dogs. Like these, who were only doing what surely made perfect sense to them. Hellishly bad luck on the woman of course, but maybe she might have known better? Yes, you shoot the dogs, as they did. But you can’t really blame them, the way the Sun seems to.

A lion with a strange shaped face

Here are a couple of photos of one of my favourite local London Things. It’s the Crimea and Indian Mutiny memorial, outside Westminster Abbey:

On the left, I lined it up with the twin towers of the Abbey. And on the right we are looking back up Victoria Street. On the right, the cranes that are finishing the building of The Broadway.

Around the base of this memorial are four lions, which all look like this:

At least, I presume they are lions. I am no sort of expert on how lions look. But I know that there are other lion statues in London, such as the ones in Trafalgar Square, and such as the one at the south end of Westminster Bridge, which have faces on them that look quite different from the above lion. They have heads that are a completely different shape to this Crimea lion, which to my never-seen-a-real-lion-in-my-life-or-not-that-I-recall eye, look more like some brand of monkey, or even like a dog.

I photoed these photos last Wednesday, and I have yet to recover from that expedition, having been suffering lately from aches and pains which this walk was supposed to help but didn’t. Now that Lockdown has locked down again, I’ll probably be showing photos from that day here for about the next month, on and off. There have already been this and these. So expect more, but not today.

Trumpism and the future of the world (and why I hope Trump wins)

Tucker Carlson is one of my favourite political orators just now. Go here, to see and hear him in typically fluent form. Carlson asks and answers the question: Why do Trump’s meetings attract Trump supporters in such vast numbers?

To put it another way: If – if – Trump wins re-election, how will that have happened?

Trump loves America, and all the actually existing Americans who also love American. (If he doesn’t love America, he does a hugely impressive job of pretending to.) Millions of Americans understandably agree with Trump’s American nationalism.

But there is more at stake than merely the future of America. There’s a whole world out here to be considering.

Since the late eighteenth century, the world has been progressing in a spectacular way, despite all the bad stuff we all know about. Around 1780, there was this kink in all the graphs measuring human creature comforts, and things started getting rapidly better, and this fine trend in human affairs has continued ever since, with many interruptions in such places as Russia and China, but nevertheless unmistakeably. Everyday life, for everyone, even and especially for the very poorest people in the world, continues to get better and better. But will that continue? Might this excellent trend even go into reverse?

The best book I have recently read that grapples with those sorts of questions is The Wealth Explosion by Stephen Davies. Davies argues that what kicked off this spectacular explosion was that, when and where it happened, in Europe in the late 1700s, Europe was not politically unified. That meant that when the materials that went into the explosion began to be assembled – progressive technology and all the thinking that went into it, basically – there was nobody in Europe willing and able to stop this. On the contrary, because the various rulers of Europe were all quarrelling with one another, they all had a powerful incentive to stay ahead of one another in this race. In the world’s other civilisations, that didn’t happen, and technological stagnation ruled.

But Davies’s book is not only about the past. In it, he also ruminates upon the future. The big question for him is: What is modernity? Because if we know what it is, we may know better how to keep it in being.

He identifies several processes that might bring modernity to a halt and turn the last two hundred and more years of technological progress into a mere passing phase, like an earlier progressive episode that had happened in China. That episode was ended by a combination of military disaster and a subsequent Chinese ruling class decision to end it. Technological progress was quite consciously and deliberately stopped in its tracks.

One threat to modernity might, Davies speculates, be nationalism, and its associated fixed sum economic fallacies. By reversing international economic cooperation, such nationalism might throw progress into reverse, in the same kind of way that it did when the Great Depression got started, only more so. Trade war, and then perhaps even consequent actual war. That kind of thing. For Davies, good libertarian globalist that he is, Trump and all he stands for looms like a menace to everything good in the world and in its future.

But another threat to progress that Davies mentions seems to me at least as plausible, which is that globalisation will intensify, and create a global ruling class that will then, in the manner of the rulers of Imperial China, all agree that progress, because it is unsettling for the world and in particular for them, is bad and must be stopped. This ruling class might, in contrast, continue to pay lip service to the idea of progress, but will end up stopping it by mistake, in their efforts merely to improve and domesticate it.

I regard the second of these scenarios as a far greater threat to the world than the first. After all, does not Davies himself tell us that it was European “nationalism” that allowed all of this progress to get started in such a big way, back in the 1780s? If the world were now to unify, might that not prevent progress from happening, just as it prevented it everywhere else in the world outside of Europe (with the exception of Japan (which instead became a sort of honorary European country)), at the time when Europe itself was bursting forth into modernity? Ask questions like that, and Trump ceases to be a menace and becomes instead a protector and provoker of continuing global economic dynamism. He is now keeping the world un-unified, by refusing to let America become an outpost of a globalism dominated by quite different impulses centred around places like China and Russia, impulses that could switch off modernity far more thoroughly than continuing national rivalry ever could.

Trump, it seems to me, is a force for continuing global economic dynamism.

Meanwhile I sure hope Trump wins his election. I have no idea what the result of this election will be. I wish I could tell you this beforehand, but I cannot. I can only tell you what I hope, which is that Trump wins it by a stonking majority, so stonking that all those idiot left wing rioters are reduced to a state of spified shock and immobilised immiseration, sitting in their parental homes gibbering with incomprehension, and not a few of them obliging us all by committing suicide, and so stonking that the more civilised Democrats, the sort who prefer indoor corruption to outdoor looting, all decide that they must become Trumpists themselves.

If Trump wins like this, he will also speed up Britain’s escape from Lockdown, because a stonking Trump victory will, among other things, be a victory for anti-Lockdownism.

Like I said, not a prediction, merely a hope.

Colourful mural in Chelyabinsk

I get regular emails about new architecture, and trust me, there’s less of it happening now. And what there is now being done is mostly generic machines-for-living-in and machines-for-working-in. The age of starchitecture is pretty much over, for the time being. Covid? That hasn’t helped to be sure. But it felt like it was slowing down well before that.

So, to cause a stir and get noticed, what do “designers” now do? Answer: They paint eye-catching murals on the faces of all those regulation boxes.


The official explanation of this mural is that it’s something to do with the environment, human impact on, blah blah. Like that’s a bad thing. But, as Mick Hartley (at whose blog I found this) says:

… you’d be forgiven for not quite grasping the ecological message.

Indeed. It looks more like a celebration of how humans are able to subjugate their environment and make it their own. I’ve never been to Russia, but my understanding is that their “environment” is a lot scarier than ours is, and that they consequently sentimentalise it a lot less than we do.

But whatever this Chelyabinsk mural may “mean”, it is yet another straw in the wind of colourful applied decoration that is now seriously blowing around the world. If you can’t do new buildings of note, you can still paint the buildings you have, old and new, in a newly colourful way.

Also, I suspect that paint for use outdoors is getting better, as in fading more slowly. I tried googling about this, but all I got was stuff about how to become a better painter of indoor pictures. Can anyone offer any pertinent links on that subject?

Driving away from poverty

Helen Dale, in the course of a review of Matt Ridley’s How Innovation Works:

It is telling that Soviet authorities allowed the 1940 film Grapes of Wrath to be released in the country as a propaganda exercise. However, cinemagoers were amazed how in America people fled poverty in a car. In Soviet Russia, you hoofed it. The movie was withdrawn.

The point being that a lot of innovation happens when less educated people have just enough affluence, which includes having just enough time, to tinker with stuff, and thereby accomplish things that the educated people all agreed couldn’t be done.

The only house Zaha Hadid ever designed

Zaha Hadid Architects interests me because, Zaha Hadid having herself died, it is now run by a libertarian, Patrik Schumacher. People like this are rare, and we libertarians must make much of them. Also, they are interesting.

So, this house interests me:

That looks rather small. Rather disappointing.

But look at this:

That being, I presume, a faked up photo beforehand of how it was going to look. Now you’re talking. Because of the rather odd procedure I found myself using to get that photo from here (where I found the above two images) to here, I found myself emphasising the darkness of the place where this house was going to be built, making it look even more like a spaceship than, I presume, it actually does.

The bit at the top is not the Bridge of Starship Enterprise. No.

The 36,000-square-foot home, formally dubbed “Capital Hill Residence,” has many unique features, but one of the most outstanding may be its narrow tower, and what it supports — namely, the master bedroom, situated over 100 feet high. The tower’s supporting column includes a glass elevator and staircase.

Now that’s a Master Bedroom. Feminists: cower in terror. I love that it’s a woman that designed this. Would any male architect now dare to create such a thing? I also wonder, did Zaha Hadid ever have any run-ins with feminists? That would have been fun to see.

I particularly enjoyed the bit where Zaha Hadid first got the job, from the Russian oligarch who paid for all this:

“She drew a sketch on the napkin and I said, ‘You’re hired.'”

Classic Because-We-Can! architecture. In my version, La Hadid does her sketch on the back of a restaurant menu, but otherwise, it’s just like I said.

Love the NHS or die!

And speaking of photos by other people, as I just was, what of Michael Jennings? I linked to a photo of his not long ago, and do so quite often.

Well, on the first day of this month, Mchael was, he said on Facebook, in the Old Kent Road, and he photoed this:

The worship of the NHS is now so over the top that soon mainstream columnists are going to start trashing it, just to be different. Perhaps they already have and I just didn’t notice.

That’s a Soviet T-34, by the way.

This snake ate a towel and watching it being removed is oddly mesmerising


LATER: Fox on a Russian lady’s shoulder in the underground.

EVEN LATER: Ducks v locusts. Two problems with this. First, when the ducks have killed all the locusts, would there not then be a swarm of ducks? Oh. This guy got there first.

And second, the claim was that ducks would go to Pakistan to kill Pakistani locusts, but actually, according to an “expert” that won’t work, because there isn’t enough water in Pakistan and the ducks would die.

“It is now well known that …”

I continue to read The Square and the Tower, and very good it is too, just like it says inside the front cover and on the back cover.

In the chapter about the Russian Revolution, appropriately entitled “The Plague”, we read (by which I mean that I read (on pages 214-5)) this:

It is now well known that fewer people were killed in the October Revolution than were killed in the shooting of Sergei Eisenstein’s tenth-anniversary film about it.

Well, this may now be “well-known”, but I did not know it.

Not that this makes the event insignificant. After it, the “plague” spread with astonishing speed.

Only amongst the vast peasantry and the Cossacks did the Bolsheviks lack leaders – which helps explain therapid descent of Russia into an urban-rural civil war in the course of 1918. Essentially, the Bolshevik virus travelled by train and telegraph; and literate soldiers; sailors and workers were the most susceptible to it.

That literacy was at the heart of the Bolshevik story is something that I did know.