to syllabus

A New Kind of Society with New Social Tensions and Social Conflicts

 A. General social trends in the early 1800s:

 1. demographic expansion (examples)

            Belgium:  1816 = 4,166,000                 1855 = 4,530,000

            France:  1801 = 27,349,000                 1851 = 35,783,000

            "Germany": 1816 = 22,377,000            1852 = 33,413,000

            England/Wales: 1801=8,892,000          1851 = 17,928,000

 causes:  as noted earlier, improvements in diet, sanitation, medical knowledge and care, that decrease death rate, but also shifts in marriage and birth patterns.  note that marriage and birth patterns of Middle Class are increasingly different from those of the working class and peasants/the rural poor.  (Middle class more likely to delay marriage.)

 2. urbanization:  urban growth (examples)

            Amsterdam: 1801= 201,000     1851 = 224,000

            Berlin: 1801 = 172,000            1851 = 419,000

            London:  1801 = 1,117,000                 1851 = 2,685,00

            Moscow: 1801 = 250,000        1851 = 365,000

 urban problems:  overcrowding and concentration of poor, poor quality housing, lack of running water and sanitation, lack of ventilation and light, all of which contribute to the spread of disease and to social tensions

 3. changes in rural society:

--growing importance of commercial farming and growing role of merchants and other "capitalists" in agricultural trade, which puts added pressure on peasants and small-scale farmers.

--growing internationalization of grain trade (possible because of railroads and steamships) leads to trend of falling grain prices, which puts pressure on peasants and small-scale farmers

--problems of rural overcrowding and rural poverty (which feeds into urban growth)

--efforts of national/state governments to "transform" rural populations through education and increased contact with the state

 linkage between changes in rural life and larger economic-political trends:

            solution of land question in England and industrial revolution

            peasant land ownership in France and the "slower" pace of industrial growth

            the end of serfdom in Prussia and the status of the Junker aristocrats

            the continuing existence of serfdom in Russia


B. New social classes:

 1. The Middle Class

a)      note subdivisions within the middle class (bankers, industrialists, professionals, merchants, managers, etc.)

b)      movement within the "middle classes more common than "rising" into the middle class from the working class

c)      idea of "self-made men" in a society where status should rest on talent and ability

d)      belief in basic ideals of "laissez-faire liberalism"—economic individualism, limited state functions, natural law, freedom of contract, free competition and free trade

e)      emphasis on "virtues" of thrift, industriousness, efficiency, modesty, sobriety, self-control, respectability, "manliness" (and patriarchy)

f)        growing disdain for the aristocracy as corrupt, morally inferior, wasteful, "soft," effeminate, undeserving of their status and political power

g)      disdain and fear of the working class as morally and intellectually weak, animalistic, sexually profligate, drunken, lazy (belief that poverty was the result of moral/character failings, failure to "pull yourself by your own bootstraps"), envious and contemptuous of others' success and property, and potentially dangerous

h)      belief that the poor could be "reformed" with guidance on how to improve themselves—on how to behave more like the middle class.  Some middle class people believed that this guidance should come from government agencies (e.g., schools), some believed it was a matter of individual conscience

i)        strong sense (self-consciousness) of the middle class as a class, with its own class interests

  2. Working Classes or Working Class?

a)      common problems facing working classes (e.g., poor working conditions, very bad urban living conditions, threat of de-skilling and of falling wages, lack of job protection and inability to form legal trade unions, lack of institutionalized political power).

b)      "traditional" divisions by skill, type of work, wage-levels, gender all still paramount in first half of 19th  century.  Skilled artisans and highly skilled "industrial workers" (e.g., mechanics) see themselves as different from (and superior to) semi-skilled and unskilled workers; workers in certain trades and industries consider themselves different from and superior to workers in other trades (e.g., glass blowers considered themselves superior to carpenters, etc.); men consider their labor to be more valuable and superior to that of women. 

c)      these craft, skill, etc., divisions worked against the development of a common sense of "working class" self-identity in the early 1800s.  Workers often saw society as divided into "laboring and non-laboring classes," or "productive and non-productive classes," or "toilers and non-toilers," etc.—but they typically did not define themselves as members of a "working class" with a common set of class interests in opposition to those of the "ownership" class (the middle class).

d)      a clearer sense of working class identity, in opposition to the middle class, developed much more quickly in an after the revolutions of 1848.


C. New political and cultural movements

Liberalism before 1848.  Liberals in the early 1800s believed in individualism and that men were born equal in rights (but not in talent, wealth, etc).  That meant an end to the privileges and powers of the aristocracy.  They believed that the function of the law was to protect these natural rights and liberty; the best way to preserve rights and liberty was to ensure the rule of law by creating a constitutional form of government in which sovereignty lay with the people, who chose their own representative to serve in government (which would then reflect the values of efficiency, thrift, etc.).

Liberals differed among themselves over who should have the right to vote and to serve in government.  The experience of the French Revolution—especially the Jacobin period—had reinforced liberal fears of the "mob."  Many believed in limiting political rights to those who owned property.  Others, often called "democrats" or "radical republicans" argued that all men should have voting rights, regardless of property ownership.  In the early 1800s, very few men believed that women should have equal rights (John Stuart Mill was unusual in championing women's rights).

Liberals generally believed in laissez-faire principles—that the functions of government should be limited to what was necessary to protect rights and preserve order, and that the government should not interfere in the workings of the economy.

These ideas were laid out in the classic works of British "political economy," by Adam Smith (who, as we have seen, explained the "natural laws" behind the capitalist economy), Thomas Malthus (who argued that charity and government aid to the poor interfered with the natural order and promoted lower class over-population… in other words, that helping the poor resulted in larger numbers of poor), and David Ricardo (who argued that wages naturally worked to ensure that workers lived at subsistence level, with just enough to stay alive; if wages increased, workers would have more children and more mouths to feed, so they would end up with the same level of real income).

The principles of political economy helped to justify and rationalize the social inequality that typified the industrial revolution.   Poverty, according to such ideas, was the result of character flaws and weaknesses; in the open market place, those who worked hard and exercised self-control would rise out of poverty.

But there were debates among liberals over when and how government might legitimately intervene in social and economic matters.  Liberals often approved of government intervention in favor of business; some liberals argued that the government needed to take a more active role in aiding the lower classes, through public education and other programs that would help provide "upward mobility."  (After the 1848 revolution, liberals became much more willing to promote state intervention in social matters—such as improving urban living conditions—in hope that this would lessen the chance of revolution.)

Conservativism before 1848.  Conservativism in the early 1800s came in two basic varieties:  those who championed the old regime hierarchy of monarch, church, and aristocracy and considered the French Revolution and liberalism to be challenges to God's intended hierarchical order (a view typical among conservative on the European continent); and those who did not necessarily reject any change in the social order, but considered the underlying principles and methods of the French Revolutionaries and of Liberalism to be tragically misguided (a view more common among British conservatives).

The best representatives of the first (continental) variety of conserativism are men like Joseph de Maistre in France and Tsar Nicholas I in Russia.  de Maistre rejected the entire tradition of the Enlightenment and argued that the French Revolution had violated God's ordained hierarchy, which dictated that the common man—who was fundamentally base and corrupt--should be ruled on earth by kings, should be subordinate to a natural aristocracy (based upon birth), and should be under the spiritual tutelage of the church.  Tsar Nicholas I similarly argued that Autocracy (in Russia, a variety of Absolutism) reflected God's will and was the most natural form of rule.  —the very ideals of Liberalism, he held, stood contrary to God's will and natural order.

Edmund Burke in Britain presented a more sophisticated, and in the long run more influential criticism of the French Revolution and liberalism.  Burke argued that societies, their cultures, and their forms of government, evolved "organically" over centuries of time.  In England, he insisted, traditions had evolved over the centuries that preserved liberties while protecting order.  Burke argued that the French Revolutionaries, and liberals in general, were wrong to think that you could simply "invent" new laws and new systems of government, or that you could "improve" mankind by inventing new laws and government policies.  Burke argued that destroying established traditions led to anarchy—that without familiar order, society would degenerate into disorder and liberty would be destroyed.  This, he said, was what had happened in France after 1789.

Socialism before 1848.  Socialists and liberals shared a common set of ideas inherited from the Enlightenment:  both groups believed that men and society could be improved, that the application of new rational principles of government and society could create a world in which people enjoyed liberty and equality.

Socialists, however, rejected some of the basic assumptions of liberalism.  The experience of the French Revolution had taught socialists that political rights alone did not ensure social equality.  Not only had the propertied classes used their power to exclude the lower classes from a voice in government, but the revolution (socialists believed) had shown that social equality required protection of basic "social rights"  (the right to a job, the right to a living wage, the right to decent housing, the right to an education, etc.).

Socialists accepted one aspect of liberal economic theory—the labor theory of value (the idea that the value of a good or service reflects the sum of the labor put into it).  But they absolutely rejected the idea of laissez-faire, and they believed that private property was a cause of misery and inequality.  According to most socialist thinkers, the best examples of this were the results of the industrial revolution.

Socialists argued that the industrial revolution was creating great wealth for the middle class owners of property, but that the working people who did all of the real work (and thus created the value) were growing poorer and more miserable.  All people had to do to see the proof was look around them at conditions in factories and in cities.  Socialists argued that capitalism was ultimately irrational, because it did not result in the most effective and most equitable distribution of goods, resources, liberty, or happiness.

But not all socialist thinkers agreed on how best to solve the problems of inequality.

"Utopian socialists" like Charles Fourier (in France) and Robert Owen (in Britain) believed that it was possible to build "cooperative communities," where everyone would be joint owners of productive property.  Fourier imagined communities of several thousand people living in communal housing, sharing ownership in communal farms and factories, and working at what ever task the individual cared to do.  Owen, who ran a large textile factory and actually tried to put his ideas into action, believed that workers would improve themselves in they had decent housing and living conditions, good working conditions and wages, schools for their children, and a share in the profit of their workplace.

"Anarchist socialists" like Frenchman Pierre Proudhon argued that private property was the result of the act of theft—God had made the Earth for all men to use and enjoy in common, and the only way that individuals could have private property was to take it away from the community.  Proudhon argued that government had only one function—to protect the thieves (the private property owners).  So, he said, to restore liberty and equality, mankind must destroy the institutions of private property and government.  Communities would then create their own "cooperatives," which would exchange goods and services among themselves.

One of Proudhon's contemporaries in France, Louis Blanc, represented a different school of socialist though.  Blanc also believed that capitalism, wage labor, and private property resulted in the exploitation of working people, who despite their hard labor were kept poor and powerless.  His solution, though, was the use of democratic politics:  if workers had the right to vote, he argued, they would be in the majority and could use the government to create new institutions to help working people.  In particular, Blanc believed that the government should create worker-run factories and workshops that would compete with and gradually replace the capitalist factories (so that a capitalist economy based upon private property would be replaced by a socialist economy based upon "publicly-owned" property.

Perhaps the most important socialist critic of capitalism was the German thinker Karl Marx.  Marx and his working partner, Fredrich Engels, would emerge as the dominant socialist thinkers of the second half of the 1800s.  On the eve of the 1848 revolutions, Marx's main ideas had already taken shape:

Marx argued that societies and social epochs were defined by the way in which labor and property were organized and controlled  (e.g., slave society in the ancient world, feuldalism in the middle ages, capitalism in the modern era).  Each social system created social classes based upon who controlled productive property, and it was conflict between these social classes that created historical change.  In capitalist society, property and power is controlled by the Middle Class (the capitalists or Bourgeoisie).  The result of capitalism had been greater productivity than ever before in history and the birth of democratic rule. 

But according to Marx, capitalism had lived out its historical usefulness:  capitalism had "socialized" the process of making goods by creating factories and modern industry, but it privatized the profits earned through workers labor and out it in the pockets of the capitalists, who would do all they could to protect their own power and property.  Capitalism by its very nature required the exploitation and de-humanization of the working class majority. 

Human progress required that the working class organize, overthrow the capitalists and their state, and establish a socialist form of government with public control over all productive property.  Marx argued that this would create "real" democracy—social democracy based upon the ideal of social rights and social equality.  He argued that under socialism and the "dictatorship of the working class," social classes and class conflict would eventually disappear; as a result, government (which Marx considered a weapon of class rule) would also wither away.  (He called this "final" stage of human history, in which class distinctions and the state wither away, "communism.")  Again, Marx would have far more influence in the decades after 1848.

Romanticism before 1848.  Liberalism, Conservativism, and Socialism were distinct political and economic ideologies that developed in response to the French Revolution and the Industrial Revolution; Romanticism was an intellectual and artistic movement that had an influence on all three political ideologies.  But it, too, can be seen as a response and a reaction against some of the ideas of the Enlightenment and against the Industrial Revolution.

Romanticism criticized the Enlightenment "excessive" emphasis on reason and logic; instead, Romantics stressed the importance of nature, emotions, intuition, and imagination.  Many of the key figures in the Romantic movement argued that the Industrial Revolution was defiling nature, destroying nature in the name of economic progress, and by doing so was ripping human beings away from that which gave life beauty and meaning.  The poet and engraver William Blake described factories in England as "Satanic."  The painter J. M. W. Turner depicted the machines of the industrial revolution as un-natural forces smashing and destroying the fragility of nature.  The Romantics often argued that the forces of the Industrial Revolution and capitalistic materialism were also crushing individuality, and that individualism had to be protected from the conformity of middle class life.

The Romantic movement—which was often contemptuous of middle class culture and morality--produced poets like Shelly, Wordsworth, Keats, Blake, Byron, Pushkin, and Goethe; composers like Beethoven, and painters like Gericault and Delacroix, whose work shaped the aesthetic of the Middle Classes in the 1800s.

Romanticism's emphasis on emotions also had a great influence on politics, but it belonged to no one political ideology.  The Romantic emphasis on individualism reinforced the ideas of liberalism.  The Romantic fascination with "natural man" who had been "torn from his natural state" by industrial capitalism resonated with common themes of socialism (particularly with the ideas of Proudhon). The sense that nations were united by emotional bounds, by the feeling of "common blood," infused much Nationalist thought in Central Europe in the early 1800s.  In the second half of the 1800s in particular, Romantic nationalism would become a basis of popular conservativism.

Nationalism before 1848.  Modern Nationalism was a product of the French Revolution and in the early 1800s was tied closely to Liberalism.  As noted in an earlier lecture, the leaders of the French Revolution claimed to represent the entire French Nation, and the revolutionary government made creating a sense of national unity one its main goals.  They stressed that all Frenchmen were united as one nation, and that as citizens they not only enjoyed rights, but also had a duty to serve and protect the nation.

Liberals in general championed the cause of nationalism and national unity, which they connected with constitutional rule and a nation state that would create unified systems of law (etc) to develop nation-wide markets.  Conservatives initially feared nationalism, which they worried would undermine traditional social hierarchies and authority.   But in the Napoleonic period conservative thinkers began to see the possibility that nationalism could be used to promote authority.  As already noted, nationalism would become central to conservative ideology after the revolutions of 1848.  Some socialists, like Karl Marx, argued against nationalism.  (Marx argued that class unity was more important than nationalism).  But many early socialists, like Proudhon, were staunchly nationalistic.

Nationalism depended upon the spread of a sense of national identity, which in fact was not something that spread quickly throughout all elements of European societies in the early 1800s.  (Even in France, there is much evidence that rural people felt a stronger tie to their village than they did to the "nation" even in the late 1800s.)

The spread of a sense of national identity was generally the slow product of several changes often linked to state institutions:  among the important forces and experiences contributing to the spread of a sense of national identity were participation in the army, the spread of public education (which was linked to the spread of basic literacy, the eventual dominance of a common national language, and the creation of common national historical myths), celebration of national state-sponsored holidays and festivals, and the experience of voting for public offices.  Most of these institutions did not really have everyday influence over the lives of common people until after the Revolutions of 1848.