Wednesday, 11 February 2015

On the Industrial Revolution, and the Church’s institutional resistance

On the role of the Church in the industrial revolution, Clarence Ayres (a disciple of Thorstein Veblen, oddly enough),  has this to say:

“Our concern is with industrial evolution and from this point of view the Church must be recognised as the spearhead of institutional resistance to technological change. Under the leadership of the church, feudal society opposed and interdicted all the great innovations of which industrial society is the outgrowth; but that opposition was ineffective­­ from the point of view of industrial evolution,­­ happily so,­­ and its ineffectiveness was due not to any pronounced difference of temper and intent which might be conceived to distinguish Christianity from other creeds but rather to the fact that it was after all an alien creed which bore much less heavily upon the [pagan] Western peoples than did Islam upon the Arabs, Hinduism upon India, or Confucianism upon China. When we are tempted to think of the church as the quintessence of medieval civilisation we should stop and ask ourselves which, after all, was the more significant symbol of European culture, Saint Thomas or his contemporary, the Emperor Frederick II ? ” (from chapter 7, 'Industrial Evolution,' of Ayres’s 1944 book The Theory of Economic Progress)

While his final contrasting example of Thomas Aquinas and a Holy Roman Emperor is an unfortunate choice – offering only a choice between a conqueror who challenged the pope, and the thinker who first began the unshackling of reason from the Church’s constraints—and no early businessman to represent the men who pushed forward industrial evolution against opposition and interdiction by both Church and Emperor--he makes an important point.

1 comment:

  1. It would be helpful if, when you talk about the "church" you could narrow it down to a denomination if practical - nsome have better track records than others. I know that until the late 1800's the "church" ownership of farm lands was a nice money spinner that had a large captive workforce the Anglicans fed off. That the ministers were frequently no-hopers with no calling at all except to cruise through life was of no consequence. By the end of the 1800's farming was far less labour intensive and the "church" stranglehold via farm land ownership was unraveling. It was all about money rather than the message and the "church" could only thumb their nose at progress for so long. That doesn't make the original message flawed, just the Anglican leadership of the time dodgy and self serving.


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