The Industrial Revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries gave birth to several innovative thinkers and industrialists. With their countless contributions to the industrial process, these people made Western society economically, socially, and politically sound, as it is today. However, this progress conflicts enormously with the modern concepts of morality.

The exploitation of workers and child abuse was prevalent, while the environment suffered tremendously. Through the implementation of capitalistic documents, the empathy for others that existed in pre-revolutionary times was replaced with the quest for wealth. Currently, society is still witnessing industrial revolutions in third-world countries with the exploitation of 80% of the global population to satisfy the other 20% [1]

As the ends do not justify the means, the way of achieving the current global economic situation cannot be justified. Moreover, the current so-called ‘ends’ are a detriment to the majority of the human race. The Industrial Revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries negatively impacted society in various ways. In the pre-Industrial era, feudalism and serfdom were abolished; very little changed for the majority of the population.

The life of the farmer was commonplace. His standard of living depended upon the production of goods in the area he lived in, this was due to poor transportation systems. While this seems like a tough life considering the economic situation of that time, it appeared to be sustainable [2]

The industrial revolution changed everything. Large portions of the population moved into cities to seek employment in the manufactories. Generally, the population of the western world, especially Great Britain, moved from a life of independence on a farm to a life of dependence inside a factory.

Recognition of the dependence on regular pay combined with the massive demand for work, the bourgeoisie paid them almost nothing while forcing them to work extended hours in unsafe conditions. Often, the family situations were so bad that the wife and children had to work[i], to sustain themselves. In those unregulated workplaces, accidents were inevitable and deaths became increasingly common. Despite all this, the unfortunate workers had no choice but to continue working if they wanted to sustain their lives.

Families, who were unable to sustain themselves, were subjected to workhouses, especially in Britain. The conditions of factories were so appalling that citizens would do anything to stay out of them [ii]. These factories reached their highest inhabitancy during the Industrial Revolutions [iii]; this allows an observer to conclude that poverty was rampant at the time of history’s greatest economic expansion, leaving little doubt as to how detrimental conditions were to the poor urban.

The poor living outside of the workhouses were restricted to slums as they were the most affordable places at that time. In these slums, the stink of stale sewage dominated the air, and houses would crumble in disrepair. Living conditions were simply atrocious.

Living and working conditions were a prevalent dilemma. To every dilemma that emerges, comes a possible solution. The solution to the poor living conditions and the abuses faced by the working classes was communism. Karl Marx, in observing the atrocities committed towards the proletariat, designed a system of government, which contrasted capitalism entirely. His communist system called for an elimination of the class system and a revolution. The political system created by Marx, when implemented in the 20th century, mainly by the USSR and China, contributed towards the death of millions of people.

In the revolution called for by Marx, a crucial step in implementing his system, China, led by Mao Zedong, killed around 20 to 30 million people [iv]. Moreover, the USSR, in its implementation of communism, killed approximately 9 million people[v]. In the defense and expansion of communism, countless more were killed [vi]. Not only did communism, but a product of the Industrial Revolution also collapsed, taking with it several lives, estimated conservatively to be more than 100 million. These lives would almost certainly have not been lost if Karl Marx, in the hope of contrasting capitalism, had not created the communist manifesto. Therefore, communism can be viewed as a product of the industrial revolution [3].

Continuing this in the 21st century, countries in the third world are experiencing Industrial Revolutions of their own. India and China are responsible for more industrial production than the rest of the world altogether. While the West has adopted parts of the socialist mentality in the legal legislation and implemented heavy regulations on work, most of the production is being outsourced to countries with stringent working regulations [4]

The progress that was made by Unions and socialist parties is being lost to the third world, leading to higher unemployment rates in the developed countries, as well as the exploitation of the masses in the undeveloped countries.

The last major detriment to humanity, resulting from the Industrial Revolution, is the effects on the environment. Sulfur Dioxide and Carbon Dioxide, emitted by factories operating without regulations on emissions are polluting shamelessly. Each day, billions of tons of greenhouse gases and other contaminants are being released into the atmosphere[5], The contaminants regarded as detrimental to the wellbeing of the earth are dumped into waterways[6], and as a result, society suffers. Many scientists have called on humanity to stop emitting greenhouse gases or face impending consequences in the way of Global Warming.

By containing the sun’s rays, the greenhouse gases are essentially warming the earth, changing the climate by a few degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution [7]. This nominal, yet significant change in temperature is seen as the cause for the melting of the ice caps, melting that is foreseen as causing another catastrophic ice age, which will significantly reduce the human species by unfathomable amounts. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent reducing the damage done to the atmosphere [8], only to be undermined by polluting developing nations. It appears that a catastrophe is imminent and inevitable.

Considering the conditions before, during, and after the Industrial Revolution, the philosophical question of whether the ends justify the means comes into effect. Firstly, the gains must be considered. From a global perspective, there is a relatively small change [9].

Perhaps by most liberal estimates, there is a change of a few percentage points in the overall poverty of the human race [10], considering the population increases throughout the last century, there is a significantly larger number of impoverished people living on the earth today than before the Industrial Revolution. The many wrongs by which this progress was made are immoral.

It cannot be said that the gains of the many outweigh the gains of the few; it is for this reason that the West does not exterminate members of its society it sees as detracting from economic gain. The mentally challenged and the incapacitated for example, at the present day are provided caregivers by the government in return for their gratitude. If society worked the same way at the time of the industrial revolution, the industrial process would have halted, just as stem cells in the present day. The ends, if unethical, cannot be said to outweigh the means of achieving them.

author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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