The Industrial Revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries produced many innovative thinkers, and industrialists. With their many contributions to the industrial process, these people made Western society, economically, socially and politically speaking, what it is today. However, the means by which this progress was made conflicted with the modern concept of morality. Workers were exploited, children were abused, and the environment was heavily damaged, through the implementation of capitalistic documents, the empathy for the other that existed in pre revolutionary times disappeared, and was replaced by the quest for wealth. At the present day, society still is witnessing industrial revolutions in the third world, with the exploitation of 80% of the global population, to satisfy the other 20%. As the ends do not justify the means, the method to 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.
Though in the pre-Industrial era feudalism and with it serfdom was abolished, similar situations existed for the majority of the population. The life of the farmer was commonplace, and the standard of living was largely based upon the production of goods in the area of which the individual lived, due in large part to poor transportation systems. Though a hard life, given the economic situation of the time, it appeared to be sustainable. This all changed with the Industrial revolution. Large portions of the population moved into cities, to seek employment in the manufactories. In general, the population of the western world, especially Great Britain, moved from a life of independence on a farm, to a life of dependence in a factory. Recognizing the dependence on consistent pay by the proletariat, and the great demand for work, the bourgeoisie paid them next to nothing, and forced them to work extended hours in dangerous conditions. Often times, the family situation was so poor, that the wife and children were required to work[i], just to sustain themselves. In an unregulated workplace, this meant many accidents, and even deaths were commonplace. Yet, because workers were so desperate to obtain their pay, they continued to work.
Families unable to sustain themselves, in Britain especially were subjected to workhouses. Factories created with conditions so appalling that citizens would work hard, and do just about anything to stay out of them[ii]. These factories reached their highest inhabitancies during the Industrial Revolutions[iii]. This leads an onlooker to infer, that poverty was rampant at the time of history’s greatest economic expansion, leaving little doubt as to how detrimental conditions were to the urban poor. The poor living outside of the workhouses were restricted to slums, as these were the most affordable houses. In these slums, the stink of stale sewage dominated the air from inadequate sewage systems, and houses would crumble in disrepair. Living conditions were atrocious.
Living and working conditions were a problem, and to every problem emerges a possible solution, the solution to poor living conditions, and the abuses suffered by the working classes was communism. Karl Marx, in observing the atrocities committed towards the working class, or proletariat, created a system of government contrasting capitalism completely. His communist system eliminated the class system, and called for 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. In the revolution called for by Marx, a necessary step in implementing his system, China, lead by Mao Zedong killed between 20 and 30 million people[iv]. Moreover, the USSR, in its implementation of communism, killed approximately 9 million people[v], and in its defence and expansion of communism, killed an incalculable number more[vi]. Not only did communism, a product of the Industrial revolutions fail, it took with it a number of lives estimated conservatively exceeding 100 million people. 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.
Continuing this into the 21st century, countries in the third world are experiencing Industrial Revolutions of their own. India and China alone are responsible for more industrial production than the rest of the world combined. Though the West has adopted parts of the socialist mentality in its legal legislation, and implemented heavy regulations on work, production is being outsourced to these countries with stringent working regulations. The progress that was made by Unions and socialist parties is being lost to the third world, creating higher unemployment rates in developed countries, and the exploitation of the masses in the undeveloped countries.
The last major detriment to humanity resulting from the Industrial Revolutions is the effects on the environment. Sulphur Dioxide and Carbon Dioxide, emitted by factories operating without regulations on emissions pollute shamelessly. Each day, billions of tons of green house gases and other contaminants are being released into the atmosphere, contaminants regarded as detrimental to the well being of the earth are dumped into waterways, and as a result, society has suffered. Many scientists have called on humanity to stop emitting green house gases, or face impending consequences in the way of Global Warming. By containing the sun’s rays, the green house gases are essentially warming the earth, changing the climate by a few degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. 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 that will significantly reduce the human species by unfathomable amounts. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent reducing the damage done to the atmosphere, only to be undermined by polluting developing nations. It appears that a catastrophe is imminent.
Considering the conditions before during and after the Industrial Revolutions, the philosophical question of whether the ends justify the means comes into effect. First, the gains must be considered. From a world perspective, there is relatively little change, perhaps by most liberal estimates, there is a change of a few percentage points in the overall poverty of the human race, considering the population increases throughout the last century, there is a significantly greater number of impoverished people living on the earth today, than before the Industrial Revolutions. The many wrongs by which this progress was made however is 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 operated in this same way at the time of the industrial revolution, the industrial process would have been halted, just as stem cells at the present day. The ends, if unethical, cannot be said to outweigh the means to achieving the ends.
Through analysis, it has been proven that the industrial process that has given the world a strong economy, is not justified through the atrocities made to achieve it. The many deaths, do not justify the economic gain, just as the suffering today of 80% of the global population do not justify the extravagance of the other 20%. It is for this reason that the Industrial Revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries are unjustifiable, and are the root of more hardships today than good