Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Ongoing Revolution

G. M. Trevelyan, in the third volume of his History of England, had this to say about the Industrial Revolution:

The great changes in man’s command over nature and consequent manner of life, which began in England in the reign of George III and have since spread with varying degrees of intensity over almost the whole inhabited globe, make bewildering work for the historian. Up to the Industrial Revolution, economic and social change, though continuous, has the pace of a slowly-moving stream; but in the days of Watt and Stephenson it has acquired the momentum of water over a mill-dam, distracting to the eye of any spectator. Nor, for all its hurry, does it ever reach any pool at the bottom and resume its former leisurely advance. It is a cataract still. The French Revolution occupied a dozen years at most, but the Industrial Revolution may yet continue for as many hundred, creating and obliterating one form of economic and social life after another, so that the historian can never say – ‘This or this is the normal state of modern England.’

G. M. Trevelyan wrote those words in 1926. He went on to say that we can’t approve or condemn the Industrial Revolution; we need to see it develop more before we can judge it. Can we judge it now? I think so. There is no defense for it. Its apologists always cite increased standards of living and the impracticality of agrarian economies, but no one except a few Luddites ever condemned the use of every single machine. The original critics of the Industrial Revolution, who have been proven correct, feared that the machine would become a replacement for God, dispensing graces and benefits to mankind in a way that was more efficient and modern than the old-fashioned guy in the Christian story. “A man that has an automobile don’t need Jesus,” became the unspoken creed of modern man. The machine separates us from God in two ways.

First, it anesthetizes us by taking us out of the natural order of creation. One need only look at the infernal abortion machines to see this process at work. “Childbirth produces pain; a machine will take care of it.”

And secondly, the machine age allows us to worship progress. Instead of looking for the return of our Lord, we look for the coming perfection of mankind when – thanks to the machine -- death, war, and hunger will have ceased.

When machines were set free and allowed to make men dance to what increasingly became Satanic tunes, man was doomed to become the slave of a force he could not control or stop.

Of course modern Christians (isn’t that an oxymoron?) never criticize industrialization because they fear ostracization and the Luddite label. But it is not an either-or proposition. Our choices are not ‘rampant, Godless industrialization’ on the one hand, or ‘we all live in caves and eat cave moss’ on the other. It is the revolutionary nature of industrialization that a Christian should hate. If the machine age had grown up organically from the needs of a Christian civilization, it would not have been the harmful hateful thing that we see before us today. The word ‘organic’ is overused today, but it best describes the way in which the machine age should have begun. If a farmer could improve his own family farm through the use of a machine that sprang from his own ingenuity and his own hands, then its use would be legitimate. Compare this to the illegitimate use of a machine: the cotton gin was produced to compete on the mass market with other mass producers. If a physician made use of a machine to perform beneficial operations which would be impossible without one, then the use of such a machine would be legitimate. The machine age ought to have been wedded to the real lives of Christian people. When machines were set free and allowed to make men dance to what increasingly became Satanic tunes, man was doomed to become the slave of a force he could not control or stop.

Chaplin is not my favorite comedian, but in his film, Modern Times, he does give us one of the most enduring and powerful critiques of the industrial revolution. Those giant gears are grinding up more than modern man’s body; they are grinding up his soul.

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