Looking back at a quarter century of debates about industry in the middle of the eighteenth century it is remarkable that industry was so widely discussed at such an early time. Several decades before the period that came to be known as the ‘industrial revolution’ the phenomenon of industry had already become the subject of controversial public debate. In these debates the production and consumption of goods — just as many other aspects of social, political and religious life — were increasingly submitted to rational scrutiny by the thinkers of the enlightenment: rules, behaviours and production techniques in manufacturing that did not conform to rational principles had to be changed. The progress of industry in this period was thus in many ways associated to the progress of the enlightenment and the application of its rational principles to the sphere of manufacturing. However, the study of contemporary debates does not only illuminate the concern of many prominent enlightenment thinkers with the manufacturing and consumption of goods. Contemporary comments also suggest a fresh perspective on the rise of industry. The study of contemporary observations cautions us against an unbalanced concentration on technical change when we examine the causes of the rise of industry. Techniques and machinery used in industry have changed and continue to change; the individual conditions and dispositions which many eighteenth-century observers saw as the defining elements of industry have remained characteristics of this economic sector.
KeywordsEighteenth Century Vested Interest Luxury Good Early Debate Rational Principle
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.