A Further Discussion
Friday, I made the case that the authors writing about the “Industrial Predicament” were too involved with their present state to consider the possibility that their present state was not new. While the argument made against my point had extreme merit, I wanted to further explain myself using Friedrich’s The Great Towns.
However, before I continue, I want to draw attention to the nature of humanity. There is a famous quote that states those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. While the sentiment has a kernel of truth, the premise is false. History can be defined through a set of cycles. Either through humans compulsion to categorize everything or simple probability, history tends to repeat events on a thematic level. It has already been explained that the Victorian Era was a time of self-consciousness and a time of transition. If that statement were to be assumed as true, it would make sense that those within the period would be self-involved with their own society’s problems.
The section starts out with, “London is unique….one can roam for hours without leaving the built-up area and without seeing the slightest sign…of open country” (1101). This struck me as odd. While the focus of the entire section is industrialization, overcrowding, and how it drives an inseparable wedge between poor and rich – a criticism of the rise of capitalism as the dominant economic structure – the claim that London is unique for its sprawling size seemed like the exact type of overestimation that a self-conscious individual would say about his or herself. That their problems are unique. No one could understand; no one could comprehend the problems plaguing London in 1844. The argument here isn’t whether or not that is or isn’t true. The argument is that thematically many of the problems facing a Victorian England have been present throughout history.
About forty-five years prior, Reverend Thomas Malthus wrote an essay describing overpopulation and the natural principles that govern it. Throughout the course of human history, technology reaches a point where a boom in population occurs but is unable to increase the ability to hold such capacity. It reaches a breaking point where war, famine, or disease evens the playing field. For poor and rich – capitalism and industrialization never wedged the gap further because the poor and rich have always been starkly separated. What changed was what constituted as wealth. Because technology improved, luxury wasn’t simply considered surplus necessities. It incorporated more. And while industrialization was unique, the rise of technology is not.
Friedrich uses the rest of the intro paragraph to describe an intimidating outlook on London – natural for someone who would be self-conscious about his or her appearance. It is derived from a sense of nationalism. While London is indeed unique in its circumstances on a technical level, my point was that thematically civilization faces crisis that aren’t harder or easier than others – they simply are new challenges much like the French Revolution or Abolition.
Engels, Friedrich. “The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844,” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010. 176-203. Print.