The Birth of The Business Class

The Birth of The Business Class

The Birth of the Business Class

One of the most notable changes in social organization brought on by the Industrial Revolution was the rise of a new business class.

Many men of humble origin got ahead by grasping opportunities provided by the new technology and industry. Many of them left farming to establish small factories to produce cotton, iron, or pottery. The entrepreneurs rarely were engineers or inventors, but they were tireless advocates of the innovations of others.

They were willing to take risks, and they had great energy and boundless ambition. Eventually the successful entrepreneurs who made up the new business class became so wealthy and influential that they were able to challenge the authority of the members of the landed gentry who had traditionally governed England.

The members of the new business class became increasingly restive under the mercantilist restrictions of their activities as the pressure mounted to expand manufacturing and foreign trade. Businessmen advocated the abolition of tariffs and other regulations governing foreign trade. They argued that England could only benefit from free trade because it had the highest level of industrialization in Europe.

For a time their pleas went unheeded. Members of the landowning class supported mercantilist policies, and they were still powerful in Parliament. The businessmen wanted to take the economy out from under the domination of the state so that it could function according to its own natural laws. Their demands were in keeping with broad currents of social change of the times, but to realize them the business class first had to gain political concessions from the landowners. read pro quick quote 

A social philosophy was needed which called for a new relation between the state and the economy, and between government and the individual.

Classical liberalism was such a philosophy. It valued progress over tradition and competition over harmony. It was peace loving, democratic, and equalitarian, and it had an immense respect for private property. Classical liberals had a bias against government and feared that its powers would be used illegitimately. They believed the government's functions should be limited to the protection of individual liberty. In short, classical liberalism suited the businessman's need for a social philosophy which offered a new definition of the productive relations between men. It was the product of a way of thinking in which business values were more central than social, political, religious, or military considerations.


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