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1848 was an Interesting Year

Throughout the big cities of Europe, average citizens were protesting for better living conditions. London, Madrid, Milan, Sofia, and many more cities were beset by violence and vandalism. News of a major protest spawned a new protest somewhere else. The authorities sought drastic measures to resume social order, and many protesters were killed.

The seeds of this revolution came from the social failure of the Industrial Revolution. Previously, most Europeans were agricultural peasants. Their main occupation was to plant the crops in the spring and harvest the crops in the fall. This meant about ten weeks a year of hard, back-breaking work, but they accepted their lot in life. But this work did not sustain them economically, so they still needed to supplement their household income. Many families had set up looms in their rural cottages to produce textiles, where they would spend a few hours a day weaving. While the looms were not making a great living, life necessities were being met and workers got to spend time with their family and community. Alternatively, many men left their farming community to work in the mines or construction sites for a few months, returning with enough coins to provide for their family. They usually had a few months a year hanging around the village, taking life easy. The agrarians were poor, but it was a happy poor.

The Industrial Revolution brought promise to alleviate poverty. But for most in the working classes, that prosperity never really happened. Those peasants who flocked to the cities were working at least 60 hours a week, usually with no holidays. The work was dirty and dangerous. Housing for workers was cramped and crowded, with several families living in the same tenement. Alcohol and religion were the only entertainments. Wages barely paid for food and rent, so children were put to work to raise the family income. As well as these hardships, workers saw very little improvement in their lives. The life they were living at the moment was also their expectation for 10 years later. There was no hope.

And the workers couldn’t go back to their former agricultural life. With advanced farming tools, the farms required less labor than before. 

For most Europeans, life got worse with the Industrial Revolution. The working classes saw no future in these times. They showed their frustration on the streets in 1848.

Civil authorities did eventually quell the protests. Organizers were jailed. Some hopped a ship to make a life in the Americas—and passed on their ideas there.

Yet there were some concessions granted. Many schools were opened up where working-class parents could send their children to get some basic education. Quasi-parliaments were set up for working classes to elect and send their representatives to “advise” the crumbling feudal order. The year 1848 was the start of progressive applications into governance.

For libertarian philosophers, 1848 must have been a bad year. The aftermath of the protest movement left the aristocratic order giving some of its wealth, power, and opportunity to the working classes. In the “natural order,” this transfer was coerced and therefore could be not moral in any way. And since 1848, more transfers have occurred. Labor unions, safety laws, reasonable working hours, public education, public health care, social assistance, pensions, unemployment insurance, etc. have all undermined the natural order of a libertarian utopia.

The history lesson that most libertarians do not understand from 1848 is that common people need to have hope that there is a better life for them and their children. If there is nothing but hard work and low pay to live for, common people will take to the streets.

Published on Writerbeat 2017

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