Surfing 18th cent U.K.

Eighteenth and nineteenth century governments and religion should have feared air pumps and electrical machines for several reasons. The most obvious reason is that new technology created a new class of person, the industrialist (Johnson, 159-160.) Intellectuals like Priestly no longer had to rely on the patronage system, no longer fearing their ideas would cost them their patron. (Johnson, 150.) Seats in the British House of Commons wouldn’t immediately shift from agricultural capitalism in Southern England, to the increasingly populated and industrialized north. The industrialists had the wealth and influence to change this, and they set out to do so. Johnson likens the early industrialists and Priestly to a “tidal wave of capitalism, intent on destroying the ancient structures in its path.” (Johnson, 168.) This “tidal wave” would eventually result in the aristocratic elite inspiring mobs to burn down Priestly’s home.  (Johnson, 187) This action, along with Priestly’s soaring unpopularity with the ruling class, expedited his exile to America.

This second section of Johnson’s book is fascinating. He brings up points that are relevant to the scientific, technological, economic, and political events unfolding today. The best point is that the aristocracy of a country, no matter their political affiliation, will protest changes, inciting and funding mob protests that eventually turn into riots. These elite are angry that the environment that benefited both them and their ideas is changing, and in a democratic society, one can fund protests and riots to return to those ideas if they have the money. This point stands to this day, with billionaires and celebrities either funding or publicly supporting destructive mobs.

Leave a Reply