Friday, January 1, 2010

Imperial Germany and the Industrial Revolution

By Thorstein Veblen, via Brad DeLong.

Here's a snippet:
Owing to this mechanical discontinuity between any given state of the industrial arts and the scheme of magical, religious, conventional, or pecuniary use and wont with which it lives in some sort of symbiosis,
the carrying-over of such a state of the industrial arts from one community to another need not involve the carrying-over of this its spiritual complement. Such is particularly the case where the borrowing takes place across a marked cultural frontier, in which case it follows necessarily that the alien scheme of conventions
will not be taken over intact in taking over an alien technological system, whether in whole or in part. The borrowing community or cultural group is already furnished with its own system of conceits and observances — in magic, religion, propriety, and any other line of conventional necessity — and the introduction of a new scheme, or the intrusion of new and alien elements into the accredited scheme already in force, is a work of habituation that takes time and special provocation. All of which applies with added force to the introduction of isolated technological elements from an alien culture, still more particularly, of course, where the technological expedients borrowed are turned to other uses and utilised by other methods than those employed in the culture from which they were borrowed, — as, e.g., would be the case in the acquisition of domestic cattle by a sedentary farming community from a community of nomadic or half-nomadic pastoral people, as appears to have happened in the prehistoric culture of the Baltic peoples. The interposition of a linguistic frontier between the borrower and creditor communities would still farther lessen the chance of immaterial elements of culture being carried over in the transmission of technological knowledge.
The borrowed elements of industrial efficiency would be stripped of their fringe of conventional inhibitions and waste, and the borrowing community would be in a position to use them with a freer hand and with abetter chance of utilising them to their full capacity, and also with a better chance of improving on their use,
turning them to new uses, and carrying the principles (habits of thought) involved in the borrowed items out, with unhampered insight, into farther ramifications of technological proficiency. The borrowers are in a position of advantage, intellectually, in that the new expedient comes into their hands more nearly in the
shape of a theoretical principle applicable under given physical conditions; rather than in the shape of a concrete expedient applicable within the limits of traditional use, personal, magical, conventional. It is, in other words, taken over in a measure without the defects of its qualities.

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