Progressivism, Commerce, and the Triumph of Machine Civilization

  • Alexander S. Rosenthal-Pubul


The period of the eighteenth and nineteenth century involved an unprecedented revolution in both human thought and human life. These changes can be placed under the three rubrics of the idea of progress, the valorization of commerce, and the rise of the machine. Historically, the great civilizations including the West have looked to the past, to ancestral traditions as the reference point for its ideals. During the period however drawing on both the Judeo-Christian tradition of linear history, as well as the Baconian idea of technical advancement and mastery of nature, a new progressive form of civilization emerges which orients itself toward a future presumed to be better than the past. Likewise, Western civilization since classical antiquity subordinated the useful activities of commerce and business as well as mechanical arts (technology), to the noble or liberal arts. This period upended this conception by valorizing commerce as precisely an instrument of both economic benefit and technological advancement. These changes were stimulated by, and in turn stimulated the birth of a machine civilization which prioritizes technical advancements and in no small degree mechanizes human existence, culminating in our own digital age. Thinkers like Berdyaev and Heidegger by contrast wonder if rather technology has passed beyond human control and is recreating human existence in the visage of the machine.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alexander S. Rosenthal-Pubul
    • 1
  1. 1.Center for Advanced Governmental StudiesJohns Hopkins UniversityWashington, DCUSA

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