Progress Past

Paul Langford

  • The Idea of Progress in 18th-Century Britain by David Spadafora
    Yale, 464 pp, £22.50, July 1990, ISBN 0 300 04671 5
  • George III and the Satirists from Hogarth to Byron by Vincent Carretta
    Georgia, 389 pp, £38.50, June 1990, ISBN 0 8203 1146 4

It is customary to claim the idea of progress as one of the distinguishing features of Western civilisation: indeed the very success of the West is sometimes attributed to confidence in its own destiny in this respect. Its peculiar saving mission, that of liberating mankind by means of the creation of wealth, would make little sense without some underlying faith in the prospect, perhaps even the certainty, of limitless improvement. The author of The Idea of Progress in 18th-Century Britain, an interesting and carefully crafted book, evidently shares something of this faith. He ends it with a triumphalist flourish, arguing that the Industrial Revolution not only made possible the victory of the creed of progress but was itself the outcome of that creed.

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