Originally Posted by DWFII
Why Rome? Why not the early neolithic? If you go back far enough even a cardboard facsimilie will look like it is one of the "finer things" by comparison. Such juxtapositions are neither valid nor objective. If you want to compare items in your "middle class American home" to similar hand made items when the artisanal production of such was at its height then I suspect you would arrive at a very different conclusion.
Rome was quite civilized, had a high level of trade, had very skilled artisans, and access to the knowledge of the Greeks- as the Antikythera Mechanism gives testimony to. It is also entirely before the industrial revolution. One could also use the Han Chinese empires, say the Southern Song of ~1000AD, to come to the same conclusion. But fine, let us move to post 1700, with the understanding that the industrial revolution was in motion.
Take that kitchen table...do you really believe that a table in a middle class home of the 18th or 19th centtury would be eclipsed in quality by the veneer and composites of the average contemporary middle class home? Or let's skew the comparison just a lttle and assume that our modern home has a solid oak table. Have you ever heard of quarter-sawn oak? I doubt many have yet it was clearly a superior cut of wood that is too expensive to implement today despite the great savings that mass production realizes in comparison to hand made simply by dint of eliminating the skilled worker.
The small middle class of the 18th probably had nicer items than I do, particularly artifacts of wood. The median subject of the British Empire in the 18th century would not have had nicer things than I do. The middle class of the British Empire in the 19th Century was larger than at any previous time. The median subject
of the British Empire in the 19th century was probably worse off than his/her 18th century counterpart, but that isn't the comparison we are making. The "public school" class in Britain probably had nicer things than I do, as they could afford it. The point I'm making is that the wealthy had access to nice things, but the rise of the middle class -required- mass production. And mass production -required- machines. And since I am adamant that the rise of the middle class was a good event in world history, blanket denunciations of machine made are not persuasive. Has the pendulum swung too far towards cheap, expendable, souless, mass produced artifacts? Absolutely. There we are on common ground.
Or how about the middle class American home itself? Does the mortise and tenon construction of joist and beams really pale by comparison to the unseasoned 2x4's and nailgun stapling of modern homes? How does particle board subflooring compare to tongue and groove?
Worse, clearly. But then, we don't live in sod houses like at least one house of the Little House on the Prairie set- testimony to 19th century Americans probably thought of as lower middle class.
Well, it may have in some Trades...I'm most familiar with my own, however, and if I am understanding your usage of the term "artisanal mass production," I can assure you that in the shoemaking and allied trades commual production--"artisanal factories"--continued well into the early years of the 20th century in many western societies. Well after onset of the Industrial Revolution, in any case.
Granted. Clothing, and in particular shoe making, seems to have been one of the last holdouts to machine made mass production. Look, what I worry about is that the middle class, the majority of people in America at least, needs cheap products in order to remain middle class. I'd like to change this, it isn't clear how, and moving back to artisanal production seems a promising model. The whole point can be made clearer using airline travel. We all agree it is dreadful how they pack us in like cattle into airplanes. The problem is the price. If they charged more, they could put fewer people into the planes. If they charged more, though fewer people could fly. It'd be a nicer experience for those who could afford it. It could become the definition of middle class- being able to afford plane tickets. It would just be a smaller middle class than we have now. Thus I'm attracted to the idea of artisanal clothing, including shoes, as the wedge to take people to the place where they buy less often but buy better things. It is one of the few places I can imagine this working in the shorter term.