Part 12: The Industrial Revolution (1500-1950)
When Roman Civilization collapsed there was no longer a civil service to bring back status symbols from far places. Individual traders replaced them, and they got rich. This wasn't entirely satisfactory because the status symbols only worked for the descendants of the warlords of the middle ages, which left the traders and bankers rich but still common.
Calvin solved this problem. He invented a new kind of aristocracy, the Elect, who were directly appointed by God over the heads of the existing social and religious hierarchy. The sign of being elect was God-given prosperity, so Calvinism became a religion of upward-mobility for the middle-class through the acquisition of money. This process continued for the next few centuries.
The traders had taken advantage of the new technology of sailing ships and traded junk or cheap hardware for status symbols. The planters used the technology of slavery on big plantations to become the new establishment. In North America they fought a ("Revolutionary") war to get out from under the old aristocracy.
Meanwhile, english mechanics like Sam Slater had brought over textile machinery and adapted it to New England's water power and, later, steam. These industrialists made machinery that could be operated by women and children and got very rich. In the American Civil War they broke the power of the southern planters and became the establishment.
By the turn of the century they were building mansions in Newport and marrying their daughters to impoverished european aristocrats and they left their factories to be run by the clerks and mechanics. The clerks and mechanics turned the stock certificates into gambling chips and themsevles into a bureaucracy of managers and engineers.
By the World Wars and depression they had replaced the owners and joined the government bureaucracy in the "Managerial Revolution". They also used the G. I. Bill to turn a generation of potential workers into junior bureaucrats who aped their betters by conspicuously consuming imitation status symbols.
By 1950 it was clear that there weren't enough resources to waste the way the bureaucrats of Western Civilization were wasting them, so there was a concerted effort to prevent the external proletariat and the internal proletariat (mostly people of color) from being upwardly mobile.
Western Civilization became more and more closed to immigrants (now stigmatized as "illegal"), and wars and dictatorships were encouraged among undeveloped countries. In the mideast the rebellion against this repression stimulated fundamental Islam, and in Latin America it stimulated a Bolivarian revolutionary movement. In both areas certain groups were able to use oil resources to empower these populist movements.
The bureaucrats who became the dominant minority at the turn of the century divided into two parts, the government bureaucrats and the corporate bureaucrats. The government bureaucrats (represented by the Democratic Party) were dominant during the Great Depression and World War 2, and used that momentum to maintain dominance through 1980.
The corporate bureaucrats took control then and maintained it until the administration of George W. Bush, who lied to start an unpopular war that was very profitable for his supporters. In 2008 it was clear that the Democrats, even with a candidate who was a person of color, were likely to win the election; so the housing market was allowed to collapse and the financial rescue plan allowed the corporate bureaucrats to loot the treasury for hundreds of billions of dollars. The stock market created a paper loss of tens of trillions of what was called "wealth", although it was smoke and mirrors.
That assured the election of Barack Hussein Obama.
Obama's primary motto was "change", and it was certainly clear that the decadence of the corporate establishment made change necessary. But it is not clear whether the change Obama has in mind is merely a changeover back to control by the government bureaucrats or a fundamental change that will empower a new level of egalitarianism. It appears that his intent is to maintain the Internet as the vehicle for a movement that will be based on egalitarianism, ecological responsibility, and creativity; which, if it became the "Universal Religion" of the end of the industrial period would provide a basis for a Utopia. But it is not clear whether Western Civilization is ready for that kind of ideology.
So it may well be that an ideology or religion of global egalitarianism and global ecological responsibility will not be invented until it is necessary, for instance as a rallying cry for the next "Creative Minority" to meet the challenge of rebuilding a civilization on the ruins of ours.
Only when the cooperative effort of all the talent and resources of the world is necessary for our species to survive will it be likely for that kind of religion/ideology to become popular.
But it seemed equally unlikely that a person of color like Barack Hussein Obama would be elected president in the beginning of the twenty-first century; so perhaps "unlikely" is as obsolete as party politics. In any case Obama's rhetoric will provide a direction for the next civilization even if we are not ready for a new, structurally different, civilization without some cleansing trauma.
What is necessary now is to understand the dynamics of religion and ideology as best we can so as to encourage the change when it becomes possible.