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Optimism, Adam Smith, Liberals and Utopians

Science and a New Agriculture | Adam Smith | Bentham, Malthus, Ricardo and Mill | The Optimism of Socialists

Science and a New Agriculture to the 1700s

New thinking, including a greater attention to science, inspired curiosity and pushed intellectual life forward. In Europe ignorance continued to challenge the medical profession, and faith healing was still widespread, but with the new intellectuality more was known about the body, including circulation of the blood – discovered in the 1600s. Europe was becoming a leader in public health.

The rise of intellectual life and curiosity had brought an improvement in agriculture – first among the Dutch. It had been common for harvests to fail every eight or nine years, with people surviving by gathering nuts, stripping bark from trees and eating grass and dandelions. The improvement in Europe's agriculture came with rotating crops rather than rotating fields that were to lie fallow. Grains exhausted the soil, and growers had been leaving fields fallow to allow for soil recovery. But it was discovered that planting peas, beans, turnips, potatoes and clover rejuvenated exhausted soil by restoring nitrogen.

An improving agriculture was accompanied by other improvements. Seeing progress, more Europeans believed in it. The old pessimism had new competition in the expectation that life on earth could be improved.

There was the building of more roads, which helped in the distribution of food to areas where crops had failed. The centralized storage of food increased. And with the introduction of the potato from the Americas, consumption of a food rich in calories and with vitamins A and C had spread in Europe.

More swamps were drained and the number of insects reduced. And societies were improving their water supplies.

And Europe had some luck. Plague had arrived by ship at the port of Marseille (France) in 1720, but the black rat, which had been host to the kind of flea that carried the plague, was losing territory to the brown rat, which did not have this kind of flea. Also, there was more use of the quarantine at Europe's Mediterranean ports and along the border with the Ottoman Empire. The plague in Marseille in 1720 was the last of the significant outbreaks of bubonic plague in Europe.


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