The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648 – 1815 repeats a theory that partially contradicts the thesis of Gregory Clark’s A Farewell to Alms. Tim Blanning quotes another historian: “‘France was not disastrously behind [in the 1780s [economically]], and the Industrial Revolution might have taken off there with only a few years’ delay in relation to England. But the “national catastrophe” which the French Revolution and the twenty years war meant to the French economy would intensify the discrepancy and make it irremediable'” (the outer set of brackets are Blanning’s, the inner mine). The French were hobbled by wars and revolution around the period of the Industrial (R)evolution, preventing them from exploiting the inventions of the time or developing the capital stocks to fund industry. Instead, they spent all their public funds on war. Had they not been so focused on war, England might not have been the big winner in technological and other terms. Clark argues that English cultural and possibly genetic evolution were the primary causes of the Industrial Revolution’s occurrence in England, but he doesn’t give enough credence to or effectively rules out other factors like geography or politics.
A longer post on Blanning is coming.
Edit: In addition, Blanning implicitly criticizes writers like Clark: “Indeed, the idea of a revolution occurring in the economic history of the world, which then affected every other aspect of human activity […] was given a new lease of life in the middle of the twentieth century.” In other words, Big Ideas like Clark’s are a relatively recent product, and they go back a long way—each one discrediting or changing the one prior.