The contemporary idea of progress, which provided the foundation of Point Four, originated in eighteenth-century Great Britain’s commercial revolution. Natural philosophers in Scotland looked to the past and to distant geographic locales in search of answers to the question of how Britain had changed and why it was still changing. The data was organized into a coherent narrative—a history of progress, of movement—which they believed to be universally applicable. This was a history of human society, be it in London or Lima. As the eighteenth century gave way to the nineteenth, however, people in Great Britain and the United States became less certain of the universal nature of this story of improvement. The continued economic growth and technological ingenuity of post-industrial-revolution nations widened the gap between the haves and the have-nots and convinced a growing number of people that improvement was not the fate of all, but the triumphant destiny of some.
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