Inspired by Patrick Collison's Fast page, I thought it worthwhile to build a list of examples of social change. One of they key challenges of the 21st century is rebuilding our institutions for the digital age. Examples of past successes and failures of social change can help inform that approach.
Fabian Society - A British socialist organization dedicated to advancing democratic socialism via a gradualist approach, rather than revolution, in democracies. Founded in 1884, many of the leading intellectuals of the era were associated with the Fabians, including, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb. It was influential and arguably successful in its efforts, founding the London School of Economics and Political Science, and influencing many leaders of former British Colonies, including India's Jawaharlal Nehru, Pakistan's Muhammad Ali Jinnah, and Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew.
Corn Laws Repeal- The corn laws were tariffs on imported food and corn in the first half of the 19th century in the United Kingdom. They kept prices high, benefitting domestic producers and landowners while hurting the average Brit. The repeal of the corn laws is seen as a decisive move to free trade and a victory for liberalism. It also represented a shift in power from rural areas to urban areas. The Anti-Corn Law League is one of the early examples of mass mobilization, writing op-eds, hosting speeches, mobilizing action, even electing men to parliament. It became a model for later reform movements.
YIMBYs: YIMBY's, or yes, in my backyard, is a pro-housing movement that has recently emerged among urban millennials. They're opposed to NIMBY's, and advocate for increasing density in urban areas to lower housing costs. The first groups were started in 2014 in the San Francisco Bay Area, the center of the housing crisis. The movement has gone international, with chapters in the United Kingdom and Canada. Despite it's nascence, there have been several prominent wins as cities including Berkeley, Sacramento, and Minneapolis are moving away from single family housing requirements.
Mont Pelerin Society: A network of scholars dedicated to preserving and advancing classical liberal ideas in the aftermath of World War II. Founded by luminaries including Friedrich Hayek, Frank Knight, Carl Popper, Ludwig von Mises, George Stigler, and Milton Friedman. The joke is that in the 1950's all libertarians knew each other, in part because the movement was so small and in part because it was well networked in part due to organizations like Mont Pelerin. The ideas of Hayek, Friedman, and Mont Pelerin are credited with the Thatcher and Reagan revolutions.
Meiji Restoration: A period of industrialization in Japan led by the state. Japan had closed themselves off from international trade for centuries, before being forced to open their borders by Commodore Perry in 1853. In 1868 power was concentrated under the Emperor in a modernization effort that ultimately proved successful. The policy changes included the removal of previous privileges' by the Samurai, knowledge sharing by attracting western workers and education, and an emphasis on industrialization. The modernization was successful with Japan winning a war against Russia in 1905.
Prohibition: Prohibition in the United States was a late 19th and early 20th century social movement to ban the production, importation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. It culminated in a constitutional amendment in 1920 that banned alcohol. There was much popular agitation for prohibition, including civil society groups like the Women's Christian Temperance Union and Anti-Saloon League. Protestant women dominated the pro-temperance coalition.
Progressivism: Progressivism is a social movement that emerged in response to the Gilded Age, the wealth created by the industrialists, and government corruption. Progressives wanted an active government, one that could cure social ills via child labor laws, a minimum wage, limited workweek, and expanding the franchise. Progressives also had a totalitarian streak, with many advocating eugenics and other mechanisms to limit the spread of 'undesirable races'. Progressives were largely successful in their aims. Most of their social programs were implemented and they were able to rationalize government outside of the political control of machine bosses.
Abolitionism: A movement to stop the Atlantic slave trade and ban slavery. The abolitionist movement was started by Quakers in England in the late 18th century. In 1807 Britain banned slave trade in their Empire. In 1833 Britain passed the Slavery Abolition Act, which purchased slaves from their masters throughout the British Empire. The Abolitionist movement was successful, with Slavery banned in every country today and seen as a moral abomination.
African decolonization: In 1939 almost all land in Africa was controlled by European powers. By 1977 Africa was largely independent with 54 countries. Several factors contributed to this rapid shift. Africans who fought in World War II came home with ideas of self-determination. Rising education created a nascent African elite. Language about self-determination that was targeted at German and Italian colonies was interpreted as applying to British and French colonies. European states largely lost the will to use the violence required to maintain dominance.
Creation of Soviet Union: The Bolsheviks took power of the Russian state in the 1917 revolution. By 1922 Russia, Ukraine, Byelorussia, and the Transcaucasian republics were united into the Soviet Union. The revolution was the result of conditions that took decades to develop, including a failed revolution in 1905, the formation of factions that had the ability to wield the power of the state, the industrialization of Russia, and their failed entry into World War I. The result of the revolution was war communism, which abolished private property and led deurbanization with Moscow losing 50% of its population.
Roman Republic to Roman Empire: The Roman Empire started when Augustus defeated Mark Antony in 31 BC to take sole control of the Roman state. The Republic had been in decline for a century, undergoing periodic civil wars and social upheaval. During the second Punic War Hannibal defeated the Romans at Cannae in 216 BC, slaughtering much of the upper class. Rome, though eventually victorious, had to open their class structure, beginning a process of weakening their Asabiyyah. There was a slow weakening of norms and social bonds that eventually exploded into civil war between Sulla and Marius. Sulla won in 83, slaughtered the opposition, and imposed institutional reforms to strengthen the aristocracy. The final blow was Caesar's civil war, from which he returned victorious and was murdered.
Bretton Woods: The Bretton Woods conference in 1944 created the post-war monetary system which lasted until America went off the gold standard in 1971. The conference established the IMF, IRDB, and set an adjustably pegged foreign exchange market rate system. It was largely dictated by American and British interests as America was winning the Second World War and had a substantial portion of global industrial capacity.
Tiananmen Square: In 1989 the Chinese government cracked down on Tiananmen Square protests, murdering hundreds or thousands of people. The protests were the last, best attempt at political liberalization in China. The protests were precipitated by the death of Communist general secretary Hu Yaobang, amid the rapid economic changes spurred by the transition to a market economy in the 1980's. At the height of the protests one million people were assembled in the square. The protests were disorganized, but called for due process, democracy, freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
French Revolution: The French Revolution overthrew the French Monarchy, attempted to establish a republic, and ended in the Napoleonic dictatorship. The immediate cause of the revolution was a public debt crisis, in part due to the Anglo-French war and financing the American revolution. The broader cause was industrialization, the creation of a new set of elites, and the inability of the Ancien Regime to adopt to a new era. Unlike the American Revolution, which stabilized after winning independence, the French Revolution devolved into an extended period of social unrest with thousands of people executed during the Reign of Terror.
Environmentalism: The modern environmental movement was kicked off by the book Silent Spring. What had previously been an interest in conservation and preservation became supercharged. In the 15 years after after Silent Spring was published, Earth day was established, the Environmental Protection Agency was created, the Endangered Species Act, Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act all passed. In less than a generation the ideas went from sidelined to completely ensconced in almost all power structures in America.
Federalist Society: The Federalist Society is a conservative and libertarian legal organization. It was formed in 1982 by students who wanted to challenge the left wing drift of the profession. It has been extremely successful, with 43 out of 51 of Trump's appellate court nominees being members or former members of the organization. Six members of the Supreme Court are members or former members.