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Technocracy to the Rescue

Rupert Hughes • 1933


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This was taken from an article written by the famous novelist, Rupert Hughes (1872-1956). His writings cover a wide range of subjects. He was author of American Composers (1900); Love Affairs of Great Musicians (1903); and Music Lovers' Cyclopedia (1914). His biography of President George Washington, published in three volumes between 1926 and 1930, is notable for its careful documentation and its studied omission of the many popular myths concerning Washington. His novels, which attained wide popularity, include What Will People Say? (1914); Ladies' Man (1930); City of Angels (1941); and The Giant Wakes (1950). He also wrote plays for the stage and for motion pictures.


Whenever something new is offered to the world as a cure for old diseases, it is misrepresented by everybody concerned. The inventor or discoverer, like Archimedes, leaps out of the inspiring bathtub, cries ``Eureka!'' and runs all wet down the street, proclaiming the great godsend. Then friends and converts take the hopes and dreams of the inventor and magnify them, twist them, and vouch for them as curealls. Then the enemies of all new things take alarm and begin to attack something that the inventor never claimed and his partisans never pretended.

Everybody makes mistakes in figures but, on catching somebody else in a typographical or mathematical error, thinks he has finished him. When Sir Isaac Newton discovered the law of gravity and tried to verify it, the great mathematician was so excited that he had to call in a friend to do a simple bit of addition. Yet Newton has a good name and the law was a good thing to learn.

So it is with Technocracy, as I see it. It is a magnificent theory, a branch of the theory of evolution and as easy to misrepresent and get mad at; some of its first disciples have been extremely rash and prophetic, and its enemies are ridiculing those follies and committing new follies of their own. I believe that in its essence it is a true statement of irresistible tendencies. Before we can find a cure we need a diagnosis. This being correct or corrected, there is still much room for error in the prophecy or prognosis. But somewhere, somehow, in a certain general direction, something waits to be done.

Technocracy means ``government by skill''; skill means wisdom based on knowledge, knowing how to do things, especially with tools, implements, machines, scientific devices, neat tricks. Technocracy concerns the management of the physical work of the world. It has nothing to do with the control of the fine arts, religions, philosophies, jokes, amusements, and fashions.

Can anyone object to a rule of the world by skill? Is it not high time that we had a bit of it?

We have had aristocracy, autocracy, bureaucracy, democracy, ochlocracy, plutocracy, theocracy, hierarchy, the wise and good, the mob, the pee-pul--which means the politicians ``representing''the people. And today all forms of government are stuck in the mud together.

And now comes along a suggestion that we let skill run the world. The idea is backed up with a warning that the machine which man has invented will serve as a Juggernaut if allowed to run wild, but will serve as a magnificent omnibus if only everybody will get aboard and ride, each one taking his spell at the wheel or other parts of the machinery.

Fantastic claims have been made for the new system by more or less responsible persons, as they were made for such inventions or discoveries as the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, phonograph, moving picture, radio, salvarsan, diphtheria serum, insulin, and what not.

Fantastic opposition as always arose at once. Ridicule and furious protest abound. The errors or apparent errors of the enthusiasts are held up to scorn; but as the world has both benefited and suffered from all other great inventions, so I think it will be with Technocracy.

The earliest announcements came up in the manner of Kipling's dawn, ``like thunder.'' Press and public ran away with the idea. We had some over-hasty statements concerning the eminence of some of the sponsors. Mr. Howard Scott was the original wonder boy; he was credited with as many degrees as an nth-degree Mason. Then came the inevitable turning and rending, and it was soon implied that Mr. Scott could neither read nor write, and was probably the man who blew up the Maine and struck Billy Patterson.

But what does it matter? When Thomas Jefferson advocated true democracy, equality, and the rule of the people, he was accused of everything horrible, from fathering mulattoes to advocating general massacre. The clergy called him an atheist and an arch-demon. The president of Yale prophesied that if Jefferson were elected, American virgins would be violated in the public squares. In spite of that prediction--or perhaps because of it--Jefferson swept the country by an overwhelming majority.

When Charles Darwin put forth his theory of evolution, he and his followers were denounced as fools, fiends, destroyers of morality, and everything else. But today there is no eminent scientist who does not accept evolution as one of the gigantic facts of cosmic history. All along the line of the evolutionary theory there were and are things for the critics to laugh at. But the line holds.

The theory that the world is round was mocked and made perilous. Today nobody would have the face to claim that the heavens revolve around a fixed earth.

Human nature does change, slowly and with violent backslidings, but always toward more and more recognition of human equality and the rights of every individual to every opportunity. A human's native abilities, persistence, luck, and environment will determine his progress, but the right to try is his or hers. In ancient times the king was god, high priest, everything. His subjects were nothing. His nobility were lackeys. Through the Middle Ages and beyond, a prince, a duke, or what not would enrich an illegitimate son with the gift of a city, a province, a see, and all the inhabitants with it. If people resisted they were impoverished or put to death. Where there is similar atrocity today it is at least masked under pretenses of popular benefit.

When Louis XVI was crowned, some of the laborers who built the coronation bridge dropped dead of starvation as the procession passed in its grandeur.

When Talleyrand was converted to the Revolution, he appealed to some of the embattled nobility and others to pay a tax to help the poor, or at least to give up a tax on their incomes. He said: ``If you don't give part the people will take all.'' They didn't and the people did.

When our forefathers began to claim a voice in the disposal of their own property, the conservatives in America pointed out that kings ruled by divine right. Washington, Franklin, and the rest did not dare dream of independence until Tom Paine, ``wild anarchist,''deist, and fugitive from English prisons, converted them.

Even Washington did not believe in democracy. Jefferson was the madman who believed that everybody high or low had an equal right to speak his mind and vote his vote. And property or other such qualifications for voters were insisted on in most of the United States till at least 1830.

We can still remember the horror expressed at the thought of giving women equality with men in the voting booths and in public life. A little over a century ago many prominent people thought it a sin to teach women to read and write.

Today, in theory at least and almost everywhere about the world, the individual has inalienable rights that can be infringed only for the greatest good of the greatest number.

All this is leading up to one of Technocracy's most alarming suggestions: that everybody shall have economic equality--the same hours of work and the same income. Such a paradise will never quite come; of course. Yet we draw nearer it all the time.

Now, I love money and luxury and purple and fine linen, and I do my best to get them without taking them from anybody else. The fact that the majority lack them is, to me, tragic. Until Technocracy suggested it, I had never imagined it possible that the world could be so managed as to give everybody comfort and a little luxury. Now it seems that science has found a way to manufacture what would be called a Utopia.

Man today can do a thousand things that angels could not do a century ago. One man with an electric button or a lever or some device can control so much horse power that he becomes an army. At my old home in Keokuk, Iowa, is a dam across the Mississippi; and the water pouring through turbines creates a power that could run every plow and agricultural implement in the Middle West.

A system of underground automatic irrigation of the roots of crops has been tested and proved which may junk the whole horrible business of plowing, harrowing, fertilizing, and what not. Even these tasks can be and are being done by machinery on such a vast scale that our crops are already too large for us to manage.

Our only hope today is to get farmers to reap smaller harvests, to get manufacturers to make less goods and use more men in the making of them; to check short the development of agricultural and other science and throw man backward down the long stairs of time.

TECHNOCRACY says: ``Take the machine and buy leisure with it, buy equality with it, let it create plenty of everything for everybody for almost nothing. Or else--'' Then it paints very gloomy pictures of the future, perhaps laying the black on a bit thick. But it is hard not to grow melodramatic these days.

Admitting that there are errors in the Technocratic statistics--in what human business has there ever been a lack of error?--two tremendous facts remain: first, machinery has been so rapidly developed in the last few decades that new fields of employment cannot be opened rapidly enough to take care of the man power that machines displace; second, this is true even though the development of new machinery is hampered and checked in numberless ways. If science were permitted free sway, the displacement of man power would be incalculably more rapid and unemployment would hugely increase.

Many protest that Technocracy means the surrender of personal liberty. What liberty has the average man left to surrender? Last year the government took one fourth of every citizen's money. This year's income tax promises to take the skin off any prosperity anybody may have chanced upon.

Even religious freedom is still largely restricted to certain powerful sects. Everywhere we turn today we find our liberty surrendered.

While it is certain that government would be altered almost beyond recognition in the process of adoption of Technocracy, let nobody pretend that this would be any greater or more radical a revolution than a dozen that have already taken place in this nation of ours.

What sort of person could really want to maintain the present system of a few having all the luxury and the vast majority the drudgery, a few the cream, the rest only skim milk? I am as far as possible from an anarchist, or a communist, or a socialist. But it warms my heart as no other dream has ever done, to imagine everybody having the dread of poverty removed, the hideous torments of anxiety gone, and the gates of leisure and a little luxury opened.

Technocracy is a plan to bring order into the present chaos and construct a decent workaday world.

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