Read CROWDS AND MACHINES - CHAPTER III of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


I have had occasion nearly every day for the past two weeks to pass by an ancient churchyard on a great hillside not far from London.  Most of the stones are very old, and seem to have been thoughtfully and reverently, flake by flake, wrought into their final form by long-vanished hands.  As I stand and watch them, with the yews and cypresses flocking round them, it is as if in some sort of way they had been surely wrought by the hand of love, so full are they of grief and of joy, of devotion, of the very singing of the dead and of those who loved them.

When I walk on a little farther, and come to a small and new addition to the churchyard, and look about me at the stones, I find myself suddenly in quite a new company.  So far as one could observe, looking at the gravestones in the new churchyard, the people who died there died rather thoughtlessly and mechanically, and as if nobody cared very much.  Of course, when one thinks a little further, one knows that this cannot be true, and that the men and the women who gathered by these glib, trim, capable-looking modern tombstones were as full of love and tenderness and reverence before their dead as the others were-but the lines on the stones give no sign.  One never stops to read an epitaph on one of them; one knows it would not be interesting, or really whisper to one the strange, happy, human things of another world-even of this world, that make the old tombstones such good company and so friendly to us.  One gives a glance at the stone and passes on.  It was made by machinery, apparently; a machine might have designed it, a machine might have died and been buried under it.  One looks beyond it at all the others like it-all the glib, competent-looking white stones.  Were the silenced people all machines under them, all mechanical, all made to a pattern like their stones, like these strangely hard, brief tombstones standing here at their heads, summing up their lives before us curtly, heartlessly, on this gentle old hillside?

I wondered.

I looked back to the old eloquent cemetery that almost seemed to be breathing things, and looked once more at the new.

And as I stood and thought, they seemed to me to be two worlds-one the world the people all about me are always saying sadly is going by, and the other-well, the one we will have to have.

As I look off from the hilltop at the great sloping countryside about me, which stretches miles and miles, with its green fields, and bushy treetops, its red roofs, its banners of steam from twenty railways, its huge, grim, furious chimneys, its still, sleepy steeples, I also see two worlds, the same two worlds over again that I saw in the churchyard, except that they are all jumbled together-the complacent, capable, cut-out, homeless-looking houses, the little snuggled-down old ones with their happy trees about them and trails of cooking smoke.  I see the same two worlds standing and facing each other before me whichever way I turn.

And when I slip out of the churchyard from those two little separate worlds of the dead, and move slowly down the long bustling village street, and look into the faces of the living, the same two worlds that were in the churchyard and on the hills seem to look at me out of the faces of the living too.

The faces go hurrying past me, worlds apart.  Most people, I imagine, who read these pages must have noticed the people’s faces in the streets nowadays-how they seem to have come out of separate worlds into the street a moment, and hurry past, and seem to be going back in a moment more to separate worlds.

There is hardly even a village footway left anywhere to-day where one cannot see these two worlds, or the spirit of these two worlds, flitting past one through the streets in people’s faces, and nightly before our eyes, struggling with each other to possess, to swallow away into itself human souls, to master the fate of man upon the earth.

One of these is the World of the Hand-made; the other is the Machine-made World.

As day by day I watch these two worlds with all their people in them flocking past me, I have come to have certain momentary but recurrent resentments and attractions, unaccountable strong emotions; and when I try afterward to rationalize my emotions, as a man should, and give an account of them to myself, and get them ready to use and face my age with, and make myself strong and fit to live in an age, I find myself with a great task before me.  And yet one must do it; one cannot live in an age strongly and fitly if one would rather be living in some other age, or if it is an age with two worlds in it and one cannot make up one’s mind which is the world one wants and settle down quietly and live in it.  Then a strange thing happens, and always happens the moment I begin to try to decide which of the two-the Hand-made World or the Machine-made World-I will choose.  I find that in an odd, confused, groping, obstinate way I am bound to choose them both.  In spite of all its ugly ways-a kind of vast indifference it has to me, to everybody, its magnificent heartlessness-I find I have come to take in the Machine-made World a kind of boundless, half-secret pride and joy, for a terrible and strange beauty there is in it.  And then, too, even if I wanted to give it up, I could not:  neither I nor any man, nor all the world combined, could unthink to-day a hundred years, fold up a hundred thousand miles of railway, tuck modern life all neatly up again in a little, old, snug, safe, lovable Hand-made World.  There must be some way out, some connecting link between the Hand-made and the Machine-made.  We have merely lost it for a moment.

Which way shall we turn?  And so at last to the little Thing through which the whole world whispers to me on my desk, to the mighty railways that beckon past my door, to the airships that cannot be stilled, and to the rolling mills that will not be silenced, I turn at last!  I turn to the Machines Themselves.  Half-singing and half-cursing, I have faced them.  There is some way in which they can answer and can be made to answer-can be made to give me and the men about me the kind of world we want.  I try to analyze it and think it out.  What is the thing, the real thing in the Hand-made World, that fills me with pride and joy, and that I cannot and will not give up?  Is not the real thing that is in it something that can be or might be freed from it, exhaled from it, something that might be in some new form saved, made an atmosphere or a spirit and passed on?  And what is it in the new Machine-made World which, in spite of the splendid joy, a rough new, wild religion there is in it, keeps daily filling me as I go past machines with this contradictory obstinate dread of them?  After a time I have made a little cleared space in my mind, a little breathing room.  It has come to me from thinking that what is beautiful in the Hand-made World perhaps is not these particular Hand-made things themselves at which I so delight, but the Hand-made spirit of the men who made them which the men put into the things.  And perhaps what is full of death and fear in the Machine-made World is not the machines themselves, but the Machine-made spirit in which the men who run the machines have made the machines work.  Perhaps the Hand-made spirit is pervasive, eternal.  Perhaps it can escape like a spirit, and can live where it will live, and do what it will do, like a spirit, and possess the body that it wills to possess.  Perhaps the Hand-made spirit is still living around me to-day, and is not only living, but is living in a more unspeakable, unbounded body than any spirit has ever lived in before, and is to-day before our eyes, laying its huge iron fingers around our little earth, and holding the oceans in its hand, and brushing away mountains with a breath, until we have Man at last playing all night through the sky, with visions and airships and telescopes.  His very words walk on the air with soft and unseen feet.

It is the Hand-made spirit that creates machines.  The machines themselves are still the mighty children of the men who move and work in the Hand-made spirit; and the men who glory in them, the men who bring them forth, who think them out, and who create them, and who do the great and mighty things with them, are still the Hand-made men.

This leads us up to the question we are all asking ourselves every day.  “How can a machine-made world be run in the spirit of a hand-made world?” The particular form in which the question has been put, which is taken from “Inspired Millionaires” is as follows: 

“The idea that there is something in a machine simply as a machine which makes it inherently unspiritual is based upon the experience of the world; but it is, after all, a rather amateur and juvenile world with machines as yet.  Its ideas are in their first stages, and are based for the most part upon the world’s experience with second-rate men, working in second-rate factories-men who have been bullied, and could be bullied, by the machines they worked with into being machines themselves.  No one would think of denying that men who let machines get the better of them, either in their minds or their bodies, in any walk of life, grow unspiritual and mechanical.  But it does not take a machine to make a machine out of a man.  Anything will do it if the man will let it.  Even the farmer who is out under the great free dome of heaven, and working in wonder every day of his life, grows like a clod if he buries his soul alive in the soil.  But farming has been tried many thousands of years, and the other kind of farmer is known by everybody-the farmer who is master over the soil; who, instead of becoming an expression of the soil himself, makes the soil express him.  The next thing that is going to happen is that every one is going to know the other kind of mechanic.  It is cheerfully admitted that the kind of mechanic we largely have now, who allows himself to be a watcher of a machine, a turner-of-something for forty years, can hardly be classed as vegetable life.  He is not even organic matter except in a very small part of himself.

“But it is not the mechanical machine which makes the man unspiritual.  It is the mechanical man beside the machine.  A master at a piano (which is a machine) makes it a spiritual thing; and a master at a printing-press, like William Morris, makes it a free and artistic and self-expressive thing.”

I spent a day a little while ago in walking through a factory.  I went past miles of machines-great glass roofs of sunshine over them-and looked in the faces of thousands of men.  As I went through the machines I kept looking to and fro between the machines and the men who stood beside them, and sometimes I came back and looked again at the machines and the men beside them; and every machine, or nearly every machine, I saw (any one could see it in that factory) was making a man of somebody.  One could see the spirit of the man who invented the machine, and the spirit of the man who worked with it, and the spirit of the man who owned it and who placed it there with the man, all softly, powerfully running together.  There were exceptions, and every now and then one came, of course, upon the man who seemed to be simply another and somewhat different contrivance or attachment to his machine-some part that had been left over and thought of last, and had not been done as well as the others; but the factory, taken as a whole, from the manager’s offices and the great counting-room, and from the tall chimneys to the dump, seemed to me to have something fresh and human and unwonted about it.  It seemed to be a factory that had a look, a look of its own.  It was like a vast countenance.  It had features, an expression.  It had an air-well, one must say it, of course, if one is driven to it:  the factory had a soul, and was humming it.  Any one could have seen why by going into his office and talking a little while with the owner, or by even not talking to him-by seeing him look up from his desk.  After walking through several miles of his personality, and up and down and down and up the corridors of his mind, one did not really need to meet him except as a matter of form and as a finishing touch.  One had been visiting with him all along:  to look in his face was merely to sum it up, to see it all, the whole place, over again in one look.  One did not need to be surprised; one might have known what such a man would be like-that such a factory could only be conceived and wrought by a man of genius, a kind of lighted-up man.  A man who had put not only skylights in his buildings, but skylights in his men, would have to have a skylight in himself (a skylight with a motor attachment, of course).

If one were to try to think in nature or in art of something that would be like him-well, some kind of transcendental engine, I should say, running softly, smoothly outdoors in a great sunshine, would have given one a good idea of him.  But, however this may be, it certainly would have been quite impossible to go through his factory and ever say again that machines do not and could not have souls, or at least over-souls, and that men who worked with machines did not and could not have souls as fast as they were allowed to.

A few days later I went through another factory, and I came out weary and spent at night, feeling as unreasonable and almost as hateful about machines, and as discouraged about the people who had to work with them as John Ruskin did in those first early days when the Factory Chimney first lifted its long black flag upon our earth, and bullied great cities into cowards and slaves, and all the great, quiet-hearted nations, and began making for us-all around us, before our eyes, as though in a kind of jeer at us, and at our queer, pretty, helpless little religions-the hell we had ceased to believe in.

The hell is here, and is going to be here apparently as long as may be necessary for us to see it and believe in it once more.  If a hell on our own premises, shut down hard over our lives here and now, is what is necessary to make us religious and human once more, if we are reduced to it, and if having a hard, literal hell-one of our own-is our only way of seeing things, of fighting our way through to the truth, and of getting once more decisive, manful, commanding ideas of good and evil, I for one can only be glad we have Pittsburgs and Sheffields to hurry us along and soon have it over with.

But while, like Ruskin, any one can look about the machines and see hell, he can see hell to-day, unlike Ruskin, with heaven lined up close beside it.  The machines have come to have souls.  The machines we can see all about us have taken sides.  We can all of us see the machines about us to-day like vast looms, weaving in and weaving out the fate of the world, the fate of the churches, the fate of the women and the little children, and the very fate of God; and everything about us we can see turning at last on what we are doing with the machines that are about us, and what we are letting our machines do with us.

It has cleared my mind, and at least helped me to live side by side with machines better from day to day, to consider what these two souls or spirits in the machines are, and what they are doing and likely to do.  If one knows them and one sees them, and sees how they are working, it is easier to take sides and join in and help.

It would seem to me that there are two spirits in machinery-the spirit of weariness, weakness, of inventing ways of getting out of work; and there is the spirit in the machines, too, of moving mountains, conquering the sea and air, of working harder and lifting one’s work over to more heroic, to more splendid and difficult, and almost impossible things.  It is these two spirits that are fighting for the possession and control of our machine civilization.  I watch the machines and the men beside them and see which side they are on.  The labourer who is doing as little work as he dares for his wages and the capitalist who is giving as little service as he dares for his money are on the one side (the vast, lazy, mean majority of employers and employees), and there may be seen standing on the other side against them, battling for our world, another small but mighty group made up of the labourer who loves his work more than his wages, and the capitalist who loves the thing he makes more than the profit.  In other words, the fate of our modern civilization, with all its marvellous machines on it, its art galleries and its churches, is all hanging to-day on the battle between the spirit of achievement, the spirit of creating things, and the spirit of weariness or the spirit of thinking of ways of getting out of things.

It does not take very long to see which one prefers when one considers the problem of living in one world or the other.  If we are to take our choice between living in a world run by tired men and a world run by inspired ones, most of us will have little difficulty in deciding which we would prefer, and which one we are bound to have.  I have been moved to come forward with the idea of inspired employers-or, as I have called it, “Inspired Millionaires”-because it would seem to me inspired employers are the very least we can ask for; for certainly if even our employers cannot be inspired or rested and strong, we cannot expect their overworked workmen to be.  There is no hope for us but to write our books and to live our lives in such a way as to help put the world in the hands of the Strong, and to help keep its institutions and customs out of the hands of the overworked.  Overworked mechanical employers and overworked labourers are the last men to solve the problem of the overworked, except in a small, tired, mean, resentful, temporary way.

And so, as I look about me and watch the machines and the men who are working with the machines, or owning them, it is on this principle that I find myself taking sides.  I will not live, if I can help it, in a world that is conceived and arranged and managed by tired and overworked and mechanical men.  Have I not seen tired, mechanical men, whole generations of them, vast mobs of them, the men who have let the machines mow down their souls?  The first thing I have come to ask of a man, if he is to be at the head of a machine-whether it is a machine called a factory, or a machine called a Government or a city, or a machine called a nation-is, Is he tired? I have cast my lot once for all-and as it seems to me, too, the lot of the world-with those men who are rested, with the surplus men, the men who want to work more not less, who are still and gentle and strong in their hearts, steady in their imaginations, great men-men who are not driven to being self-centred or driven to being class-centred, who can be world-centred and inspired.

When one has made this decision, that one will work for a world in control of men who are strong, one suddenly is brought face to face with a fact in our machine civilization which probably is quite new, and which the spirit of man has never had to face in any age before.

For the first time in the history of the world, machinery has made it possible for the world to get into the hands of the weak.

The Gun began it-the gun in a coward’s hands may side with the weak, and the machine in the hands of the weak may temporarily give the world a list or a trend, and leave it leaning on the wrong side.

The Trust, for instance, which is really an extremely valuable invention, and perhaps, on the whole, the most important machine of modern times when it is used to defend the rights of the people, is a very different thing when it is pointed at them.  We have to-day, not unnaturally, the spectacle of perhaps nine people out of ten getting up and saying in chorus all through the world that Trusts ought to be abolished; and yet it cannot honestly be said that there is really anything about the trust-machine-any more than any other machine-that is inherently wicked, or mechanical and heartless.  Our real objection to the trust-machines is not to the machines themselves, but to the fact that they are, or happen to be (judging each Trust by itself), in the hands of the weak and of the tired-of men, that is, who have no spirit, no imagination about people; mechanical-minded men, who, at least in the past, have taken the easiest and laziest course in business-that of making all the money they can.

The moment we see the Trusts in the hands of the strong men, the men who are unwilling to slump back into mere money-making, and who face daily with hardihood and with joy the feat of weaving into business several strands of value at once, making things and making money and making men together, the Trust will become a vast machine of human happiness, lifting up and pulling on the world for all of us day and night.

If our labouring men to-day are to be got out from under the machines, we can only bring it to pass by doing everything we can in directors’ meetings or in labor unions or as buyers or as journalists-whatever we may be-to keep the trust-machines in this world out of the hands of the tired, weak, and mechanical-minded men.

And the things that have been happening to the trust-machines, or are about to happen to them, have happened and are beginning to happen before our eyes to the machines themselves.  The machines of flame and iron wheels and men in monstrous factories which the philosophers and the poets and the very preachers have doomed our world with are passing through the same evolution as the trust-machines, and shall be seen at last through the dim struggle yielding themselves, bending their iron wills to the same indomitable human spirit, the same slow, stern, implacable will of the soul of man.  They shall be inspired machines.

Now for a long time we have seen (for the most part) the weak and mechanical-minded employer, the man who takes the line of least resistance in business, on every hand about us, making his employees mechanical-minded.  The men have not been able to work without machines to work with, and as they have been obliged to come to him to get the machines, he has adopted the policy of letting himself fall into the weakest and easiest way of keeping his men under his own control.  He takes the machines the men have come to him to get, and turns them back against them, points them at their lives, stops their minds with them, their intelligence and manhood, the very hope and religion with which they live; and of course, when men have had machines pointed at them long enough, one sees them on every hand being mowed down in rows into machines themselves-as deadly and as hopeless to make a civilization out of, or a nation out of, or to give votes to, or to have for fathers as machines would be, as iron or leather or wood.

In the meantime, however, we seem to have been developing-partly by competition and partly by combination and by experience-employers who are not mechanical-minded, who have spirit themselves, and who believe in it and can use it in others; who find ways of adjusting the hours, the wages, and the conditions of work for the men, so that what is most valuable in them, their spirit, their imaginations, their hourly good-will, can all be turned into the business, can all daily be used as the most important part of the working equipment of the factory.  These employers have found (by believing it long enough to try it) that live men can do better and more marketable work than dead ones.  If the great slow-moving majority of our modern machine employers were not mechanical-minded, it would not be necessary to prove to them categorically the little platitude (which even people who have observed cab-horses know) that the living is more valuable than the half-dead, and that live men can do better and more marketable work than half-dead ones.

But, of course, if they are not convinced by imagination or by arguments or by figures, they may have to be convinced by losing their business; for the most spirited employers, those who take the more difficult and creative course of making money and men together, are sure to be the employers who will get and keep the most spirited men, and are sure to crowd out of the market in their own special line employers who can only get and keep mechanical-minded ones.

It would be hard to overstate the importance of the battle now going on among the trades unions between the spirited labourers and the tired ones, and among the manufacturers between the inspired employers and the mechanical-minded ones.

For the time being, at least, it is the inspired employers who have most power to change the conditions of labour and to free the mechanical-minded slaves.  It is they who are standing to-day on the great strategical ground of our time.  They hold the pass of human life.  People cannot expect to be inspired in crowds.  Crowds are too unwieldy and too inconvenient to act quickly.  The people can only concentrate their energies on getting and demanding inspired employers, on insisting that the men who for eight or nine hours a day are pouring in with their wages their thoughts, and their motives, the very hope with which they live, into their lives, shall be the champions of the people, shall represent them and act for them, as they are not placed to act for themselves, and with more imagination than they can yet expect to have for themselves.  If our labouring men of to-day are going to struggle out from under the machines, they can only do it by doing all that they can in labour unions and in the press and at the polls to keep the machines in this world out of the hands of tired and mechanical-minded owners.

But probably the more immediate rescue from the evil or mechanicalness in machines is not going to come from the employers on the one hand or the employees on the other, but from having the employees in the Trades Unions and the employers in the directors’ meetings combining together to keep in subordinate places where they cannot hurt others all men, whether directors or employees, who do not work harder than they have to, and who have not the brains to do their work for something besides money.  The men who are like this will of course be pitied and duly considered, but they will be kept where they will not have power to control other men, or where by force of position or by mere majority they will be able to bully other men to work as mechanically as they do.  Workmen who do not want to become machines can only better conditions by combination with so-called inspired employers-employers who work harder than they have to, who dote on the great human difficulties of work, who choose not the easiest but the most perfect way of doing things, who are never mechanical themselves, and will not let their men be if they can help it.  I have liked to call these employers inspired millionaires.  I would rather have the machine owner or employer a millionaire, because the more machines an inspired employer can own, the more he can buy and get away from the uninspired ones, the sooner will the right of labour and the will of the people be accomplished.  When the machines are in the hands of inspired and strong and spirited men-men of real competence or genius for business, the machines will be seen on every hand around us as the engines of war against evil, against slavery, the whirling weapons of the Spirit.

Even now, in dreams have I stood and watched them-the will of the people like a flail in their mighty hands-this vast army of machines-go thundering past, driving the uninspired and mechanical off the face of the earth.