Read LETTING THE CROWD BE BEAUTIFUL - IRON MACHINES - CHAPTER X of Crowds A Moving-Picture of Democracy, free online book, by Gerald Stanley Lee, on


The fundamental failure of humanity so far is in self-assertion.

The essential distinctive trait of modern civilization is machinery.

Machinery logically and irrevocably involves the cooeperative action of individuals.

If we make levers and iron wheels work by putting them together according to their nature, we can only make vast masses of men work by putting them together according to their nature.

So far we have been trying to make vast masses of men work together in precisely the same way we make levers and iron wheels work together.  We have thought we could make diabolically, foolishly, insanely inflexible men-machines which violate at every point the natural qualities and instincts of the materials of which they are made.

We have failed to assert ourselves against our iron machines.  We have let our iron machines assert themselves against us.  We have let our iron machines be models for us.  We have overlooked the difference in the nature of the materials in machines of iron and machines of men.

A man is a self-reproducing machine, and an iron machine is one that has to be reproduced by somebody else.

In a man-machine arrangements must be made so that each man can be allowed to be the father of his own children and the author of his own acts.

In society or the man-machine, if it is to work, men are individuals.  Society is organically, irrevocably dependent upon each man, and upon what each man chooses according to his own nature to do himself.

The result is, the first principle of success in constructing and running a social machine is to ask and to get an answer out of each man who is, as we look him over and take him up, and propose to put him into it, “What are you like?” “What are you especially for?” “What do you want?” “How can you get it?”

Our success in getting him properly into our machine turns upon a loyal, patient, imperious attention on our part to what there is inside him, inside the particular individual man, and how we can get him to let us know what is inside, get him to decide voluntarily to let us have it, and let us work it into the common end.

In this amazing, impromptu, new, and hurried machine civilization which we have been piling up around us for a hundred years we have made machines out of everything, and our one consummate and glaring failure in the machines we have made is the machine we have made out of ourselves.

Mineral machines are made by putting comparatively dead, or at least dead-looking, matter together; vegetable machines or gardens, are made by studying little unconscious seeds that we can persuade to come up and to reproduce themselves.  Man-machines are produced by putting up possible lives before particular individual men, and letting them find out (and finding out for ourselves, too), day by day, into which life they will grow up.

Everything in a social machine, if it is a machine that really works, is based on the profound and special study of individuals:  upon drawing out the aptitudes and motives, choices and genius in each man; the passion, if he has any; the creative desire, the self-expressing, self-reproducing, inner manhood; the happy strength there is in him.

Trades unions overlook this, and treat all men alike and all employers alike.  Employers have very largely overlooked it.

It is the industrial, social, and religious secret of our modern machine civilization.  We need not be discouraged about machines, because the secret of the machine civilization has as yet barely been noticed.

The elephants are running around in the garden.  But they have merely taken us by surprise.  It is their first and their last chance.  The men about us are seeing what to do.  We are to get control of the elephants, first, by getting control of ourselves.  We are beginning to organize our people-machines as if they were made of people; so that the people in them can keep on being people, and being better ones.  And as our people-machines begin to become machines that really work, our iron machines will no longer be feared.  They will reach over and help.  As we look about us we shall see our iron machines at last, about all the world, all joining in, all hard at work for us, a million, million machines a day making the crowd beautiful.