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


A bicycle, the other day, a little outside Paris as it was running along quietly, lifted itself off the ground suddenly, and flew three yards and seven inches.

There are nine million seven hundred and eighty nine thousand nine hundred and seventy-nine bicycles that have not flown three yards and seven inches.

But what of it?  Why count them up?  Why bother about them?  The important, conclusive, massive, irresistible, crushing, material fact is that one bicycle has flown three yards seven inches.

The nine million seven hundred and eighty-nine thousand nine hundred and seventy-nine bicycles that can not fly yet are negligible.  So are nine out of ten business firms.

If there is one exceptional man in modern industry who is running his business in the right way and who has made a success of it and has proved it-he may look visionary to class-socialists and to other people who decide by measuring off masses of fact, and counting up rows of people and who see what anybody can see, but he is after all in arranging our social programme the only man of any material importance for us to consider.  It would be visionary to take the past, dump it around in front of one, and try to make a future out of it.  I do not deny what people tell me about millionaires and about factory slaves.  I have not mooned or lied or turned away my face.  I stand by time one live, right, implacable, irrevocable, prolific exception.  I stand by the one bicycle out of them all that has flown three yards and seven inches.  I lay out my program, conceive my world on that.  Piles of facts arranged in dead layers high against heaven, rows of figures, miles of factory slaves, acres of cemeteries of dead millionaires, going-by streetfuls of going-by people, shall not cow me.

My heart has been broken long enough by counting truths on my fingers, by numbering grains of sand, men, and mountains, bombs, acorns and marbles alike.

Which truth matters?

Which man is right?

Where is Nazareth?

Nazareth is our only really important town now.  I will see what is going on in Nazareth.  On every subject that comes up, in every line of thought, I will go to the city of implacable exceptions.  All the inventors flock there-the man with the one bicycle which flies, the one great industrial organizer, the man with the man-machine, and the man-the great boy who carries new great beautiful cities in his pocket like strings and nails and knives, they are all there.

Nazareth is the city, the one mighty little city of the spirit where all the really worth-while men wherever they may seem to be, all day, all night, do their living.

Other cities may make things, in Nazareth they make worlds.  One can see a new one almost any day in Nazareth.  Men go up and down the streets there with their new worlds in their eyes.

Some of them have them almost in their hands or are looking down and working on them.

It does not seem to me that any of us can make ourselves strong and fit to lay out a sound program or vision for a world, who do not watch with critical expectation and with fierce joy these men of Nazareth, who do not take at least a little time off every day, in spirit, in Nazareth, and spend it in watching bicycles fly three feet and seven inches.  To watch these men, it seems to me, is our one natural, economical way to get at essential facts, at the set-one-side truths, at the exceptions that worlds and all-around programs for worlds are made out of.  To watch these men is the one way I know not to be lost in great museums and storehouses of facts that do not matter, in the streetfuls and skyscraperfuls of men that go by.

I regret to record that professors of political economy, social philosophers, industrial big-wigs, presidents of boards of trade have not been often met with on the streets of this silent, crowded, mighty, invisible little town that rules the destinies of men.

Not during the last twenty years, but one is meeting them there to-day.

All these things that people are saying to me are mere history.  I have seen the one live exception.  One telephone was enough.  And one Galileo was enough, with his little planet turning round and round, with all of us on it who were obliged to agree with him about it.  It kept turning round and round with us until we did.