CIVILIZING THE MACHINE: Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776-1900 by John F. Kasson

CIVILIZING THE MACHINE: Technology and Republican Values in America, 1776-1900

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Kasson (American Studies; Chapel Hill, N.C.) has pieced together a remarkable collage of American attitudes toward machines, engines, and factories--remarkable primarily as a testament to the triumph of entrepreneurial Élan and idealism over increasingly grimy and chaotic social realities. Kasson suggests that the Jeffersonian vision of an agrarian society of yeomen was eclipsed almost as soon as it was enunciated. The fear of a debased urban proletariat which would undermine republican values waned by the early 19th century as manufacturers praised the ""regularity, uniformity, subordination, harmony, efficiency"" of mechanization which was to serve as a model for government and society. Enthusiasm for technological progress gathered momentum and became a romance, even a passion, as Whitman and lesser bards celebrated the ""pant and roar"" of the railroad. One panegyric spoke of ""sublimity in that great flywheel, those great walking-beams and cylinders, that crank-shaft. . . and piston-rods."" Kasson contends that until the very end of the 19th century America was untroubled by industrial despoliation or images of ""dark satanic mills."" Then there appeared a rush of utopian and counter-utopian works, a sympton of the growing anxiety that the industrial dream had turned to nightmare. Kasson's book, full of the manic effusions of those who had an almost millennial faith in technology, vividly depicts the luminous side of industrialization. But there was another side, less articulate and visible. Herbert Gutman's Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America (p. 168) speaks for the many immigrants and native laborers who resisted the industrial process, acutely felt its ravages, and did not share the triumphant vision.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1976
Publisher: Grossman/Viking