“The Advent of Technocracy”
by Federico Soldani – 6th Apr 2021
The VII and last chapter is entitled “The Advent of Technocracy”. Harold Loeb’s post-capitalist and technocratic utopia ends with a chapter including some of the practical steps to take in order for a revolution to happen in capitalist America along the same lines of the Russian and then Bolshevik revolutions (bold added for emphasis as in all of the articles in this series).
A transformation described as an “advent” in quasi messianic terms but also in political and practical revolutionary terms:
“Since revolution should neither be desired nor expected now, and since the transformation from capitalism to technocracy is so drastic that certain of its stages will certainly be considered to be of a revolutionary nature, it may be asked what preliminary steps should be taken in order to prepare for the crucial moments.”
Loeb wrote: “History tells us how successive cultures, starting from assumptions which had come in the particular time and place to be accepted, have, like organisms, unfolded until a climax was reached – a climax marked by a burst of energy – and then by slow or rapid stages disintegrated. The final stage, in which the basic assumptions have lost their validity and intellectual questionings have replaced the fervor of a generally accepted faith, is known as decadence. It is marked by the unhappiness permeating the various social strata, by the poverty of aesthetic and other creations, by a substitution of material for spiritual values, and by a diminution of energy leading sooner or later to national disaster.
European civilizations may have reached this stage. The faith, bourgeois, Christian, capitalistic, sill strong during the nineteenth century, has been crumbling so rapidly of late that even the man in the street is often cynical. Only two branches of European culture seem still to have some strength; Russia by developing a new faith, Communism, has acquired new vigor; the United States by emphasizing one phase of the old faith, the capitalistic, has also created a new faith which despite recent material setbacks may be too vital to permit of the classification of its devotees by the term “decadent.”
Possibly the explanation of the youthfulness of these two branches lies in their history. Neither belongs to the main trunk of European culture. Both stemmed from it long after the culture’s inception and developed more or less independently of the parent tree. Consequently their vigor and optimism does not necessarily invalidate the pessimistic conclusion which Spengler reached by tracing the life curves of human cultures.
Nevertheless, the senile disease attacking Western civilization spares no branch. Russia, as has been suggested, by a radical operation seems to have arrested its own decay. The United States, favoring an opposite solution – palliatives rather than the surgeon’s knife – has pushed the economic phase of the Western culture to its farthest extreme and has made a faith out of it. Perhaps, as a consequence, the United States finds itself today psychologically vigorous and physiologically, if one may continue the metaphor.
Probably no other territory with the exception of outlying Australia is suffering so acute a paralysis of its physical system. Demoralized by its anomalous condition – spiritual health and material cramps – some Americans have sunk into a blue funk; others, their faith in capitalism unimpaired, deny the illness like good Christian Scientists although evidence of its ravages assail them on every hand. In a little while, they repeat, prosperity will return. It always has. It always will.
But the disease is organic and cannot be exorcised by faith.”
The extended and explicit use of medical, even surgical, as well as psychological and spiritual metaphors in a political and revolutionary discourse, including denialism of illness, is truly impressive especially seen today as we are witnessing the widespread mass use of “psyspeak” or “ideopathological lexicon” – also including labels of political phobias, paranoia, and denialism – for the first time in history.
In the summer of 2019, well before the CoViD-19 pandemic, I proposed use of the terms “ideopathological lexicon” – from ‘ideological’ and ‘pathological’ – or in short “psyspeak” to mean psychologized as well as medicalized lexicon used outside of the clinical context especially when applied to the wider societal and political world.
“This fact, however” – Loeb continued – “gives the United States an advantage denied those nations which are sick in spirit as well as body. The trouble in the United States is material, that due to the inability of the producers of its commodities to distribute their products. If this problem were solved, the nation would undoubtedly once more leap forward, its communities bubbling with zest although somewhat lacking in taste, as is the way of young cultures.
If a means could be found to attack the simple engineering problem of production and distribution scientifically, a solution could easily be worked out – even though the territory stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific […].
However, in all probability, a solution will not be reached by such logical means. Too few men understand the difference between knowledge, acquired and tested by the scientific method, and inherited prejudices. The great majority pay more respect to the latter. Such Mystic Money tenets as “enterprise must be fostered by the profit incentive,” “competitive business is the most efficient system for producing goods,” “private property is the foundation of our free institutions,” “American democracy guarantees freedom and justice and is the best possible variety of government,” “merit is always rewarded in the end,” “Socialism, which redistributes wealth in equal shares, would result eventually, in everyone being back where he started from, the rich rich, the poor again poor.” (Thought this assertion has been listened to repeatedly, it is not believed that the speakers believed their words.) And so forth, as well as a whole series of tacit beliefs such as “money is the measure of success,” which are acted upon thought not really credited.
Several of these tenets, it may be noticed, have been undermined of late. Nevertheless, most Americans propound them with religious fervor and would not consider putting them to the test of trial-and-error experimentation. The few whose faith in the scientific method is greater than their faith in current tenets have unfortunately no power.
Such men never, for obvious reasons, gain political power, seldom earn big money – other goals seem to them more important – and only rarely, because of their fewness, inherit money or social prestige. Consequently they cannot hope to convert the nation by the weight of their influence to the desirability of a scientific examination of our economic system and its revision along lines approved by the intellect.
Therefore fundamental social changes must come from the great majority whose intellectual processes are elementary, and not from the small minority whose intellects function even on familiar ground. Thus it has always been when social groups too large for one great personality to sway are concerned. Thus the inauguration of technocracy depends on outside forces rather than on leadership.
Probably the one event capable of instigating so fundamental a change would be a major collapse. Only if the present producing and distributing apparatus should definitely break down, only if hunger and cold should spur the minds of a majority of the nation into unaccustomed activity, could a revolution conflicting with nearly every current belief gain momentum.“
“Eventually, by imperceptible steps, changes of ideology are effected. Thus early capitalism turned into late capitalism and the Mysticism of Money shook “thrift” from its gallery of virtues and hung “push” in its place. […] Society is transformed by the accumulation of slight changes as well as by drastic mutations. Fundamental transformations of social life are accomplished by a combination of these two processes, the revolutionary and the evolutionary. Sometimes one process predominates, sometimes the other.
In France the eighteen-century political transformation was revolutionary in character although preparatory steps had been taken before the seventeen nineties. On the other hand England accomplished its similar political transformation so gradually, by a series of crises so little upsetting, that its transformation had an evolutionary character. Technocracy may possibly be installed by a combination of both processes, and one cannot foretell which process will predominate, will give its character to the transformation.
The evolutionary process is to be preferred. This is not quite so self-evident as it seems. Revolution, in that it accomplishes in months what may otherwise take years or decades, has its advantages. Those obsessed by injustices and the inefficiencies of the present order are likely to favor the more drastic method. […]
In order to chose between revolution and evolution, other factors must be weighed. It would seem that the problem is one of engineering. At any rate emotion has little place in the discussion.
Evolution should be favored because the machinery of capitalism, the tools and the plants for making the tools, are so intricate, so interdependent, and so important in any scheme of life conceivable with present populations, that their destruction, or even their injury in the passions of a revolutionary struggle, would inflict intense suffering. Centers such as New York are at the mercy of transportation. Even a temporary tie-up would cause starvation and disease. Serious effects would result from damage even to the utilities or the water system. Furthermore, when order had been restored after a struggle, it would be difficult getting the machinery running again because of the dispersal of the human personnel. Skilled, specialized work is the crucial factor in production. Russia has had to pay heavily for the demoralization of its technical staff. The United States, in case of a like cataclysm, would find a restoration of its more delicate machinery even more difficult. In the United States any new order would be imperiled by revolution and the consequent industrial disorganization. So long as the unavoidable suffering lasted, blame for it would be attributed to the new order rather than to the real cause, the revolutionary process.
Aslo, revolutions are expensive biologically. Mob passions have a way of choosing exceptional individuals for destruction. Both France and Russia sacrificed important human strains in their blood orgies. Mobs hate those who do not share their lusts. Only the highest type of men are capable to resisting mob contagion. Consequently the human loss, though numerically seldom higher than the industrial mortality of an average year, or of a minor war, is actually more costly. […]
The revolutionary process tends to favor the average undistinguished gregarious individual and to discriminate against all conspicuous human specimens. Consequently revolution would seem, from the point of view of biology, to be seriously detrimental to the racial strain.
Furthermore, anti-social passions, suppressed in normal times, are released by disorder and quickly become habitual. Later, when discipline and patience are needed, these passions will not be stilled but continue to interrupt the unsteady early rhythm of the new system long after their minor usefulness as destructive agents has been outlived. These and other similar considerations more than balance the advantage of speed and absoluteness which the revolutionary process insures.
Lastly, America is not ready for a revolution. If the advent of technocracy depended on the sudden forceful overturn of American institutions, the citizens of the United States would have to get used to hunger and cold even while foodstuffs were rotting on the sidings and fuel was clogging the railways. Revolution, as Trotsky puts it, can only occur when the class in power has outlived its usefulness and thereby become rotten. In America, the class in power may be criticized for fatuity and surely for pigheadedness, but not for rottenness. The American system so functions that the serried ranks of the class in power are continuously reinforced by strong, ambitious, energetic recruits from all the nation. Few ruling classes possess the health of the American moneyed aristocracy. A cursory visit to any fashionable college demonstrates the anomaly of a body of men combining strength of character and intellectual feebleness. The recitation rooms will be cluttered with splendid forceful physical specimens, healthy, tall, and vital. One of them rises to speak. Suddenly the auditor realizes that the mind of a child is fumbling behind the self-confident facade. However, it is just because the average student’s thinking apparatus is elementary and his ideas stereotyped and static, that revolutionary ardors find no soil in which to germinate. Instead marvelous fables about “things as they are” usually replace the worn-out Santa Claus legend at the approach of adolescence.
Thus revolution in America should neither be desired nor expected now. Even though the present crisis doubles in intensity, the nation is so illy prepared, mentally at any rate, for instituting a more efficient system that the fate of the new order would probably be imperiled by a premature move. If economic distress forced disorder at the present time, sentiment might smother reason, and passion extinguish whatever vision prevailed regarding ultimate ends. Yet it is believed that technocracy is inevitable.
The first machines, utilizing stored power, gradually compelled the formation of the social system, known as early capitalism, with its degradation of labor and is compensatory, biologically expensive sentimentality, known as humanitarianism.
The more efficient, though still batch process, machinery of the present day reduces the amount of spirit-breaking labor and lowers the relative income of labor. It has also gradually forced the adoption of another idea system which calls spending a virtue and dreams of an ideal state in which everybody is kept so busy playing with gadgets that the disturbing search for real values is relegated to the halt and the blind. […]
Heaven given over, before labor-saving machinery, to unadulterated leisure, golden harps, and honeyed gutters; Heaven, recently brought down on earth, owing to the needs of late capitalism, and pictured as a wonderfully equipped nursery, in which the toys are profuse and infinitely varied, is again being revised. It is in this sense that technocracy is inevitable. Technological processes will compel a social system congenial to their operation or they will ruin the state.
The society suggested in the previous pages is merely a tentative sketch of the new heaven or ideal state. By following the direction social evolution would be forced to take when technological processes became general, its main features were gradually revealed.
Loeb then moved on, at the very end of his utopia, to describe the preliminary steps for the revolutionary change in America:
“(a) A few people should organize themselves for the purpose of preparing for the coming crises and, by their awareness of the goal, prevent as many false starts in wrong directions as is in their power.
(b) The Sherman Anti-Trust Act should be repealed. Since the “money powers” favor its repeal, since the common man is indifferent to its fate, and since only reactionary liberals can be counted on to rally actively to its support, the repeal of the act should not be hard to accomplish. With the anti-trust act out of the way, the merging of industries could proceed at an increasingly rapid rate.
(c) The major corporation in each industry should be encouraged to gobble up its competitors. Little active encouragement is needed. The successive economic crises demand the formation of monopolies in order to make possible the limitation of production. Monopolies in several industries would have already been organized were it not for the government prohibition.
(d) The profit of monopolies should be limited. […] With all, or even many, industries on a controlled, monopolistic basis, this technically honest and transparently simple method of evading profit limitation would be largely prevented.
(e) Technological economies should be handed on either to the worker or to the consumer, different names for what eventually will be the same thing. This measure also imposes itself. […] As a result the standard of living and the average of intelligence would tend to rise and the birth rate to fall. Thus technocracy would be brought appreciably nearer.
(f) The next step is the first to possess an unprecedented and revolutionary character. Steps a, b, c, d, and e, once taken, we have a society in which profits are limited and price is regulated in the public interest. The public interest however is a vague term. Regulation in its name will not work out satisfactorily.
However, the present ingenious and nonsensical system of setting the price by allowing two opposing forces, the buyers and the sellers, to engage in a free-for-all, has, after steps a, b, c, d, and e, been definitely discarded. As a result, capital has been shorn of its function though the realization of this may not immediately percolate through the group consciousness.”
“Today capital is the instrument with which promoting and underwriting function. When profits are both limited and assured, which should be the case if the producing units were monopolies and not competitors, underwriting will be automatic just as it is even now for stable governments. […] Capital fulfils a real service only when profits are problematical. […] If capital should be shorn of underwriting function by limiting and assuring profits, the concept of money, that is to say, the notion that gold and paper or metal certificates supposedly entitling the holder to gold, are wealth – a concept undermined, even among the people, during the late war and its aftermath, because every government was forced to spend money which did not exist if the gold basis had been strictly adhered to – this concept would suffer a rapid disintegration. Gold is not wealth. Gold is a rare commodity, once useful to most communities as a medium of exchange. […]
What would happen to the high cost producers? If they were forced to shut down, unemployment and a shortage of goods would result. Thus, this last stage of capitalism would, in its working, be only slightly superior to the present stage. However, this last stage would possess one advantage. With industries integrated and prices fixed, even the untrained mind could perceive the source of the trouble. Once the play of supply and demand had been discarded as the price fixer, there would be no turning back. A scientific cost accounting would have to be devised; production would have to be governed by consumptive needs and not by the lure of profit; consumption would have to be based on need and not on ability to buy. […]
We have already at hand, as was suggested in an early chapter, a means of measuring the real cost of a commodity; a measure of energy called the erg, and its multiples. […] Dollar costs vary continuously since prices vary continuously in the open markets. Erg costs are absolutes, changing only when raw materials become more difficult to extract because of approaching exhaustion, or more easy because of new supplies becoming available or when technological improvements devise economies in the utilization of human or natural energy. […]
Capital is not capital when shorn of its reproductive power, shorn of its underwriting function. An era will have terminated.
The other steps toward technocracy follow inevitably though not instantaneously. Since x-ergs are usable but not hoardable, since wealth, the capacity to produce, is wealth only when exerted, wealth (it would soon be realized) can be used but not possessed.
When such concepts are generally recognized, the conclusion will be inescapable that commodities should be distributed equably for service. A community convinced of this principle wold become a technocracy since industrial planning, the castration of political government, and the decentralization of social life would ensue, sooner or later, as a result of putting these convictions into actual living measures.
As this evolution proceeded, certain individuals will lose out, but neither so many individuals as the present anarchic system inconveniences nor such valuable ones. Inheritors of capital who have ceased rendering service, those whom Veblen dubbed the “kept” classes, would be forced to render service. But the spectacle of horse and ball faddists, sideboard females, and sex appeal sirens scurrying around in some useful pursuit for some sixteen hours a week might be amusing. Anyway it might be cheaper, in energy terms, to let such individuals continue to pursue their habitual vocations for the duration of their natural lives. There are not so many of them.
As for power magnates, these find their solace in wielding power, not in consuming inordinate quantities of goods. In America, at least, many of them are frugal. […] And the new purpose, efficient production, would seem at least as interesting, and perhaps as exciting, as their present purpose, private gain.
It is admitted that this progression from capitalism to technocracy is too logical to be probable. Since the evolution of man’s social institutions is forced by circumstances and not directed by reason, logical progress is practically unknown. Technocracy will surely come, if Western society is not doomed to disappear, but not by a series of steps so perfectly gradated.
To hitch which would prevent the orderly approach to the new order would probably arise in step (c). To permit the major corporations to gobble up its competitors, even against their will, requires a law like that which permits railroads (an enterprise of high importance for the Loeb family, ed.) to acquire land for their right of way. Such law, a law permitting individuals and corporations to be forced our of their chosen pursuits, outrages the dearest convictions current today. It is a denial of economic freedom, and the benefits of capitalism are all credited to this freedom. It may prove impossible to pass such a law.”
“When business falters and stumbles, too many individuals are ruined by factors beyond their control, too large a class is thrown without warning into abject destitution, for the present faith in the present order to remain unimpaired. And once the faith is undermined, once the belief that economic suffering, like physical suffering, is divinely inflicted, is discredited, discontent will turn to violence and society will lose its equilibrium.
Then if technocracy is clearly envisioned by even a few, and some steps have been taken to reduce the extent of the change, America may accomplish the miracle of changing its mores and its faith in a moment of tension without incurring the awful price, the infinite suffering, and the appalling waste, which Russia was forced to pay.
In the confusion and misery resulting from a stoppage of the industrial round, it is possible that power would be acquired by a group with sufficient vision to cut through the maze of traditional processes and institute a technique of economic production closer to the eventual goal. Doubtless a quota of prejudices and passions would hamper the realization of a strictly logical system, but such wasteful appendages are usually sloughed off when the real objects of a revolution become apparent.
Thus it has been in Russia. The original cry for the rule of the proletariat has gradually changed to the slogan of efficient production for the benefit of the social body. An outburst against injustice has been deflected into an energy burst against intolerable living conditions. Valuable ideals, by necessity, have been compromised on the way. But the transformation should be much easier in America and the projected ideal kept more steadily in sight.
In Russia not only has a new economic system had to be devised, but the machinery of modern industry had to extemporized. In America the most efficient productive machinery ever installed is ready to operate at the word of command. The capitalists cannot give the command. Sabotage is their order. Their spokesman, the government, advises a destruction of one third of the cotton crop and a reduced acreage of wheat. Just as if everyone in the land had more food than he could eat, more clothes than he could wear.
There is another reason why America may not have to pass through an orgy of violence and waste. Judging from historical analogies, the first break with an old order is always the most difficult, the most destructive. Later breaks in other localities have been of a less drastic nature. Probably a precursor is of great advantage in that many individuals are prepared thereby for what is coming.
The French Revolution, for example, received so much publicity in England that the political transformation there, when it finally arrived, was not even considered revolutionary. Possibly the publicity now being given the Soviet Five-Year Plan is preparing the ground in America for such efficient preparatory measures that the illness of late capitalism may be curbed without the necessity of blood-letting.
It would seem that the main obstacle hindering the advent of technocracy is the present faith, the Mysticism of Money. Americans, with few exceptions, believe its main tenet, that progress is dependent on an untrammeled economic field. They assume that every citizen with initiative may engage in business, in the profit pursuit. Though it has been recognized that many economic territories are posted against trespassing, the faith in the benefits, even in the necessity of economic freedom; in the sterility, even the unworkability of planned, restricted enterprise, is as yet unscathed.
The old faith persists despite the fact that William James (considered the father of American psychology, ed.), among others, pointed out some years ago that private enterprise, freely operating, had improved only slightly on the methods of housing in vogue before the industrial era, while planned enterprise directed by the state had, during the same length of time, remolded several times the offensive and defensive technique of warfare. The technique of wholesale murder advances ruthlessly and continuously, while the technique of decent living lies dormant for long stretches and then advances by inches, piecemeal, harassed by the impediments inherent in the property system. The government can afford to scrap outmoded equipment, private enterprise often cannot. Even under the capitalistic system of industry and the democratic system of government, it is doubtful if private enterprise is a more efficient medium of material progress than public enterprise.
It may well be that the benefits of capitalism are due in the main to the scientific method of research, evolved independently of capitalism; and not to the sanctification of greed, inherent in capitalism. And not one, certainly not the technologist, is advising the relegation of the scientific method. On the contrary, technocracy raises to a pinnacle this rigorous system for acquiring knowledge and would try to extend its application beyond its present scope.
Humanity has done amazingly well in its endeavor to understand the relationships, the how, of physical forces. It well be that it will prove equally successful in the future when it turns from the contemplation of dead things to things that are becoming, to things that are alive. It may be that here, too, humanity will develop a technique of research capable of infinite extension.
It has been suggested that technocracy is inevitable. […] Technocracy may be inevitable and yet Herculean efforts may be needed to push civilization over the ridge where it will soon be hanging, hesitant whether to advance toward a new life-creating valley, or whether to fall back upon itself as every civilization in the past, when it attained a height comparable to ours, has done. Judging from analogy, Western civilization, as Spengler has attempted to demonstrate, is doomed to decline. Maglopolitanism has always been the last stage. One can forward only to decadence, and the fruits, sometimes tasty, of decadence.
Analogy, however, may prove a fallacious guide. A new factor has to be considered which may alter the curve. Our system of acquiring knowledge by controlled experiments is an instrument no former civilization possessed. If it could be allowed to function on fundamental economic problems and if the resulting knowledge could be applied, the direction of society’s evolution might well be altered at the nadir of the curve and the process of disintegration brought under control. […]
Not a single idea in the past pages was original. The handling of the various notions could have been carried though more effectively by many other minds. In a recent collection of the beliefs of some fifteen philosophers and thinkers, much of technocracy is implicit. In the work of Thorstein Veblen, all of technocracy is implicit. By saying technocracy is inevitable I mean, then, that an unprejudiced examination of the capitalistic system compels an open mind to formulate a new system for providing man with the goods necessary for life on earth. […]
If technocracy is inevitable in this sense, and not retrogression and decay, book will follow book, mind will succeed mind, until in a short time, that active minute fraction of humanity which blazes the path for the great inert body will preoccupy itself with directing the practical and theoretical phases of the revolution in living which has ben under way ever since the last years of the late century.”
According to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum website it was “a modernist magazine founded by Harold Loeb and Alfred Kreymborg and published from November 1921 to January 1924. Loeb was the son of two powerful New York families—the Guggenheims on his mother’s side (cousin to Peggy Guggenheim) and the Loebs on his father’s side. Loeb came from a rather affluent background, which allowed him to produce a magazine that was instrumental in introducing Americans to European avant-garde.”
Associate Editor of Broom at the time when the magazine was established in Rome in 1921 – main office was in Trinita’ dei Monti, 18 – was Giuseppe Prezzolini. “Initially, the magazine was printed in Europe, first in Rome and then in Berlin, with the intention of bringing new, avant-garde art back to the U.S.”]
Last Updated on April 9, 2021 by Federico Soldani