24  Quotes from The Pentagon of Power (1)

As capital gains increased, more capital was available for investment in mines, ships, and factories, as well as in the costly machinery that, from the eighteenth century on, competed with hand labor and drove it out of the market. This general movement was in turn abetted by two other inventions, both social, which gave the advantage to machine operations over the small surviving workshops that utilized local materials and local hand labor. I refer to the patent system, first established in England, which bestowed on the inventor, or, rather, the exploiter, of a new invention, an effective temporary monopoly; and the other was the joint stock company, with limited liability, which widened the number of possible investors and relieved them of the burden of individual responsibility for bankruptcy that single ownership or partnership entailed. These changes completed the depersonalization of the whole industrial process. After the seventeenth century an increasing number of anonymous workers were exploited for the benefit of equally anonymous and invisible and morally indifferent absentee owners.

Thus the various components of mechanized industry conspired to remove the traditional valuations and the human aims that had kept the economy under control and caused it to pursue other goals than power. Absentee ownership, the cash nexus, managerial organization, military discipline, were from the beginning the social accompaniments of large-scale mechanization. This removal of limits had the effect of undermining—by now almost totally destroying—the earlier forms of polytechnics, and of replacing it with a monotechnics based on maximizing physical power, contracting or expanding or diverting human needs to those that are required to keep such an economy in operation. Warfare, the activity that had first made such heavy demands on the mine, in turn contributed further to mechanization by reverting in industry to a military discipline and daily drill, in order to ensure uniform operations and uniform results. This reciprocal interplay between warfare, mining, and mechanization was ultimately responsible for some of the most vexatious problems that must now be faced.


By the sixteenth century in the more advanced Western countries the outlines of a balanced economy, based on a resourceful technology, had come into existence; and if all the parts had been kept in being then, its further mechanization might have taken place with great human profit at many points, without upsetting this balance.

The other point is that the power elements in this technology began, from the fourteenth century, to get out of hand, as feudal stability, based on use and wont, custom and ritual, was undermined. This was mainly the result of the new principles and incentives of capitalist finance, with its acquisitive appetites, its love of numbers and quantitative increase, themselves symbols of a new kind of status, with its new seizures of power. All these motivations were in turn augmented through the imperious demands of militarism for weapons and armaments, in a period of national unification and colonial expansion.

– from The Pentagon of Power, Lewis Mumford, 1964