Manufacturing Rationality: The Engineering Foundations of the Managerial Revolution

By Yehouda Shenhav | Go to book overview

perspective that classes did not exist and society was harmonious and rational, the social and political theory that was developed was narrowly defined by the bounds of a 'constructive' liberalism. In Europe, liberalism began as a progressive critical approach, and once established it started to be undermined by socialism. In America, on the other hand, liberalism was established from the very beginning and was never challenged seriously since it was anchored in the very constitution of society ( Hawthorn 1987: 195).

Dorothy Ross extends this analysis, explaining that Progressive social scientists who retreated from the logic of Exceptionalism accepted the universal nature of modernity and the progressive evolution of historical forces to which the future of American also subscribed. They found that this progression could be understood and tamed through liberal theories that captured the capitalist market, democracy, and scientific knowledge ( Ross 1991: 149). During its formative years (roughly between 1870 and 1929), American economics lost its historicist orientation and emerged modeled after the natural sciences with an emphasis on the positivist methods of inquiry, and the ahistorical direction embedded in the classical ideology of liberalism and individualism. It was a social order based on harmony, not conflict. Ross says:

Progressive era social scientists turned deliberately to the classical liberal tradition to revise their exceptionalist heritage. Liberal theory cast political democracy as the work of sovereign individuals in voluntary association. The scientific enterprise was likewise premised on the rational capacity of individuals. Social scientists returned to these individualist foundations both to set the fundamental character of American society and to provide the basis for a socially harmonious order. ( Ross 1991: 153)

In her view, 'the functional interdependence of the market and the increasing opportunities for social mobility' provided for 'the amelioration of conflict'. Engineers and systematizers were both the products and facilitators of that paradigm.


Notes
1
Goldstein ( 1978) argues that the balance of power in the beginning of the period was so much on the side of business that on the surface Progressivists seemed to be pro-labor. In fact, only unions that accepted the premises of the new industrial order were recognized.
2
It actually paved the way for many Progressive era and New Deal labor laws ( Wunderlin 1992: 69).
3
As Montgomery observed, 'after 1909, strikes and union membership grew rapidly both inside and outside the bounds of legitimacy defined by AFL' ( 1987: 6). Among the challenging organizations was the IWW ( Industrial Workers of the World) which was founded in 1905. For the history of the 'Wobblies' see Dubofsky 1967.
4
The murder of a grocer and his son in Salt Lake City in January 1914. Joe Hill, a labor activist, was arrested, convicted, and executed with no sufficient evidence.

-191-

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