The Return of Feudalism

  • Kenneth E. Morris


In his early nineteenth-century investigation into America’s experiment with democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville detected something that he feared would undermine it. Observing the then-fledgling cotton manufacturing industry, he noticed that the “division of labor” within it made workers “weak,” “narrow-minded,” and “dependent.” 1 Almost a century later, the founder of scientific management, Frederick Taylor, noticed something similar about workers in the iron industry. The “first requirement” for an iron worker, he mused, is that “he shall be so stupid and phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles an ox.” 2 Although their impressions of the workers were similar, Tocqueville and Taylor drew different conclusions from them. For Tocqueville, stupidity is not a requirement for jobholding in a manufacturing society, as Taylor assumed it was, but the result of it. Accordingly, while Taylor continued to reconfigure jobs into ever simpler and more efficient routines (a process that may have reached its culmination in today’s fast-food industry), Tocqueville reflected upon the consequences of jobholding for the future of freedom. “If ever a permanent inequality of conditions and aristocracy again penetrate into the world,” he warned, “this is the gate by which they will enter.”3


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3 The Return of Feudalism

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© Kenneth E. Morris 2014

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  • Kenneth E. Morris

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