Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Thursday, January 30, 2014


This is one of the first references I can find to the word "technocracy."  (The only earlier one that seems to have the same feel is from one W. H. Smyth, who in an issue of a magazine called Industrial Management in 1919 wrote, “For this unique experiment in rationalized Industrial Democracy I have coined the term ‘technocracy’.”) What's noteworthy, of course, is how purely positive, even celebratory it is — as long as "scientists of all nations enter an understanding not to contribute their skill in the manufacture of munitions." Which is not exactly how it worked out. 

The word began to catch on a few years later, though, significantly, it declined at the very time (World War II) when a genuine technocracy was coming into being: 

"Technocracy," and its adjectival form "technocratic," rose sharply in popularity in the 1970s, though I suspect that by this time the terms had undergone significant pejoration. I'll try to find out what writers were responsible for this significant upturn. 

UPDATE: good folks on Twitter have pointed out that those early would-be technocrats were followers of Edward Bellamy and that  while they may have meant the term positively it as highly contested from the start (that was Yoni Appelbaum); and that (this comes from Chris Beha) Daniel Bell may have played a significant role in the pejoration of the term in his 1973 book  The Coming of Post-Industrial Society — though a quick look at that book suggests that Bell was drawing heavily on French social theory. I wonder what role Jacques Ellul played in this? More on all these matters as I learn more....