Machine-Age Ideology

Social Engineering and American Liberalism, 1911-1939

By John M. Jordan

352 pp., 6 x 9, 36

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5736-6
    Published: September 2010
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6494-9
    Published: October 2005
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-7603-9
    Published: October 2005

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In this interdisciplinary work, John Jordan traces the significant influence on American politics of a most unlikely hero: the professional engineer. Jordan shows how technical triumphs--bridges, radio broadcasting, airplanes, automobiles, skyscrapers, and electrical power--inspired social and political reformers to borrow the language and logic of engineering in the early twentieth century, bringing terms like efficiency, technocracy, and social engineering into the political lexicon. Demonstrating that the cultural impact of technology spread far beyond the factory and laboratory, Jordan shows how a panoply of reformers embraced the language of machinery and engineering as metaphors for modern statecraft and social progress. President Herbert Hoover, himself an engineer, became the most powerful of the technocratic progressives. Elsewhere, this vision of social engineering was debated by academics, philanthropists, and commentators of the day--including John Dewey, Thorstein Veblen, Lewis Mumford, Walter Lippmann, and Charles Beard. The result, Jordan argues, was a new way of talking about the state.

Originally published in 1994.

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

About the Author

John M. Jordan teaches Writing About History at Harvard University.
For more information about John M. Jordan, visit the Author Page.


"Important and compelling."--Journal of American History

"A provocative and interesting case."--Reviews in American History

"John Jordan's intelligent application of language theory to the history of social engineering and liberalism in the United States makes an important contribution to the historiography of both politics and technology. In a new interpretation of 'progressivism,' Jordan moves beyond the history of ideas into the realm of cultural politics. [He] plays the shadow of war against the light of technological progress, and we understand the years between the wars . . . better for it."--JoAnne Brown, The Johns Hopkins University

"With insight and intelligence, John Jordan's Machine-Age Ideology explores how American writers in the twentieth century have grappled with the dilemmas raised by attempts to engineer a modern America. In the process he expands and deepens our understanding of the history of reform, philanthropy, and the social sciences."--Daniel Horowitz, Smith College