The Organization Man Analysis Essay

The term “organization man” was coined by William Whyte in his book The Organization Man, published in 1956.  This term referred to the idea that American workers had become conformists who lacked creativity and individuality and instead simply wanted to get along in large companies and enjoy comfortable, if boring, lives working for those companies.

In the 1950s, American business was booming and big companies were becoming more and more dominant.  These companies created a...

The term “organization man” was coined by William Whyte in his book The Organization Man, published in 1956.  This term referred to the idea that American workers had become conformists who lacked creativity and individuality and instead simply wanted to get along in large companies and enjoy comfortable, if boring, lives working for those companies.

In the 1950s, American business was booming and big companies were becoming more and more dominant.  These companies created a huge demand for white collar workers.  These jobs were filled largely by men who had just lived through World War II and at least parts of the Great Depression.  White argued that these men had come to identify themselves more as members of their companies than as actual individuals.

White was criticizing American society and American business.  He was saying that businesses encouraged men to become “organization men” who simply tried to follow bureaucratic procedures and to act like all the other men in the firm.  Businesses did not encourage creativity and individuality and men did not try to be creative or individualistic.

This criticism is widely taught in history classes today because historians believe that it helps to explain why the 1950s were a time of conformity in American society.

Summary

The Organization Man by William Whyte was published in 1956 and is considered among the most influential management books ever written.

Whyte, a reporter at Fortune, did extensive interviews with CEOs and Executives at major American corporations like GE and Ford asking what they had seen change over the course of their careers

Whyte argues that America has been overtaken by “the social ethic,” a belief that organizations were able to make better decisions and benefit society more. Making it not only economically necessary but morally right that individuals subvert themselves to the needs of the organizations.

Whyte contrasts the social ethic with the rugged individualism of the Protestant ethic which had shaped the founding of the United States and was captured in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1831).

Over the course of a century self-sufficient frontiersmen and homesteaders were replced by risk-averse executives who faced few consequences for their actions and could expect security for life.

Best Quotes

“When a young man says that to make a living these days you must not do what anyone else wants you to do (the protocol wants you to do, he states it not only as a fact of life that must be accepted but as an inherently good proposition.”

“Man exists as a unit of society. Of himself, he is isolated, meaningless; only as he collaborates with others does he become worth while, for by sublimating himself in the group, he helps produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

“The fault is not in organization, in short; it is in our worship of it. It is in our vain quest for a Utopian equilibrium, which would be horrible if it ever did come to pass; it is in the soft-minded denial that there is a conflict between the individual and society. There must always be, and it is the price of being an individual that he must face these conflicts. He cannot evade them, and in seeking an ethic that offers a spurious peace of mind, thus does he tyrannize himself.” –

“One of the key assumptions of the Protestant Ethic had been that success was due neither to luck nor to the environment but only to one’s natural qualities—if men grew rich it was because they deserved to. But the big organization became a standing taunt to this dream of individual success. Quite obviously to anyone who worked in a big organization, those who survived best were not necessarily the fittest but, in more cases than not, those who by birth and personal connections had the breaks.”

“the small business is praised as the acorn from which a great oak may grow, the shadow of one man that may lengthen into a large enterprise. Examine businesses with fifty or less employees, however, and it becomes apparent the sentimentality obscures some profound differences. You will find some entrepreneurs in the classic sense—men who develop new products, new appetites, or new systems of distribution—and some of these enterprises may mature into self-perpetuating institutions. But very few. The great majority of small business firms cannot be placed on any continuum with the corporation. For one thing, they are rarely engaged in primary industry; for the most part they are the laundries, the insurance agencies, the restaurants, the drugstores, the bottling plants, the lumber yards, the automobile dealers. They are vital, to be sure, but essentially they service an economy; they do not create new money within their area and they are dependent ultimately on the business and agriculture that does.”

“Thoreau once said if you see a man approach you with the obvious intent of doing you good, you should run for your life; it is hard to restrain the impulse in talking with social engineers.”

“What I am arguing is that the real impact of scientism is upon our values. The danger, to put it another way, is not man being dominated but man surrendering. At the present writing there is not one section of American life that has not drunk deeply of the promise of scientism. It appears in many forms—pedagogy, aptitude tests, that monstrous nonentity called “mass communication”—and there are few readers who have not had a personal collision with it.:

“The union between the world of organization and the college has been so cemented that today’s seniors can see a continuity between the college and the life thereafter that we never did. Come graduation, they do not go outside to a hostile world; they transfer.”

“Most are interested in the philosophical only to the extent of finding out what the accepted view is in order that they may accept it and get on to the practical matters. ”

“Since the time they entered kindergarten they have spent sixteen years during which the world has been presented to them in study courses to be absorbed in an atmosphere of security.”

“In the outstanding scientist, in short, we have almost the direct antithesis of the company-oriented man. If the company wants a first-rate man it must recognize that his allegiance must always be to his work. For him, organization can be only a vehicle. What he asks of it is not big money—significantly, Bell Labs and GE have not had to pay higher salaries than other research organizations to attract talent. Nor is it companionship, or belongingness. What he asks is the freedom to do what he wants to do.”

“There is little room for virtuoso performances. Business is so complex, even in its non-technical aspects, that no one man can master all of it; to do his job, therefore, he must be able to work with other people.”

“We pick out the one tangible part of the application—the experimental design—how the man plans to work out his project. We are asking more and more questions. Aware of this, applicants elaborate their designs in more and more detail. A vicious cycle has set in. In making application for a grant before World War II, a few lines or at most a paragraph or two sufficed for the experimental design; now it may extend over six to eight single-spaced typewritten pages. And even then committee members may come back to ask for more details. Under these circumstances, passing the buck has come to be practiced very widely. Projects are passed from committee to committee—to my knowledge, in one instance six committees—largely because at no place along the line did anyone believe that he had adequate information to come to a firm decision

There is a tremendous difference between science as it is done in the laboratory and science as it is reported. True science is helter-skelter, depending on one’s hunches, angers, and inspirations, and the research itself is done in a very personal fashion. Thirty or forty years ago, it was written up this way. In reporting a great discovery a scientist would say, ‘I was working on such-and-such a reaction when I dropped some sulphuric acid by mistake. When I examined it I found, to my surprise, a strange thing going on….’ But today nobody would write it up in this way.”

“Whatever their occupation, almost all organization people feel their particular job is depression-proof.”

“there is one kind of couple that in matters of money remains conspicuously faithful to the Protestant Ethic of eighteenth-century America. They are the first-generation children of foreign-born parents. “

“What we need is not to return but to reinterpret, to apply to our problems the basic idea of individualism, not ancient particulars. The doctrines of the nineteenth-century businessman and our modern society are disparate, but that they are disparate is little cause for us to assume that individualism must be too. The central ideal—that the individual, rather than society, must be the paramount end—animated Western thought long before the Industrial Revolution, or Calvinism, or Puritanism, and it is as vital and as applicable today as ever.”

“But where is the boat going? No one seems to have the faintest idea; nor, for that matter, do they see much point in even raising the question. Once people liked to think, at least, that they were in control of their destinies, but few of the younger organization people cherish such notions. Most see themselves as objects more acted upon than acting—and their future, therefore, determined as much by the system as by themselves.”

“In a word, they accept, and if we do not find this comforting at least we should recognize that it would be odd if they did not feel this confidence. For them society has in fact been good—very, very good—for there has been a succession of fairly beneficent environments: college, the paternalistic, if not always pleasant, military life, then, perhaps, graduate work through the G.I. Bill of Rights, a corporation apprenticeship during a period of industrial expansion and high prosperity, and, for some, the camaraderie of communities like Park Forest. The system, they instinctively conclude, is essentially benevolent.”

My Full List of Quotes

Bernie the Beatnik claims that he’d never take a job with a big company: “Go to work every day, do what you’re told, lose your freedom,” he grumbles. To which DuPont triumphantly replies: “It’s true that the organization men we know go to work every day. They don’t think of this as losing their freedom but as pursuing a freedom that can be enjoyed only so long as have a strong, creative and productive nation.” In other words, in sublimating your individuality, you weren’t just helping your company. You were helping your country. The Organization Ad, I guess you could call it. What is it we believe today about the relationship between corporations and individuals? We believe, first of all, that large corporations such as General Motors and, yes, DuPont, remain hugely important institutions—that much hasn’t changed since Whyte wrote The Organization Man. They employ tens of millions of people, serve as critical engines of economic growth and prosperity, and influence the culture in incalculable ways. Although there was a fleeting moment in the late 1990s when corporations were being described as dinosaurs, no one really thinks that any more. Big corporations are as embedded into the fabric of the country today as they were in the 1950s.

Loyalty, after all, is hardly a corporate virtue any more.

Within companies, individuality is now a virtue instead of a vice.

“messiness, inadvertence, paranoia, time and benign neglect” were the five qualities necessary to produce a good Fortune article.

Whyte was assigned to write about Yale’s Class of ’49 by Fortunes managing editor, who had been told—by Yale president Whitney Griswold, no less—that it was “one of the finest college classes to come out of Yale University ever.” But Whyte came away from his interviews at Yale distinctly unimpressed. “So I continued to talk to people,” he later wrote, listening, without prejudice, to what these members of the Class of ’49 were saying, and I confirmed my original impression. This class, at Yale and everywhere else, weren’t so hot…. These young people weren’t seeking excitement, or challenge. They wanted a safe haven. They wanted to work for AT&T and General Electric, for heaven’s sake!

Here was IBM, the dominant technology company for much of its history—and a company so enamored of corporate conformity that it mandated that its entire male staff wear white shirts. Suddenly under assault from smaller, nimbler, less bureaucratic companies, IBM’s leadership—all organization men, who had come up through the ranks—were paralyzed. Again and again you saw it: these big, bureaucratic, inward-looking companies—the very companies that had long valued consensus over conflict and had frowned on individualism and entrepreneurship—coming under attack in the 1980s, as world competition heated up.

Only by using the language of individualism to describe the collective can he stave off the thought that he himself is in a collective as pervading as any ever dreamed of by the reformers, the intellectuals, and the Utopian visionaries he so regularly warns against.

When a young man says that to make a living these days you must do what somebody else wants you to do, he states it not only as a fact of life that must be accepted but as an inherently good proposition.

by social ethic I mean that contemporary body of thought which makes morally legitimate the pressures of society against the individual. Its major propositions are three: a belief in the group as the source of creativity; a belief in “belongingness” as the ultimate need of the individual; and a belief in the application of science to achieve the belongingness.

Man exists as a unit of society. Of himself, he is isolated, meaningless; only as he collaborates with others does he become worthwhile, for by sublimating himself in the group, he helps produce a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Like the Utopian communities, it interprets society in a fairly narrow, immediate sense. One can believe man has a social obligation and that the individual must ultimately contribute to the community without believing that group harmony is the test of it. In the Social Ethic I am describing, however, man’s obligation is in the here and now; his duty is not so much to the community in a broad sense but to the actual, physical one about him, and the idea that in isolation from it—or active rebellion against it—he might eventually discharge the greater service is little considered. In practice, those who most eagerly subscribe to the Social Ethic worry very little over the long-range problems of society. It is not that they don’t care but rather that they tend to assume that the ends of organization and morality coincide, and on such matters as social welfare they give their proxy to the organization.

This book is not a plea for nonconformity. Such pleas have an occasional therapeutic value, but as an abstraction, nonconformity is an empty goal, and rebellion against prevailing opinion merely because it is prevailing should no more be praised than acquiescence to it. Indeed, it is often a mask for cowardice, and few are more pathetic than those who flaunt outer differences to expiate their inner surrender.

We are describing its defects as virtues and denying that there is—or should be—a conflict between the individual and organization. This denial is bad for the organization. It is worse for the individual.

The fault is not in organization, in short; it is in our worship of it. It is in our vain quest for a Utopian equilibrium, which would be horrible if it ever did come to pass; it is in the soft-minded denial that there is a conflict between the individual and society. There must always be, and it is the price of being an individual that he must face these conflicts. He cannot evade them, and in seeking an ethic that offers a spurious peace of mind, thus does he tyrannize himself.

America is the true field for the human race. It is the hope and the asylum for the oppressed and downtrodden of every clime. It is the inspiring example of America—peerless among the nations of the earth, the brightest star in the political firmament—that is leavening the hard lump of aristocracy and promoting a democratic spirit throughout the world. It is indeed the gem of the ocean to which the world may well offer homage. Here merit is the sole test. Birth is nothing. The fittest survive. Merit is the supreme and only qualification essential to success. Intelligence rules worlds and systems of worlds. It is the dread monarch of illimitable space, and in human society, especially in America, it shines as a diadem on the foreheads of those who stand in the foremost ranks of human enterprise. Here only a natural order of nobility is recognized, and its motto, without coat of arms or boast of heraldry, is “Intelligence and integrity.

One of the key assumptions of the Protestant Ethic had been that success was due neither to luck nor to the environment but only to one’s natural qualities—if men grew rich it was because they deserved to. But the big organization became a standing taunt to this dream of individual success. Quite obviously to anyone who worked in a big organization, those who survived best were not necessarily the fittest but, in more cases than not, those who by birth and personal connections had the breaks.

Few talents are more commercially sought today than the knack of describing departures from the Protestant Ethic as reaffirmations of it.

Out of inertia, the small business is praised as the acorn from which a great oak may grow, the shadow of one man that may lengthen into a large enterprise. Examine businesses with fifty or less employees, however, and it becomes apparent the sentimentality obscures some profound differences. You will find some entrepreneurs in the classic sense—men who develop new products, new appetites, or new systems of distribution—and some of these enterprises may mature into self-perpetuating institutions. But very few. The great majority of small business firms cannot be placed on any continuum with the corporation. For one thing, they are rarely engaged in primary industry; for the most part they are the laundries, the insurance agencies, the restaurants, the drugstores, the bottling plants, the lumber yards, the automobile dealers. They are vital, to be sure, but essentially they service an economy; they do not create new money within their area and they are dependent ultimately on the business and agriculture that does.

Man might not be perfectible after all, but there was another dream and now at last it seemed practical: the perfectibility of society.

Change a word here and there, however, and what many an educator is prescribing is exactly what many a personnel man is prescribing, and many a research director, and so on through the roster of our institutions.

We talk much about the alienation of the worker from the satisfaction of the whole job, but the same longing for a sense of continuity and purpose affects managerial people every bit as much. As our organizations have grown larger and more bureaucratic, they have created great layers of staff functions and the people in them often feel neither fish nor fowl—intellectuals, yet not of the intellectual world; managerial, yet without authority or prestige. Scientism, with its implications of the specialist as eventual savior, can give the frustrated a sense of purpose that cuts across organization and occupational lines. I do not believe I read into scientism a coherence that they themselves do not feel. No matter what branch of social engineering a man is engaged in—“mass” communication, “the engineering of consent,” public relations, advertising, personnel counseling—he can feel himself part of a larger movement.

Thoreau once said if you see a man approach you with the obvious intent of doing you good, you should run for your life; it is hard to restrain the impulse in talking with social engineers.

What I am arguing is that the real impact of scientism is upon our values. The danger, to put it another way, is not man being dominated but man surrendering. At the present writing there is not one section of American life that has not drunk deeply of the promise of scientism. It appears in many forms—pedagogy, aptitude tests, that monstrous nonentity called “mass communication”—and there are few readers who have not had a personal collision with it.

Conflict, change, fluidity—these are the evils from which man should be insulated.

To turn about and preach that conflicting allegiances are absolute virtues is not justified either. But at this particular time the function they perform in the maintenance of individual freedom is worthy of more respect. Clark Kerr, Chancellor of the University of California, at Berkeley, has put it well: The danger is not that loyalties are divided today but that they may be undivided tomorrow…. I would urge each individual to avoid total involvement in any organization; to seek to whatever extent lies within his power to limit each group to the minimum control necessary for performance of essential functions; to struggle against the effort to absorb; to lend his energies to many organizations and give himself completely to none; to teach children, in the home and in the school, “to be laws to themselves and to depend on themselves,” as Walt Whitman urged us many years ago—for that is the well source of the independent spirit.

the group may be as much a tyrant as the despot it has replaced.

Must consensus per se be the overriding goal? It is the price of progress that there never can be complete consensus. All creative advances are essentially a departure from agreed-upon ways of looking at things, and to overemphasize the agreed-upon is to further legitimatize the hostility to that creativity upon which we all ultimately depend.

In further institutionalizing the great power of the majority, we are making the individual come to distrust himself. We are giving him a rationalization for the unconscious urging to find an authority that would resolve the burdens of free choice. We are tempting him to reinterpret the group pressures as a release, authority as freedom, and that this quest assumes a moral guise makes it only the more poignant.

When I was a college senior in 1939, we used to sing a plaintive song about going out into the “cold, cold world.” It wasn’t really so very cold then, but we did enjoy meditating on the fraughtness of it all. It was a big break we were facing, we told ourselves, and those of us who were going to try our luck in the commercial world could be patronizing toward those who were going on to graduate work or academic life. We were taking the leap. Seniors still sing the song, but somehow the old note of portent is gone. There is no leap left to take.

The union between the world of organization and the college has been so cemented that today’s seniors can see a continuity between the college and the life thereafter that we never did. Come graduation, they do not go outside to a hostile world; they transfer.

Because they are the largest single group, the corporation-bound seniors are the most visible manifestation of their generation’s values. But in essentials their contemporaries headed for other occupations respond to the same urges. The lawyers, the doctors, the scientists—their occupations are also subject to the same centralization, the same trend to group work and to bureaucratization. And so are the young men who will enter them. Whatever their many differences, in one great respect they are all of a piece: more than any generation in memory, theirs will be a generation of bureaucrats.

Most are interested in the philosophical only to the extent of finding out what the accepted view is in order that they may accept it and get on to the practical matters.

Having no quarrel with society, they prefer to table the subject of ends and concentrate instead on means. Not what or why but how interests them, and any evangelical strain they have they can sublimate; once they have equated the common weal with organization—a task the curriculum makes easy—they will let the organization worry about goals. “These men do not question the system,” an economics professor says of them, approvingly. “They want to get in there and lubricate and make them run better. They will be technicians of the society, not innovators.”

They want to work for somebody else. Paradoxically, the old dream of independence through a business of one’s own is held almost exclusively by factory workers —the one group, as a number of sociologists have reported, least able to fulfill it. Even at the bull-session level college seniors do not affect it, and when recruiting time comes around they make the preference clear. Consistently, placement officers find that of the men who intend to go into business—roughly one half of the class —less than 5 per cent express any desire to be an entrepreneur. About 15 to 20 per cent plan to go into their fathers’ business. Of the rest, most have one simple goal: the big corporation.

The fact that a majority of seniors headed for business shy from the idea of being entrepreneurs is only in part due to fear of economic risk. Seniors can put the choice in moral terms also, and the portrait of the entrepreneur as a young man detailed in postwar fiction preaches a sermon that seniors are predisposed to accept. What price bitch goddess Success? The entrepreneur, as many see him, is a selfish type motivated by greed, and he is, furthermore, unhappy. The big-time operator as sketched in fiction eventually so loses stomach for enterprise that he finds happiness only when he stops being an entrepreneur, forsakes “21,” El Morocco, and the boss’s wife and heads for the country. Citing such fiction, the student can moralize on his aversion to entrepreneurship. His heel quotient, he explains, is simply not big enough. Not that he is afraid of risk, the senior can argue. Far from being afraid of taking chances, he is simply looking for the best place to take them in.* Small business is small because of nepotism and the roll-top desk outlook, the argument goes; big business, by contrast, has borrowed the tools of science and made them pay off. It has its great laboratories, its market-research departments, and the time and patience to use them. The odds, then, favor the man who joins big business. “We wouldn’t hesitate to risk adopting new industrial techniques and products,” explains a proponent of this calculated-risk theory, “but we would do it only after we had subjected it to tests of engineers, pre-testing in the market and that kind of thing.” With big business, in short, risk-taking would be a cinch.

When I talked to students in 1949, on almost every campus I heard one recurring theme: adventure was all very well, but it was smarter to make a compromise in order to get a depression-proof sanctuary. “I don’t think AT&T is very exciting,” one senior put it, “but that’s the company I’d like to join. If a depression comes there will always be an AT&T.” (Another favorite was the food industry: people always have to eat.) Corporation recruiters were unsettled to find that seniors seemed primarily interested in such things as pension benefits and retirement programs.

These differences raise an interesting question. It is possible that the majority group might be less significant than the minority—that is to say, the more venturesome may become the dominant members of our society by virtue of their very disinclination to the group way. As a frankly rapacious young salesman put it to me, the more contented his run-of-the-mill contemporaries, the freer the field for the likes of him.

I am going to take up the content of his education and argue that a large part of the U.S. educational system is preparing people badly for the organization society—precisely because it is trying so very hard to do it. My charge rests on the premise that what the organization man needs most from education is the intellectual armor of the fundamental disciplines.

a large proportion of the younger people who will one day be in charge of our secondary-school system are precisely those with the least aptitude for education of all Americans attending college.

This practical kind of training, Burton argues, is “cutting out guesswork for employers. An advertising student who has had some facts beaten into him in school is going to be a better employee risk for the employer. He has been pre-conditioned.”

the whole that the college often has in mind is quite frankly not intellectual development at all. It is, rather, the same old “personal-social development,” and again the familiar needs-of-modern-man theme is wrung in to refreshen it.

American education will always lean toward the practical, toward the larger number than the smaller, and no reformation can ever succeed that runs counter to this tradition.

More and more it will be the man of The Organization, the graduate of the business school—the “modern man,” in sum, that his education was so effectively designed to bring about.

Looking back on the training program, one Ford executive summed up his complaint this way: “I always felt that human relations and getting along with people was all very important. But these trainees made me do a lot of thinking. At Ford we judge a man by results. I mean, what he gets accomplished. And I think this is the way it should be. Sure, human relations is important, but it should be subsidiary to results. Look at it this way: if the girls in a steno pool run away when a man comes around to give dictation on account of his manners, or other people hold out information on him, his results will be bad. I think that the colleges that send these men to us ought to put more emphasis on doing things. A lot of the young fellows I talk to think that most engineering problems are all solved and that it’s just a question of human engineering. That’s just not right.”

“Since the time they entered kindergarten they have spent sixteen years during which the world has been presented to them in study courses to be absorbed in an atmosphere of security. To extend this kind of thing when they reach the corporation—except for a well-founded research program—is a dangerous concept.” Executives of this persuasion feel that present-day organizations are benevolent enough already. “We should let the wheel of fortune turn,” one says. “It’s all right for a young man to develop himself, but he shouldn’t be developed.”

they don’t see why they shouldn’t have the good life and good money both. There doesn’t have to be any choice between the two.

“We used to look primarily for brilliance,” said one president. “Now that much-abused word ‘character’ has become very important. We don’t care if you’re a Phi Beta Kappa or a Tau Beta Phi. We want a well-rounded person who can handle well-rounded people.”

they are not well rounded for the simple reason that if they had been well rounded, they wouldn’t have gotten to be executives in the first place. Officially, the organizations they run deify co-operation; in actuality, they remain places where success still comes to those motivated essentially by the old individualistic, competitive drives.

the drives that produce the executive neurosis so feared are entwined with the drives that make him productive. In denying this harsh reality the well-rounded ideal makes morally illegitimate the tensions now accepted as part of the game, and if the old flexing of the ego was a mixed blessing, so would be the new suppression of it.

Such solitary contemplation during the office day, for some reason, is regarded by even the executive himself as a form of hooky.

the whole that the college often has in mind is quite frankly not intellectual development at all. It is, rather, the same old “personal-social development,” and again the familiar needs-of-modern-man theme is wrung in to refreshen it.

In the outstanding scientist, in short, we have almost the direct antithesis of the company-oriented man. If the company wants a first-rate man it must recognize that his allegiance must always be to his work. For him, organization can be only a vehicle. What he asks of it is not big money—significantly, Bell Labs and GE have not had to pay higher salaries than other research organizations to attract talent. Nor is it companionship, or belongingness. What he asks is the freedom to do what he wants to do.

The management man is confusing his own role with that of the scientist. To the management man such things as The Organization and human relations are at the heart of his job, and in unconscious analogy he assumes that the same thing applies to the scientist, if perhaps in lesser degree. These things are irrelevant to the scientist—he works in an organization rather than for it

No Room for Virtuosos Except in certain research assignments, few specialists in a large company ever work alone. There is little room for virtuoso performances. Business is so complex, even in its non-technical aspects, that no one man can master all of it; to do his job, therefore, he must be able to work with other people.

We pick out the one tangible part of the application—the experimental design—how the man plans to work out his project. We are asking more and more questions. Aware of this, applicants elaborate their designs in more and more detail. A vicious cycle has set in. In making application for a grant before World War II, a few lines or at most a paragraph or two sufficed for the experimental design; now it may extend over six to eight single-spaced typewritten pages. And even then committee members may come back to ask for more details. Under these circumstances, passing the buck has come to be practiced very widely. Projects are passed from committee to committee—to my knowledge, in one instance six committees—largely because at no place along the line did anyone believe that he had adequate information to come to a firm decision.

“There is a tremendous difference between science as it is done in the laboratory and science as it is reported. True science is helter-skelter, depending on one’s hunches, angers, and inspirations, and the research itself is done in a very personal fashion. Thirty or forty years ago, it was written up this way. In reporting a great discovery a scientist would say, ‘I was working on such-and-such a reaction when I dropped some sulphuric acid by mistake. When I examined it I found, to my surprise, a strange thing going on….’ But today nobody would write it up in this way.”

There is a great hustle and bustle, a rushing back and forth to scientific conferences, a great plethora of $50,000 grants for $100 ideas.

If we pick up popular fiction around the 1870s, we find the Protestant Ethic in full flower.

our fiction has become fundamentally any less materialistic. It hasn’t; it’s just more hypocritical about it.

“What should a person do,” a puzzled man asks Norman Vincent Peale, “who is unhappy and bored in his job after twenty years but who earns a nice salary and hasn’t the nerve to leave? He’ll never go any higher in salary and position but will always have a job.” Peale, one of the few who can preach the Social Ethic and the Protestant Ethic at one and the same time, answers thus: “The trouble here seems to be the tragedy of treadmill thoughts. This individual has gone stale, dull and dead in his thinking. He needs an intellectual rebirth. That job of his is filled with possibilities he never sees, with opportunities he hasn’t realized. Tell him to wake up mentally and strive for some understanding of what he can accomplish in his present position.” (“Norman Vincent Peale Answers Your Questions,” Look, March 6, 1955.)

the fact that they all left home can be more important in bonding them than the kind of home they left is in separating them.

But private socialism offers no resting place either. The upward struggle is easier now, or seems easier, and though the couple who move into suburbia may do so with a feeling of “we made it,” their satisfaction is quite temporary. The longer they stay the more they recognize subtle gradations that at first were not apparent. There is no plateau in front of them, only the rungs of a ladder.

While the vulnerability of the newcomers may never be put to a large-scale test, the effect of several localized recessions is suggestive. Economically, the impact has not been serious; most of the plant layoffs have been temporary, and in the midst of a generally rising economy the families affected have been able to weather the squall through renegotiated loans. Psychologically, however, the effect has been considerable. The possibility of going much under $4,800 does not threaten merely to rob a family of some luxuries; it threatens to take them away from a style of life. Suburbia does not condone shabby gentility. The amenities that a severe cutback in expenditures would put in jeopardy are not marginal; to the family on the edge of the middle class they are social necessities. Those who have counseled with people in such situations say that in almost every case the prime fear is the fear of “going back.” Often it is an unreasoning fear—houses in suburbia, after all, are often the cheapest houses available—but it can be a tremendous one nonetheless to those who suffer it. They can feel so isolated. Back in the depression, millions were in a predicament not of their own making, yet social workers tell us that despite the generalness of the depression people had strong feelings of individual guilt. Today the feelings of guilt could be much more intense. Psychologically, they have more to lose than any other group in our society, and a turndown that would be moderate by the standards of two decades ago would place them in a perilous position. They are not going back, and if their fears were exploited, their discontent could become ugly indeed. If our economy has an Achilles’ heel, this might be it.

Whatever their occupation, almost all organization people feel their particular job is depression-proof.

Suburbanites have a wonderful capacity for interpreting demands for more of the good life as the expression of idealism. Back in 1953, to cite one instance, Park Foresters demanded that a special $60,000 multi-purpose room be added to a new school then a-building. Klutznick said no; eventually the town was going to have to take over the financial burden and it was questionable whether they would have the tax base to pay for the regular classrooms, let alone the extra facilities. I asked the young head of the school board about this. With great heat, he declared that it was a matter of principle. “Our children deserve the best,” he said, and since a multi-purpose room was part of modern education, that should be that. I asked him about Klutznick’s argument. He shook his head sadly; he didn’t know where the money would come from either. “But,” he repeated, “our children deserve the best.” To ask why, of course, would be unpardonable in suburbia.

there is one kind of couple that in matters of money remains conspicuously faithful to the Protestant Ethic of eighteenth-century America. They are the first-generation children of foreign-born parents.

In self-entrapment is security. They try to budget so tightly that there are no unappropriated funds, for they know these would burn a hole in their pockets.

Budgetism, essentially, is a person’s desire to regularize his finances by having them removed from his own control and disciplined by external forces.

Our whole population is moving toward the more regularized life, and as the guaranteed annual wage becomes a reality, the conditions for middle-class budgetism will become yet more universal.

when a couple is assigned to Court B 14 or Court K 3 is a turning point that is likely to affect them long after they have left Park Forest. Each court produces a different pattern of behavior, and whether newcomers become civic leaders or bridge fans or churchgoers will be determined to a large extent by the gang to which chance has now joined them.

these areas with high partying records usually prove to be the ones with the layout best adapted to providing the close-knit neighborly group that many planners and observers now feel needs to be re-created on a large scale.

the character of the original settlers seems the most important. In the early phase the impact of the strong personality, good or otherwise, is magnified.

The location of your home in relation to the others not only determines your closest friends; it also virtually determines how popular you will be. The more central one’s location, the more social contacts one has.

The primary job of the high school, they wrote, should be to teach students how to be citizens and how to get along with other people.

the basis of the Social Ethic is not conformity but a sense of moral imperative.

But where is the boat going? No one seems to have the faintest idea; nor, for that matter, do they see much point in even raising the question. Once people liked to think, at least, that they were in control of their destinies, but few of the younger organization people cherish such notions. Most see themselves as objects more acted upon than acting—and their future, therefore, determined as much by the system as by themselves. In a word, they accept, and if we do not find this comforting at least we should recognize that it would be odd if they did not feel this confidence. For them society has in fact been good—very, very good—for there has been a succession of fairly beneficent environments: college, the paternalistic, if not always pleasant, military life, then, perhaps, graduate work through the G.I. Bill of Rights, a corporation apprenticeship during a period of industrial expansion and high prosperity, and, for some, the camaraderie of communities like Park Forest. The system, they instinctively conclude, is essentially benevolent.

The pendulum analogy that suggests itself would be misleading, for it implies a return to some ideal state of balance. What we need is not to return but to reinterpret, to apply to our problems the basic idea of individualism, not ancient particulars. The doctrines of the nineteenth-century businessman and our modern society are disparate, but that they are disparate is little cause for us to assume that individualism must be too. The central ideal—that the individual, rather than society, must be the paramount end—animated Western thought long before the Industrial Revolution, or Calvinism, or Puritanism, and it is as vital and as applicable today as ever.

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