History’s Greatest Monster: Henry Ford?


That’s what Time magazine seems to think:

Uh-oh. Here comes trouble. Let’s stipulate that the Model T did everything that the history books say: It put America on wheels, supercharged the nation’s economy and transformed the landscape in ways unimagined when the first Tin Lizzy rolled out of the factory. Well, that’s just the problem, isn’t it? The Model T — whose mass production technique was the work of engineer William C. Klann, who had visited a slaughterhouse’s “disassembly line” — conferred to Americans the notion of automobility as something akin to natural law, a right endowed by our Creator. A century later, the consequences of putting every living soul on gas-powered wheels are piling up, from the air over our cities to the sand under our soldiers’ boots. And by the way, with its blacksmithed body panels and crude instruments, the Model T was a piece of junk, the Yugo of its day.

Wow. One would think the automobile had no benefits whatsoever. We here at CEI have faced this prejudice for many years, so it’s always useful to revisit our past work, where we can find a handy rundown of the benefits the automobile has brought us, and why automobility is not a virtue in itself, but because it enhance the virtue (the right even?) of autonomy:

Automobility directly complements autonomy — the distinctively human capacity to be self-directing. Automobiles enable us to extend the scope and magnitude of our self-direction, and for that reason they are worthwhile.

* Automobiles allow us to choose where we will live, where we will work, and to separate these two choices from each other.

* Automobiles enhance knowledge. From watching geese fly to Canada, to visiting a battleground, to attending an opera, no form of transportation combines local maneuverability with extended range to the degree that the automobile does.

* Automobiles enhance privacy. While public transportation is not always bad, and sometimes is the only viable alternative, it necessarily encroaches on privacy. The automobile is for 20th century American society the quintessential bastion of privacy. The failure of diamond lanes and other car-pooling inducements may be viewed as a failure of policy, but it can also be seen as a result of the valid human desire for privacy.

* Automobiles allow control over one’s immediate environment. Surely one reason for the fondness people hold for their cars is the scope of control over this environment, which is not possible with any alternate transportation mode.

In short, what is conspicuously left off the balance sheet of automobility is its intrinsic goodness of promoting autonomy.

Meanwhile, I hope no-one at Time owns a car that runs on gasoline or emits anything into the air. No, they wouldn’t be such monsters, would they?


Subscribe to National Review