The Long Shadow of Fatalism: a Philosophical Speculation on Forster’s “the Machine Stops” (1909) on the Disintegration of Technologically Advanced Societies Back Then and Today

Philosophy of Management 20 (4):431-439 (2021)


EM Forster’s short story “The Machine Stops” from 1909 is widely reread and discussed again for some ten years as it portrays a science-fiction world resting on similar technological advancements as today in the digital era. Also management literature reviewed the short story with regard to centralized decision making, rationality and totalitarianism. I argue instead, that the main theme of the short story is – in Forster’s own words – the closing of a civilization in times of transition and facing major challenges. I built the argument by original quotes from Forster and by portraying the years 1906–9, when Forster developed the short story. This era before the Great War starting in 1914 was characterized by euphoric ‘futurism’ based on groundbreaking innovations like ‘long distance messaging’, ‘penny post’, ‘animated films’, Ford’s assembly line, ‘Olivetti typewriter’, ‘feature film’, ‘large ships’ and ‘air transportation’ – the ingredients of the short story as I argue. At the same time these acquitted years were characterized by increasing disintegration, instability, rebellions and a financial crisis with bailout programs. Based on the analogy and as part of speculative philosophy I reconstruct the current great challenges with Forster’ shadow of fatalism and arrive at the urgency to put more effort in addressing and researching pathways out of the crisis and towards stabilization of business and society.

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Peter Seele
Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (PhD)

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