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Ford’s metaphysics: On the Transcendental origins of Henry Ford’s Fordism

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

<mark>Journal publication date</mark>1/07/2021
Issue number4
Number of pages27
Pages (from-to)577-603
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date13/05/20
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Since it was first articulated by Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks (1929–1935), Fordism has been understood at two interconnected levels. At one level, it is understood in secular materialist terms as an archetypal system of mass production. At another, as a techno-economic paradigm of capitalist expansion. However, little attention has been given to the philosophical influences and ideas that underpinned Henry Ford’s (1863–1947) worldview and how this came to influence the formation of the factory systems at his Highland Park and River Rouge complexes. In most textbooks, it is assumed that Ford based his industrial design on a technological intensification of F.W. Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management. This article seeks to examine the origins and rationale behind Ford’s factory system by exploring the relationship between his personal worldview and the ‘ism’ which came to bear his name. Through a cultural-historical analysis, this article critically explores Henry Ford’s personal Fordism, and argues that what has come to be understood as one of the most ‘secular’ and ‘materialist’ processes of organising ‘men and machine’ began with an attempt by Henry Ford to realise a ‘metaphysical’ ideal that was informed by the popular philosophical and theological thought of the previous century. By returning to the ideas and the context of this period, Ford’s engagement with the work of the American Transcendentalist, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) is considered to both contextualise Henry Ford’s Fordism and explore the philosophical tensions at the heart of his organisational theory and practic