King C. Gillette, “The Human Drift” (1895)

The recent Gillette ad is little more than “woke” capitalism—the familiar process of “turning rebellion into money”—but there are certainly worse messages out there. And it offers an opportunity to recall the more radical politics of King Camp Gillette, who believed that “business principles” led pretty directly to a form of utopian socialism. Gillette’s first book, The Human Drift, is largely forgotten now, but it caused quite a stir among those radicals who had been attracted to Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Gronlunds’ Cooperative Commonwealth, etc. Twentieth Century—which by that time was nothing like an anarchist paper, but still featured plenty of anarchists—went through a period of real Gillette-mania, putting a slogan from The Human Drift, “United Intelligence and Material Equality,” on its masthead and, for a year or so, hosting a spirited debate on the work’s merits.

The change in motto was no small thing, as the previous motto had been part of the paper since at least July, 1889. And it was noted with the appropriate gravity:

It will be noticed that the motto, “Hear the Other Side,” has been taken down. The reason is, that after years of discussion we are not prepared to take action. It is not intended to shut off discussion by any means. Education is needed. But education and action go hand in hand, and under the motto of “United Intelligence and Material Equality” will the battle for human rights now be fought. (Twentieth Century 14 no. 14 (April 4, 1895): 1.)

The text here is Gillette’s reply to the ongoing debates about his work.




Since the publication of the “Human Drift,” I have avoided as much as possible entering into any controversy for the purpose of sustaining my position as a practical reformer. The foundation idea of my book, which advocated reform based on business principles and laws such as are now in force in the business world, did not, in my opinion, need further support than the arguments already advanced. These arguments were intended to direct the mind of each reader in the right channel of thought when he could supplement my arguments by facts that come under his own observation; for no one can be oblivious of the wonderful change that is going forward in the business world; so rapid and revolutionary in effect as to completely demoralize governmental parties in their endeavor to keep pace with commercial affairs.

It is now upwards of a year since the “Human Drift” went to press heralding the demand for a reform movement that should ignore the surface indications or effects of our system which serve to make political capital in the guise of reform measures, and go at once to the root or cause of the evils of society. What has been the result?

Its motto “United Intelligence and Material Equality,” the ultimate goal to be striven for, and never lost sight of until attained, has become the inspirational motto subscribed upon the banner of the TWENTIETH CENTURY magazine, the journal which is destined to be the foremost and most powerful reform paper in the world at a time when reform is to be the uppermost subject in the minds of every civilized nation on the globe. The dying years of the 19th and first twenty years of the 20th century, will stand out conspicuous in the world’s history of revolutionary ideas, for during that time, thoughts which are now apparently widely separated, but which have a common focus, will coalesce, and by this union of forces, the industrial means of arriving at necessary results will undergo a complete change both in thought and reality. Competition between individuals in the supply of the material wants of the people will be throttled and destroyed, and the people, as a whole, made the masters of production and distribution.

The past year’s correspondence of the TWENTIETH CENTURY company, coming from both men and women from every walk in life, and from every State in the Union, bears most flattering testimony in commendation of the plan of reform proposed. In taking credit, I do so in the name of the TWENTIETH CENTURY Co. and the TWENTIETH CENTURY magazine, which have come forward and made the success of this reform movement possible, and it makes no difference whether the goal striven for is reached through the direct effort of the TWENTIETH CENTURY Company, or whether the company is only instrumental in pointing out the pathway and goal to others, who may independently forward humanity’s cause, the result will be the same. No one, except those who have come into personal contact with the active workers in this reform movement, can have any conception of their unselfish devotion, perseverance and determination to succeed. I have reference to the editor of the TWENTIETH CENTURY magazine and his staff of advisors. Unfortunately I have been unable to give my personal attention in directing the company’s policy, though I have kept in touch with its objects and purposes and in sympathy with its aims.

My silence during the past year has not been from lack of courage to back up my convictions, but because the basic ideas advanced were beyond argument; the whole proposition in a nutshell was a simple one. Is it more economical to produce a given quantity of a given article in one mill, or one factory, than in a hundred, or in a thousand, and this proposision can be advantageously and economically applied to the whole field of production and distribution.

A company organized with a paid in capital of 250 million could absolutely control the grocery trade in every large city in five years, and in the whole United States in ten years. They could cover the same ground with 250 million as is now covered with not less than ten times that amount, and the interest on the difference in permanent investment alone, would be a guarantee of the success of such a company.

The control or prospective control of such a necessary and important industry as the grocery trade and its dependencies would revolutionize the world’s ideas of production and distribution. Though such a company would be, to the unreasoning, an apparent calamity, it would, in truth, be the most desirable thing that could happen in this age of doubt and uncertainty, for it would be the death knell to competition, and would do more than all the argument in the world to hasten the dawn of a civilization based on material equality.

There has been more or less adverse criticism of that portion of the “Human Drift” which depicts a new civilization, and this criticism fails in almost every instance, to take into consideration the modifying clauses which are a prominent feature of this portion of my work and in which I admit the necessity of imagination and my inability to do justice in describing a future state of civilization. The opening clauses of the chapter headed “a new civilization” read as follows:

“Material equality must result in a new civilization, new in every part of its structure of mind and matter. The whole aspect of nature must assume new meanings and ends, for they will be seen by new senses of interpretation. With our present individual knowledge, we cannot conceive it; or, if we could conceive it, we would not believe it possible.

It was not my intention when the subject-matter of “Human Drift” was outlined, to supplement it with a description of what civilization might be when production and distribution had been resolved to the point of greatest economy; but, if the mind once gets thoroughly interested in the subject of consolidation and centralization, it cannot escape the logical conclusion—a perfect civilization.

In my description of this new civilization, I do not leap into the future and make scientific discoveries which are not discovered yet, neither do I anticipate wonderful inventions which are not invented yet, nor do I annihilate time and anticipate the future of art. I confine myself to our present progressive position, and only utilize that which we now have of art, science, and invention in its most economical application.

I look upon the consolidation of business and its centralization from a purely business standpoint. I see enormous business enterprises that demand millions of dollars running as smoothly as though they were controlled by a single individual mind. Yet the controlling power of these large corporations is the combined intelligence of a large number of individuals. Under these circumstances, the corporation has within it the elements of continuous life; for the death of any single or number of individuals would not disturb its progress. This same idea would be also true of a civilization that was combined as one intelligence. It would have the elements of continuous life, and nothing could disturb its continuous progress.”

In the above quotation I not only declare that it is impossible to conceive a future state, but I express belief that if that future could be described or pictured to us, it would be so far beyond our imagination that we could not believe it possible. To prove this, it is only necessary to say, that there is not a man living today who could foresee twenty-five years ago the wonderful progress that has been made during that time, which has exceeded any previous five hundred years of the world’s history. This progress has not resulted in bettering the condition of the masses, but through the inventive talent and centralization of production and distribution it has made the possibility of better times under a competitive system absolutely impossible, and this process will continue to a climax, which must result in material equality.

We have every reason to believe that the next twenty-five years will result in greater surprises and more rapid change than the last; for the inventive talent is increasing, and money is centralizing with compounding ratio. Both are directed to greater economy in production; and economy in production means less labor for a given amount of product. The political pot is constantly boiling over in its endeavor to keep pace with this rapid evolution, and there is no one who can picture the future industrial, social and political condition of these United States a few years in advance, but there are those who can, by a sequence of reasoning, give a possible picture, and this was all that I attempted to do in my description of “A New Civilization.”

In this part of my book, it was my purpose to show that it was both practical and possible (when the time arrived to do so) to organize a large population so that its industrial branch, on which production and distribution would depend, could be maintained without discord and without friction, and yet cover the whole industrial field. This I think has been clearly shown in that portion descriptive of the means whereby supply and demand of labor is regulated by a permanent system of equalization.

I consider the solution of the problem of a perfect industrial system most important to any reform movement. I do not advocate going forward unless we can see a stepping stone in advance. A vital defect in most reform movements is the narrow minded grasp of the subject, and their lack of comprehension as to where they are going to land. This is fatal to their success, for they lack those convincing elements that inspire confidence which common sense demands; these elements that are lacking are conclusions, without conclusions, or otherwise expressed; without an objective point any reform movement lacks vitality. These are the reasons why I rounded out my plan of reform with a picture of a new civilization. That new civilization shows the fruition of the reform movement—it is the conclusion—the objective point.

I claim that, under the heading, “Equalization of Labor,” I have presented an absolutely just system of supply and demand of labor, that has never been equalled by any presentation of the subject by any author or advocate of reform, and further, this solution of the labor problem is absolutely necessary to the success of a reform movement that has for its goal material equality. Another point that has received more or less criticism is my statement that one city would result under a system of material equality and most perfect economy in production and distribution. The only trouble here has been that my words have been taken in a too literal sense. When I say one city must result, I do not mean that there will be no other centers of industry as seems to be understood.” At the beginning of chapter headed “Metropolis,” page 87 I say:

“Under a perfect economical system of production and distribution, and a system combining the greatest elements of progress, there can be only one city on a continent, and possibly only one in the world. There would be outlying groups of buildings in different sections of the country for the accommodation of those who were, for limited periods, in the field of labor, and also others that would be occupied as resorts of pleasure in season; but the great and only “Metropolis” would be the home of the people.”

It can be seen by the above quotation that it was not my intention to convey the idea that all the waste material of raw production should be conveyed as a part of raw material to the central city, there to be separated.

When it comes to the question of what is raw material, it might in some instances be difficult to draw the line. In the matter of iron and steel, the raw material, commercially, is the article itself from which all the waste matter of original ore has been eliminated, and which, in its pure state is cast into pigs or rolled into various forms and is then ready to be manufactured into the various articles of use. Up to this point of manufacture, it would be more economical to do labor of production in the vicinity of coal and iron mines, but when it comes to the manufacture of this iron or steel into articles of use, such as agricultural implements, machinery of all kinds, tools, cutlery and general hardware, which must in very many instances, combine in completed form, many originally widely separated raw materials, then a central point of manufacture would be more economical and more to be desired. I have tried to impress upon the reader’s mind the fact that this great “Metropolis” would be the home of the people. All other industrial centers would be but the temporary abiding places of those who were in the labor field. As soon as man’s equalized portion of labor had been performed he would naturally gravitate to that center where all art, science, and education offered the greatest possibilities, and found their highest expression.

Can any of my readers tell me why there should be more than one great city? Where would any advantages be derived by the separation and division of our population? Under existing conditions there are very few of our population who are located in the place of their choice. Desirability of climate and advantages of education and amusement, have had nothing to do with their location. The stern necessity of earning their daily bread has directed their wandering footsteps, I refer to the great laboring masses who are more dependent on their hands than on their brains for what they eat.

I am willing to admit that the idea of a central metropolis is in advance of this generation, and for this reason it may not appeal to the average mind, but this is also true of many ideas that are gradually forcing their way to a recognized scientific plane, but I am not willing to admit that the idea of a central city is far fetched or has not a basis of reason for its presentation. My reasoning tells me that a central metropolis combining within its environment a realization of man’s highest ideals of art, science, and education, will be a recognized necessity and projected before twenty-five years have passed. United intelligence and material equality in all that relates to our material welfare will have its birth in the popular mind within ten years. From that time on evolution in all directions toward a common focus will be rapid.

In conclusion, I send my greeting and best wishes to all the readers of the TWENTIETH CENTURY, and ask those who believe in the reform ideas advocated to become a unit of power in forwarding material equality. Those who believe should have the courage of their convictions. To seek relief by advocating or giving support to temporary expedients intended to bolster up a system of most apparent injustice, is to be untrue to yourself. To call our present means of producing and distributing the necessities of life a system, is a misnomer, and to call it just, is a crime. Equality in the material welfare of individuals transcends every law of the universe, for it is the only condition under which intelligence, both individually and collectively, can find its highest and most perfect expression.

Twentieth Century 14 no. 21 (November 21, 1895): 7–10.

About Shawn P. Wilbur 2108 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.