Mumford, Lewis

Mumford, Lewis,

1895–1990, American social philosopher, b. Flushing, N.Y.; educ. City College of New York, Columbia, New York Univ., and the New School for Social Research. A critic of the dehumanizing tendencies of modern technological civilization, Mumford argues that humanity's only hope lies in a return to human feelings and sensitivities and to moral values. In addition to social philosophy, his works cover such areas as architecture and city planning. He served as professor at Stanford, the Univ. of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Univ. of California at Berkeley, and other universities. Among his books are Technics and Civilization (1934), The Culture of Cities (1938), The Condition of Man (1944), The Conduct of Life (1951), The Transformations of Man (1956), The City in History (1961), and Interpretations and Forecasts (1973).


See biography by D. L. Miller (1992); F. G. Novak, Jr., ed., Lewis Mumford and Patrick Geddes: The Correspondence (1995).

Mumford, Lewis


Born Oct. 19, 1895, in Flushing, N. Y. American philosopher. Professor at Stanford University (1942–44), the University of Pennsylvania (1951–59), and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1957–60).

Mumford’s theoretical and political views have undergone a considerable evolution: from liberal-reformist illusions of the 1920’s and 1930’s, when Mumford actively supported President F. D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, to pessimistic and conservative convictions about society. His numerous works are devoted to social problems of technology, the history of cities and the processes of urbanization, and the Utopian tradition in social thought. His books on urban planning and architecture, such as Sticks and Stones (1924), The Culture of Cities (1938), City Development (1945), and The City in History (1961), have greatly influenced urban studies in the USA.

In Technics and Civilization (1934), Art and Technics (1952), and especially The Myth of the Machine (1967–70), Mumford reveals himself as an extreme exponent of technological determinism. He considers the principal cause of all contemporary social evils and disturbances to be the growing gap between technology and morality. In his opinion, this gap threatens mankind in the near future with enslavement to an impersonal “megamachine,” that is, an overly rationalized, technocratic social structure. Mumford regards scientific and technological progress since F. Bacon and Galileo as “intellectual imperialism,” to which humanism and social justice have fallen victim. He regards science as a surrogate religion and scientists as the new priestly caste. Therefore, Mumford calls for a halt to scientific and technological progress and for the reestablishment of the values of the Middle Ages, which he depicts as the golden age of mankind. This reactionary outlook has led Mumford to reevaluate the role of utopias. In The Story of Utopias (1922), Mumford considered utopias as a means of transforming society on the basis of principles of justice; however, in the postwar years he has regarded utopias as a realizable nightmare.

Mumford’s political views have been extremely contradictory and inconsistent. He has spoken out against the Cold War and in support of coexistence between the two systems. He has defended the bourgeois democratic tradition from the infringements of McCarthyism and the ultrareactionary circles of the USA. As a liberal, Mumford has harshly criticized monopolies and the bureaucratization of society, as well as the suppression of the individual. However, he has been openly anticommunist.


The Culture of Cities. London, 1946.
In the Name of Sanity. New York, 1954.
The Transformations of Man. New York, 1956.
The City in History. New York, 1961.
The Story of Utopias. New York, 1962.
Technics and Civilization. New York, 1963.
The Myth of the Machine, vols. 1–2. New York, 1967–70.
In Russian translation:
Ot brevenchatogo doma do neboskreba. Moscow, 1936.


Osipov, G. V. Tekhnika i obshchestvennyi progress. Moscow, 1959.
Istoricheskii materializm i sotsial’naia filosofiia sovremennoi burzhuazii. Moscow, 1960.


Mumford, Lewis

(1895–1990) social thinker, writer; born in Flushing, N.Y. A student at both City and Columbia Universities (1912–18) who never graduated, he wrote for New Republic and Harper's in the 1920s before publishing his first book, Sticks and Bones (1924). A charter member of the Regional Planning Association of America (1924), he became architectural critic for the New Yorker in the 1930s. He produced a series of books about the debilitating effects of technology on city life, including the four-volume study The Renewal of Life (1934–51), The Culture of Cities (1938), and The City in History (1961). Seen as a visionary by some and a prophet of doom by others, he continued to offer plans for dealing with the chaos of urban life. He was a planning professor at the University of Pennsylvania (1952–61), and visiting professor at other universities, including the University of California: Berkeley and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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