Two hundred years ago the Luddites, named after a destructive English lad called “King” Ned Ludd, tried to stop technological progress by smashing machines that were making human laborers unnecessary. The Luddites also occasionally killed people, which led to their being squashed by the British army and tried in court.
“But the legend lived on,” Morgan Meis writes for The Smart Set. And the Luddites’ reputation as reactionary weirdos whose efforts to halt technology were futile has been amended by some more contemporary scholars.
The historian Eric Hobsbawm, for instance, wrote in 1952 that the Luddite rebellion was an important episode in the early history of organized labor and attempts to improve the lot of the working class.
But resurrecting their image in this way leaves something out, Meis argues. “The dark, futile, craziness of the Luddites can’t be explained away by putting them in historical context. … The Luddites were on a mad romp against history, against progress, against time itself. … They were attacking the machines, but they were also trying to smash themselves out of the world they lived in. They were trying to halt the sun and the moon. They were trying to freeze the time of the clocks.”