The Larger Synthesis

H.G. Wells

WE have seen that the essential process arising out of the growth of science and mechanism, and more particularly out of the still developing new facilities of locomotion and communication science has afforded, is the deliquescence of the social organizations of the past, and the synthesis of ampler and still ampler and more complicated and still more complicated social unities. The suggestion is powerful, the conclusion is hard to resist, that, through whatever disorders of danger and conflict, whatever centuries of misunderstanding and bloodshed, men may still have to pass, this process nevertheless aims finally, and will attain to the establishment of one world-state at peace within itself. In the economic sense, indeed, a world-state is already established. Even to-day we do all buy and sell in the same markets—albeit the owners of certain ancient rights levy their tolls here and there—and the Hindoo starves, the Italian feels the pinch, before the Germans or the English go short of bread. There is no real autonomy any more in the world, no simple right to an absolute independence such as formerly the Swiss could claim. The nations and boundaries of to-day do no more than mark claims to exemptions, privileges, and corners in the market—claims valid enough to those whose minds and souls are turned towards the past, but absurdities to those who look to the future as the end and justification of our present stresses. The claim to political liberty amounts, as a rule, to no more than the claim of a man to live in a parish without observing sanitary precautions or paying rates because he had an excellent great-grandfather. Against all these old isolations, these obsolescent particularisms, the forces of mechanical and scientific development fight, and fight irresistibly; and upon the general recognition of this conflict, upon the intelligence and courage with which its inflexible conditions are negotiated, depends very largely the amount of bloodshed and avoidable misery the coming years will hold.

The final attainment of this great synthesis, like the social deliquescence and reconstruction dealt with in the earlier of these anticipations, has an air of being a process independent of any collective or conscious will in man, as being the expression of a greater Will; it is working now, and may work out to its end vastly, and yet at times almost imperceptibly, as some huge secular movement in Nature, the raising of a continent, the crumbling of a mountain-chain, goes on to its appointed culmination. Or one may compare the process to a net that has surrounded, and that is drawn continually closer and closer upon, a great and varied multitude of men. We may cherish animosities, we may declare imperishable distances, we may plot and counter-plot, make war and “fight to a finish;” the net tightens for all that.

Already the need of some synthesis at least ampler than existing national organizations is so apparent in the world, that at least five spacious movements of coalescence exist to-day; there is the movement called Anglo-Saxonism, the allied but finally very different movement of British Imperialism, the Pan-Germanic movement, Pan-Slavism, and the conception of a great union of the “Latin” peoples. Under the outrageous treatment of the white peoples an idea of unifying the “Yellow” peoples is pretty certain to become audibly and visibly operative before many years. These are all deliberate and justifiable suggestions, and they all aim to sacrifice minor differences in order to link like to like in greater matters, and so secure, if not physical predominance in the world, at least an effective defensive strength for their racial, moral, customary, or linguistic differences against the aggressions of other possible coalescences. But these syntheses or other similar synthetic conceptions, if they do not contrive to establish a rational social unity by sanely negotiated unions, will be forced to fight for physical predominance in the world. The whole trend of forces in the world is against the preservation of local social systems however greatly and spaciously conceived. Yet it is quite possible that several or all of the cultures that will arise out of the development of these Pan-this-and-that movements may in many of their features survive, as the culture of the Jews has survived, political obliteration, and may disseminate themselves, as the Jewish system has disseminated itself, over the whole world-city. Unity by no means involves homogeneity. The greater the social organism the more complex and varied its parts, the more intricate and varied the interplay of culture and breed and character within it.

It is doubtful if either the Latin or the Pan-Slavic idea contains the promise of any great political unification. The elements of the Latin synthesis are dispersed in South and Central America and about the Mediterranean basin in a way that offers no prospect of an economic unity between them. The best elements of the French people lie in the western portion of what must become the greatest urban region of the Old World, the Rhine-Netherlandish region; the interests of North Italy draw that region away from the Italy of Rome and the South towards the Swiss and South Germany, and the Spanish and Portuguese speaking halfbreeds of South America have not only their own coalescences to arrange, but they lie already under the political tutelage of the United States. Nowhere except in France and North Italy is there any prospect of such an intellectual and educational evolution as is necessary before a great scheme of unification can begin to take effect. And the difficulties in the way of the pan-Slavic dream are far graver. Its realization is enormously hampered by the division of its languages, and the fact that in the Bohemian language, in Polish and in Russian, there exist distinct literatures, almost equally splendid in achievement, but equally insufficient in quantity and range to establish a claim to replace all other Slavonic dialects. Russia, which should form the central mass of this synthesis, stagnates, relatively to the Western states, under the rule of reactionary intelligences; it does not develop, and does not seem likely to develop, the merest beginnings of that great educated middle class, with which the future so enormously rests. The Russia of to-day is indeed very little more than a vast breeding-ground for an illiterate peasantry, and the forecasts of its future greatness entirely ignore that dwindling significance of mere numbers in warfare which is the clear and necessary consequence of mechanical advance. To a large extent, I believe, the Western Slavs will follow the Prussians and Lithuanians, and be incorporated in the urbanization of Western Europe, and the remoter portions of Russia seem destined to become—are indeed becoming—Abyss, a wretched and disorderly Abyss that will not even be formidable to the armed and disciplined peoples of the new civilization, the last quarter of the earth, perhaps, where a barbaric or absentee nobility will shadow the squalid and unhappy destinies of a multitude of hopeless and unmeaning lives.

To a certain extent, Russia may play the part of a vaster Ireland, in her failure to keep pace with the educational and economic progress of nations which have come into economic unity with her. She will be an Ireland without emigration, a place for famines. And while Russia delays to develop anything but a fecund orthodoxy and this simple peasant life, the grooves and channels are growing ever deeper along which the currents of trade, of intellectual and moral stimulus, must presently flow towards the West. I see no region where anything like the comparatively dense urban regions that are likely to arise about the Rhineland and over the eastern states of America, for example, can develop in Russia. With railways planned boldly, it would have been possible, it might still be possible, to make about Odessa a parallel to Chicago, but the existing railways run about Odessa as though Asia were unknown; and when at last the commercial awakening of what is now the Turkish Empire comes, the railway lines will probably run, not north or south, but from the urban region of the more scientific central Europeans down to Constantinople. The long-route land communications in the future will become continually more swift and efficient than Baltic navigation, and it is unlikely, therefore, that St. Petersburg has any great possibilities of growth. It was founded by a man whose idea of the course of trade and civilization was the sea wholly and solely, and in the future the sea must necessarily become more and more a last resort. With its spacious prospects, its architectural magnificence, its political quality, its desertion by the new commerce, and its terrible peasant hinterland, it may come about that a striking analogy between St. Petersburg and Dublin will finally appear.

So much for the Pan-Slavic synthesis. It seems improbable that it can prevail against the forces that make for the linguistic and economic annexation of the greater part of European Russia and of the minor Slavonic masses, to the great Western European urban region.

The political centre of gravity of Russia, in its resistance to these economic movements, is palpably shifting eastward even to-day, but that carries it away from the Central European synthesis only towards the vastly more enormous attracting centre of China. Politically the Russian Government may come to dominate China in the coming decades, but the reality beneath any such formal predominance will be the absorption of Russia beyond the range of the European pull by the synthesis of Eastern Asia. Neither the Russian literature nor the Russian language and writing, nor the Russian civilization as a whole have the qualities to make them irresistible to the energetic and intelligent millions of the far East. The chances seem altogether against the existence of a great Slavonic power in the world at the beginning of the twenty-first century. They seem, at the first glance, to lie just as heavily in favour of an aggressive Pan-Germanic power struggling towards a great and commanding position athwart Central Europe and Western Asia, and turning itself at last upon the defeated Slavonic disorder. There can be no doubt that at present the Germans, with the doubtful exception of the United States, have the most efficient middle class in the world, their rapid economic progress is to a very large extent, indeed, a triumph of intelligence, and their political and probably their military and naval services are still conducted with a capacity and breadth of view that find no parallel in the world. But the very efficiency of the German as a German to-day, and the habits and traditions of victory he has accumulated for nearly forty years, may prove in the end a very doubtful blessing to Europe as a whole, or even to his own grandchildren. Geographical contours, economic forces, the trend of invention and social development, point to a unification of all Western Europe, but they certainly do not point to its Germanization. I have already given reasons for anticipating that the French language may not only hold its own, but prevail against German in Western Europe. And there are certain other obstacles in the way even of the union of indisputable Germans. One element in Germany’s present efficiency must become more and more of an encumbrance as the years pass. The Germanic idea is deeply interwoven with the traditional Empire and with the martinet methods of the Prussian monarchy. The intellectual development of the Germans is defined to a very large extent by a court-directed officialdom. In many things that court is still inspired by the noble traditions of education and discipline that come from the days of German adversity, and the predominance of the Imperial will does, no doubt, give a unity of purpose to German policy and action that adds greatly to its efficacy. But for a capable ruler, even more than for a radiantly stupid monarch, the price a nation must finally pay is heavy. Most energetic and capable people are a little intolerant of unsympathetic capacity, are apt on the under side of their egotism to be jealous, assertive, and aggressive. In the present Empire of Germany there are no other great figures to balance the Imperial personage, and I do not see how other great figures are likely to arise. A great number of fine and capable persons must be failing to develop, failing to tell, under the shadow of this too prepotent monarchy. There are certain limiting restrictions imposed upon Germans through the Imperial activity, that must finally be bad for the intellectual atmosphere which is Germany’s ultimate strength. For example, the Emperor professes a violent and grotesque Christianity with a ferocious pro-Teutonic Father and a negligible Son, and the public mind is warped into conformity with the finally impossible cant of this eccentric creed. His Imperial Majesty’s disposition to regard criticism as hostility stifles the public thought of Germany. He interferes in university affairs and in literary and artistic matters with a quite remarkable confidence and incalculable consequences. The inertia of a century carries him and his Germany onward from success to success, but for all that one may doubt whether the extraordinary intellectuality that distinguished the German atmosphere in the early years of the century, and in which such men as Blumenthal and Moltke grew to greatness, in which Germany grew to greatness, is not steadily fading in the heat and blaze of the Imperial sunshine. Discipline and education have carried Germany far; they are essential things, but an equally essential need for the coming time is a free play for men of initiative and imagination. Is Germany to her utmost possibility making capable men? That, after all, is the vital question, and not whether her policy is wise or foolish, or her commercial development inflated or sound. Or is Germany doing no more than cash the promises of those earlier days?

After all, I do not see that she is in a greatly stronger position than was France in the early sixties, and, indeed, in many respects her present predominance is curiously analogous to that of the French Empire in those years. Death at any time may end the career of the present ruler of Germany—there is no certain insurance of one single life. This withdrawal would leave Germany organized entirely with reference to a Court, and there is no trustworthy guarantee that the succeeding Royal Personality may not be something infinitely more vain and aggressive, or something weakly self-indulgent or unpatriotic and morally indifferent. Much has been done in the past of Germany, the infinitely less exacting past, by means of the tutor, the Chamberlain, the Chancellor, the wide-seeing power beyond the throne, who very unselfishly intrigues his monarch in the way that he should go. But that sort of thing is remarkably like writing a letter by means of a pen held in lazy tongs instead of the hand. A very easily imagined series of accidents may place the destinies of Germany in such lazy tongs again. When that occasion comes, will the new class of capable men on which we have convinced ourselves in these anticipations the future depends—will it be ready for its enlarged responsibilities, or will the flower of its possible members be in prison for lèse majesté, or naturalized Englishmen or naturalized Americans or troublesome privates under officers of indisputably aristocratic birth, or well-broken labourers, won “back to the land,” under the auspices of an Agrarian League?

In another way the intensely monarchical and aristocratic organization of the German Empire will stand in the way of the political synthesis of greater Germany. Indispensable factors in that synthesis will be Holland and Switzerland—little, advantageously situated peoples, saturated with ideas of personal freedom. One can imagine a German Swiss, at any rate, merging himself in a great Pan-Germanic republican state, but to bow the knee to the luridly decorated God of His Imperial Majesty’s Fathers will be an altogether more difficult exploit for a self-respecting man. . . . 

Moreover, before Germany can unify to the East she must fight the Russian, and to unify to the West she must fight the French and perhaps the English, and she may have to fight a combination of these powers. I think the military strength of France is enormously underrated. Upon this matter M. Bloch should be read. Indisputably the French were beaten in 1870, indisputably they have fallen behind in their long struggle to maintain themselves equal with the English on the sea, but neither of these things efface the future of the French. The disasters of 1870 were probably of the utmost benefit to the altogether too sanguine French imagination. They cleared the French mind of the delusion that personal Imperialism is the way to do the desirable thing, a delusion many Germans (and, it would seem, a few queer Englishmen and still queerer Americans) entertain. The French have done much to demonstrate the possibility of a stable military republic. They have disposed of crown and court, and held themselves in order for thirty good years; they have dissociated their national life from any form of religious profession; they have contrived a freedom of thought and writing that, in spite of much conceit to the contrary, is quite impossible among the English-speaking peoples. I find no reason to doubt the implication of M. Bloch that on land to-day the French are relatively far stronger than they were in 1870, that the evolution of military expedients has been all in favour of the French character and intelligence, and that even a single-handed war between France and Germany to-day might have a very different issue from that former struggle. In such a conflict it will be Germany, and not France, that will have pawned her strength to the English-speaking peoples on the high seas. And France will not fight alone. She will fight for Switzerland or Luxembourg, or the mouth of the Rhine. She will fight with the gravity of remembered humiliations, with the whole awakened Slav-race at the back of her antagonist, and very probably with the support of the English-speaking peoples.

It must be pointed out how strong seems the tendency of the German Empire to repeat the history of Holland upon a larger scale. While the Dutch poured out all their strength upon the seas, in a conflict with the English that at the utmost could give them only trade, they let the possibilities of a great Low German synthesis pass utterly out of being. (In those days Low Germany stretched to Arras and Douay.) They positively dragged the English into the number of their enemies. And to-day the Germans invade the sea with a threat and intention that will certainly create a countervailing American navy, fundamentally modify the policy of Great Britain, such as it is, and very possibly go far to effect the synthesis of the English-speaking peoples.

So involved, I do not see that the existing Germanic synthesis is likely to prevail in the close economic unity, the urban region that will arise in Western Europe. I imagine that the German Empire—that is, the organized expression of German aggression to-day—will be either shattered or weakened to the pitch of great compromises by a series of wars by land and sea; it will be forced to develop the autonomy of its rational middle class in the struggles that will render these compromises possible, and it will be finally not Imperial German ideas, but central European ideas possibly more akin to Swiss conceptions, a civilized republicanism finding its clearest expression in the French language, that will be established upon a bilingual basis throughout Western Europe, and increasingly predominant over the whole European mainland and the Mediterranean basin, as the twentieth century closes. The splendid dream of a Federal Europe, which opened the nineteenth century for France, may perhaps, after all, come to something like realization at the opening of the twenty-first. But just how long these things take, just how easily or violently they are brought about, depends, after all, entirely upon the rise in general intelligence in Europe. An ignorant, a merely trained or a merely cultured people, will not understand these coalescences, will fondle old animosities and stage hatreds, and for such a people there must needs be disaster, forcible conformities and war. Europe will have her Irelands as well as her Scotlands, her Irelands of unforgettable wrongs, kicking, squalling, bawling most desolatingly, for nothing that any one can understand. There will be great scope for the shareholding dilettanti, great opportunities for literary quacks, in “national” movements, language leagues, picturesque plotting, and the invention of such “national” costumes as the world has never seen. The cry of the little nations will go up to heaven, asserting the inalienable right of all little nations to sit down firmly in the middle of the high-road, in the midst of the thickening traffic, and with all their dear little toys about them, play and play—just as they used to play before the road had come. . . . 

And while the great states of the continent of Europe are hammering down their obstructions of language and national tradition or raising the educational level above them until a working unity is possible, and while the reconstruction of Eastern Asia—whether that be under Russian, Japanese, English, or native Chinese direction—struggles towards attainment, will there also be a great synthesis of the English-speaking peoples going on? I am inclined to believe that there will be such a synthesis, and that the head and centre of the new unity will be the great urban region that is developing between Chicago and the Atlantic, and which will lie mainly, but not entirely, south of the St. Lawrence. Inevitably, I think, that region must become the intellectual, political, and industrial centre of any permanent unification of the English-speaking states. There will, I believe, develop about that centre a great federation of white English-speaking peoples, a federation having America north of Mexico as its central mass (a federation that may conceivably include Scandinavia) and its federal government will sustain a common fleet, and protect or dominate or actually administer most or all of the non-white states of the present British Empire, and in addition much of the South and Middle Pacific, the East and West Indies, the rest of America, and the larger part of black Africa. Quite apart from the dominated races, such an English-speaking state should have by the century-end a practically homogeneous citizenship of at least a hundred million sound-bodied and educated and capable men. It should be the first of the three powers of the world, and it should face the organizing syntheses of Europe and Eastern Asia with an intelligent sympathy. By the year 2000 all its common citizens should certainly be in touch with the thought of Continental Europe through the medium of French; its English language should be already rooting firmly through all the world beyond its confines, and its statesmanship should be preparing openly and surely, and discussing calmly with the public mind of the European, and probably of the Yellow state, the possible coalescences and conventions, the obliteration of custom-houses, the homologization of laws and coinage and measures, and the mitigation of monopolies and special claims, by which the final peace of the world may be assured for ever. Such a synthesis, at any rate, of the peoples now using the English tongue, I regard not only as a possible, but as a probable, thing. The positive obstacles to its achievement, great though they are, are yet trivial in comparison with the obstructions to that lesser European synthesis we have ventured to forecast. The greater obstacle is negative, it lies in the want of stimulus, in the lax prosperity of most of the constituent states of such a union. But such a stimulus, the renascence of Eastern Asia, or a great German fleet upon the ocean, may presently supply.

Now, all these three great coalescences, this shrivelling up and vanishing of boundary lines, will be the outward and visible accompaniment of that inward and social reorganization which it is the main object of these Anticipations to display. I have sought to show that in peace and war alike a process has been and is at work, a process with all the inevitableness and all the patience of a natural force, whereby the great swollen, shapeless, hypertrophied social mass of to-day must give birth at last to a naturally and informally organized, educated class, an unprecedented sort of people, a New Republic dominating the world. It will be none of our ostensible governments that will effect this great clearing up; it will be the mass of power and intelligence altogether outside the official state systems of to-day that will make this great clearance, a new social Hercules that will strangle the serpents of war and national animosity in his cradle.

Now, the more one descends from the open uplands of wide generalization to the parallel jungle of particulars, the more dangerous does the road of prophesying become, yet nevertheless there may be some possibility of speculating how, in the case of the English-speaking synthesis at least, this effective New Republic may begin visibly to shape itself out and appear. It will appear first, I believe, as a conscious organization of intelligent and quite possibly in some cases wealthy men, as a movement having distinct social and political aims, confessedly ignoring most of the existing apparatus of political control, or using it only as an incidental implement in the attainment of these aims. It will be very loosely organized in its earlier stages, a mere movement of a number of people in a certain direction, who will presently discover with a sort of surprise the common object towards which they are all moving.

Already there are some interesting aspects of public activity that, diverse though their aims may seem, do nevertheless serve to show the possible line of development of this New Republic in the coming time. For example, as a sort of preliminary sigh before the stirring of a larger movement, there are various Anglo-American movements and leagues to be noted. Associations for entertaining travelling samples of the American leisure class in guaranteed English country houses, for bringing them into momentary physical contact with real titled persons at lunches and dinners, and for having them collectively lectured by respectable English authors and divines, are no doubt trivial things enough; but a snob sometimes shows how the wind blows better than a serious man. The Empire may catch the American as the soldier caught the Tartar. There is something very much more spacious than such things as this, latent in both the British and the American mind, and observable, for instance, in the altered tone of the Presses of both countries since the Venezuela Message and the Spanish American War. Certain projects of a much ampler sort have already been put forward. An interesting proposal of an interchangeable citizenship, so that with a change of domicile an Englishman should have the chance of becoming a citizen of the United States, and an American a British citizen or a voter in an autonomous British colony, for example, has been made. Such schemes will, no doubt, become frequent, and will afford much scope for discussion in both countries during the next decade or so.47 The American constitution and the British crown and constitution have to be modified or shelved at some stage in this synthesis, and for certain types of intelligence there could be no more attractive problem. Certain curious changes in the colonial point of view will occur as these discussions open out. The United States of America are rapidly taking, or have already taken, the ascendency in the iron and steel and electrical industries out of the hands of the British; they are developing a far ampler and more thorough system of higher scientific education than the British, and the spirit of efficiency percolating from their more efficient businesses is probably higher in their public services. These things render the transfer of the present mercantile and naval ascendency of Great Britain to the United States during the next two or three decades a very probable thing, and when this is accomplished the problem how far colonial loyalty is the fruit of Royal Visits and sporadic knighthoods, and how far it has relation to the existence of a predominant fleet, will be near its solution. An interesting point about such discussions as this, in which indeed in all probability the nascent consciousness of the New Republic will emerge, will be the solution this larger synthesis will offer to certain miserable difficulties of the present time. Government by the elect of the first families of Great Britain has in the last hundred years made Ireland and South Africa two open sores of irreconcilable wrong. These two English-speaking communities will never rest and never emerge from wretchedness under the vacillating vote-catching incapacity of British Imperialism, and it is impossible that the British power, having embittered them, should ever dare to set them free. But within such an ampler synthesis as the New Republic will seek, these states could emerge to an equal fellowship that would take all the bitterness from their unforgettable past.

Another type of public activity which foreshadows an aspect under which the New Republic will emerge is to be found in the unofficial organizations that have come into existence in Great Britain to watch and criticize various public departments. There is, for example, the Navy League, a body of intelligent and active persons with a distinctly expert qualification which has intervened very effectively in naval control during the last few years. There is also at present a vast amount of disorganized but quite intelligent discontent with the tawdry futilities of army reform that occupy the War Office. It becomes apparent that there is no hope of a fully efficient and well-equipped official army under parliamentary government, and with that realization there will naturally appear a disposition to seek some way to military efficiency, as far as is legally possible, outside War Office control. Already recruiting is falling off, it will probably fall off more and more as the patriotic emotions evoked by the Boer War fade away, and no trivial addition to pay or privilege will restore it. Elementary education has at last raised the intelligence of the British lower classes to a point when the prospect of fighting in distant lands under unsuitably educated British officers of means and gentility with a defective War Office equipment and inferior weapons has lost much of its romantic glamour. But an unofficial body that set itself to the establishment of a school of military science, to the sane organization and criticism of military experiments in tactics and equipment, and to the raising for experimental purposes of volunteer companies and battalions, would find no lack of men. . . .  What an unofficial syndicate of capable persons of the new sort may do in these matters has been shown in the case of the Turbinia, the germ of an absolute revolution in naval construction.

Such attempts at unofficial soldiering would be entirely in the spirit in which I believe the New Republic will emerge, but it is in another line of activity that the growing new consciousness will presently be much more distinctly apparent. It is increasingly evident that to organize and control public education is beyond the power of a democratic government. The meanly equipped and pretentiously conducted private schools of Great Britain, staffed with ignorant and incapable young men, exist, on the other hand, to witness that public education is no matter to be left to merely commercial enterprise working upon parental ignorance and social prejudice. The necessary condition to the effective development of the New Republic is a universally accessible, spacious, and varied educational system working in an atmosphere of efficient criticism and general intellectual activity. Schools alone are of no avail, universities are merely dens of the higher cramming, unless the schoolmasters and schoolmistresses and lecturers are in touch with and under the light of an abundant, contemporary, and fully adult intellectuality. At present, in Great Britain at least, the headmasters entrusted with the education of the bulk of the influential men of the next decades are conspicuously second-rate men, forced and etiolated creatures, scholarship boys manured with annotated editions, and brought up under and protected from all current illumination by the kale-pot of the Thirty-nine Articles. Many of them are less capable teachers and even less intelligent men than many Board School teachers. There is, however, urgent need of an absolutely new type of school—a school that shall be, at least, so skilfully conducted as to supply the necessary training in mathematics, dialectics, languages, and drawing, and the necessary knowledge of science, without either consuming all the leisure of the boy or destroying his individuality, as it is destroyed by the ignorant and pretentious blunderers of to-day; and there is an equally manifest need of a new type of University, something other than a happy fastness for those precociously brilliant creatures—creatures whose brilliance is too often the hectic indication of a constitutional unsoundness of mind—who can “get in” before the portcullis of the nineteenth birthday falls. These new educational elements may either grow slowly through the steady and painful pressure of remorseless facts, or, as the effort to evoke the New Republic becomes more conscious and deliberate, they may be rapidly brought into being by the conscious endeavours of capable men. Assuredly they will never be developed by the wisdom of the governments of the grey. It may be pointed out that in an individual and disorganized way a growing sense of such needs is already displayed. Such great business managers as Mr. Andrew Carnegie, for example, and many other of the wealthy efficients of the United States of America, are displaying a strong disinclination to found families of functionless shareholders, and a strong disposition to contribute, by means of colleges, libraries, and splendid foundations, to the future of the whole English-speaking world. Of course, Mr. Carnegie is not an educational specialist, and his good intentions will be largely exploited by the energetic mediocrities who control our educational affairs. But it is the intention that concerns us now, and not the precise method or effect. Indisputably these rich Americans are at a fundamentally important work in these endowments, and as indisputably many of their successors—I do not mean the heirs to their private wealth, but the men of the same type who will play their rôle in the coming years—will carry on this spacious work with a wider prospect and a clearer common understanding.

The establishment of modern and efficient schools is alone not sufficient for the intellectual needs of the coming time. The school and university are merely the preparation for the life of mental activity in which the citizen of the coming state will live. The three years of university and a lifetime of garrulous stagnation which constitutes the mind’s history of many a public schoolmaster, for example, and most of the clergy to-day, will be impossible under the new needs. The old-fashioned university, secure in its omniscience, merely taught; the university of the coming time will, as its larger function, criticize and learn. It will be organized for research—for the criticism, that is, of thought and nature. And a subtler and a greater task before those who will presently swear allegiance to the New Republic is to aid and stimulate that process of sound adult mental activity which is the cardinal element in human life. After all, in spite of the pretentious impostors who trade upon the claim, literature, contemporary literature, is the breath of civilized life, and those who sincerely think and write the salt of the social body. To mumble over the past, to live on the classics, however splendid, is senility. The New Republic, therefore, will sustain its authors. In the past the author lived within the limits of his patron’s susceptibility, and led the world, so far as he did lead it, from that cage. In the present he lives within the limits of a particularly distressful and ill-managed market. He must please and interest the public before he may reason with it, and even to reach the public ear involves other assiduities than writing. To write one’s best is surely sufficient work for a man, but unless the author is prepared to add to his literary toil the correspondence and alert activity of a business man, he may find that no measure of acceptance will save him from a mysterious poverty. Publishing has become a trade, differing only from the trade in pork or butter in the tradesman’s careless book-keeping and his professed indifference to the quality of his goods. But unless the whole mass of argument in these Anticipations is false, publishing is as much, or even more, of a public concern than education, and as little to be properly discharged by private men working for profit. On the other hand, it is not to be undertaken by a government of the grey, for a confusion cannot undertake to clarify itself; it is an activity in which the New Republic will necessarily engage.

The men of the New Republic will be intelligently critical men, and they will have the courage of their critical conclusions. For the sake of the English tongue, for the sake of the English peoples, they will set themselves to put temptingly within the reach of all readers of the tongue, and all possible readers of the tongue, an abundance of living literature. They will endeavour to shape great publishing trusts and associations that will have the same relation to the publishing office of to-day that a medical association has to a patent-medicine dealer. They will not only publish, but sell; their efficient book-shops, their efficient system of book-distribution will replace the present haphazard dealings of quite illiterate persons under whose shadows people in the provinces live.48 If one of these publishing groups decides that a book, new or old, is of value to the public mind, I conceive the copyright will be secured and the book produced all over the world in every variety of form and price that seems necessary to its exhaustive sale. Moreover, these publishing associations will sustain spaciously conceived organs of opinion and criticism, which will begin by being patiently and persistently good, and so develop into power. And the more distinctly the New Republic emerges, the less danger there will be of these associations being allowed to outlive their service in a state of ossified authority. New groups of men and new phases of thought will organize their publishing associations as children learn to talk.49

And while the New Republic is thus developing its idea of itself and organizing its mind, it will also be growing out of the confused and intricate businesses and undertakings and public services of the present time, into a recognizable material body. The synthetic process that is going on in the case of many of the larger of the businesses of the world, that formation of Trusts that bulks so large in American discussion, is of the utmost significance in this connection. Conceivably the first impulse to form Trusts came from a mere desire to control competition and economize working expenses, but even in its very first stages this process of coalescence has passed out of the region of commercial operations into that of public affairs. The Trust develops into the organization under men far more capable than any sort of public officials, of entire industries, of entire departments of public life, quite outside the ostensible democratic government system altogether. The whole apparatus of communications, which we have seen to be of such primary importance in the making of the future, promises to pass, in the case of the United States at least, out of the region of scramble into the domain of deliberate control. Even to-day the Trusts are taking over quite consciously the most vital national matters. The American iron and steel industries have been drawn together and developed in a manner that is a necessary preliminary to the capture of the empire of the seas. That end is declaredly within the vista of these operations, within their initial design. These things are not the work of dividend-hunting imbeciles, but of men who regard wealth as a convention, as a means to spacious material ends. There is an animated little paper published in Los Angeles in the interests of Mr. Wilshire, which bears upon its forefront the maxim, “Let the Nation own the Trusts.” Well, under their mantle of property, the Trusts grow continually more elaborate and efficient machines of production and public service, while the formal nation chooses its bosses and buttons and reads its illustrated press. I must confess I do not see the negro and the poor Irishman and all the emigrant sweepings of Europe, which constitute the bulk of the American Abyss, uniting to form that great Socialist party of which Mr. Wilshire dreams, and with a little demonstrating and balloting taking over the foundry and the electrical works, the engine shed and the signal box, from the capable men in charge. But that a confluent system of Trust-owned business organisms, and of Universities and re-organized military and naval services may presently discover an essential unity of purpose, presently begin thinking a literature, and behaving like a State, is a much more possible thing. . . . 

In its more developed phases I seem to see the New Republic as (if I may use an expressive bull) a sort of outspoken Secret Society, with which even the prominent men of the ostensible state may be openly affiliated. A vast number of men admit the need but hesitate at the means of revolution, and in this conception of a slowly growing new social order organized with open deliberation within the substance of the old, there are no doubt elements of technical treason, but an enormous gain in the thoroughness, efficiency, and stability of the possible change.

So it is, or at least in some such ways, that I conceive the growing sense of itself which the new class of modern efficients will develop, will become manifest in movements and concerns that are now heterogeneous and distinct, but will presently drift into co-operation and coalescence. This idea of a synthetic reconstruction within the bodies of the English-speaking States may very possibly clothe itself in quite other formulæ than my phrase of the New Republic; but the need is with us, the social elements are developing among us, the appliances are arranging themselves for the hands that will use them, and I cannot but believe that the idea of a spacious common action will presently come. In a few years I believe many men who are now rather aimless—men who have disconsolately watched the collapse of the old Liberalism—will be clearly telling themselves and one another of their adhesion to this new ideal. They will be working in schools and newspaper offices, in foundries and factories, in colleges and laboratories, in county councils and on school boards—even, it may be, in pulpits—for the time when the coming of the New Republic will be ripe. It may be dawning even in the schools of law, because presently there will be a new and scientific handling of jurisprudence. The highly educated and efficient officers’ mess will rise mechanically and drink to the Monarch, and sit down to go on discussing the New Republic’s growth. I do not see, indeed, why an intelligent monarch himself, in these days, should not waive any silliness about Divine Right, and all the ill-bred pretensions that sit so heavily on a gentlemanly King, and come into the movement with these others. When the growing conception touches, as in America it has already touched, the legacy-leaving class, there will be fewer new Asylums perhaps, but more university chairs. . . . 

So it is I conceive the elements of the New Republic taking shape and running together through the social mass, picking themselves out more and more clearly, from the shareholder, the parasitic speculator and the wretched multitudes of the Abyss. The New Republicans will constitute an informal and open freemasonry. In all sorts of ways they will be influencing and controlling the apparatus of the ostensible governments, they will be pruning irresponsible property, checking speculators and controlling the abyssward drift, but at that, at an indirect control, at any sort of fiction, the New Republic, from the very nature of its cardinal ideas, will not rest. The clearest and simplest statement, the clearest and simplest method, is inevitably associated with the conceptions of that science upon which the New Republic will arise. There will be a time, in peace it may be, or under the stresses of warfare, when the New Republic will find itself ready to arrive, when the theory will have been worked out and the details will be generally accepted, and the new order will be ripe to begin. And then, indeed, it will begin. What life or strength will be left in the old order to prevent this new order beginning?

47.    I foresee great scope for the ingenious persons who write so abundantly to the London evening papers upon etymological points, issues in heraldry, and the correct Union Jack, in the very pleasing topic of a possible Anglo-American flag (for use at first only on unofficial occasions).    [back]

48.    In a large town like Folkestone, for example, it is practically impossible to buy any book but a “boomed” novel unless one has ascertained the names of the author, the book, the edition, and the publisher. There is no index in existence kept up to date that supplies these particulars. If, for example, one wants—as I want (1) to read all that I have not read of the work of Mr. Frank Stockton, (2) to read a book of essays by Professor Ray Lankaster the title of which I have forgotten, and (3) to buy the most convenient edition of the works of Swift, one has to continue wanting until the British Museum Library chances to get in one’s way. The book-selling trade supplies no information at all on these points.    [back]

49.    One of the least satisfactory features of the intellectual atmosphere of the present time is the absence of good controversy. To follow closely an honest and subtle controversy, and to have arrived at a definite opinion upon some general question of real and practical interest and complicated reference, is assuredly the most educational exercise in the world—I would go so far as to say that no person is completely educated who has not done as much. The memorable discussions in which Huxley figured, for example, were extraordinarily stimulating. We lack that sort of thing now. A great number of people are expressing conflicting opinions upon all sorts of things, but there is a quite remarkable shirking of plain issues of debate. There is no answering back. There is much indirect answering, depreciation of the adversary, attempts to limit his publicity, restatements of the opposing opinion in a new way, but no conflict in the lists. We no longer fight obnoxious views, but assassinate them. From first to last, for example, there has been no honest discussion of the fundamental issues in the Boer War. Something may be due to the multiplication of magazines and newspapers, and the confusion of opinions that has scattered the controversy-following public. It is much to be regretted that the laws of copyright and the methods of publication stand in the way of annotated editions of works of current controversial value. For example, Mr. Andrew Lang has assailed the new edition of the “Golden Bough.” His criticisms, which are, no doubt, very shrewd and penetrating, ought to be accessible with the text he criticizes. Yet numerous people will read his comments who will never read the “Golden Bough;” they will accept his dinted sword as proof of the slaughter of Mr. Fraser, and many will read the “Golden Bough” and never hear of Mr. Lang’s comments. Why should it be so hopeless to suggest an edition of the “Golden Bough” with footnotes by Mr. Lang and Mr. Fraser’s replies? There are all sorts of books to which Mr. Lang might add footnotes with infinite benefit to every one. Mr. Mallock, again, is going to explain how Science and Religion stand at the present time. If only some one would explain in the margin how Mr. Mallock stands, the thing would be complete. Such a book, again, as these “Anticipations” would stand a vast amount of controversial footnoting. It bristles with pegs for discussion—vacant pegs; it is written to provoke. I hope that some publisher, sooner or later, will do something of this kind, and will give us not only the text of an author’s work, but a series of footnotes and appendices by reputable antagonists. The experiment, well handled, might prove successful enough to start a fashion—a very beneficial fashion for authors and readers alike. People would write twice as carefully and twice as clearly with that possible second edition (with footnotes by X and Y) in view. Imagine “The Impregnable Rock of Holy Scripture” as it might have been edited by the late Professor Huxley; Froude’s edition of the “Grammar of Assent;” Mr. G. B. Shaw’s edition of the works of Mr. Lecky; or the criticism of art and life of Ruskin,—the “Beauties of Ruskin” annotated by Mr. Whistler and carefully prepared for the press by Professor William James. Like the tomato and the cucumber, every book would carry its antidote wrapped about it. Impossible, you say. But is it? Or is it only unprecedented? If novelists will consent to the illustration of their stories by artists whose chief aim appears to be to contradict their statements, I do not see why controversial writers who believe their opinions are correct should object to the checking of their facts and logic by persons with a different way of thinking. Why should not men of opposite opinions collaborate in their discussion?    [back]

Anticipations - Contents    |     IX - The Faith, Morals, and Public Policy of the New Republic

Back    |    Words Home    |    H.G. Wells Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback