The Shape of Things to Come

Book the Third
The World Renascence: the Birth of the Modern State

1. The Plan of the Modern State is Worked Out

H.G. Wells

IN THE PRECEDING chapters the culmination, the dislocation and the collapse of the private capitalist civilization has been told. It has been a chronicle of disaster, wherein particular miseries, the torment and frustration of thousands of millions, are more than overshadowed by its appalling general aimlessness. We have seen the urge towards unity and order, appearing and being frustrated, reappearing and again being defeated. At last it reappeared—and won. The problem had been solved.

The world was not able to unify before 1950 for a very simple reason: there was no comprehensive plan upon which it could unify; it was able to unify within another half century because by that time the entire problem had been stated, the conditions of its solution were known and a social class directly interested in the matter had differentiated out to achieve it. From a vague aspiration the Modern World-State became a definite and so a realizable plan.

It was no great moral impulse turned mankind from its drift towards chaos. It was an intellectual recovery. Essentially what happened was this: social and political science overtook the march of catastrophe.

Obscure but persistent workers in these decades of disaster pieced together the puzzle bit by bit. There is a fantastic disproportion between the scale of the labourers and the immense consequences they released. The psychology of association, group psychology, was a side of social biology that had been disregarded almost entirely before the time of which we are writing. People had still only the vaguest ideas about the origins and working processes of the social structure in and by which they lived. They accepted the most arbitrary and simple explanations of their accumulated net of relationships, and were oblivious even to fundamental changes in that net. Wild hopes, delusions and catastrophes ensued inevitably.

If you had interrogated an ordinary European of the year 1925 about the motives for his political activities and associations and his general social behaviour, he would probably have betrayed a feeling that your enquiry was slightly indelicate, and if you overcame that objection, he would have talked either some nonsense about the family as the nucleus of social organization, a sort of expansion of brothers and cousins, kith and kin to the monarch, the Sire of the whole system, or he would have gone off in an entirely different direction and treated you to a crude version of Rousseau’s Social Contract in which he and the other fellows had combined under agreed-upon rules for mutual defence and aid. The betting would have been quite even as to which of these flatly contradictory explanations he would have given.

He would have said nothing about religious ties in 1925, though fifty years earlier he might have based his whole description on the Divine Will. He would have betrayed no lucid apprehension of the part played by the money nexus in gearing relationships; he would have been as unconscious as his Roman predecessor of the primary social importance of properly adjusted money. He would have thought it was just stuff you earnt and handed out and got things for, and he might have added rather irrelevantly that it was “the root of all evil”. He would certainly have referred to the family idea when his patriotism was touched upon, if not before, to justify that tangle of hates, fears and consequent and subordinate loyalties; he would have talked of “mother country” or “fatherland”. If he practised any craft or skill, he might or might not have had his mind organized in relation to his profession or trade union, but there would be no measure between that and his patriotism, either might override the other, and either might give way before some superstitious or sexual complex in his make-up.

Incidentally he would have revealed extensive envy systems and social suspicion and distrust systems, growing up at every weak point like casual fungi. Everything would be flavoured more or less with the chronic hatred endemic everywhere. And all these disconnected associations from which flowed his judgments and impulses he would have regarded as natural—as natural as the shape of his ears; he would have been blankly unconscious that the education of school and circumstances had had anything to do with his accumulation.

On millions of minds equipped in this fragmentary fashion, uninformed or misinformed and with no internal connectedness, the institutions of the world were floating right up to the middle of the Twentieth Century. Tossing at last, rather than merely floating. Men called themselves individualist or socialist, and they had not the beginnings of an idea how the individual was and might be related to society; they were nationalist and patriotic, and none of them could tell what a nation was. It was only when these institutions began to batter against each other, and leak and heel over, and show every disposition to go down altogether, that even intelligent men began to realize how haphazard, sentimental and insincere were their answers to the all-important question: “What holds us together and sustains our cooperations?”

This prevalent superficiality and ignorance about socializing forces was the necessary reflection of a backwardness and want of vigour in academic circles and the intellectual world. The common man, busied about his petty concerns, did not know nor think about collective affairs because at the time there existed no knowledge or ordered thought in an assimilable form to reach down and stimulate his mind. The social body was mentally embryonic from the top downward. That it was possible to demonstrate a complete system of social reactions and to state the necessary idea of the Modern State in convincing and practically applicable terms, had still to penetrate to the minds not merely of the politicians and statesmen, but of the psychologists, historians and so-called “economists” of the time.

In 1932 Group Psychology was at about the same level of development as was physical science in the days of the Marquess of Worcester’s Century of Inventions (1663). It was still in that vague inconclusive phase of “throwing out” ideas. It was no more capable of producing world order than the physical science of 1663 could have produced an aeroplane or a steam turbine. The ordinary man seeking guidance in the dismay of the Great Slump (see Emil Desaguliers’ Ideas in Chaos and Society in Collapse, 2017) was confronted with a sort of intellectual rummage sale. He had believed that somewhere somebody knew; he discovered that nobody had ever yet bothered to know. A dozen eminent authorities with the utmost mutual civility were giving him every possible and impossible counsel in his difficulties, suavely but flatly contradicting each other. They were able to do so because they were all floating on independent arbitrary first assumptions without any structural reference to the primary facts of human ecology.

Nevertheless certain primary matters were being rapidly analysed at that time. The general understanding of money, for example, was increasing rapidly. Desaguliers notes about a hundred and eighty names, including the too-little-honoured name of that choleric but interesting amateur, Major C. H. Douglas (Works in the Historical Documents, Economic Section B. 178200), who were engaged in clearing away the conception of a metallic standard as a monetary basis. They were making it plain that the only possible money for a progressive world must keep pace with the continually increasing real wealth of that world. They were getting this into the general consciousness as a matter of primary importance.

But they were proposing the most diverse methods of realizing this conception. The “Douglas Plan” appealed to the general social credit, but was limited by the narrow political outlook of the worthy Major, who could imagine bankers abolished but not boundaries. In America an interesting movement known as “Technocracy” was attracting attention. Essentially that was a soundly scientific effort to restate economics on a purely physical basis. But it was exploited in a journalistic fashion and presented to a remarkably receptive public as a cut-and-dried scheme for a new social order in which social and economic life was to be treated as an energy system controlled by “experts”. The explicit repudiation of democratic control by the Technologists at that date is very notable. The unit of energy was to be the basis of a new currency. So every power station became a mint and every waterfall a potential “gold-mine”, and the money and the energy in human affairs remained practically in step. Another important school, represented by such economists as Irving Fisher and J. M. Keynes, was winning an increased adherence to the idea of a price index controlling the issue of currency.

It was a phase of disconnected mental fermentation. Many of those who were most lucid about monetary processes were, like Douglas and Keynes, still in blinkers about national and imperial boundaries; they wanted to shut off some existing political system by all sorts of artificial barriers and restraints from the world at large, in order to develop their peculiar system within its confines. They disregarded the increasing flimsiness of the traditional political structure altogether. They were in too much of a hurry with their particular panacea to trouble about that. And if the money reformers were not as a rule cosmopolitans, the cosmopolitans were equally impatient with the money reformers and blind to the primary importance of money.

A third class of intelligences stressed the urgent necessity for great public enterprises to correct the paradoxical increase of unemployment consequent upon the increase of productivity that had taken the shiftless world by surprise. That was an independent maladjustment. But thinkers of this school were apt to disregard the importance of monetary rectification. As to who was to control the more complicated methods of mutual service proposed, the world money and the world socialism and so forth, there was an even greater diversity of outlook and an even greater conflict of mental limitations. As Desaguliers says in his summary: “People could not get out of the sinking social vessels in which they found themselves for the simple reason that nothing but the imperfectly assembled phantom of a salvage ship was yet in sight, a large rudderless, powerless promise, so to speak, standing by.”

Only very knowledgeable people could have foretold then how nearly this phase of throwing out bright but disconnected ideas was drawing to its end, and how rapidly the consolidation of social and educational science into an applicable form was to go forward, once that it had begun. The rush of correlated social discoveries and inventions to the rescue of mankind, when at last it was fairly started, was even more rapid and remarkable than the release of steam and electrical energy in the nineteenth century.

It went on under difficulties. Perhaps it was quickened and purified by those very difficulties.

Gustave De Windt’s great work, Social Nucleation (1942), was the first exhaustive study of the psychological laws underlying team play and esprit de corps, disciplines of criminal gangs, spirit of factory groups, crews, regiments, political parties, churches, professionalisms, aristocracies, patriotisms, class consciousness, organized research and constructive cooperation generally. It did for the first time correlate effectively the increasing understanding of individual psychology, with new educational methods and new concepts of political life. In spite of its unattractive title and a certain wearisomeness in the exposition, his book became a definite backbone for the constructive effort of the new time.

De Windt worked under all the handicap of the intellectual worker in that uncomfortable time. Much of his writing, like that of Marx and Lenin, was done in the British Museum in London, but he was expelled from England during a phase of xenophobia in 1939, and he was not allowed to return from Holland to his “beloved Bloomsbury” until 1941. He was slightly gassed during the ninth Polish air raid on Berlin, and this no doubt accelerated his death in Bloomsbury, the tuberculous London slum in which his book was completed.

Much has been done since to elaborate and correct the broad generalizations he established. But his name stands with those of Plato, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Robert Owen as marking a real step forward in the expression and expansion of human ideas. Such men are all in their various dimensions something more than themselves, like stones that have become surveyors’ datum marks. After 1950 De Windt’s doctrines and formulæ spread with great rapidity, in spite of the disturbed state of the world—assisted and enforced indeed by the disturbed state of the world.

Few people read De Windt nowadays, just as few people read Plato or Bacon or Charles Darwin or Adam Smith or Karl Marx, but what he thought has been built into the general outlook of mankind. What he established is now platitude, but in his time very much of what he had to say would still have seemed heresy and fantasy, if it had not been for the patient massiveness, the Darwinesque patience, with which he built up his points.

The most important features of his teaching were, first, that he insisted with an irrefutable rigidity upon the entirely artificial nature of the content of the social side of a human being. Men are born but citizens are made. A child takes to itself what is brought to it. It accepts example, usage, tradition and general ideas. All the forms of its social reactions and most of its emotional interpretations are provided by its education.

“Obviously,” the reader will say. But it is essential to the understanding of history to realize that before De Windt’s time this was not obvious. Moral values, bias and prejudice, hatreds and so forth were supposed to come “by nature.” And consequently the generation about him had grown up in a clotted mass of outworn explanations, metaphors, mythologies and misleading incentives, and the misshapen minds reflected and condoned the misshapen social order. His rôle in intellectual history is primarily that of a strong arm sweeping a terrible litter of encumbrance aside, and replacing it by a clearly defined structure. He restored again to credibility what Plato had first asserted: that, however difficult, it was possible to begin again at the beginning with uninfected minds. And having cleared his ground in this way he proceeded to build up the imperatives of that sane progressive education and life for mankind which now opens out about us.

He brought home clearly to the general intelligence firstly that the monetary method of relationship was essential to any complex productive society, since it was the only device that could give personal choice and freedom in return for service. It liberated economic relationships. But money was not a thing in itself, it was a means to an end, and its treatment was to be judged entirely by its attainment of that end. It had indeed grown out of a barterable commodity, a thing in itself, silver or gold or the like, but it had ceased to be this, and it was the difficulties in the transition of money from the former to the latter status that had released those diseases of the economic system which had in succession first destroyed the Roman imperialism and then the European sovereign states. A completely abstract money, a money as abstract and free from association with any material substance as weight or measure, had to be contrived for mankind. Human society could not be saved from chaos without it. It had to be of worldwide validity; its tokens and notes had to be issued to maintain a practically invariable price index, and it had to be protected by the most stringent laws against any form of profit-making manipulation. He demonstrated that not merely forgery, but every form of gambling and speculation, had to be made major offences under a criminal code. He showed that usury was unnecessary. He unravelled the old entanglements by which new production had hitherto been saddled with permanent debts for its promotion and experiments. He made profit-making banking, that Old Man of the Sea, get off the back of enterprise. He eliminated every excuse for its profits. Banking was a public function. The distribution of credit was a vital part of government.

The New Banking of the Twenty-first Century grew up along the lines he established for it. To-day it is our system of public book-keeping, a part of our state statistical organization, a clearing- house of obligations and a monetary record of the accumulating surplus of racial energy, which the world-controls apportion to our ever expanding enterprises. It is entirely public and entirely gratuitous. It is hard to realize that it was ever allowed to be a source of private and secret profit. We register a man’s earnings and spending as we register births and deaths. Our money is fundamentally a check on these publicly kept private accounts.

But this desiratum of a sufficiency of invariable money was only a “foundation need,” a quantitative basis for the establishment of vital relationships, or, in De Windt’s terminology, for “social nucleation.” So soon as money was put in order it ceased to be necessary to trouble about money, just as it is needless to think about light and air in a properly lit and ventilated room.

For a couple of centuries before De Windt, the family, which had been the common social cellule throughout the whole agricultural age of mankind, had been losing its distinctness, had been dissolving into larger systems of relationship, more especially in the Northern and Western communities. It had been losing its economic, its mental, and its emotional autonomy at the same time. In the nineteenth century this dissolution of the family had gone on very rapidly indeed. The domestication of women, and their concentration upon children and the home, had diminished greatly.

By general sentiment, the instinctive factor in family unification had always been overrated. In effect, that instinctive bond dissolves long before the children are thirteen or fourteen. After that age the binding force of parent to child and vice versa is not instinct, but affection, convenience, habit, and tradition. And that convenience, usage, and tradition had dwindled. Put to the test of exterior attractions, family solidarity had weakened not only in the West, but also, as Asia had been Westernized, in Turkey, India, China, and Japan. This was so essentially, even more than apparently. The family home remained generally as a meeting-place and common domicile for parents and children, but it ceased to be a vehicle of tradition, it ceased to train and discipline. It ceased to do so for the simple reason that these functions were now discharged with far more emphasis, if with less intensity, by exterior agencies. Citizens were begotten in the home but they were no longer made in the home.

De Windt drew a vivid contrast between the home life of a Central European family in the late eighteenth century, with the father reading the Bible to his assembled offspring, conducting daily prayer, watching over, reproving and chastizing his sons and daughters up to the age of sixteen or seventeen and even controlling their marriage, and the loosely associated family structure in the early twentieth century.

This structural dissolution was universally recognized long before the time of De Windt, but it was left for him to emphasize the need for a planned “renucleation” in the social magma that arose out of this dissolution. The popular school, the experiences and associations of industrialized production, the daily paper and so forth, had knocked the strength out of the mental and moral education of the home and put nothing in its place. The sapping forces had not, in their turn, been converted into “organic forces.” In default of these, minds were lapsing towards crude and base self-seeking and entirely individualistic aims.

These contemporary emotional suggestions and haphazard ideologies were not good enough, he preached, to make a human being a tolerable social unit. Social tissue was not to be made and coordinated on such lines. The stars in their courses were pointing our race towards the organized world community, the Modern State, and if ever that goal was to be attained, if the reorganization of the species was not to collapse, degenerate, and perish by the wayside, then the individual mind throughout the world had to be educated, had to be disciplined and equipped, definitely and sufficiently to this end. That would not come by nature. The social side of the individual had to be oriented deliberately. “Society is an educational product.”

For the race to get to this Modern State as a whole it had to get there as so many hundreds of millions of human beings, all individually aware of that as the general objective at which their lives aimed. The Modern State could not arrive as an empty form with all humanity left behind it. Every teacher, every writer, every talker, every two friends who talked together constituted a potential primary nucleus in a renascent social system. These nuclei had to be organized. Their existence had to be realized, and they had to be brought into effective cooperation. It is hard nowadays to realize that once upon a time such commonplaces as these were not commonplaces, and that in the very days when De Windt was writing, multitudes of well-meaning people were attempting to assemble “movements” for social reconstruction and world revolution out of the raw, unprepared miscellany of the contemporary crowd. It was with extreme reluctance that impatient reformers turned their minds from impossible coups d’état and pronunciamentos, strikes against war and booby millennia, to this necessary systematic preliminary renucleation of the world. The immediate task seemed too narrow and intense for them and its objective too high and remote. “It is no good asking people what they want,” wrote De Windt. “That is the error of democracy. You have first to think out what they ought to want if society is to be saved. Then you have to tell them what they want and see that they get it.”

And further, he urged, if you cannot start nucleation everywhere, then at least you can start it close at hand. “Get the nuclei going. Be yourself a nucleus.” From the beginning of life, nuclei have begotten nuclei. The Modern State, which had to be evoked everywhere, could be begun anywhere.

Another point that was new in his time, so far as Western civilization went, was his insistence upon the greater importance of adolescent education and his denial of the primary right of the parent to shape his offspring according to his fancy. The “renucleation” of society had to be complete. The “nuclei” which were ultimately to become the sole educational and disciplinary units of a new-born society would be in the first place, and usually, intensive study circles and associations for moral and physical training. Their social and political activities were to be secondary exercises, subordinated to a primary mental, moral and bodily training. He searched the social disorder about him for favourable conditions for the pioneer nucleations. He looked to factories, laboratories, technical schools, public services, hospital staffs, to banded men and women of all sorts, for the material for his nucleation. He insisted that the impulse to build up a social order was instinctive. Wherever there was social confusion the crude efforts to get together into a new directive order appeared.

He pointed to the Sokols, Nazis, Fascists, Communist Party members, Kuomintang members of his time, as the first primitive intimations of the greater organization that was coming. They had the spirit of an élite class, although they wasted it more or less upon the loyalties and prejudices of the past. People are not leading these young men, he argued; “they are taking advantage of the instinctive needs of these young men. Try to realize what it is that they are—however blindly—seeking.”

Like St. Paul, the founder of Christianity, speaking to the Athenians—he quotes the passage—he said: “That Unknown God, whom ignorantly ye worship, him declare I unto you.” He was declaring the as yet unknown Modern State.

Intensively De Windt’s teaching was a theory of education; extensively it was the assertion of the Modern State. These were inseparable aspects of the same thing. “A community is an education in action,” he declared. And with a complete continuity he carried up his scheme of social structure through every variety of productive organization, control and enterprise. Men were to “fall in and serve this end.”

Borrowing a word from Ortega y Gasset, but going boldly beyond that original thinker, he declared that “plenitude” of life was now only to be attained by living in relation to the Modern State. All other living was “waste, discontent and sorrow.” It was becoming impossible to retain self-respect, to be happy within oneself, unless one was “all in” upon that one sound objective. The old loyalties, to flag, to nation, to class, were outworn and discredited. They had become unreal. They did not call out all that was in a man, because now we saw their limitations. They could no longer keep up the “happy turgidity” of life. They could not be served “with a sure and untroubled soul”. They would certainly leave a man in the end “deflated, collapsed into an aimless self”. In the past men could live and live fully within their patriotisms and their business enterprises, because they knew no better. But now they knew better.

Finally De Windt set himself diametrically against one of the direst concepts of Parliamentary Democracy, a concept that still had enormous influence in his time, and that was the idea of the “Opposition.” “Criticize,” he wrote, “yes, but do not obstruct.” If a directive organization is fundamentally bad, he taught, break it and throw it away, but rid your minds altogether of a conception of see-saw and give and take as a proper method in human affairs. The Parliamentary gang Governments, that were then in their last stage of ineptitude, were rotten with the perpetual amendment and weakening of measures, with an endless blocking and barring of projects, with enfeebling bargains and blackmailing concessions. Against every directive body, every party in power, sat another devoting itself to misrepresenting, thwarting, delaying, and spoiling, often for no reason or for the flimsiest reasons, merely for the sake of misrepresenting, thwarting, delaying and spoiling what the governing body was attempting to do, in the hope of degrading affairs to such a pitch of futility as to provoke a change of government that would bring the opposition into power. The opportunities of profit and advancement afforded in such a mental atmosphere to a disingenuous careerist were endless.

All this tangle of ideas had to be swept aside. “About most affairs there can be no two respectable and antagonistic opinions,” said De Windt. “It is nonsense to pretend there can be. There is one sole right way and there are endless wrong ways of doing things. A government is trying to go the right way or it is criminal. Sabotage must cease. It has always been one of the ugliest vices of advanced movements. It is a fundamental social vice.”

His discussion of the difference between Criticism and Opposition is one of those classics that few people read. It is a pity, because it is a very good specimen of twentieth-century English prose. The right to criticize and the duty of well-wrought criticism are fundamental to modern citizenship. He considered how that right and duty had been ignored by the shallow mentality of Italian Fascism and how fatally they had been entangled with the suppression of malignancy in Russia. He analysed the reckless irresponsibility of censorship in the Western communities. There was no law anywhere to restrain conspiracies, on the part of religious, political, or business bodies, for the suppression of publications. His warnings against the suppression of opinion were not so immediately effective as his general revolutionary project. Many people did not realize what he was driving at. In practice the conflict of world order with the opposition spirit, during the struggle to maintain the Air Dictatorship, was to lapse again and again into the suppression of honest criticism. In practice it was found that criticism and suggestion passed by insensible degrees into incitement and insurrectionary propaganda.

This clear-cut revolutionary scheme of De Windt’s was vividly new and tonic to the energetic young men of the middle twentieth century. We summarize here its main constructive conceptions in spite of its present platitudinousness. It is unnecessary to tell in any detail his far-sighted schemes to link his nuclei into a world propaganda, because by insensible degrees that organization has grown into the educational system of our world to-day. This history and indeed every text book in use in the world could well be dedicated to him. And his complex and very detailed anticipations of the process of a world revolution need not detain us here (his Book V, The New World in the Body of the Old contains most of this), because we can now tell of that vast reconstruction itself.

In some respects he was remarkably prescient, in others he estimated human reactions inaccurately and even incorrectly. The reconstruction of human affairs involved some very rough work from which he would have recoiled. None the less he put all the main structural factors in the establishment of the Modern State so plainly and convincingly before his fellow-men that soon thousands and presently millions were living for that vision, were bringing it out of thought into reality. He made it seem so like destiny, that it became destiny.

For some years his views spread very slowly. An increasing number of people knew about them, but at first very few made serious efforts to realize them. One man after another would say, “But this is right!” and then “But this is impossible!” De Windt was dead before his school of thought became a power in the world. Like Karl Marx, he was never to know of the harvest he had sown.

In our description of the failure of the League of Nations we have noted how foredoomed that experiment was, because nowhere among either the influential men of the time nor among the masses was there any sense of the necessity and the necessary form of a new world order. The statesmen, diplomatists and politicians of the time impress us as almost incredibly blind to things that are as plain as daylight to us now, and it is hard for us to believe that that blindness was not wilful. It was not. They could not see it. We read their speeches at conference after conference until their voices die away at last in the rising tide of disaster and we almost cry out as we read: “You idiots! Wasn’t world control there just under your noses? And was anything else but disaster possible?”

The answer is that it was not precisely under their noses. Slowly, laboriously, with perpetual repetitions and slight variations, the Obvious had to be got into and spread and diffused in the human mind. It is De Windt’s peculiar claim to human gratitude, not that he discovered anything fresh, but that he so built up and fortified the Obvious, that not the most subtle and disingenuous mind, nor the biggest fool who ever sentimentalized and spouted, could escape honestly from its inexorable imperatives.

The Shape of Things to Come - Contents    |     Book 3 - 2. Thought and Action: the New Model of Revolution

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