The Shape of Things to Come

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

2. Thought and Action: the New Model of Revolution

H.G. Wells

IT IS a wholesome check upon individual pride that no single man and indeed no single type of man is able both to conceive and carry through the simplest of our social operations. Even the man who cultivates the earth and grows food cannot make the productive implements he uses or select the seeds and plants that yield him increase. Defoe’s queer story of Robinson Crusoe is an impossibly hopeful estimate of what a single man, with only a little flotsam and jetsam from the outer world, and in unusually benign climatic conditions, on a desert island could contrive to do for his own comfort and security. Still more does this interdependence of men and different types apply to the complex processes that now, in this Age of Maximum Insecurity, were demanded, if the new generation was to escape from the economic and institutional wreckage amidst which it found itself, and create the social order in which we live to-day.

First came the intellectuals, men living aloof from responsibility, men often devoid of the qualities of leadership and practical organization. Like De Windt they planned everything and achieved no more than a plan. Such men are primarily necessary in the human adventure, because they build up a sound diagnosis of events; they reveal more and more clearly and imperatively the course that lies before the race and in that task their lives are spent and justified. Then it is that the intelligent executive type, capable of concentration upon a complex idea once it is grasped, and resisting discursiveness as a drag on efficiency, comes into action. Their imaginative limitation is a necessary virtue for the task they have to do. No man can administer a province successfully if he is always wandering beyond its frontiers. The rather unimaginative forcible type is the necessary executive of a revolution, and the benefit of the revolution is entirely dependent upon the soundness of the ideology with which he has been loaded.

Because of this necessity for complementary types of revolutionary, history does not produce any modern equivalents to the legendary figures of Solon, Moses or Confucius in its story of the coming of the Modern State. De Windt was not so much a creator as a summarizer, a concentrator, a lens that gathered to a burning focus the accumulating mental illumination of his day.

The light of understanding that lit the fires of this last revolution came from no single brain. It came from ten thousand active and devoted minds, acting and reacting upon one another, without order or precedence; it was like the growth of physical and biological science that preceded it, something that happened as a whole, something that happened not in any single consciousness but in the consciousness of the race.

We have already noted how far back the first germination of the World-State idea can be traced; we have shown how the forces of economic life drove towards it in the nineteenth century. We have displayed it working as a quasi-instinctive aspiration in the brains of Henry Ford and Woodrow Wilson. With De Windt’s Social Nucleation we see it made concrete, with all its essential structures projected and all its necessary conditions laid down, a practicable proposal. The World-State has ceased to be a cloudy aspiration and it has become a plan. Forceful men could adopt it.

A distinct change in the quality of those who were promoting the movement for the Modern State became very evident even before the War Cycle of the Forties. It was now sufficiently “thought out” for men of resolute character to incorporate it in their personal lives. It was passing over from the reflective to the energetic types. Its earliest propagandists had been largely reflective and practically ineffective individuals; a miscellany of pacificists whose dread and detestation of war was overwhelming and who had the intelligence to realize that war can only be avoided by establishing a World Pax; a number of writers, “pure” scientific workers, young sociologists, economists and the like and “intellectuals” from the working class movement. Now a multitude of engineers, architects, skilled foremen and industrial organizers, technicians of all sorts, business men and captains of industry, were also beginning to “talk Modern State” and put in an increasing proportion of their time and attention to its advocacy.

The transition is easily explicable. The increasing social disorder was driving men of the vigorous practical type out of satisfactory employment. During the First Age of Prosperity, and during the false recovery after the World War, such men had been able to find ample work agreeable to their temperaments in the immense industrial developments of the time. They had organized great businesses, vast production; they had exploited the incessant stream of inventions; they had opened up the natural resources of hitherto backward regions. They had carried production far beyond the consuming power of human society. So long as all this enterprise could go on, it did not seem necessary to them to trouble about the political and monetary methods of their world. Now and then some of them showed a certain restiveness at the banking network; our typical original-minded industrial Henry Ford, for instance, had two vigorous tussles with the bankers during his career; but generally the phenomena of political and financial strangulation only began to compel their serious attention after the great Hoover Slump (the Thirty Year Slump) was well under way.

Then they began to think, talk and write about the social order with the energy of men accustomed to handle large affairs and work for immediate tangible results. The vast experiment of Soviet Russia aroused their technical jealousy and a sort of envious impatience both at its opportunities and its incapacities. And the young men coming on from the abundant technical schools of the time, stirred by the books and talk and omnipresent hopes and memories of the immediate past, and looking for adventure and achievement in material enterprise, realized very rapidly that the lights of opportunity upon their paths were being turned down in a manner at once mysterious and exasperating.

The revolutionary movement in the nineteenth century had seemed to such men a tiresomeness of slacking workers, aided and abetted by critics like Ruskin, artists like William Morris, playwrights like Bernard Shaw and suchlike impracticable and unconvincing people. It was associated in their minds with sham Gothic, yellow-green draperies, long hair, anti-vivisection and vegetarianism. There was scarcely a man of scientific or technical eminence on the revolutionary side before 1900. But by the third decade of the twentieth century two-thirds of the technicians, scientific workers and able business organizers were talking active revolution. It was no longer to be a class insurrection of hands; it was to be a revolt of the competent. Their minds were feeling round for ideas. They found in such books as De Windt’s exactly what they wanted. They began to set about the evocation of the Modern World-State in no uncertain fashion.

A revolution in revolutionary ideas had occurred. The protean spirit of Revolution had cut its hair, put on blue overalls, made blue prints for itself, created a New Model, and settled down to work in a systematic fashion.

The Shape of Things to Come - Contents    |     Book 3 - 3. The Technical Revolutionary

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