The Shape of Things to Come

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

9. “Three Courses of Action”

H.G. Wells

THERE WAS no dominant individual of the De Windt character and quality at the second Basra Conference. There was no prophetic direction of the deliberations. But there was no want of what used to be called “leadership”, and a number of interesting personalities, the politic Hooper Hamilton; the frank, emphatic William Ryan; the intricate Shi-lung-tang; M’bangoi, the East African biologist; Rin Kay, the social psychologist—perhaps the finest mind in the gathering; Mohini L. Tagore; Morowitz, the mystical humanist; and Arden Essenden, the fanatic of action, gave point and definition to the differences of opinion.

They were interesting rather than outstanding men because the general level of intelligence was a high one. The gathering had a personality of its own, wary, resolved to be well informed and to weigh considerations, but essentially determined. The presence of that miscellany of delegations and commissions which besieged the Conference dramatized the world situation and pressed for decisions. “I feel like one of those old world jurymen,” wrote Williams Kapek, “who used to be locked up together until they returned a verdict. And you cannot imagine how hot and dry Basra can sometimes contrive to be.”

De Windt and his school of writers had planned the framework of a new world and shown to what social elements one had to look for its evocation, but he had given only the most scanty suggestions for getting rid of the body of the old. Already in 1965 the Modern State people had had a fairly distinct vision of our present order. But few of them had anticipated the diffused toughness of the old corpus and its capacity for counter-revolutionary exertion. That had become oppressively evident by 1975.

Reports on the general situation had been very carefully prepared. They dealt with the various centres at which the spirit of opposition was being organized. Most serious of these were those former sovereign governments and legal systems, which had seemed effaced, moribund or prostrate during the desolation of the Famished and Fever-stricken Fifties. In 1965 the only government actively antagonistic to the Controls had been the Soviet government in Russia. That antagonism, curiously enough, was not so great as it had been at first. The technicians of the sovietized regions were ousting the politicians; there was now indeed a working cooperation of Russian transport, communications and production with the world system under the Controls, and there seemed a reasonable prospect of ultimate assimilation. There was no objection being made to people nominally communists who were also Fellows of the Modern State, and many Russian scientific and technical workers were Modern State Fellows and not members of the communist party at all. The reports discussed hopefully and analytically the possibility of some similar process in America and the Far East. There also the political and legal structures did not present insurmountable obstacles to assimilation. The decline of humbug in America was bringing out the fundamental constructive energy of that great synthesis of Western peoples. But elsewhere there was increasing evidence that the sovereign state system and the system of private ownership were fundamentally irreconcilable with the new conceptions.

The reports gave information, that was in many particulars new to most of the assembled Fellows, of the very strenuous attempts that were being made by the reviving national governments in Germany, France, Italy and Great Britain to resume the manufacture of aeroplanes and war material. Whether there was a common agreement among them was doubtful, but the intention to put up air forces and organize aerodromes that should be able to ignore the regulations and refuse the services of the Air and Sea Control was quite plain. They were finding great difficulty in securing the services of competent engineers, mechanics and aviators, but the thing was going on. Every student in the technical schools of the Control who failed a test or an examination, or was penalized for misbehaviour or rejected from the Modern State Fellowship, would turn up presently as a national government expert. And the governments were now setting up their own national technical schools and attempting to bring the schools and laboratories of the Control into the “national” educational organization. Not only was there a disposition to set up a competing system side by side with the Controls system, but there was a growing tendency to annex the organizations, roads, plant, mines, factories, aerodromes, schools, colleges, laboratories and personnel of the Control that chanced to be within the jurisdiction of the sovereign government concerned. The new Bavarian government, the Windsor Parliament and the government in Rome were all “arranging to take over” these things within their territories. They were becoming more explicit about it every year. They persisted in regarding the interlocking Controls as a dangerous international Trust.

This was the burthen of the national missions of observation and enquiry which were stewing in the sunshine outside the doors of the Conference—“in a state of tentative menace”, as Williams Kapek put it.

The minor delegations representing groups of owners and organized local interests had this much in common with the national missions, that they proposed more or less frankly to resume possession of properties the Controls had taken hold of and revived, or to impose burthensome charges. They varied like the inmates of a zoological garden in scale and power, but they had one quality in common: an obstructive litigiousness.

In the frankness of its privacy behind its closed doors, the Conference sized up these antagonisms and discussed their treatment. “There are just three lines of treatment possible,” said Ryan brutally. “We can treat with ’em, bribe ’em, or rule ’em. I’m for a straight rule.”

“Or combine those ingredients,” said Hooper Hamilton.

The method of treaty-making and a modus vivendi was already in operation in regard to Russia. There indeed it was hard to say whether the communist party or the Modern State movement was in control, so far had assimilation gone. And the new spirit in the old United States was now so “Modern”, that the protests of Washington and of various state governors against the Controls were received hilariously. Aeroplanes from Dearborn circled over the capital and White House and dropped parodies of the President’s instructions to dissolve the Air and Food Trust of America. All over that realist continent, indeed, the Controls expanded as a self-owned business with a complete disregard of political formalities. But the European situation was more perplexing.

“Most of these European sovereign governments are no more than scarecrows,” said William Ryan. “There’s no living people behind them any longer. Leastway, no living people that matter. Call their bluff on them and you’ll hear no more about them.”

It was Shi-lung-tang who argued against defiance and stated the case for Bribery.

Bribery in his suave exposition, bribery combined with treaties and tact, became a highly moral amelioration of direct action. He asked the Conference to realize how specialized and rare as yet was its new forward-looking habit of mind. When all the work of the propaganda and schools had been accounted for, it was doubtful if a twentieth part of the race accepted, or if a tenth understood, even in the most general terms, the difference between minds trained to creative conceptions and minds brought up in an atmosphere of defensive acquisitiveness and property accumulation. It would take three or four generations to convert the world to a forward-looking attitude. Either the Modern State movement had to seize power openly now and inaugurate a tyranny that would have to last as long as it took to turn round the great majority of intelligences into the new direction, or it had to propitiate, compromise and persuade these outer masses—upon their own lines.

“These people will never see things as we see them,” he insisted, making strange gestures and repeating his words to emphasize their importance. “They have to live and die, on their own lines. It is not just to impose too much upon them. It is only as they die out that the Modern State form of mind can hope to be in a dominant majority. Their mental vices are incurable. Meet them half way, make things easy for them. You will save the world three generations of suffering and bitter conflict.”

He unfolded his Machiavellian project. A greedy acquisitiveness was part of the make-up of every energetic old world-type. They were as incurably voracious as dogs. And yet we made good friends and helpers out of dogs. Their loyalties were at best gang loyalties; they were none the less greedy because they did at times hunt in packs. But they had no fundamental instinctive hostility to the Modern State. It was only when the Modern State thwarted their established habits of behaviour that they snarled at it and began to fear it. They could never make a solid front against the Modern State. They could always be played off against each other, one against another; they could be neutralized. The lesson of Russia’s harsh repression of her bourgeoisie and professional classes in the Twenties and Thirties was a warning against the miseries and social damage of too sudden and forcible an attempt to change ideals of behaviour. Let the Modern State go more softly and more kindly.

He went on to detailed suggestions. With Russia, Spain and America, bribery need play but a minor rôle. The ruling mentality in these countries was now such that the present working agreements would pass naturally into assimilation in a little while. Elsewhere there was really no permanent harm in recognizing the old claims to sovereign and proprietary rights, and securing such a hold upon leading men that they would keep their hands off the Modern State propaganda and schools and be content with handsome subsidies from the Control services and industries. It would be cheaper than war. “If they want a little war now and then among themselves—”

In spite of Shi-lung-tang’s smiling face, there was audible disapproval at this point.

When he had done, his case for tact and insinuating corruption was knocked to pieces by Rin Kay. “If we were a Society of Moral Supermen,” he said, “we might venture to be as disingenuous as this.” But Mr. Shi-lung-tang forgot that every Fellow in the Modern State society had two enemies: the acquisitive man outside and the acquisitive man within. The point their Chinese friend missed was the fact that it was much more natural to adopt the behaviour patterns of the old world than to acquire those of the Modern State. The old dispositions were something that was; the new dispositions were something that had to be made and sustained. The inner life of a Modern State Fellow was a sustained effort to be simple and serve simply. That should take him all his time. He could not afford to be intricate and politic. “We have a difficult enough task before us just to do what we have to do, plainly and honestly. We cannot afford to say and do this and mean that.” William Ryan supported that with vigour, but Hooper Hamilton spoke long and elaborately on the other side. The spirit of the society was plainly with Kay.

M. L. Tagore, an economic botanist, introduced a new line of thought into the discussion, or rather he revived the line of thought of nineteenth-century mystical liberalism. He said he was equally against bribery, insincere treaties or any use of force. He was old-fashioned enough to be a democrat and a believer in the innate wisdom of the unsophisticated man. And also he believed in the supreme value of truth and inaggressiveness. We must not outrage the sense of right in man, even if that meant the abandonment of our immediate objectives. We had to persuade him. And we had no right to assume that he did not hold himself to be right because his conception of conduct differed from ours. Let the Modern State society go on with the scientific organization of the world, yes, and let us go on with the propaganda of its doctrines in every land. But let it not lift a hand to compel, not even to resist evil. He appealed to the missionary successes of early Buddhism and Christianity as evidence of the practical successfulness of spiritual urgency and physical passivity. He concluded in a glow of religious enthusiasm, that did not spare him the contemptuous criticisms of the social psychologists who fell upon him tooth and nail so soon as he had done.

These speeches, which are to be found in full in the Basra Conference Reports, vols. 371 and 372, were the three salient types of opinion in that gathering. The immense majority were for the active line, for frankness and rule. A not inconsiderable minority, however, wavered behind the leadership of Hooper Hamilton. They felt that there were elaborations and refinements that did not find expression in the more aggressive speeches, that the use of force could be tempered by tact and that lucidity towards an objective was compatible with kindliness and concession.

In a number of speeches some of them tried to express this rather elusive conception of compromise; some of them were not too skilful as speakers, they went too far in the opposite direction, and on the whole they tended to drive the movement towards a harder assertiveness than it might otherwise have expressed. The problems of the Russian system and America were abundantly discussed. Russia now was represented only by technicians and there was abundant evidence that the repressive influence of the Og-pu had waned. Ivan Englehart was again a leading figure. He assured the Conference that there would be no trouble from Moscow. “Russia,” he said, “is ready to assimilate. Is eager to assimilate.”

Arden Essenden spoke late in the general discussion; he spoke with a harsh enthusiasm and passionate faith; he carried all the younger men and most of the older ones with him and he shaped the ultimate decisions.

Some of his phrases are, as people used to say, “historical”. He said, “The World-State is not a thing of the Future. It is here and now. It has always been here and now, since ever men said they had a common God above them, or talked, however timidly, of the brotherhood of mankind. The man who serves a particular state or a particular ownership in despite of the human commonweal is a Traitor. Men who did that have always been Traitors and men who tolerated them nursed treason in their hearts. In the past the World-State had been torn up among three-score-and-ten anarchies and a countless myriad of proprietors and creditors, and the socialists and cosmopolitans, the true heirs of the race, were hunted like criminals and persecuted and killed.

“Now, through the utter failure of those robbers even to maintain their own social order and keep at peace among themselves, the world has fallen into our hands. Power has deserted them, and we, we here, have Power. If we do not use it, if we do not use it to the fullest, we are traitors in our turn. Are we to tolerate even a temporary revival of the old system? In the name of reason, why? If their brains have got into the wrong grooves—well, we can make fresh brains. Are we to connive with, and indulge this riffraff that waits outside our doors? Go out and look at them. Look at their insincere faces! Look at their furtive hands. Weigh what they say. Weigh the offers they will make you!”

To us to-day that seems platitudinous and over emphatic, but it conveyed the sense of the Conference and it led directly to the general decision with which its proceedings concluded. The most significant of these was the increase of the Police of the Air and Sea Ways to a million men, and the apportionment of a greatly increased amount of energy to the improvement of their equipment. There was also to be a great intensification and speeding up of Modern State education and propaganda. Provision was also made for the enlistment of auxiliary forces and services as they might be needed for the preservation of order; these auxiliaries were to renounce any allegiance except to the Transport or other Control that might enlist them. The Controls were reorganized, and a central committee, which speedily became known as the World Council, was appointed by them to act as the speaking head of the whole system. The ideas of treaties and contracts with exterior administrations and of any diplomatic dealings with dissentients were abandoned. Instead it was determined that this central committee, the World Council, should openly declare itself the sole government of the world and proceed to make the associated Controls the administrative organization of the planet.

Accordingly a proclamation was prepared to this effect and issued very widely. It was broadcast as well as printed and reprinted from a multitude of centres. It was “put upon the ether” everywhere to the exclusion of other matter. For now the world had its wireless again in as great abundance already as in the early Thirties. So simultaneously the whole planet received it. It whipped up the awaiting miscellany at Basra into a foam of excited enquiry. All over the world city crowds or solitary workers received it, open-mouthed. At first there was very little discussion. The effect was too stunning for that. People began to talk after a day or so.

We give it as it was issued: a singularly poor piece of prose when we consider the magnificence of its matter. It seems to have been drafted by Arden Essenden, with some assistance from Hamilton and amended in a few particulars by the Council.

“The Council for World Affairs, constituted by the Air and Sea Control and its associates, declares:

“That between 1950 and 1965 this planet became derelict through the incapacity of its ostensible rulers and property owners to keep the peace, regulate production and distribution, and conserve and guide the common life of mankind;

“That chaos ensued, and

“That it became urgently necessary to build up a new world administration amidst the ruins.

“This the Air and Sea Control did.

“This administration has now been organized about a Central Council for World Affairs, which is making this statement to you.

“It is the only sovereign upon this planet. There is now no other primary authority from end to end of the earth. All other sovereignty and all proprietary rights whatever that do not conduce directly to the general welfare of mankind ceased to exist during the period of disorder, and cannot be revived.

“The Council has its air and sea ways, its airports, dockyards, factories, mines, plantations, laboratories, colleges and schools throughout the world. These are administered by its officials and protected by its own police, and the latter are instructed to defend these organizations whenever and wherever it may be necessary against the aggression of unauthorized persons.

“In every centre of population there are now Modern State nuclei and Control agents conducting the educational work of the Council and in reasonable contact with the local economic life, with local enterprises, local authorities and individuals not yet affiliated to the Modern State organization. The time has come for all these various quasi independent organs of business and administration to place themselves in orderly relations to the new Government of the Whole World.

“We are constituting a Bureau of Transition, for the simplification and modernization of the business activities, the educational and hygienic services, production, distribution and the preservation of order and security throughout our one home and garden, our pleasure ground and the source of all our riches—the earth, our Mother Earth, our earth and yours.

“Without haste or injustice and without delay, with a due regard to your comfort, your welfare and your wishes, the Bureau will set itself to bring your life into sound and permanent correlation with the one human commonweal.”

“It is usurpation!” cried a voice, when the declaration was put to the vote as a whole.

“You decide upon Force,” said Shi-lung-tang. “I did my best—”

“But this means War!” cried Tagore.

“No,” said Arden Essenden. “There is no more War. This is not War—nor Revolution. This is the recognition of a Revolution and Government again.”

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