The Shape of Things to Come

Book the Fourth
The Modern State Militant

3. Futile Insurrection

H.G. Wells

THE NOTES show the historians of 2106 convinced that there was no real complicity between Elizabeth Horthy and the leaders of the Federated Nationalists who now broke out into open revolt. The impression of her character made by her recorded words and deeds is, they argue, quite incompatible with the idea that if she had indeed been a revolutionary, she would have abandoned her fellow conspirators for a melodramatic suicide because of the execution of Essenden. Far more like her would it have been for her to fly to the rebels in Germany and give herself passionately to avenge and vindicate his memory. But plainly she did not care a rap for the monarchist conspiracy, and it is possible that she did not know of its existence. Both she and Essenden, there can be little doubt, lived and died loyal, in intention at least, to the Modern State.

But it suited the revolt to seize upon her tragedy and use her as one of its symbols, and it was long believed that Essenden had retracted the socialist cosmopolitanism of the Basra Conference in favour of Federated Nationalism. It is interesting to find the legend of the poor old League of Nations presently become more powerful than its living reality, and ironical that it should supply the formula for an attempt to divide up the world again into “sovereign” fragments. The declaration of the so-called Prince Manfred of Bavaria put the League into the forefront of his promises. Alternatively he spoke of it as a World Federation of Free Peoples, and he promised Freedom of Thought, Freedom of Teaching, Freedom of Trade and Enterprise, Freedom of Religious Profession, Freedom from Basic English, Freedom from Alien Influence everywhere. As a foretaste of these good things, he released a little pogrom in the Frankfurt district where a few professing Jews still lingered.

[From this point to another which I shall indicate when I reach it I am able to give a fairly trustworthy transcription of the notes— ED.]

There was never anything that amounted to actual war during this period of disturbance; nothing that could be called a battle. The World Council had the supreme advantage of holding all communications in its hands, and, as military and naval experts could have told the rebels, there is no warfare without communications. Prince Manfred issued some valiant proclamations “to the World” before he took his tabloid, but since Basic English was repudiated by his movement, they were translated into only a few local languages, printed on stolen paper by hidden hand-presses, and sought after chiefly by collectors. The jamming of the public radio service was mischief rather than revolt. At first there was a certain revival of the manufacture of munitions in factories that had been seized by rebel bands, but generally these ended their output after at most a few weeks under the soporific influence of Pacificin. There were a few deserters from the Air Police and a certain number of small private aeroplanes in nationalist hands; but the net work of registration, vigilant police patrols, and the absence of independent aerodromes soon swept rebellion out of the air.

There remained the bomb, the forbidden pistol, the dagger and the ambush. It was these that made the revolt formidable, forced espionage, search raids, restriction of private movement and counter violence upon the World Control, and rendered the last stages of the struggle a grim and indeed a terrible chapter in human history. In narrow streets, in crowds and conferences, in the bureaus of administrations and upon the new roads, lurked the death-dealing patriot. He merged insensibly with the merely criminal organizations of blackmail and crime.

It was this murder campaign, the “Warfare of the Silenced and Disarmed”, as Prince Manfred put it, which stiffened the face and hardened the heart of the Modern State for half a century. It took to “preventive” measures; it began to suspect and test; that horrible creature, the agent provocateur, was already busy again before 2000. He was busy for another decade; he did not certainly vanish from the world until the Declaration of Mégève in 2059, but there is no record of his activity after 2030. And the government which had begun its killing with Arden Essenden and Prince Manfred came to realize the extreme decisiveness and facility of the lethal tabloid. For the grosser forms of execution had given place to this polite method, and every condemned man could emulate the Death of Socrates, assemble his friends if he chose, visit some lovely place, or retire to his bureau. In vain the veteran Rin Kay protested in the committee that, just as he had argued long ago that men were not good enough to be Machiavellian, so now he declared they were not good enough to be given powers of life or death, incarceration or relief over their fellows. “You murder yourselves when you kill,” he said.

The rebels, however, were killing with considerable vigour and persistence, and their victims had no such calm and grace in their last moments. They were stabbed, shot, waylaid and beaten to death.

“For a terror,” wrote Kramer, “death must be terrible.”

“For murder,” said Antoine Ayala, “death must be inevitable.”

In the end the penal code did seem to achieve its end. There were 5703 political murders in 2005, and 1114 in 2007. The last recorded occurred in 2034. The total is over 120,000. But during these twenty-nine years there were 47,066 political executions! Rihani estimates that more than seven per cent of these were carried out upon anonymous, circumstantial, or otherwise unsatisfactory evidence. Most were practically sentences by courts martial. The millennium arrived in anything but millennial fashion.

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