The Shape of Things to Come

Book the Fourth
The Modern State Militant

5. The Text Resumes: The Tyranny of the Second Council

H.G. Wells

THE AIR DICTATORSHIP is also called by some historians the Puritan Tyranny. We may perhaps give a section to it from this point of view.

“Puritan” is a misused word. Originally invented to convey a merely doctrinal meticulousness among those Protestants who “protested” against the Roman version of Catholicism, it came to be associated with a severely self-disciplined and disciplinary life, a life in which the fear of indolence and moral laxity was the dominant force. At its best it embodied an honourable realization: “I shall do nothing worth while and nothing worth while will be done unless I pull myself together and stiffen up my conduct.” If the new Air Dictatorship was schooling the world with considerable austerity, it was certainly schooling itself much more so.

The code of the first makers of the World-State had been a simple one. “Tell the truth,” they insisted; “maintain the highest technical standards, control money and do not keep it, give your powers ungrudgingly to the service of the World-State.” That seemed to leave them free for a good deal of refreshing self-indulgence, and it did. They ate, drank, and were merry, made love very freely, envied and competed with one another for power and distinction, and set no adequate guard upon the growth of rivalries and resentments. Our history has glanced at the fall and death of Essenden, but this is only one episode in the long and complicated history of the private lives of the first world committee. Slowly the details are being elucidated and analysed by a body of historical students. Except that the victims are dead, and cannot hear, the results are as pitiless as the old Christian fancy of the Recording Angel and his Book on Resurrection Day.

They appear as very pitifully human; their sins happened to them, they were taken unawares in phases of fatigue, by resentment, by sensuality or flattery. Women were attracted by their prestige and offered the reassurance of love to their weaker moments. In many cases the moral downfall was due to the very limitlessness of the devotion with which they first gave themselves to their world task. They worked without rest. Then they would suddenly find themselves worn bare, bankrupt of moral energy. They had made no proper balance between the public task and the inward desire. Outbreaks of evil temper would follow, or phases of indolence or gross indulgence. The Fellowship was disconcerted; the outer world ran with scandal. “These Fellows,” said their critics, “are no better than the pretenders and rascals of the old régime. Rin Kay, the wise, is consumed with affection for his little friend, and Ardasher of the experimental aeroplanes makes his young men do dangerous stunts to please a girl. Morovitz is collecting Persian miniatures quite unscrupulously and Fedor Galland spends half his time now making a garden at Babylon.”

The ambitious young men who were little boys when the first conference at Basra was held were educated by teachers who were none the less harshly zealous because they were doing relatively inconspicuous work and had no little friends nor miniatures nor gardens to amuse them. These teachers had a lively sense of their leaders’ defects and of their own modest but real moral superiority. The youngsters under their teaching were saturated with constructive enthusiasm, but they were trained also to judge and condemn the weaknesses of their spent and tired predecessors. They learnt that the brightness of this new world that had been made for them was in danger from the very men who had made it. The technically more skilful and intensive teaching that had been given them had made them more self-conscious and wary in their behaviour, and far more capable of managing the detail of their lives. They were simple in principle and hard in detail. They had a modern wisdom about diet and indulgence; they regarded lack of fitness as a crime.

The difference is evident in Historical Pictures, where one usually sees the older generation dressed either carelessly or picturesquely and often either self-consciously or gracelessly posed, while the younger men and women in the simpler and plainer clothing that was coming into fashion carry themselves like athletes. Austerity has become a second nature to them. Devotion and the sacrifice of the individual they carried to such a pitch that, for instance, it was considered unseemly for them to have portraits made, and there was no record kept of the names of the chairmen and of the movers of motions in the central committee during their ascendency. It has needed special research to rescue some of the names of this second generation of world rulers, who set up the Puritan Tyranny and made the Socialist World-State secure. One of the moving spirits was certainly Han H’su and another Antoine Ayala.

They ousted their predecessors without any coup d’état, one by one, through sheer superiority in energy and working power. The great revolution was over; the World-State was in being. But it was not secure. It was a time for just such continuous detailed work as only a naturally able and energetic type with a hard training could hope to do. They were not selected by any voting or politics to fill the Council, they were selected by their own staying and driving power. The milder or subtler types could not keep the pace and fell into less authoritative positions. The influence of certain teachers and groups of teachers was very considerable. Three schools, the Unamuno Foundation at Coimbra, the Columbia University of New York, and the Tokio Social College, accounted for more than a third of the World Council in 2017.

For nearly forty years the new Council, with occasional renewals, worked and kept a whole generation of men and women working. As Aldous Huxley (1894-2004), one of the most brilliant of reactionary writers, foretold of them, they “tidied up” the world.

There can be no denying the purification and rarefaction of the human scene that was achieved during their sway. They tightened up the disciplines of the Modern State Fellowship, and nevertheless the proportion of the Fellowship increased until it bade fair to become the larger moiety of adult mankind. The mental habits of the Fellowship, its habitual bearing, extended through the whole population. The Tyranny, says Vordin, altered the human face for ever. It closed the mouth and made the lips firmer, made the eyes steadier and more candid, opened the brow, altered the poise of the head, obliterated a number of wrinkles and habits of expression. Portraits of the earlier and later time confirm this generalization. One type of odd-character after another became rare and began to disappear from the human comedy. Rascals and recalcitrants grew old, sat in the sun for a time rather protestingly and vanished. They took many disagreeable and some whimsical casts of countenance with them. Sexual prostitution ceased and eliminated a characteristic defiance from feminine carriage. The trader found he had nothing to trade with and came into the employment of the Supply Control. Gambling, horse-racing, sport, generally went out of fashion, and those queer oblongs of pasteboard, “playing cards”, retired to museums, never to emerge again. Every one of these vanishing interests or practices took its own scores of social types, of “reaction systems”, to use the modern phrase, away with it. Faces ceased to be masks.

Every year the world grew safer for the candid. The need for cunning and wary self-restraint diminished enormously, the habit of making a face a “mask”. Humanity was extroverted. A lively self-forgetful interest in external things becomes more and more patent. The “worried” look of the introspective habit of mind disappears. “Everyone must know plainly,” said the new rulers. “Men must be perplexed no more.” The old religions could not emulate the moral prestige of the new cult, and even the resentments of the persecution that deprived them of their last shreds of educational influence could not preserve them. For nearly forty years this rule of the new saints, this resolute simplification and smoothing out of life, went on.

History becomes a record of increasingly vast engineering undertakings, and cultivations, of the pursuit of minerals and of the first deep borings into the planet. New mechanisms appeared, multiplied, and were swept away by better mechanisms. The face of the earth changed. The scientific redistribution of population began. Yet there was little likeness to the world of to-day, as we know it. No age in human history has left us such strange and uncongenial pictures.

Costume was not unpleasant during this period, because of its simplicity; the human figures in the scene at least are tolerable; but these scientific Puritans also produced some of the clumsiest architecture, the most gaunt and ungainly housing blocks, the dullest forests, endless vistas of straight stems, and the vastest, most hideous dams and power-stations, pylon-lines, pipe-lines, and so forth that the planet has ever borne. But at any rate they flooded the Sahara and made the North African littoral the loveliest land in the world. The productivity of mankind was now advancing by leaps and bounds, in spite of the severe restraint presently put upon the introduction of fresh labour-saving devices; and yet these Puritans were consumed by an overwhelming fear of leisure both for themselves and others. They found it morally necessary to keep going and to keep everybody else going. They invented work for the Fellowship and all the world. Earth became an ant-hill under their dominion clean and orderly but needlessly “busy”. So harshly had they reacted against the weaknesses of their seniors and so unable were they to mitigate their own self- imposed severities.

Let us cast up the good mankind can attribute to this strange phase of sternness and grim repression. For all the faint masochist and sadistic flavour of its closing years, the good was beyond all measure greater than the evil. “The obliteration of out-of-date moral values” (the phrase is Antoine Ayala’s) “and the complete establishment of a code of rigorous and critical self-control, of habitual service, creative activity, cooperation, of public as well as private good manners, and invariable truthfulness, were achieved for all time. We grow up so easily now into one free, abundant, and happy world that we do not realize the effort still needed even in the year 2000 to keep life going upon what seem now to us the most natural and simple lines possible. We find it almost impossible to imagine the temptations to slacken at work, loiter, do nothing, ‘look for trouble’, seek ‘amusement’, feel bored and take to trivial or mischievous ‘time-killing’ occupations, that pursued the ill-trained under-vitalized, objectless common citizen before 2000 C.E. Still more difficult is it to realize how subtly these temptations were diffused through the mass and how hard they made a well-directed life. We have to trust the psychological experts about that.”

The New Puritans “disinfected” the old literature, for example. It is hard to see that now as an urgent necessity. These old stories, plays, and poems seem to us to convey the quaintest and most inexplicable systems of motivation conceivable, and we cannot imagine people being deflected by them; they might as easily be led astray by the figures on a Chinese screen or an Hellenic sarcophagus; but before the persecution those books were, as one censor called them, “fever rags”. They stood then for “real life”. They provided patterns for behaviour and general conduct. That queer clowning with insults and repartees, that insincerely sympathetic mocking of inferiors, that denigration of superiors, which constituted “humour” in the old days, strikes us as either fatuous or malicious. We cannot understand, for instance, the joy our ancestors found in the little blunders and misconceptions of ill-educated people. But then they also laughed at the cripples who still abounded in the world! Equally distasteful now is most of their “romance” with its false stresses, its unnecessary sacrifices and desperations. “Romance”, says Paul Hennessey, “is essentially the violent and miserable reaction of weak spirits to prohibitions they cannot fairly overcome.”

We find the books glorifying war and massacre, and the tangled masses of suggestion that elaborated the innate hostility and excitement caused by difference of racial type, so unconvincing that it is difficult to believe that they ever gripped. But they did grip and compel. They drove innumerable men to murders, lynchings, deliberate torture. They dressed the foulest and cruellest of crimes in heroic colours. There had to be a break with these traditions before they could be seen as we see them now. It needed the heroic “priggishness” of the Air Dictatorship, putting away the old literature and drama for a time, suppressing the suggestion systems of the old religions and superstitions, jailing and segregating men and women for “hate incitement”, ruthlessly eliminating sexual incitation from the lives of the immature and insisting upon a universal frank sexual hygiene, to cleanse the human mind for good and all and inaugurate the unconstrained civilization of to-day. There was no other way to Renaissance.

Joseph Koreniovsky has called the Puritan Tyranny “the cold bath that braced up mankind after the awakening”. Man, he says, was still “frowsty-minded” and “half asleep” in the early twenty-first century, still in urgent danger of a relapse into the confused nightmare living of the Age of Frustration. You may call it a tyranny, but it was in fact a release; it did not suppress men, but obsessions. None of us now can fully realize the value of that “disentanglement from tradition”, because now we are all disentangled.

And next to this ruthless “mental disinfection” of the world, and indeed inseparable from it, we must put the physical disinfection of mankind to the credit of the Air Dictatorship. Between 2000 and 2040 every domicile in the world was either destroyed and replaced, or reconditioned and exhaustively disinfected. There was an immense loss of “picturesqueness” in that process, and we shiver nowadays when we look at pictures of the white bare streets, the mobile rural living-boxes, the bleakly “cheerful” public buildings, the plain cold interiors with their metallic furniture, which everywhere replaced the huts, hovels, creeper-clad cottages and houses, old decaying stone and brick town halls, market houses, churches, mosques, factories and railway stations in which our tough if ill-proportioned and undersized forefathers assembled about their various archaic businesses.

But between the same years the following diseases, the names of which abound in the old histories, and the nature of which we can hardly imagine, vanish from the human records: catarrh, influenza, whooping cough, sleeping sickness, cholera, typhus, typhoid, bubonic plague, measles, and a score of other infectious scourges. (Only yellow fever remained as a serious infection after 2050. That demanded the special effort of 2079 for its extirpation.) Syphilis and indeed all those diseases known as venereal, were stamped out completely in two generations; they were afflictions so horrible and disgusting that their description is not now considered suitable for the general reader. There was a similar world-wide attack on plant diseases and distortions, but of that the student will learn in his Botanical History.

The psychologists who are rewriting human history have still many open questions to settle about the training and early influences that gave the world this peculiar group of rulers, and so the account of its hardening and deterioration remains incomplete. They admit that the Tyranny was in essence a liberation, but they insist that it left vitally important desires in the human make-up unsatisfied. Old traditions and mischievous obsessions were rooted in these desires, and the Tyranny had not been content with an eradication of the old traditions. It had denied the desires. It had pulled up the soil with the weeds. It had exalted incessant, even if pointless, activity above everything else in life.

Overwork, a strained strenuousness, has been a common characteristic of the rulers of mankind in the past. It shows through the Edicts of Asoka, for example, and particularly in Rock Edict VI (Asoka, D. R. Bhandarkar, 1932, Classical Historical Studies, 21-118). “I am never satisfied,” runs the Edict, “with the exertion or with dispatch of business. The welfare of the whole world is an esteemed duty with me. And the root of that, again, is this, namely, exertion and dispatch of business.” A great majority of the successful Cæsars and Autocrats from Shi-Hwang-Ti to Hitler have the same strenuousness—Alexander the Great perhaps was the chief exception, but then his father had done the work before him. Mussolini, the realizer of Italian Fascismo, in his Talks to Ludwig (Historical Documents Series 100, 319) betrays an equal disposition for single-handed accomplishment and an equal disinclination to relinquish responsibility.

All the chief figures of the Air Dictatorship betray, upon scrutiny, signs of the same drive to do too much and still to do more. They display all the traits of a collective weary conqueror, unable to desist and think and adapt himself. They went on ruling and fighting when their victory was won. They had tidied up the world for ever and still they went on tidying. After their first real successes they manifest an extreme reluctance to bring new blood into the responsible administrative task. They had arisen to power as a group by their usefulness, because they were unavoidably necessary to those original founders of the World-State whom they first served and then by sheer insistence upon performance pushed out of authority and replaced. The three virtues in a ruler according to Han H’su were punctuality, precision, and persistence. But it was a dictum of Paidrick Lynd’s that “indolence is the mother of organization”. They had none of that blessed gift of indolence. When the legacy of work that the first world revolution had left them was exhausted, they brought things at last to the necessity for a final revolution through their sheer inability to organize a direct succession to themselves or to invent fresh undertakings.

That final revolution was the most subtle of all the substitutions of power that have occurred in human affairs, the most subtle and so far the last. The Dictatorship could suppress overt resistance; it could impose obedience to its myriads of injunctions and rules. But it could not suppress the development of general psychology nor the penetration of its own legislative and administrative activities by enquiry and criticism.

The Department of General Psychology had grown rapidly until it had become the most vigorous system of activities in the scientific faculty of the Modern State Fellowship. In its preparatory stages it had taken the place of the various “Arts” and Law curricula of the old régime. It was the modernization of the “humanities”. The founders of the World-State had given this particular department of the scientific faculty almost as great a directive and modifying power over both the Educational and Legal Controls as it exercises to-day. Even then it was formally recognized as the responsible guardian in the theory of Modern State organization. It more than realized the intentions of De Windt. It became the thought, as the World Council had become the will, of mankind acting as a whole. And since the education and legal adjustment of the World-State was thus under the direction of a department of research continually advancing, they differed diametrically in character from the education and teaching of the old world order.

The student cannot keep this difference, this flat contrast, too clearly in mind. He will never understand the historical process without it. The Old Education existed to preserve traditions and institutions. Progressive forces arose as a dissent from it and operated outside its machinery. In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century education was always a generation or so behind living contemporary ideas and the schoolmaster was a drag on mankind. But the New Education, based on a swiftly expanding science of relationship, was no longer the preservation of a tradition, but instead the explanation of a creative effort in the light of a constantly most penetrating criticism of contemporary things. The new schoolmaster showed the way, and the new education kept steadily ahead of contemporary social fact. The difference of the New Law and the Old Law was strictly parallel. If a man of the year 1900 had been told of a progressive revolution led by lawyers and schoolmasters inspired by scientific ideas, he would have taken it as a rather preposterous joke, but to-day we ask, “How else can the continuity of a progressive revolution be sustained?”

The failure of the German revolution of 1918 and the relapse of that unfortunate country into the puerility and brutish follies of Hitlerism was entirely due to the disregard of the elementary principle that no revolution could be a real and assured revolution until it has completely altered the educational system of the community. Every effective old-world revolution was a revolt against an established education and against the established law.

The rôle of the modern Education Control in preserving, correcting, and revivifying the progressive process in human affairs had already been manifested by the supersession of the leading personalities of the Basra conference in the World Council by their successors who became the Air Dictatorship. Now these men in their turn found the instruments of government becoming recalcitrant in their hands and obeying the impulse of unfamiliar ideas. They had cleared and cleansed the site while social science had been preparing the idea of the new structures that were to stand upon it, and now they found themselves confronted by an impulse towards creation and enrichment entirely discordant with their habits of administration. Their subordinates began to send back the instructions given them as “insufficient and not in accordance with the psychology of the workers”—or other people—“concerned”. Schemes were condemned by those to whom they were entrusted as unnecessarily toilsome or needlessly ungracious. Workers took matters into their own hands and demanded more pleasant processes or more beautiful results. The committee was disposed at first to insist upon unquestioning obedience. Thereupon the Education Control produced a masterful argument to show “the social harmfulness of unquestioning obedience”.

There could be no greater contrast in the world than that between the older revolutionary crises in human affairs and this later conflict of wills. The old revolutions were at best frantic, bawling, sentimental affairs in which there was much barricading of roads and destruction of property; people were shot abundantly and carelessly and a new régime stumbled clumsily to responsibility on the ruin and reversal of its predecessor. Such revolutions were insurrections of discontent against established institutions. But this last revolution was the cool and effectual indictment of the world executive by a great world wide educational system. It was not an insurrection; it was a collateral intervention. The new order arose beside its predecessor, took matters out of its hands and replaced it.

The need for an intolerant militant stage of the World-State had passed. The very reason for the disciplines of the Puritan Tyranny had been dissolved away in the completeness of its victory. But the last men to realize this were the old men who now sat trying to find tasks to keep humanity out of mischief in the bureau of the World Council.

The Shape of Things to Come - Contents    |     Book 4 - 6. Æsthetic Frustration: The Note Books of Ariston Theotocopulos

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