The Shape of Things to Come

Book the Fifth
The Modern State in Control of Life

1. Monday Morning in the Creation of a New World

H.G. Wells

WITH the Declaration of Mégève in 2059 C.E. the Age of Frustration, the opening phase of the Era of the Modern State, came to an end. Let us recapitulate that history in its barest outline. The World-State had appeared dimly and evasively, as an aspiration, as a remote possibility, as the suggestion of a League of Nations, during the World War of 1914-18; it had gathered experience and definition throughout the decades of collapse and disaster; it had formally invaded human politics at the Conference of Basra in 1965 as manifestly the only possible solution of the human problem, and now it had completed its conquest of mankind.

The systematic consolidation of that conquest had begun in earnest after the Second Conference of Basra in 1978. Then the World Council had set itself to certain tasks that had been so inconceivable hitherto that not the most daring sociologists had looked them in the face. They had contented themselves with pious aspirations, and taken refuge in the persuasion that, if they were sufficiently disregarded, these tasks would somehow do themselves. They were tasks of profound mental reconstruction, reconstruction going deeper into the substratum of the individual life than anything that had ever been attempted before. In the first place traditions of nationality had to be cleared away for good, and racial prejudice replaced by racial understanding. This was a positive job against immense resistances. Next a lingua-franca had to be made universal and one or other of the great literature-bearing languages rendered accessible to everyone. This again was not to be done for the wishing. And thirdly, and most evaded of all three obstacles that had to be surmounted, issue had to be joined with the various quasi-universal religious and cultural systems, Christianity, Jewry, Islam, Buddhism and so forth, which right up to the close of the twentieth century were still in active competition with the Modern State movement for the direction of the individual life and the control of human affairs. While these competing cultures remained in being they were bound to become refuges and rallying-shelters for all the opposition forces that set themselves to cripple and defeat the new order of the world.

We have told already how that issue was joined, and shown how necessary it was to bring all the moral and intellectual training of the race into direct and simple relations with the Modern State organization. After 2020 there is no record of any schools being open in the world except the Modern State schools. Christianity where it remained sacerdotal and intractable was suppressed, but over large parts of the world it was not so much abolished as watered down to modernity. Everywhere its endowments had vanished in the universal slump; it could find no supply of educated men to sustain its ministry; the majority of its churches stood neglected and empty, and when the great rebuilding of the world began most of them vanished with all the other old edifices that lacked beauty or interest. They were cleared away like dead leaves.

The story of Islam was closely parallel. It went more readily even than Christianity because its school organization was weaker. It was pinned very closely to the teaching of Arabic. The decadence of that language shattered its solidarity much as the disuse of Latin disintegrated Western Christianity. It left a few-score beautiful mosques as Christianity left a few-score beautiful chapels, churches and cathedrals. And patterns, legends, memories remained over in abundance, more gracious and lovely by far than the realities from which they were distilled.

There had been a widespread belief in the tenacity and solidarity of Judaism. The Jews had been able to keep themselves a people apart, eating peculiar food and following distinctive religious practices, a nation within the nation, in every state in the world. They had been a perpetual irritant to statesmen, a breach in the collective solidarity everywhere. They had played a peculiar in-and-out game of social relationship. One could never tell whether a Jew was being a citizen or whether he was being just a Jew. They married, they traded preferentially. They had their own standards of behaviour. Wherever they abounded their peculiarities aroused bitter resentment.

It might have been supposed that a people so widely dispersed would have developed a cosmopolitan mentality and formed a convenient linking organization for many world purposes, but their special culture of isolation was so intense that this they neither did nor seemed anxious to attempt. After the World War the orthodox Jews played but a poor part in the early attempts to formulate the Modern State, being far more preoccupied with a dream called Zionism, the dream of a fantastic independent state all of their own in Palestine, which according to their Babylonian legend was the original home of all this synthesis of Semitic-speaking peoples. Only a psycho-analyst could begin to tell for what they wanted this Zionist state. It emphasized their traditional wilful separation from the main body of mankind. It irritated the world against them, subtly and incurably.

On another score also the unpopularity of Israel intensified in the early twentieth century. The core of the slump process was manifestly monetary. Something was profoundly rotten with money and credit. The Jews had always had and cultivated the reputation of a peculiar understanding and cleverness in monetary processes. Yet in the immense difficulties of that time no authoritative direction came from the Jews. The leading minds of the time who grappled with the intricate problems of monetary reconstruction and simplification were almost all Gentiles. It was natural for the common man to ask, “Where are the Jews?” It was easy for him to relapse into suspicion and persecution. Were they speculating unobtrusively? It was an obvious thing for Gentile speculators to shift suspicion to this race which gloried in and suffered by its obstinate resolve to remain a “peculiar people”.

And yet between 1940 and 2059, in little more than a century, this antiquated obdurate culture disappeared. It and its Zionist state, its kosher food, the Law and all the rest of its paraphernalia, were completely merged in the human community. The Jews were not suppressed; there was no extermination; there were world-wide pogroms during the political and social breakdown of the Famished Fifties, but under the Tyranny there was never any specific persecution at all; yet they were educated out of their oddity and racial egotism in little more than three generations. Their attention was distracted from Moses and the Promise to Abraham and the delusion that God made his creation for them alone, and they were taught the truth about their race. The world is as full as ever it was of men and women of Semitic origin, but they belong no more to “Israel”.

This success—the people of the nineteenth century would have deemed it a miracle—is explicable because of two things. The first of them is that the Modern State revolution was from the first educational and only secondarily political; it ploughed deeper than any previous revolution. And next it came about under new and more favourable conditions. In the nineteenth century the family group had ceased to be the effective nucleus in either economic or cultural life. And all the odd exclusiveness of the Jew had been engendered in his closed and guarded prolific home. There is an immense collection of fiction written by Jews for Jews in the early twentieth century, in which the relaxation of this immemorial close home-training and the clash of the old and modernizing generations is described. The dissolution of Israel was beginning even then.

The task of making the mind of the next generation had been abandoned almost unconsciously, for Jew and Gentile alike, to external influences, and particularly to the newspaper and the common school. After 1940 this supersession of home training was renewed in an extensive form. The Modern State movement had from the outset gripped the teachers, re-created popular education after the dark decades upon its own lines, and arrested every attempt to revive competing schools. Even had he desired it the Jew could no longer be peculiar in the food either of his body or his mind.

The complete solidarity of mankind in 2059, the disappearance of the last shadows of dislike and distrust between varied cults, races, and language groups, witnesses to the profound truth of what Falaise, one of De Windt’s editors, has called the Mental Conception of History. The Age of Frustration was essentially an age of struggle to achieve certain plainly possible things against the resistances of a muddled human mind. The Declaration of Mégève was not simply an assertion of victory and freedom for the race, it was the demonstration of its achieved lucidity.

As the curtain of separatist dreams, racial fantasies and hate nightmares thinned out and passed away, what was presented to that awakening human brain? A little sunlit planet, for its external material, bearing what we now realize is not a tithe of its possible flora and fauna, a ball crammed with unused and unsuspected resources; and for the internal stuff of that brain almost limitless possibilities of mental achievement. All that had been done hitherto by man was like the scribbling of a little child before eye and hand have learnt sufficient co-ordination to draw. It was like the pawing and crawling of a kitten before it begins to see. And now man’s eyes were open.

This little planet of which he was now at last in mentally untroubled possession was not simply still under-developed and waste; its surface was everywhere scarred and disfigured by the long wars he had waged so blindly for its mastery. Everywhere in 2059 the scenery of the earth still testified to the prolonged war, the state of siege to establish a unified mastery, that had now come to an end. If most of the divisions and barriers of the period of the sovereign states had disappeared, if there were no longer castles, fortifications, boundaries and strategic lines to be traced, there were still many indications that the world was under control and still not quite sure of its own good behaviour. The carefully planned system of aerodromes to prevent any untoward developments of the free private flying that had been tolerated after 2040 was such an indication, and so was the strategic import plainly underlying the needlessly wide main roads that left no possible region of insurrection inaccessible. From the air or on a map it was manifest that the world was still “governed”. The road system was like a net cast over a dangerous beast.

And equally visible still was the quality of recent conquest in the social and economic fields. As Theotocopulos complained, the Second Council overdid its embankments. It was distrustful even of the waters of the earth. Its reservoirs and rivers had, he says, “a bullied air”. If the jostling little fields and misshapen ill-proportioned farms, the untidy mines, refuse-heaps, factories, workers, slums and hovels and all the dire squalor of competitive industrialism had long since disappeared from the spectacle, there was still effort visible at every point in the layout of twenty-first-century exploitation. The stripping and burning of forests that had devastated the world so extensively in the middle decades of the preceding hundred years had led to strenuous reafforestation. Strenuous is the word. “Grow,” said the Council, “and let there be no nonsense about it.” At the end of the Age of Frustration a tree that was not lined up and lopped and drilled was an exception in the landscape.

Everywhere there was still this suggestion of possible insubordination and the sense of an underlying threat. Man had struggled desperately and had won, but it was only now that he was finding time to consider any but the most immediate and superficial possibilities of his planet.

The air-view as the dispersing delegates from Mégève saw it forty-seven years ago was indeed in the vividest contrast to the world garden in which we live to-day. That clumsy rationality, that real dread of æstheticism, that had haunted the Council to its end, had made the artificial factors in the landscape inelegant and emphatic almost without exception. Bridges and roads “got there”, as Theotocopulos said, “like charging rhinoceroses”. True that the disposition to squat forms, which came from the age of the air raids, no longer prevailed, but there was a general tendency to make buildings too solid and too big; they had sometimes a certain grandiose boldness, but more often than not there was a touch of military stupidity in the appearance of their piled-up masses. They stood to attention. There was a needlessly lavish abundance of pylons, and they were generally too sturdy.

The enrichment of vegetation which is now world-wide was in operation at that time only in a few experimental areas; in most regions there was still hardly more forest or cultivation than had existed a century and a half before. If the devastation of fellings and fires during the last wars had been replaced by the new straight-ruled, squared-out forests, there was as yet no perceptible rise in the level of the plant community anywhere; what had previously been forest was plantation or forest again, and what had been prairie was still prairie, differing only from the grass prairies of older days in the dwindling contingent of weeds and wild flowers. In spite of the self-complacency of the forestry department of that time, many trees distorted by disease survived, and most were by our standards stunted. To young eyes to-day this world of our fathers, as they see it in picture book and panorama, has not merely a regimented but a barren look, and its cultivation seems laborious and poor.

Yet compared with the landscape of two centuries ago its aspect was relatively prosperous, spacious and orderly. There is something very touching in the freely expressed response of the nineteenth-century folk to both urban and country landscape and to natural scenery generally. They did not dream how meagre their descendants were to find the spectacle before them. They had, at any rate, as good cloudscapes and sunsets as we have, and such natural coast scenery as that of Western Scotland was practically the same then as it is to-day. They would endure irksome travel to see sunlit snowy mountain masses or get to some viewpoint that caught the rhythm of a distant chain. They loved water and woodlands and distant fields in a wide view, and towns they admired chiefly as piled up accumulations seen from a distance. Also they delighted very greatly in the close brightness of flowering hedges, sheets of bluebells, primrose rides, green moss and tendrils and any sort of flower. They pick these things out for appreciation so persistently in their literature and paintings that it is only with an effort we realize how much they were “picked out”, and how dull and repetitive were endless miles of their normal roads and countryside and how flatly forbidding the ordinary aspects of their habitations.

So far as we can reconstruct it now the prevalent note of the nineteenth century scene was weak insipidity, degenerating very easily into a distressful mean ungainliness. America was frostbitten in the north and slovenly in the south and unkempt everywhere. Happily the shorter-lived, not very healthy or vigorous folk of these days had no standards of comparison, and actual intimations of discontent with nature and the countryside were rare. There is scarcely an admission in nineteenth-century literature that the larger part of the natural world was gaunt, unsatisfactory and utterly unsympathetic. Writers and poets did not dare to admit as much because they had neither the hope nor the energy to make things better. They would not see it in obedience to an elementary psychological law.

But under the Second Council, the criticism not only of man’s achievement but of natural insufficiency had become voluminous because neither was felt any longer to be final. It was not only the heavy engineering, the massive buildings and the over-emphasied roadways that those returning delegates threatened with their minds. Much of the land was still unsettled. They looked down on areas of marsh and scrub, bare wildernesses of rock, rainless regions, screes and avalanche slopes. For them as for us it was a world of promise still to be fulfilled.

“Now we can begin on all this,” they said. “Now we have really to begin.”

The Shape of Things to Come - Contents    |     Book 5 - 2. Keying Up the Planet

Back    |    Words Home    |    H.G. Wells Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback