H.G. Wells.

A Modern Utopia online

. (page 1 of 22)
Online LibraryH.G. WellsA Modern Utopia → online text (page 1 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Produced by Andrew Sly






A MODERN UTOPIA

BY H. G. WELLS



A NOTE TO THE READER

This book is in all probability the last of a series of writings,
of which - disregarding certain earlier disconnected essays - my
Anticipations was the beginning. Originally I intended Anticipations
to be my sole digression from my art or trade (or what you will)
of an imaginative writer. I wrote that book in order to clear up
the muddle in my own mind about innumerable social and political
questions, questions I could not keep out of my work, which it
distressed me to touch upon in a stupid haphazard way, and which
no one, so far as I knew, had handled in a manner to satisfy my
needs. But Anticipations did not achieve its end. I have a slow
constructive hesitating sort of mind, and when I emerged from that
undertaking I found I had still most of my questions to state and
solve. In Mankind in the Making, therefore, I tried to review
the social organisation in a different way, to consider it as an
educational process instead of dealing with it as a thing with
a future history, and if I made this second book even less
satisfactory from a literary standpoint than the former (and this is
my opinion), I blundered, I think, more edifyingly - at least from
the point of view of my own instruction. I ventured upon several
themes with a greater frankness than I had used in Anticipations,
and came out of that second effort guilty of much rash writing, but
with a considerable development of formed opinion. In many matters I
had shaped out at last a certain personal certitude, upon which I
feel I shall go for the rest of my days. In this present book I have
tried to settle accounts with a number of issues left over or opened
up by its two predecessors, to correct them in some particulars, and
to give the general picture of a Utopia that has grown up in my mind
during the course of these speculations as a state of affairs at
once possible and more desirable than the world in which I live. But
this book has brought me back to imaginative writing again. In its
two predecessors the treatment of social organisation had been
purely objective; here my intention has been a little wider and
deeper, in that I have tried to present not simply an ideal, but an
ideal in reaction with two personalities. Moreover, since this may
be the last book of the kind I shall ever publish, I have written
into it as well as I can the heretical metaphysical scepticism upon
which all my thinking rests, and I have inserted certain sections
reflecting upon the established methods of sociological and economic
science....

The last four words will not attract the butterfly reader, I know.
I have done my best to make the whole of this book as lucid and
entertaining as its matter permits, because I want it read by as
many people as possible, but I do not promise anything but rage and
confusion to him who proposes to glance through my pages just to see
if I agree with him, or to begin in the middle, or to read without
a constantly alert attention. If you are not already a little
interested and open-minded with regard to social and political
questions, and a little exercised in self-examination, you will find
neither interest nor pleasure here. If your mind is "made up" upon
such issues your time will be wasted on these pages. And even if you
are a willing reader you may require a little patience for the
peculiar method I have this time adopted.

That method assumes an air of haphazard, but it is not so careless
as it seems. I believe it to be - even now that I am through with the
book - the best way to a sort of lucid vagueness which has always
been my intention in this matter. I tried over several beginnings of
a Utopian book before I adopted this. I rejected from the outset the
form of the argumentative essay, the form which appeals most readily
to what is called the "serious" reader, the reader who is often no
more than the solemnly impatient parasite of great questions. He
likes everything in hard, heavy lines, black and white, yes and no,
because he does not understand how much there is that cannot be
presented at all in that way; wherever there is any effect of
obliquity, of incommensurables, wherever there is any levity
or humour or difficulty of multiplex presentation, he refuses
attention. Mentally he seems to be built up upon an invincible
assumption that the Spirit of Creation cannot count beyond two, he
deals only in alternatives. Such readers I have resolved not to
attempt to please here. Even if I presented all my tri-clinic
crystals as systems of cubes - - ! Indeed I felt it would not be
worth doing. But having rejected the "serious" essay as a form, I
was still greatly exercised, I spent some vacillating months, over
the scheme of this book. I tried first a recognised method of
viewing questions from divergent points that has always attracted me
and which I have never succeeded in using, the discussion novel,
after the fashion of Peacock's (and Mr. Mallock's) development of
the ancient dialogue; but this encumbered me with unnecessary
characters and the inevitable complication of intrigue among them,
and I abandoned it. After that I tried to cast the thing into a
shape resembling a little the double personality of Boswell's
Johnson, a sort of interplay between monologue and commentator; but
that too, although it got nearer to the quality I sought, finally
failed. Then I hesitated over what one might call "hard narrative."
It will be evident to the experienced reader that by omitting
certain speculative and metaphysical elements and by elaborating
incident, this book might have been reduced to a straightforward
story. But I did not want to omit as much on this occasion. I do not
see why I should always pander to the vulgar appetite for stark
stories. And in short, I made it this. I explain all this in order
to make it clear to the reader that, however queer this book
appears at the first examination, it is the outcome of trial and
deliberation, it is intended to be as it is. I am aiming throughout
at a sort of shot-silk texture between philosophical discussion on
the one hand and imaginative narrative on the other.

H. G. WELLS.



CONTENTS

The Owner of the Voice
Chapter the First - Topographical
Chapter the Second - Concerning Freedoms
Chapter the Third - Utopian Economics
Chapter the Fourth - The Voice of Nature
Chapter the Fifth - Failure in a Modern Utopia
Chapter the Sixth - Women in a Modern Utopia
Chapter the Seventh - A Few Utopian Impressions
Chapter the Eighth - My Utopian Self
Chapter the Ninth - The Samurai
Chapter the Tenth - Race in Utopia
Chapter the Eleventh - The Bubble Bursts
Appendix - Scepticism of the Instrument


A MODERN UTOPIA


THE OWNER OF THE VOICE

There are works, and this is one of them, that are best begun with a
portrait of the author. And here, indeed, because of a very natural
misunderstanding this is the only course to take. Throughout these
papers sounds a note, a distinctive and personal note, a note that
tends at times towards stridency; and all that is not, as these
words are, in Italics, is in one Voice. Now, this Voice, and this is
the peculiarity of the matter, is not to be taken as the Voice of
the ostensible author who fathers these pages. You have to clear
your mind of any preconceptions in that respect. The Owner of the
Voice you must figure to yourself as a whitish plump man, a little
under the middle size and age, with such blue eyes as many Irishmen
have, and agile in his movements and with a slight tonsorial
baldness - a penny might cover it - of the crown. His front is convex.
He droops at times like most of us, but for the greater part he
bears himself as valiantly as a sparrow. Occasionally his hand flies
out with a fluttering gesture of illustration. And his Voice (which
is our medium henceforth) is an unattractive tenor that becomes at
times aggressive. Him you must imagine as sitting at a table reading
a manuscript about Utopias, a manuscript he holds in two hands that
are just a little fat at the wrist. The curtain rises upon him so.
But afterwards, if the devices of this declining art of literature
prevail, you will go with him through curious and interesting
experiences. Yet, ever and again, you will find him back at that
little table, the manuscript in his hand, and the expansion of
his ratiocinations about Utopia conscientiously resumed. The
entertainment before you is neither the set drama of the work of
fiction you are accustomed to read, nor the set lecturing of the
essay you are accustomed to evade, but a hybrid of these two. If you
figure this owner of the Voice as sitting, a little nervously, a
little modestly, on a stage, with table, glass of water and all
complete, and myself as the intrusive chairman insisting with a
bland ruthlessness upon his "few words" of introduction before he
recedes into the wings, and if furthermore you figure a sheet behind
our friend on which moving pictures intermittently appear, and if
finally you suppose his subject to be the story of the adventure of
his soul among Utopian inquiries, you will be prepared for some at
least of the difficulties of this unworthy but unusual work.

But over against this writer here presented, there is also another
earthly person in the book, who gathers himself together into a
distinct personality only after a preliminary complication with the
reader. This person is spoken of as the botanist, and he is a
leaner, rather taller, graver and much less garrulous man. His face
is weakly handsome and done in tones of grey, he is fairish
and grey-eyed, and you would suspect him of dyspepsia. It is a
justifiable suspicion. Men of this type, the chairman remarks with
a sudden intrusion of exposition, are romantic with a shadow of
meanness, they seek at once to conceal and shape their sensuous
cravings beneath egregious sentimentalities, they get into mighty
tangles and troubles with women, and he has had his troubles. You
will hear of them, for that is the quality of his type. He gets no
personal expression in this book, the Voice is always that other's,
but you gather much of the matter and something of the manner of his
interpolations from the asides and the tenour of the Voice.

So much by way of portraiture is necessary to present the explorers
of the Modern Utopia, which will unfold itself as a background
to these two enquiring figures. The image of a cinematograph
entertainment is the one to grasp. There will be an effect of these
two people going to and fro in front of the circle of a rather
defective lantern, which sometimes jams and sometimes gets out of
focus, but which does occasionally succeed in displaying on a screen
a momentary moving picture of Utopian conditions. Occasionally the
picture goes out altogether, the Voice argues and argues, and the
footlights return, and then you find yourself listening again to the
rather too plump little man at his table laboriously enunciating
propositions, upon whom the curtain rises now.



CHAPTER THE FIRST

Topographical


Section 1

The Utopia of a modern dreamer must needs differ in one fundamental
aspect from the Nowheres and Utopias men planned before Darwin
quickened the thought of the world. Those were all perfect and
static States, a balance of happiness won for ever against the
forces of unrest and disorder that inhere in things. One beheld a
healthy and simple generation enjoying the fruits of the earth in
an atmosphere of virtue and happiness, to be followed by other
virtuous, happy, and entirely similar generations, until the Gods
grew weary. Change and development were dammed back by invincible
dams for ever. But the Modern Utopia must be not static but kinetic,
must shape not as a permanent state but as a hopeful stage, leading
to a long ascent of stages. Nowadays we do not resist and overcome
the great stream of things, but rather float upon it. We build now
not citadels, but ships of state. For one ordered arrangement of
citizens rejoicing in an equality of happiness safe and assured
to them and their children for ever, we have to plan "a flexible
common compromise, in which a perpetually novel succession of
individualities may converge most effectually upon a comprehensive
onward development." That is the first, most generalised difference
between a Utopia based upon modern conceptions and all the Utopias
that were written in the former time.

Our business here is to be Utopian, to make vivid and credible,
if we can, first this facet and then that, of an imaginary whole
and happy world. Our deliberate intention is to be not, indeed,
impossible, but most distinctly impracticable, by every scale that
reaches only between to-day and to-morrow. We are to turn our backs
for a space upon the insistent examination of the thing that is,
and face towards the freer air, the ampler spaces of the thing
that perhaps might be, to the projection of a State or city "worth
while," to designing upon the sheet of our imaginations the picture
of a life conceivably possible, and yet better worth living than
our own. That is our present enterprise. We are going to lay down
certain necessary starting propositions, and then we shall proceed
to explore the sort of world these propositions give us....

It is no doubt an optimistic enterprise. But it is good for awhile
to be free from the carping note that must needs be audible when
we discuss our present imperfections, to release ourselves from
practical difficulties and the tangle of ways and means. It is good
to stop by the track for a space, put aside the knapsack, wipe the
brows, and talk a little of the upper slopes of the mountain we
think we are climbing, would but the trees let us see it.

There is to be no inquiry here of policy and method. This is to be a
holiday from politics and movements and methods. But for all that,
we must needs define certain limitations. Were we free to have our
untrammelled desire, I suppose we should follow Morris to his
Nowhere, we should change the nature of man and the nature of things
together; we should make the whole race wise, tolerant, noble,
perfect - wave our hands to a splendid anarchy, every man doing as
it pleases him, and none pleased to do evil, in a world as good in
its essential nature, as ripe and sunny, as the world before the
Fall. But that golden age, that perfect world, comes out into the
possibilities of space and time. In space and time the pervading
Will to Live sustains for evermore a perpetuity of aggressions. Our
proposal here is upon a more practical plane at least than that.
We are to restrict ourselves first to the limitations of human
possibility as we know them in the men and women of this world
to-day, and then to all the inhumanity, all the insubordination of
nature. We are to shape our state in a world of uncertain seasons,
sudden catastrophes, antagonistic diseases, and inimical beasts and
vermin, out of men and women with like passions, like uncertainties
of mood and desire to our own. And, moreover, we are going to accept
this world of conflict, to adopt no attitude of renunciation towards
it, to face it in no ascetic spirit, but in the mood of the Western
peoples, whose purpose is to survive and overcome. So much we adopt
in common with those who deal not in Utopias, but in the world of
Here and Now.

Certain liberties, however, following the best Utopian precedents,
we may take with existing fact. We assume that the tone of public
thought may be entirely different from what it is in the present
world. We permit ourselves a free hand with the mental conflict of
life, within the possibilities of the human mind as we know it. We
permit ourselves also a free hand with all the apparatus of
existence that man has, so to speak, made for himself, with houses,
roads, clothing, canals, machinery, with laws, boundaries,
conventions, and traditions, with schools, with literature and
religious organisation, with creeds and customs, with everything, in
fact, that it lies within man's power to alter. That, indeed, is the
cardinal assumption of all Utopian speculations old and new; the
Republic and Laws of Plato, and More's Utopia, Howells' implicit
Altruria, and Bellamy's future Boston, Comte's great Western
Republic, Hertzka's Freeland, Cabet's Icaria, and Campanella's City
of the Sun, are built, just as we shall build, upon that, upon the
hypothesis of the complete emancipation of a community of men from
tradition, from habits, from legal bonds, and that subtler servitude
possessions entail. And much of the essential value of all such
speculations lies in this assumption of emancipation, lies in that
regard towards human freedom, in the undying interest of the human
power of self-escape, the power to resist the causation of the past,
and to evade, initiate, endeavour, and overcome.


Section 2

There are very definite artistic limitations also.

There must always be a certain effect of hardness and thinness about
Utopian speculations. Their common fault is to be comprehensively
jejune. That which is the blood and warmth and reality of life is
largely absent; there are no individualities, but only generalised
people. In almost every Utopia - except, perhaps, Morris's "News from
Nowhere" - one sees handsome but characterless buildings, symmetrical
and perfect cultivations, and a multitude of people, healthy, happy,
beautifully dressed, but without any personal distinction whatever.
Too often the prospect resembles the key to one of those large
pictures of coronations, royal weddings, parliaments, conferences,
and gatherings so popular in Victorian times, in which, instead of a
face, each figure bears a neat oval with its index number legibly
inscribed. This burthens us with an incurable effect of unreality,
and I do not see how it is altogether to be escaped. It is a
disadvantage that has to be accepted. Whatever institution has
existed or exists, however irrational, however preposterous, has, by
virtue of its contact with individualities, an effect of realness
and rightness no untried thing may share. It has ripened, it has
been christened with blood, it has been stained and mellowed by
handling, it has been rounded and dented to the softened contours
that we associate with life; it has been salted, maybe, in a brine
of tears. But the thing that is merely proposed, the thing that is
merely suggested, however rational, however necessary, seems strange
and inhuman in its clear, hard, uncompromising lines, its
unqualified angles and surfaces.

There is no help for it, there it is! The Master suffers with the
last and least of his successors. For all the humanity he wins to,
through his dramatic device of dialogue, I doubt if anyone has ever
been warmed to desire himself a citizen in the Republic of Plato; I
doubt if anyone could stand a month of the relentless publicity of
virtue planned by More.... No one wants to live in any community of
intercourse really, save for the sake of the individualities he
would meet there. The fertilising conflict of individualities is the
ultimate meaning of the personal life, and all our Utopias no more
than schemes for bettering that interplay. At least, that is how
life shapes itself more and more to modern perceptions. Until you
bring in individualities, nothing comes into being, and a Universe
ceases when you shiver the mirror of the least of individual
minds.


Section 3

No less than a planet will serve the purpose of a modern Utopia.
Time was when a mountain valley or an island seemed to promise
sufficient isolation for a polity to maintain itself intact from
outward force; the Republic of Plato stood armed ready for defensive
war, and the New Atlantis and the Utopia of More in theory, like
China and Japan through many centuries of effectual practice, held
themselves isolated from intruders. Such late instances as Butler's
satirical "Erewhon," and Mr. Stead's queendom of inverted sexual
conditions in Central Africa, found the Tibetan method of
slaughtering the inquiring visitor a simple, sufficient rule. But
the whole trend of modern thought is against the permanence of any
such enclosures. We are acutely aware nowadays that, however subtly
contrived a State may be, outside your boundary lines the epidemic,
the breeding barbarian or the economic power, will gather its
strength to overcome you. The swift march of invention is all for
the invader. Now, perhaps you might still guard a rocky coast or a
narrow pass; but what of that near to-morrow when the flying machine
soars overhead, free to descend at this point or that? A state
powerful enough to keep isolated under modern conditions would be
powerful enough to rule the world, would be, indeed, if not actively
ruling, yet passively acquiescent in all other human organisations,
and so responsible for them altogether. World-state, therefore, it
must be.

That leaves no room for a modern Utopia in Central Africa, or in
South America, or round about the pole, those last refuges of
ideality. The floating isle of La Cite Morellyste no longer avails.
We need a planet. Lord Erskine, the author of a Utopia ("Armata")
that might have been inspired by Mr. Hewins, was the first of all
Utopists to perceive this - he joined his twin planets pole to pole
by a sort of umbilical cord. But the modern imagination, obsessed
by physics, must travel further than that.

Out beyond Sirius, far in the deeps of space, beyond the flight of a
cannon-ball flying for a billion years, beyond the range of unaided
vision, blazes the star that is _our_ Utopia's sun. To those who
know where to look, with a good opera-glass aiding good eyes, it
and three fellows that seem in a cluster with it - though they are
incredible billions of miles nearer - make just the faintest speck
of light. About it go planets, even as our planets, but weaving a
different fate, and in its place among them is Utopia, with its
sister mate, the Moon. It is a planet like our planet, the same
continents, the same islands, the same oceans and seas, another
Fuji-Yama is beautiful there dominating another Yokohama - and
another Matterhorn overlooks the icy disorder of another Theodule.
It is so like our planet that a terrestrial botanist might find his
every species there, even to the meanest pondweed or the remotest
Alpine blossom....

Only when he had gathered that last and turned about to find his inn
again, perhaps he would not find his inn!

Suppose now that two of us were actually to turn about in just that
fashion. Two, I think, for to face a strange planet, even though it
be a wholly civilised one, without some other familiar backing,
dashes the courage overmuch. Suppose that we were indeed so
translated even as we stood. You figure us upon some high pass in
the Alps, and though I - being one easily made giddy by stooping - am
no botanist myself, if my companion were to have a specimen tin
under his arm - so long as it is not painted that abominable popular
Swiss apple green - I would make it no occasion for quarrel! We have
tramped and botanised and come to a rest, and, sitting among rocks,
we have eaten our lunch and finished our bottle of Yvorne, and
fallen into a talk of Utopias, and said such things as I have been
saying. I could figure it myself upon that little neck of the
Lucendro Pass, upon the shoulder of the Piz Lucendro, for there once
I lunched and talked very pleasantly, and we are looking down upon
the Val Bedretto, and Villa and Fontana and Airolo try to hide from
us under the mountain side - three-quarters of a mile they are
vertically below. (Lantern.) With that absurd nearness of effect
one gets in the Alps, we see the little train a dozen miles away,
running down the Biaschina to Italy, and the Lukmanier Pass beyond
Piora left of us, and the San Giacomo right, mere footpaths under
our feet....

And behold! in the twinkling of an eye we are in that other
world!

We should scarcely note the change. Not a cloud would have gone from
the sky. It might be the remote town below would take a different
air, and my companion the botanist, with his educated observation,
might almost see as much, and the train, perhaps, would be gone out
of the picture, and the embanked straightness of the Ticino in the
Ambri-Piotta meadows - that might be altered, but that would be all
the visible change. Yet I have an idea that in some obscure manner
we should come to feel at once a difference in things.

The botanist's glance would, under a subtle attraction, float back
to Airolo. "It's queer," he would say quite idly, "but I never
noticed that building there to the right before."


1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryH.G. WellsA Modern Utopia → online text (page 1 of 22)