H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

Anticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought online

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and that a really functional social body of en-
gineering, managing men, scientifically trained
and having common ideals and interests, is likel} 7
to segregate and disentangle itself from our pres-
ent confusion of aimless and ill-directed lives. It
has been pointed out that life is presenting an
unprecedented and increasing variety of morals,
m&nages, occupations, and types, at present so

157



ANTICIPATIONS

mingled as to give a general effect of grayness
but containing the promise of local concentration
that ma3 r presently change that grayness into
kaleidoscopic effects. That image of concentrating,
contrasted colors will be greatly repeated in this
present chapter. In the course of these inquiries,
we have permitted ourselves to take a few concrete
glimpses of households, costumes, conveyances,
and conveniences of the coming time, but only as
incidental realizations of points in this general
thesis. And now, assuming, as we must neces-
sarily do, the soundness of these earlier specula-
tions, we have arrived at a stage when we may
consider how the existing arrangements for the
ostensible government of the state are likely to
develop through their own inherent forces, and
how they are likely to be affected by the processes
we have forecast.

So far, this has been a speculation upon the
probable development of a civilized society in
vacuo. Attention has been almost exclusively
given to the forces of development, and not to the
forces of conflict and restraint. We have ignored
the boundaries of language that are flung athwart
the great lines of modern communication ; we have
disregarded the friction of tariffs, the peculiar
groups of prejudices and irrational instincts that in-
spire one miscellany of share-holders, workers, finan-
ciers, and superfluous poor such as the English,
to hate, exasperate, lie about, and injure another



THE LIFE-HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY

such miscellany as the French or the Germans.
Moreover, we have taken very little account of the
fact that, quite apart from nationality, each in-
dividual case of the new social order is developing
within the form of a legal government based on
conceptions of a society that has been superseded
by the advent of mechanism. It is this last matter
that we are about to take into consideration.

Now this age is being constantly described as
a "democratic" age; "democracy" is alleged to
have affected art, literature, trade, and religion
alike in the most remarkable ways. It is not
only tacitly present in the great bulk of contem-
porary thought that this "democracy" is now
dominant, but that it is becoming more and more
overwhelmingly predominant as the years pass.
Allusions to democracy are so abundant, de-
ductions from its influence so confident and uni-
versal, that it is worth while to point out what a
very hollow thing the word in most cases really
is a large, empty object in thought, of the most
vague and faded associations and the most at-
tenuated content, and to inquire just exactly what
the original implications and present realities of
"democracy" may be. The inquiry will leave
us with a very different conception of the nature
and future of this sort of political arrangement
from that generally assumed. We have al-
ready seen, in the discussion of the growth of
great cities, that an analytical process may ab-

IS9



ANTICIPATIONS

solutely invert the expectation based on the gross
results up to date, and I believe it. will be equally
possible to show cause for believing that the devel-
opment of democracy also is, after all, not the open-
ing phase of a world- wide movement going on
unbendingly in its present direction, but the first
impulse of forces that will finally sweep round into
a quite different path. Flying off at a tangent is
probably one of the gravest dangers, and certain-
ly the one most constantly present, in this enter-
prise of prophecy.

One may, I suppose, take the Rights of Man as
they are embodied in the French declaration as the
ostentations of democracy ; our present democratic
state may be regarded as a practical realization of
these claims. As far as the individual goes, the re-
alization takes the form of an untrammelled liberty
in matters that have heretofore been considered a
part of social procedure, in the lifting of positive
religious and moral compulsions, in the recognition
of absolute property, and in the abolition of spe-
cial privileges and special restrictions. Politically,
modern democracy takes the form of denying that
any specific person or persons shall act as a matter
of intrinsic right or capachy on behalf of the com-
munity as a whole. Its root-idea is representation.
Government is based primarily on election, and
every ruler is, in theory at least, a delegate and ser-
vant of the popular will. It is implicit in the dem-
ocratic theory that there is such a thing as a pop-

160



THE LIFE-HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY

ular will, and this is supposed to be the net sum
of the wills of all the citizens in the state, so far
as public affairs are concerned. In its less perfect
and more usual state the democratic theory is ad-
vanced either as an ethical theory which pos-
tulates an absence of formal acquiescence on
the part of the governed as injustice, or else as
a convenient political compromise, the least ob-
jectionable of all possible methods of public con-
trol, because it will permit only the minimum of
general unhappiness. ... I know of no case for
the elective democratic government of modern
states that cannot be knocked to pieces in five
minutes. It is manifest that upon countless im-
portant public issues there is no collective will,
and nothing in the mind of the average man ex-
cept blank indifference; that an electional sys-
tem simply places power in the hands of the most
skilful electioneers; that neither men nor their
rights are identically equal, but vary with every
individual, and, above all, that the minimum or
maximum of general happiness is related only
so indirectly to the public control that people will
suffer great miseries from their governments un-
resistingly, and, on the other hand, change their
rulers on account of the most trivial irritations.
The case against all the prolusions of ostensible
democracy is, indeed, so strong that it is impos-
sible to consider the present wide establishment of
democratic institutions as being the outcome of
" 161



ANTICIPATIONS

any process of intellectual conviction; it arouses
suspicion even whether ostensible -democracy may
not be a mere rhetorical garment for essentially
different facts, and upon that suspicion we will
now inquire.

Democracy of the modern type manhood suf-
frage, and so forth became a conspicuous phe-
nomenon in the world only in the closing decades of
the eighteenth century. Its genesis is so intimately
connected with the first expansion of the productive
element in the state, through mechanism and a
co-operative organization, as to point at once to a
causative connection. The more closely one looks
into the social and political life of the eighteenth
century, the more plausible becomes this view. New
and potentially influential social factors had begun
to appear the organizing manufacturer, the in-
telligent worker, the skilled tenant, and the urban
abyss, and the traditions of the old land-owning,
non-progressive, aristocratic monarchy that pre-
vailed in Christendom rendered it incapable
without some destructive shock or convulsion
of any reorganization to incorporate or control
these new factors. In the case of the British em-
pire an additional stress was created by the inca-
pacity of the formal government to assimilate the
developing civilization of the American colonies.
Everywhere there were new elements, not as yet
clearly analyzed or defined, arising as mechanism
arose; everywhere the old traditional government

162



THE LIFE-HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY

and social system, defined and analyzed all too
well, appeared increasingly obstructive, irrational,
and feeble in its attempts to include and direct
these new powers. But now comes a point to
which I am inclined to attach very great importance.
The new powers were as yet shapeless. It was
not the conflict of a new organization with the old.
It was the preliminary dwarfing and deliquescence
of the mature old beside the embryonic mass of
the new. It was impossible then it is, I believe,
only beginning to be possible now to estimate
the proportions, possibilities, and inter-relations of
the new social orders out of which a social organi- .
zation has still to be built in the coming years.
No formula of definite reconstruction had been
evolved, or has even been evolved yet, after a hun-
dred years. And these swelling, inchoate new
powers, whose very birth-condition was the crip-
pling, modification, or destruction of the old order,
were almost forced to formulate their proceedings
for a time, therefore, in general affirmative propo-
sitions that were really in effect not affirmative
propositions at all, but propositions of repudiation
and denial. " These kings and nobles and people
privileged in relation to obsolescent functions
cannot manage our affairs" that was evident
enough, that was the really essential question at
that time, and since no other effectual substitute
appeared ready made, the working doctrine of the
infallible judgment of humanity in the gross, as

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ANTICIPATIONS

distinguished from the quite indisputable incapacity
of sample individuals, became, in spite of its inher-
ent absurdity, a convenient and acceptable work-
ing hypothesis.

Modern democracy thus came into being, riot, as
eloquent persons have pretended, by the sovereign
people consciously and definitely assuming power
I imagine the sovereign people in France during
the first revolution, for example, quite amazed
and muddle-headed with it all but by the decline
of old ruling classes in the face of the quasi-natural
growth of mechanism and industrialism, and by
the unpreparedness and want of organization in
the new intelligent elements in the state. I have
compared the human beings in society to a great
and increasing variety of colors tumultuously
smashed up together, and giving at present a
general and quite illusory effect of gray, and I
have attempted to show that there is a process in
progress that will amount at last to the segrega-
tion of these mingled tints into recognizable, dis-
tinct masses again. It is not a monotony, but
an utterly disorderly and confusing variety that
makes this gray; but democracy, for practical
purposes, does really assume such a monotony.
Like OO, the democratic formula is a concrete-
looking and negotiable symbol for a negation.
It is the aspect in political disputes and contri-
vances of that social and moral deliquescence
the nature and possibilities of which have been

164



THE LIFE- HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY

discussed in the preceding papers of this se-
ries.

Modern democracy first asserted itself in the
ancient kingdoms of France and Great Britain
(counting the former British colonies in America
as a part of the latter), and it is in the French and
English-speaking communities that democracy
has developed itself most completely. Upon the
supposition we have made, democracy broke out
first in these states because they were leading the
way in material progress, because they were the
first states to develop industrialism, wholesale
mechanisms, and great masses of insubordinate
activity outside the recognized political scheme,
and the nature and time and violence of the out-
break were determined by the nature of the super-
seded government, and the amount of stress
between it and the new elements. But the detach-
ment of a great section of the new middle-class
from the aristocratic order of England to form the
United States of America, and the sudden re-
juvenescence of France by the swift and thorough
sloughing of its outworn aristocratic monarchy,
the consequent wars, and the Napoleonic advent-
ure, checked and modified the parallel development
that might otherwise have happened in country
after country over all Europe west of the Car-
pathians. The monarchies that would probably
have collapsed through internal forces and given
place to modern democratic states were smashed

165



ANTICIPATIONS

from the outside, and a process of political recon-
struction, that has probably missed out the com-
plete formal democratic phase altogether and
which has been enormously complicated through
religious, national, and dynastic traditions set
in. Throughout America, in England, and, after
extraordinary -experiments, in France, political
democracy has, in effect, legally established itself
most completely in the United States and the
reflection and influence of its methods upon the
methods of all the other countries in intellectual
contact with it have been so considerable as prac-
tically to make their monarchies as new in their
kind, almost, as democratic republics. In Germany,
Austria, and Italy, for example, there is a press
nearly as audible as in the more frankly democrat-
ic countries, and measurably akin in influence;
there are constitutionally established legislative as-
semblies, and there is the same unofficial develop-
ment of powerful financial and industrial powers
with which the ostensible government must make
terms. In a vast amount of the public discussion
of these states, the postulates of democracy are
clearly implicit. Quite as much in reality as the
democratic republics of America, are they based
not on classes, but upon a confusion; they are,
in their various degrees and with their various in-
dividual differences, just as truly governments of
the gray.

It has been argued that the gray is illusory, and
166



THE LIFE-HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY

must sooner or later pass, and that the color that
will emerge to predominance will take its shape as
a scientifically trained middle-class of an unprec-
edented sort, not arising out of the older middle-
classes, but replacing them. This class will
become, I believe, at last consciously the state,
controlling and restricting very greatly the three
non-functional masses with which it is as yet
almost indistinguishably mingled. The general
nature of its formation within the existing con-
fusion and its emergence may, I think, with a
certain degree of confidence, be already forecast,
albeit at present its beginnings are singularly un-
promising and faint. At present the class of
specially trained and capable people doctors, en-
gineers, scientific men of all sorts is quite dis-
proportionally absent from political life; it does
not exist as a factor in that life; it is growing up
outside that life, and has still to develop, much more
to display, a collective intention to come specifical-
ly in. But the forces are in active operation to
drag it into the centre of the stage for all that.

The modern democracy, or democratic quasi-
monarchy, conducts its affairs as though there was
no such thing as special knowledge or practical
education. The utmost recognition it affords to the
man who has taken the pains to know, and specif-
ically to do, is occasionally to consult him upon
specific points and override his counsels in its
ampler wisdom, or to intrust to him some otherwise

167



ANTICIPATIONS

impossible duty under circumstances of extreme
limitation. The man of special equipment is treat-
ed always as if he were some sort of curious per-
forming animal. The gunnery specialist, for ex-
ample, may move and let off guns, but he may not
say where they are to be let off some one a little
ignorant of range and trajectory does that ; the en-
gineer may move the ship and fire the battery, but
only with some man, who does not perfectly un-
derstand, shouting instructions down a tube at
him. If the cycle is to be adapted to military
requirements, the thing is intrusted to Lieutenant-
Colonel Balfour. If horses are to be bought for
the British army in India, no specialist goes, but
Lord Edward Cecil. These people of the govern-
ing class do not understand there is such a thing
as special knowledge or an inexorable fact in the
world; they have been educated at schools con-
ducted by amateur school-masters, whose real aim
in life if such people can be described as having a
real aim in life is the episcopal bench, and they
have learned little or nothing but the extraordinary
power of appearances in these democratic times.
To look right and to be of good report is to succeed
what else is there ? The primarily functional
men are ignored in the ostensible political scheme;
it operates as though they did not exist, as though
nothing, in fact, existed but the irresponsible
wealthy, and the manipulators of irresponsible
wealth, on the one hand, and a great, gray, politi-

168



THE LIFE-HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY

cally indifferent community on the other. Having
regard only to the present condition of political
life, it would seem as though this state of affairs
must continue indefinitely, and develop only in
accordance with the laws of inter-action between
our charlatan governing class on the one hand
and the gray mass of governed on the other. There
is no way apparent in the existing political and
social order whereby the class of really educated
persons that the continually more complicated
mechanical fabric of social life is developing
may be expected to come in. And in a very great
amount of current political speculation the develop-
ment and final emergence of this class is ignored,
and attention is concentrated entirely upon the in-
herent process of development of the political ma-
chine. And even in that it is very easy to exag-
gerate the preponderance of one or other of what
are really very evenly balanced forces in the ma-
chine of democratic government.

There are two chief sets of parts in the ma-
chine that have a certain antagonistic relation,
that play against each other, and one's conception
of coming developments is necessarily determined
by the relative value one gives to these opposing
elements. One may compare these two groups
to the power and the work, respectively, at the
two ends of a lever.* On the one hand there is

* The fulcrum, which is generally treated as being absolutely
immovable, being the general belief in the theory of democracy.

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ANTICIPATIONS

that which pays for the machine, which distributes
salaries and rewards, subsidizes newspapers, and
so forth the central influence.* On the other
hand there is the collectively gray voting mass,
with certain prejudices and traditions, and certain
laws and limitations of thought upon which the
newspapers work, and which, within the confines
of its inherent laws, they direct. If one dwell
chiefly on the possibilities of the former element,
one may conjure up a practical end to democracy
in the vision of a state " run " entirely by a group
of highly forcible and intellectual persons usual-
ly the dream takes the shape of financiers and
their associates, their perfected mechanism of party
control working the elections boldly and capably,
and their public policy being directed towards
financial ends. One of the common prophecies of
the future of the United States is such a domina-
tion by a group of trust organizers and political
bosses. But a man, or a group of men, so strong
and intelligent as would be needed to hold an
entire party machine within the confines of his

* In the United States, a vast, rapidly developing country,
with relatively much kinetic wealth, this central influence is
the financial support of the boss, consisting, for the most part,
of active-minded, capable business organizers ; in England,
the land where irresponsible realized wealth is at a maximum,
a public-spirited section of the irresponsible, inspired by the
tradition of an aristocratic functional past, qualifies the financial
influence with an amateurish, indolent, and publicly unprofitable
integrity. In Germany an aggressively functional court oc-
cupies the place and plays the part of a permanently dominant
party machine.

170



THE LIFE- HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY

or their collective mind and will, could, at the
most, be but a very transitory and incidental
phenomenon in the history of the world. Either
such an exploitation of the central control will
have to be covert and subtle beyond any precedent
in human disingenuousness, or else its domina-
tion will have to be very amply modified, indeed,
by the requirements of the second factor, and its
proceedings made very largely the resultant of
that second factor's forces. Moreover, very subtle
men do not aim at things of this sort, or aim-
ing, fail, because subtlety of intelligence involves
subtlety of character, a certain fastidiousness, and
a certain weakness. Now that the garrulous pe-
riod, when a flow of language and a certain effec-
tiveness of manner was a necessary condition to
political pre-eminence, is passing away, political
control falls more and more entirely into the
hands of a barristerish, intriguing sort of person
with a tough - wearing, leathery, practical mind.
The sort of people who will work the machine are
people with "faith," as the popular preachers say
meaning, in fact, people who do not analyze,
people who will take the machine as it is, unques-
tioningly shape their ambitions to it, and saving
their vanity work it as it wants to go. The man
who will be boss will be the man who wants to be
boss, who finds in being boss a complete and final
satisfaction, and not the man who complicates
things by wanting to be boss in order to be, or do,

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ANTICIPATIONS

something else. The machines are governed to-
day, and there is every reason to believe that they
will continue to be governed, by masterful-looking
resultants, masters of nothing but compromise,
and that little fancy of an inner conspiracy of
control within the machine and behind ostensible
politics is really on all fours with the wonderful
Rodin (of the Juif Errant), and as probable as
anything else in the romances of Eugene Sue.

If, on the other hand, we direct attention to
the antagonistic element in the machine, to public
opinion, to the alleged collective mind of the gray
mass, and consider how it is brought to believe in
itself and its possession of certain opinions by the
concrete evidence of daily newspapers and eloquent
persons saying as much, we may also very readily
conjure up a contrasted vision of extraordinary
demagogues or newspaper syndicates working
the political machine from that direction. So far
as the demagogue goes, the increase of popula-
tion, the multiplication of amusements and in-
terests, the differentiation of social habits, the
diffusion of great towns, all militate against that
sufficient gathering of masses of voters in meet-
ing-houses which gave him his power in the
recent past. It is improbable that ever again will
any flushed, undignified man with a vast voice,
a muscular face in incessant operation, collar
crumpled, hair disordered, and arms in wild ac-
tivity, talking, talking, talking, talking copiously

172



THE LIFE- HISTORY OF DEMOCRACY

out of the windows of railway carriages, talking
on railway platforms, talking from hotel balconies,
talking on tubs, barrels, scaffoldings, pulpits
tireless and undammable rise to be the most
powerful thing in any democratic state in the
world. Continually the individual vocal dema-
gogue dwindles, and the element of bands and
buttons, the organization of the press and pro-
cession, the share of the machine, grows.

IVIr. Harmsworth, of the London Daily Mail, in
a very interesting article has glanced at certain
possibilities of power that may vest in the owners
of a great system of world-wide " simultaneous "
newspapers, but he does not analyze the nature of
the influence exercised by newspapers during the
successive phases of the nineteenth century, nor
the probable modifications of that influence in the
years to come, and I think, on the whole, he in-
clines very naturally to over-estimate the amount
of intentional direction that may be given by the
owner of a paper to the minds and acts of his read-
ers, and to exceed the very definite limits within
which that influence is confined. In the earlier Vic-
torian period, the more limited, partly educated,
and still very homogeneous enfranchised class had
a certain habit of thinking ; its tranquil assurance
upon most theological and all moral and aesthetic
points left political questions as the chief field


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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 10 of 21)