H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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

. (page 11 of 21)
Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 11 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of exercise for such thinking as it did, and, as a
consequence, the dignified newspapers of that



time were able to discuss, and indeed were required
to discuss, not only specific situations, but general
principles. That, indeed, was their principal func-
tion, and it fell rather to the eloquent men to mis-
apply these principles according to the necessity
of the occasion. The papers did then very much
more than they do now to mould opinion, though
they did not direct affairs to anything like the
extent of their modern successors. They made
roads upon which events presently travelled in
unexpected fashions. But the often cheaper and
always more vivid newspapers that have come
with the new democracy do nothing to mould
opinion. Indeed, there is no longer upon most
public questions and as I have tried to make
clear in my previous paper, there is not likely to
be any longer a collective opinion to be mould-
ed. Protectionists, for example, are a mere band;
free-traders are a mere band; on all these details
we are in chaos. And these modern newspapers
simply endeavor to sustain a large circulation,
and so merit advertisements, by being as mis-
cellaneously and vividly interesting as possible,
bj T firing where the crowd seems thickest, by seek-
ing perpetually, and without any attempt at con-
sistency, the greatest excitement of the greatest
number. It is upon the cultivation and rapid
succession of inflammatory topics that the modern
newspaper expends its capital and trusts to recover
its reward. Its general news sinks steadily to a



subordinate position; criticism, discussion, and
high responsibility pass out of journalism, and the
power of the press comes more and more to be a
dramatic and emotional power, the power to cry
" Fire!" in the theatre, the power to give enormous
value for a limited time to some personality, some
event, some aspect, true or false, without any
power of giving a specific direction to the forces
this distortion may set going. Directly the press
of to-day passes from that sort of thing to some
specific proposal, some implication of principles
and beliefs, directly it chooses and selects, then it
passes from the miscellaneous to the sectarian,
and out of touch with the gray mdefiniteness of
the general mind. It gives offence here, it perplexes
and bores there; no more than the boss politician,
can the paper of great circulation afford to work
consistently for any ulterior aim.

This is the limit of the power of the modern news-
paper of large circulation, the newspaper that
appeals to the gray element, to the average demo-
cratic man, the newspaper of the deliquescence, and
if our previous conclusion, that human society has
ceased to be homogeneous and will presently dis-
play new masses segregating from a great con-
fusion, holds good, that will be the limit of its
power in the future. It may undergo many re-
markable developments and modifications,* but

* The nature of these modifications is an interesting side
issue. There is every possibility of papers becoming at last papers



none of these tend to give it any greater political
importance than it has now. And so, after all,
our considerations of the probable developments

of world-wide circulation, so far as the language in which they
are printed permits, with editions that will follow the sun and
change into to-morrow's issue as they go, picking up literary
criticism here, financial intelligence there, here to-morrow's
story, and there to-morrow's scandal, and, like some vast in-
tellectual garden-roller, rolling out local provincialism at every
revolution. This, for papers in English, at any rate, is merely
a question of how long it will be before the price of the best writing
(for journalistic purposes) rises actually or relatively above
the falling cost of long-distance electrical type-setting. Each
of the local editions of these world-travelling papers, in addition
to the identical matter that will appear almost simultaneously
everywhere, will no doubt have its special matter and its special
advertisements. Illustrations will be telegraphed just as well
as matter, and probably a much greater use will be made of
sketch and diagram than at present. If the theory advanced
in this book, that democracy is a transitory confusion, be sound,
there will not be one world paper of this sort only like Moses'
serpent after its miraculous struggle but several, and as the
non-provincial segregation of society goes on, these various great
papers will take on more and more decided specific characteristics,
and lose more and more their local references. They will come
to have not only a distinctive type of matter, a distinctive method
of thought and manner of expression, but distinctive funda-
mental implications, and a distinctive class of writer. This dif-
ference in character and tone renders the advent of any Napole-
onic master of the newspaper world vastly more improbable
than it would otherwise be. These specializing newspapers
will, as they find their class, throw out many features that do
not belong to that class. It is highly probable that many will
restrict the space devoted to news and sham news that forged
and inflated stuff made in offices that bulks out the foreign
intelligence of so many English papers, for example. At present
every paper contains a little of everything : inadequate sporting
stuff, inadequate financial stuff, vague literary matter, volumi-
nous reports of political vaporings, because no newspaper is
quite sure of the sort of readers it has probably no daily news-
paper has yet a distinctive sort of reader.



of the party machine give us only negative re-
sults so long as the gray social confusion contin-
ues. Subject to that continuance the party ma-
Many people, with their minds inspired by the number of
editions which evening papers pretend to publish, and do not,
incline to believe that daily papers may presently give place
to hourly papers, each with the last news of the last sixty minutes
photographically displayed. As a matter of fact, no human
being wants that, and very few are so foolish as to think they
do; the only kind of news that any sort of people clamors for
hot and hot is financial and betting fluctuations, lottery lists
and examination results ; and the elaborated and cheapened
telegraphic and telephonic system of the coming days, with
tapes (or phonograph to replace them) in every post-office and
nearly every private house, so far from expanding this depart-
ment, will probably sweep it out of the papers altogether. One
will subscribe to a news agency, which will wire all the stuff
one cares to have so violently fresh into a phonographic re-
corder, perhaps, in some convenient corner. There the thing
will be in every house, beside the barometer, to hear or ignore.
With the separation of that function what is left of the news-
paper will revert to one daily edition daily, I think, because
of the power of habit to make the newspaper the specific business
of some definite moments in the day ; the breakfast hour, I sup-
pose, or the " up-to-town " journey with most Englishmen now.
Quite possibly some one will discover some day that there is
now machinery for folding and fastening a paper into a form
that will not inevitabl3 r get into the butter, or lead to bitterness
in a railway carriage. This pitch of development reached, I
incline to anticipate daily papers much more like the Spectator
in form than these present mainsails of our public life. They
will probably not contain fiction at all, and poetry only rarely,
because no one but a partial imbecile wants these things in
punctual daily doses, and we are anticipating an escape from
a period of partial imbecility. My own culture and turn of
mind, which is probably akin to that of a respectable mechanic
of the year 2000. inclines me towards a daily paper that will
have, in addition to its concentrated and absolutely trustworthy
daily news, full and luminous accounts of new inventions, new
theories, and new departures of all sorts (usually illustrated),
witty and penetrating comments upon public affairs, criticisms

I 77


chine will probably continue as it is at present,
and democratic states and governments follow the
lines upon which they run at the present time.

of all sorts of things, representations of newly produced works
of art, and an ample amount of ably written controversy upon
everything under the sun. The correspondence columns, in-
stead of being an exercising place for bores and conspicuous
people who are not mercenary, will be the most ample, the most
carefully collected, and the most highly paid of all departments
in this paper. Personal paragraphs will be relegated to some
obscure and costly corner next to the births, deaths, and mar-
riages. This paper will have, of course, many pages of business
advertisements, and these will usually be well worth looking
through, for the more intelligent editors of the days to come
will edit this department just like anj' other, and classify tlieir
advertisements in a descending scale of freshness and interest
that will also be an ascending scale of price. The advertiser
who wants to be an indecent bore, and vociferate for the ten-
millionth time some flatulent falsehood, about a pill, for instance,
will pay at nuisance rates. Probably many papers will refuse
to print nasty and distressful advertisements about people's
insides at all. The entire paper will be as free from either gray-
ness or offensive stupidity in its advertisement columns as the
shop windows in Bond Street to-day, and for much the same
reason because the people who go that way do not want that
sort of thing.

It has been supposed that, since the real income of the news-
paper is derived from advertisements, large advertisers will
combine in the future to own papers confined to the advertise-
ments of their specific wares. Some such monopoly is already
attempted ; several publishing firms own, or partially own, a
number of provincial papers, which they adorn with strange
" Book Chat " columns conspicuously deficient in their in-
formation ; and a well-known cycle-tire firm supplies " Cycling "
columns that are mere pedestals for the Head-of-King-Charles
make of tire. Many quack firms publish and give away annual
almanacs replete with economical illustrations, offensive details,
and bad jokes. But I venture to think, in spite of such phe-
nomena, that these suggestions and attempts are made with a
certain disregard of the essential conditions of sound advertise-
ment. Sound advertisement consists in perpetual alertness

I 7 8


Now, how will the emergent class of capable men
presently begin to modify the existing form of
government in the ostensibly democratic countries
and democratic monarchies? There will be very
many variations and modifications of the methods
of this arrival, an infinite complication of detailed
incidents, but a general proposition will be found to
hold good. The suppression of the party machine
in the . purely democratic countries and of the
official choice of the rich and privileged rulers in the
more monarchical ones, by capable operative and
administrative men inspired by the belief in a

and newness, in appearance in new places and in new aspects,
in the constant access to fresh minds. The devotion of a news-
paper to the interest of one particular make of a commodity
or group of commodities will inevitably rob its advertisement
department of most of its interest for the habitual readers of
the paper. That is to say, the newspaper will fail in what is
one of the chief attractions of a good newspaper. Moreover,
such a devotion will react upon all the other matter in the paper,
because the editor will need to be constantly alert to exclude
seditious reflections upon the Health-Extract-of-Horse-Flesh
or Saved-by-Boiling Jam. His sense of this relation will taint
his self-respect and make him a less capable editor than a man
whose sole affair is to keep his paper interesting. To these more
interesting rival papers the excluded competitor will be driven,
and the reader will follow in his wake. There is little more
wisdom in the proprietor of an article in popular demand buying
or creating a newspaper to contain all his advertisements than
in his buying a coal pit for the same purpose. Such a privacy
of advertisement will never work, I think, on a large scale ; it
is probably at or near its maximum development now, and this
anticipation of the advertiser-owned paper, like that of hourly
papers, and that wonderfully powerful cosmic newspaper syn-
dicate, is simply another instance of prophesying based only
on a present trend, an expansion of the obvious, instead of an
analysis of determining forces.



common theory of social order, will come about
peacefully and gradually as a process of change,
or violently as a revolution but inevitably as the
outcome either of the imminence or else of the
disasters of war.

That all these governments of confusion will
drift towards war, with a spacious impulse and a
final vehemence quite out of comparison greater
than the warlike impulses of former times, is a
remarkable but by no means inexplicable thing.
A tone of public expression, jealous and patriotic
to the danger-point, is an unavoidable condition
under which democratic governments exist. To be
patriotically quarrelsome is imperative upon the
party machines that will come to dominate the
democratic countries. They will not possess de-
tailed and definite policies and creeds, because
there are no longer any detailed and definite public
opinions, but they will, for all that, require some
ostensible purpose to explain their cohesion, some
hold upon the common man that will insure his
appearance in numbers at the polling - place suf-
ficient to save the government from the raids of
small but determined sects. That hold can be
only of one sort. Without moral or religious
uniformity, with material interests as involved
and confused as a heap of spelicans, there remains
only one generality for the politician's purpose,
the ampler aspect of a man's egotism, his pride
in what he imagines to be his particular kind



his patriotism. In every country amenable to
democratic influences there emerges, or will emerge,
a party machine, vividly and simply patriotic
and indefinite upon the score of any other possible
consideration between man and man. This will
hold true, not only of the ostensibly democratic
states, but also of such reconstituted modern mon-
archies as Italy and Germany, for they, too, for
all their legal difference, rest also on the gray.
The party conflicts of the future will turn very
largely on the discovery of the true patriot, on
the suspicion that the crown or the machine in
possession is in some more or less occult way
traitorous, and almost all other matters of con-
tention will be shelved and allowed to stagnate,
for fear of breaking the unity of the national

Now, patriotism is not a thing that flourishes in
the void one needs a foreigner. A national and
patriotic party is an anti-foreign party ; the altar of
the modern god, democracy, will cry aloud for the
stranger men. Simply to keep in power, and out of
no love of mischief, the government or the party
machine will have to insist upon dangers and na-
tional differences, to keep the voter to the poll by
alarms, seeking ever to taint the possible nucleus
of any competing organization with the scandal
of external influence. The party press will play
the watch-dog and allay all internal dissensions
with its warning bay at some adjacent people,



and the adjacent peoples, for reasons to be pres-
ently expanded, will be continually more sensi-
tive to such baying. Already one sees country
yelping at country all over the modern world,
not only in the matter of warlike issues, but with
a note of quite furious commercial rivalry quiet
furious, and indeed quite insane, since its ideal
of trading enormously with absolutely ruined and
tradeless foreigners, exporting everything and
importing nothing, is obviously outside reason
altogether. The inexorable doom of these govern-
ments based on the gray is to foster enmity be-
tween people and people. Even their alliances are
but sacrifices to intenser antagonisms. And the
phases of the democratic sequence are simple and
sure. Forced on by a relentless competition, the
tone of the outcries will become fiercer and fiercer ;
the occasions of excitement, the perilous moments,
the ingenuities of annoyance, more and more
dramatic from the mere emptiness and disorder
of the general mind! Jealousies and anti-foreign
enactments, tariff manipulations and commercial
embitterment, destructive, foolish, exasperating ob-
structions that benefit no human being, will min-
ister to this craving without completely allaying
it. Nearer, and ever nearer, the politicians of the
coming times will force one another towards the
verge, not because they want to go over it, not
because any one wants to go over it, but because
they are, by their very nature, compelled to go



that way, because to go in any other direction is
to break up and lose power. And, consequently,
the final development of the democratic system, so
far as intrinsic forces go, will be, not the rule of the
boss, nor the rule of the trust, nor the rule of the
newspaper; no rule, indeed, but international
rivalry, international competition, international
exasperation and hostility, and at last irresistible
and overwhelming the definite establishment of
the rule of that most stern and educational of all
masters War.

At this point there opens a tempting path, and
along it historical precedents, like a forest of notice-
boards, urge us to go. At the end of the vista
poses the figure of Napoleon, with "Caesarism"
written beneath it. Disregarding certain alien con-
siderations for a time, assuming the free working
out of democracy to its conclusion, we perceive
that, in the case of our generalized state, the party
machine, together with the nation intrusted to it,
must necessarily be forced into passionate nation-
al war. But, having blundered into war, the party
machine will have an air of having accomplished
its destiny. A party machine or a popular govern-
ment is surely as likely a thing to cause a big
disorder of war and as unlikely a thing to conduct
it, as the wit of man, working solely to that end,
could ever have devised. I have already pointed
out why we can never expect an elected govern-
ment of the modern sort to be guided by any far-



reaching designs; it is constructed to get office and
keep office, not to do anything in office; the con-
ditions of its survival are to keep appearances up
and taxes down,* and the care and management
of army and navy is quite outside its possibilities.
The military and naval professions in our typical
modern state will subsist very largely upon tra-
dition; the ostensible government will interfere
with rather than direct them, and there will be no
force in the entire scheme to check the corrupting

* One striking illustration of the distinctive possibilities of
democratic government came to light during the last term of
office of the present patriotic British government. As a demon-
stration of patriotism large sums of money were voted annually
for the purpose of building warships, and the patriotic common
man paid the taxes gladly with a dream of irresistible naval
predominance to sweeten the payment. But the money was
not spent on warships ; only a portion of it was spent, and the
rest remained to make a surplus and warm the heart of the com-
mon man in his tax-paying capacity. This artful dodge was
repeated for several years ; the artful dodger is now a peer, no
doubt abjectly respected, and nobody in the most patriotic party
so far evolved is a bit the worse for it. In the organizing ex-
pedients bf all popular governments, as in the prospectuses
of unsound companies, the disposition is to exaggerate the
nominal capital at the expense of the working efficiency. Demo-
cratic armies and navies are always short, and probably will
always be short, of ammunition, paint, training, and reserve
stores ; battalions and ships, since they count as units, are over-
numerous and go short-handed, and democratic army reform
almost invariably works out to some device for multiplying
units by fission, and counting men three times instead of twice
in some ingenious and plausible way. And this must be so,
because the sort of men who come inevitably to power under
democratic conditions are men trained by all the conditions of
their lives to so set appearances before realities as at last to be-
come utterly incapable of realities.



influence of a long peace, to insist upon adequate
exercises for the fighting organization or insure
an adequate adaptation to the new and perpetual-
ly changing possibilities of untried apparatus.
Incapable but confident and energetic persons hav-
ing political influence will have been permitted to
tamper with the various arms of the service; the
equipment will be largely devised to create an
impression of efficiency in times of peace in the
minds of the general voting public, and the real-
ly efficient soldiers will either have fretted them-
selves out of the army or have been driven out as
political non - effectives, troublesome, innovating
persons anxious to spend money upon "fads."-
So armed, the new democracy will blunder into
war, and the opening stage of the next great war
will be the catastrophic breakdown of the for-
mal armies, shame and disasters, and a disorder
of conflict between more or less equally matched
masses of stupefied, scared, and infuriated people.
Just how far the thing may rise from the value of
an alarming and edifying incident to a universal
catastrophe depends upon the special nature of
the conflict, but it does not alter the fact that
any considerable war is bound to be a bitter, ap-
palling, highly educational, and constitution-
shaking experience for the modern democratic

Now, foreseeing this possibility, it is easy to step
into the trap of the Napoleonic precedent. One



hastens to foretell that either with the pressure of
coming war, or in the hour of defeat, there will
arise the man. He will be strong in action, epi-
grammatic in manner, personally handsome, and
continually victorious. He will sweep aside parlia-
ments and demagogues, carry the nation to glory,
reconstruct it as an empire, and hold it together
by circulating his profile and organizing further,
successes. He will I gather this from chance
lights upon Contemporary anticipations codify
everything, rejuvenate the papacy, or, at any rate,
galvanize Christianity, organize learning in meek,
intriguing academies of little men, and prescribe
a wonderful educational system. The grateful
nations will once more deify a lucky and aggres-
sive egotism. . . . And there the vision loses

Nothing of the sort is going to happen, or, at any
rate, if it happens, it will happen as an interlude,
as no necessary part in the general progress of the
human drama. The world is no more to be recast
by chance individuals than a city is to be lit by
sky-rockets. The purpose of things emerges upon
spacious issues, and the day of individual leaders
is past. The analogies and precedents that lead
one to forecast the coming of military one-man-
dominions, the coming of such other parodies of
Caesar's career as that misapplied, and speedily
fiitile chess champion, Napoleon I. contrived, are
false. They are false because they ignore two



correlated things : first, the steady development of
a new and quite unprecedented educated class as
a necessary aspect of the expansion of science and
mechanism ; and, secondly, the absolute revolution
in the art of war that science and mechanism are
bringing about. This latter consideration the next
chapter will expand, but here, in the interests of
this discussion, we may in general terms anticipate
its gist. War in the past has been a thing entire-
ly different in its nature from what war, with the
apparatus of the future, will be; it lias been showy,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsAnticipations of the reaction of mechanical and scientific progress upon human life and thought → online text (page 11 of 21)