H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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

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It follows manifestly that if we do really believe in
Almighty God, the more strenuously and success-
fully we seek in ourselves and His world to under-
stand the order and progress of things, and the
more clearly we apprehend His purpose, the more
assured and systematic will our ethical basis

If, like Huxley, we do not positively believe in
God, then we may still cling to an ethical system
which has become an organic part of our lives and
habits, and finding it manifestly in conflict with the
purpose in things, speak of the non-ethical order of
the universe. But to any one whose mind is per-
vaded by faith in God, a non-ethical universe in
conflict with the incomprehensibly ethical soul of
the agnostic is as incredible as a black-horned devil,
as an active material anti-god with hoofs, tail,
pitchfork, and Dunstan - scorched nose complete.
To believe completely in God is to believe in the
final Tightness of all being. The ethical system
that condemns the ways of life as wrong, or points
to the ways of death as right, that countenances
what the scheme of things condemns, and con-
demns the general purpose in things as it is now
revealed to us, must prepare to follow the theological



edifice upon which it was originally based. If the
universe is non-ethical by our present standards,
we must reconsider these standards and recon-
struct our ethics. To hesitate to do so, however
severe the conflict with old habits and tradi-
tions and sentiments may be, is to fall short of

Now, so far as the intellectual life of the world
goes, this present time is essentially the opening
phase of a period of ethical reconstruction, a re-
construction of which the new republic will pos-
sess the matured result. Throughout the nine-
teenth century there has been such a shattering
and recasting of fundamental ideas, of the pre-
liminaries to ethical propositions, as the world
has never seen before. This breaking down
and routing out of almost all the cardinal assump-
tions on which the minds of the eighteenth cen-
tury dwelt securely, is a process akin to, but inde-
pendent of, the development of mechanism, whose
consequences we have traced. It is a part of that
process of vigorous and fearless criticism which
is the reality of science, and of which the develop-
ment of mechanism and all that revolution in
physical and social conditions we have been trac-
ing, is me"ely the vast imposing material by-
product. At present, indeed, its more obvious as-
pect on the moral and ethical side is destruction;
any one can see the chips flying, but it still de-
mands a certain faith and patience to see the


form that ensues. But it is not destruction, any
more than a sculptor's work is stone-breaking.

The first chapter in the history of this intellectual
development, its definite and formal opening, coin-
cides with the opening of the nineteenth century
and the publication of Malthus's Essay on Pop-
ulation. Malthus is one of those cardinal figures
in intellectual history who state definitely for all
time things apparent enough after their formula-
tion, but never effectively conceded before. He
brought clearly and emphatically into the sphere
of discussion a vitally important issue that had
always been shirked and tabooed heretofore, the
fundamental fact that the main mass of the busi-
ness of human life centres about reproduction.
He stated in clear, hard, decent, and unavoidable
argument what presently Schopenhauer was to
discover and proclaim, in language, at times, it
would seem, quite unfitted for translation into
English. And, having made his statement, Mal-
thus left it, in contact with its immediate results.

Probably no more shattering book than the
Essay on Population has ever been, or ever will be,
written. It was aimed at the facile liberalism
of the deists and atheists of the eighteenth century;
it made as clear as daylight that all forms of social
reconstruction, all dreams of earthly golden ages,
must be either futile or insincere, or both, until the
problems of human increase were manfully faced.
It proffered no suggestions for facing them (in



spite of the unpleasant associations of Malthus's
name) ; it aimed simply to wither the rationalistic
Utopias of the time, and, by anticipation, all the
communisms, socialisms, and earthly paradise
movements that have since been so abundantly
audible in the world. That was its aim and its
immediate effect. Incidentally it must have been
a torturing soul-trap for innumerable idealistic
but intelligent souls. Its indirect effects have
been altogether greater. Aiming at unorthodox
dreamers, it has set such forces in motion as have
destroyed the very root-ideas of orthodox righteous-
ness in the western world. Impinging on geolog-
ical discovery, it awakened almost simultaneously
in the minds of Darwin and Wallace that train of
thought that found expression and demonstration
at last in the theory of natural selection. As that
theory has been more and more thorouglily as-
similated and understood by the general mind,
it has destroyed, quietly but entirely, the belief
in human equality which is implicit in all the
"liberalizing" movements of the world. In the
place of an essential equality, distorted only by
tradition and early training, by the artifices of
those devils of the liberal cosmogony, " kingcraft "
and "priestcraft," an equality as little affected
by color as the equality of a black chess -pawn
and a white, we discover that all men are individual
and unique, and, through long ranges of com-
parison, superior and inferior upon countless



scores. It has become apparent that whole masses
of human population are, as a whole, inferior in
their claim upon the future, to other masses, that
they cannot be given opportunities or trusted with
power as the superior peoples are trusted, that
their characteristic weaknesses are contagious and
detrimental in the civilizing fabric, and that their
range of incapacity tempts and demoralizes the
strong. To give them equality is to sink to their
level, to protect and cherish them is to be swamped
in their fecundity. The confident and optimistic
radicalism of the earlier nineteenth century, and
the humanitarian philanthropic type of liberalism,
have bogged themselves beyond hope in these
realizations. The socialist has shirked them as
he has shirked the older crux of Malthus. Liber-
alism is a thing of the past, with nothing . left
but leaders. There must follow some new-born

And as effectually has the mass of criticism that
centres about Darwin destroyed the dogma of the
Fall, upon which the whole intellectual fabric of
Christianity rests. For without a Fall there is no
redemption, and the whole theory and meaning
of the Pauline system is vain. In conjunction
with the wide vistas opened by geological and
astronomical discovery, the nineteenth century
has, indeed, lost the very habit of thought from
which the belief in a Fall arose. It is as if a hand
had been put upon the head of the thoughtful



man and had turned his eyes about from the past
to the future. In matters of intelligence, at least,
if not yet in matters of ethics and conduct, this
turning round has occurred. In the past, thought
was legal in its spirit; it deduced the present from
pre-existing prescription; it derived everything
from the offences and promises of the dead; the
idea of a universe of expiation was the most
natural theory amid such processes. The pur-
pose the older theologians saw in the world was
no more than the revenge accentuated by the
special treatment of a favored minority of a
mysteriously incompetent Deity exasperated by
an unsatisfactory creation. But modern thought
is altogether too constructive and creative to
tolerate such a conception, and in the vaster past
that has opened to us it can find neither offence
nor promise, only a spacious scheme of events,
opening out perpetually opening out with a
quality of final purpose as irresistible to most
men's minds as it is incomprehensible, opening
out with all that inexplicable quality of design
that, for example, some great piece of music, some
symphony of Beethoven's, conveys. We see future
beyond future and past behind past. It has been
like the coming of dawn, at first a colorless dawn,
clear and spacious, before which the mists whirl
and fade, and there opens to our eyes not the nar-
row passage, the definite end we had imagined,
but the rocky, ill-defined path we follow high amid



this limitless prospect of space and time. At first
the dawn is cold there is, at times, a quality of
terror almost in the cold clearness of the morning
twilight but insensibly its coldness passes, the
sky is touched with fire, and presently, up out
of the day-spring in the east, the sunlight will be
pouring. ... And these men of the new repub-
lic will be going about in the daylight of things

And men's concern under this ampler view will
no longer be to work out a system of penalties,
but to understand and participate in this great
development that now dawns on the human un-
derstanding. The insoluble problems of pain and
death, gaunt, incomprehensible facts as they were,
fall into place in the gigantic order that evo-
lution unfolds. All things are integral in the
mighty scheme; the slain builds up the slayer,
the wolf grooms the horse into swiftness, and
the tiger calls for wisdom and courage out of
man. All things are integral, but it has been
left for men to be consciously integral, to take,
at last, a share in the process, to have wills
that have caught a harmony with the universal
will, as sand-grains flash into splendor under the
blaze of the sun. There will be many who will
never be called to this religious conviction, who
will lead their little lives like fools, playing fool-
ishly with religion and all the great issues of life,
or like the beasts that perish, having sense alone;


but those who, by character and intelligence, are
predestinate to participate in the reality of life,
will fearlessly shape all their ethical determinations
and public policy anew, from a fearless study of
themselves and the apparent purpose that opens
out before them.

Very much of the cry for faith that sounds in
contemporary life so loudly, and often with so
distressing a note of sincerity, comes from the
unsatisfied egotisms of unemployed, and therefore
unhappy, and craving people; but much is also
due to the distress in the minds of active and serious
men, due to the conflict of inductive knowledge,
with conceptions of right and wrong deduced
from unsound but uncriticised first principles.
The old ethical principles, the principle of equiv-
alents or justice, the principle of self - sacrifice,
the various vague and arbitrary ideas of purity,
chastity, and sexual "sin," came like rays out of
the theological and philosophical lanterns men
carried in the darkness. The ray of the lantern
indicated and directed, and one followed it as one
follows a path. But now there has come a new
view of man's place in the scheme of time and
space, a new illumination dawn; the lantern
rays fade in the growing brightness, and the lan-
terns that shone so brightly are becoming smoky
and dim. To many men this is no more than a
waning of the lanterns, and they call for new
ones, or a trimming of the old. They blame the



day for putting out these flares. And some go
apart, out of the glare of life, into corners of ob-
scurity, where the radiation of the lantern may
still be faintly traced. But, indeed, with the new
light there has come the time for new methods;
the time of lanterns, the time of deductions from
arbitrary first principles is over. The act of faith
is no longer to follow your lantern, but to put it
down. We can see about us, and by the landscape
we must go.*

* It is an interesting by-way from our main thesis to speculate
on the spiritual pathology of the functionless wealthy, the half-
educated, independent women of the middle class, and the people
of the abyss. While the segregating new middle class, whose
religious and moral development forms our main interest, is
developing its spacious and confident theism, there will, I im-
agine, be a steady decay in the various Protestant congrega-
tions. They have played a noble part in the history of the world ;
their spirit will live forever, but their formulas and organization
wax old like a garment. Their moral austerity that touch
of contempt for the unsubstantial aesthetic which has always
distinguished Protestantism is naturally repellent to the ir-
responsible rich and to artistic people of the weaker type, and
the face of Protestantism has ever been firm even to hardness
against the self-indulgent, the idler, and the prolific, useless
poor. The rich as a class and the people of the abyss, so far
as they move towards any existing religious body, will be at-
tracted by the moral kindliness, the picturesque organization,
and venerable tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. We are
only in the very beginning of a great Roman Catholic revival.
The diversified country-side of the coming time will show many
a splendid cathedral, many an elaborate monastic palace, tower-
ing amid the abounding colleges and technical schools. Along
the moving platforms of the urban centre, and athwart the
shining advertisements that will adorn them, will go the cere-
monial procession, all glorious with banners and censer-bearers,
and the meek, blue-shaven priests and barefooted, rope-girdled,
holy men. And the artful politician of the coming days, until



How will the landscape shape itself to the domi-
nant men of the new time and in relation to them-
selves? What is the will and purpose that these
men of will and purpose will find above and com-
prehending their own? Into this our inquiry
resolves itself. They will hold with Schopen-
hauer, I believe, and with those who build them-
selves on Malthus and Darwin, that the scheme

the broom of the new republic sweep him up, will arrange the
miraculous planks of his "party " always with an eye upon the
priest. Within the ample sheltering arms of the Mother Church
many eccentric cults will develop. The curious may study
the works of M. Huysmans to learn of the mystical propitiation
of God, Who made heaven and earth, by the bed-sores of hysterical
girls. The future, as I see it, swarms with Durtals and Sister
Teresas ; countless ecstatic nuns, holding their Maker as it were
in deliciae, will shelter from the world in simple but costly re-
fuges of refined austerity. Where miracles are needed, miracles
will occur.

Except for a few queer people, nourished on Maria Monk
and such-like anti-papal pornography, I doubt if there will be
any Protestants left among the irresponsible rich. Those who
do not follow the main current will probably take up with weird
science-denouncing sects of the faith-healing type, or with such
pseudo-scientific gibberish as theosophy. Shintoism and either
a cleaned or, more probably, a scented Obi, might in vigor-
ous hands be pushed to a very considerable success in the com-
ing years ; and I do not see any absolute impossibility in the
idea of an after-dinner witch - smelling in Park Lane with a
witch-doctor dressed in feathers. It might be made amazing-
ly picturesque. People would attend it with an air of intel-
lectual liberality, not, of course, believing in it absolutely,
but admitting " there must be something in it." That some-
thing in it 1 The fool hath said in his heart there is no God, and
after that he is ready to do anything with his mind and soul.
It is by faith we disbelieve.

And, of course, there will be much outspoken atheism and
anti - religion of the type of the Parisian devil-worship im-



of being in which we live is a struggle of existences
to expand and develop themselves to their full
completeness, and to propagate and increase them-
selves. But, being men of action, they will feel
nothing of the glamour of misery that irresponsible
and sexually vitiated share-holder, Schopenhauer,
threw over this recognition. The final object of
this struggle among existences they will not under-
stand; they will have abandoned the search for ulti-
mates; they will state this scheme of a struggle
as a proximate object, sufficiently remote and
spacious to enclose and explain all their possible
activities. They will seek God's purpose in the
sphere of their activities, and desire no more, as
the soldier in battle desires no more than the im-
mediate conflict before him. They will admit
failure as an individual aspect of things, as a

becilities. Young men of means will determine to be "wicked."
They will do silly things that will strike them as being indecent
and blasphemous and dreadful black masses and such-like
nonsense and then they will get scared. The sort of thing it
will be to shock orthodox maiden aunts and make Olympus
ring with laughter. A taking sort of nonsense already loose
I find among very young men is to say, " Understand I am
non-moral." Two thoroughly respectable young gentlemen
coming from quite different circles have recently introduced
their souls to me in this same formula. Both, I rejoice to re-
mark, are married, both are steady and industrious young
men, trustworthy in word and contract, dressed in accordance
with current conceptions, and behaving with perfect decorum.
One, no doubt for sinister ends, aspires to better the world through
a socialistic propaganda. But in a tight corner some day that
silly little formula may just suffice to trip up one or other of these
men. To many of the irresponsible rich, however, that little
" Understand I am non-moral " may prove of priceless worth.



soldier seeking victory admits the possibility of
death; but they will refuse to admit as a part of
their faith in God that any existence, even if it
is an existence that is presently entirely erased,
can be needless or vain. It will have reacted on
the existences that survive; it will be justified for-
ever in the modification it has produced in them.
They will find in themselves it must be remem-
bered I am speaking of a class that has naturally
segregated, and not of men as a whole a desire,
a passion almost, to create and organize, to put
in order, to get the maximum result from certain
possibilities. They will all be artists in reality,
with a passion for simplicity and directness and an
impatience of confusion and inefficiency. The de-
termining frame of their ethics, the more spacious
scheme to which they will shape the schemes of
their individual wills, will be the elaboration of that
future world state to which all things are point-
ing. They will not conceive of it as a millennial
paradise, a blissful, inconsequent stagnation, but
as a world state of active, ampler human beings,
full of knowledge and energy, free from much of
the baseness and limitations, the needless pains
and dishonors of the world-disorder of to-day, but
still struggling, struggling against ampler but still
too narrow restrictions and for still more spacious
objects than our vistas have revealed. For that
as a general end, for the special work that
contributes to it as an individual end, they will




make the plans and the limiting rules of their

It is manifest that a reconstructed ethical system,
reconstructed in the light of modern science and
to meet the needs of such temperaments and charac-
ters as the evolution of mechanism will draw to-
gether and develop, will give very different values
from those given by the existing systems (if they
can be called systems) to almost all the great mat-
ters of conduct. Under scientific analysis the
essential facts of life are very clearly shown to be
two birth and death. All life is the effort of the
thing born, driven by fears, guided by instincts
and desires, to evade death, to evade even the
partial death of crippling or cramping or restriction,
and to attain to effective procreation, to the victory
of another birth. Procreation is the triumph of
the living being over death; and in the case of man,
who adds mind to his body, it is not only in his
child but in the dissemination of his thought, the
expression of his mind in things done and made,
that his triumph is to be found. And the ethical
system of these men of the new republic, the
ethical system which will dominate the world state,
will be shaped primarily to favor the procreation
of what is fine and efficient and beautiful in human-
ity beautiful and strong bodies, clear and power-
ful minds, and a growing body of knowledge
and to check the procreation of base and servile
types, of fear -driven and cowardly souls, of all



that is mean and ugly and bestial in the souls,
bodies, or habits of men. To do the latter is to
do the former; the two things are inseparable.
And the method that nature has followed hitherto
in the shaping of the world, whereby weakness
was prevented from propagating weakness, and
cowardice and feebleness were saved from the
accomplishment of their desires, the method that
has only one alternative, the method that must
in some cases still be called in to the help of man,
is death. In the new vision death is no inex-
plicable horror, no pointless terminal terror to the
miseries of life, it is the end of all the pain of
life, the end of the bitterness of failure, the merci-
ful obliteration of weak and silly and pointless

The new ethics will hold life to be a privilege
and a responsibility, not a sort of night refuge for
base spirits out of the void; and the alternative in
right conduct between living fully beautifully, and
efficiently will be to die. For a multitude of con-
temptible and silly creatures, fear-driven and help-
less and useless, unhappy or hatefully happy in
the midst of squalid dishonor, feeble, ugly, in-
efficient, born of unrestrained lusts, and increasing
and multiplying through sheer incontinence and
stupidity, the men of the new republic will have
little pity and less benevolence. To make life
convenient for the breeding of such people will
seem to them not the most virtuous and amiable



thing in the world, as it is held to be now, but an
exceedingly abominable proceeding. Procreation
is an avoidable thing for sane persons of even the
most furious passions, and the men of the new
republic will hold that the procreation of children
who, by the circumstances of their parentage,
must be diseased bodily or mentally I do not
think it will be difficult for the medical science of
the coming time to define such circumstances
is absolutely the most loathsome of all conceivable
sins. They will hold, I anticipate, that a certain
portion of the population the small minority,
for example, afflicted with indisputably trans-
missible diseases, with transmissible mental dis-
orders, with such hideous incurable habits of
mind as the craving for intoxication exists only
on sufferance, out of pity and patience, and on the
understanding that they do not propagate; and I do
not foresee any reason to suppose that they will
hesitate to kill when that sufferance is abused.
And I imagine also the plea and proof that a
grave criminal is also insane will be regarded
by them not as a reason for mercy, but as an
added reason for death. I do not see how they
can think otherwise on the principles they will

The men of the new republic will not be
squeamish either in facing or inflicting death,
because they will have a fuller sense of the pos-
sibilities of life than we possess. They will have



an ideal that will make killing worth the while;
like Abraham, they will have the faith to kill,
and they will have no superstitions about death.
They will naturally regard the modest suicide
of incurably melancholy or diseased or helpless
persons as a high and courageous act of duty rather
than a crime. And since they will regard, as in-
deed all men raised above a brutish level do regard,
a very long term of imprisonment as infinitely
worse than death, as being, indeed, death with a
living misery added to its natural terror, they will,
I conceive, where the whole tenor of a man's actions,
and not simply some incidental or impulsive ac-
tion, seems to prove him unfitted for free life in the

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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 19 of 21)