H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

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

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dral, its school buildings and museums, its rail-
way station, perhaps its fire station, its inns and
restaurants, and with all the wires of the country-
side converging to its offices. All that is pleasant
and fair of our present country -side may con-
ceivably still be there among the other things.
There is no reason why the essential charm of the
country should disappear; the new roads will not
supersede the present high roads, which will still be



necessary for horses and subsidiary traffic; and
the lanes and hedges, the field paths and wild
flowers, will still have their ample justification.
A certain lack of solitude there may be perhaps,

Will conspicuous advertisements play any part
in the landscape?

But I find my pen is running ahead, an imag-
ination prone to realistic constructions is strug-
gling to paint a picture altogether prematurely.
There is very much to be weighed and decided
before we can get from our present generalization
to the style of architecture these houses will show,
and to the power and nature of the public taste.
We have laid down now the broad lines of road,
railway, and sea transit in the coming century,
and we have got this general prophecy of " urban
regions" established, and for the present that
much must suffice.

And as for the world beyond our urban regions?
The same line of reasoning that leads to the ex-
pectation that the city will diffuse itself until it
has taken up considerable areas and many of
the characteristics, the greenness, the fresh air,
of what is now country, leads us to suppose also
that the country will take to itself many of the
qualities of the city. The old antithesis will, in-
deed, cease, the boundary lines will altogether dis-
appear ; it will become, indeed, merely a question
of more or less populous. There will be horticult-



ure and agriculture going on within the "urban
regions/' and "urbanity" without them. Every-
where, indeed, over the land of the globe between
the frozen circles, the railway and the new roads
will spread, the network of communication wires
and safe and convenient ways. To receive the
daily paper a few hours late, to wait a day or so for
goods one has ordered, will be the extreme measure
of rusticity save in a few remote islands and in-
accessible places. The character of the meshes
in that wider network of roads that will be the
country, as distinguished from the urban district,
will vary with the soil, the climate, and the tenure
of the land will vary, too, with the racial and'
national differences. But throughout all that
follows this mere relativity of the new sort of
town to the new sort of country over which the
new sorts of people we are immediately to con-
sider will be scattered, must be borne in mind.

[At the risk of insistence, I must repeat that,
so far, I have been studiously taking no account
of the fact that there is such a thing as a boundary
line or a foreigner in the world. It will be far the
best thing to continue to do this until we can get
out all that will probably happen universally or
generally, and in particular the probable changes
in social forces, social apparatus, and internal
political methods. We shall then come to the
discussion of language, nationality, and inter-


national conflicts, equipped with such an array
of probabilities and possibilities as will enable
us to guess at these special issues with an ap-
pearance of far more precision than would be the
case if we considered them now.]



THE mere differences in thickness of population
and -facility of movement that have been dis-
cussed thus far, will involve consequences remark-
able enough, upon the facies of the social body ; but
there are certain still broader features of the social
order of the coming time, less intimately related
to transit, that it will be convenient to discuss at
this stage. They are essentially outcomes of the
enormous development of mechanism which has
been the cardinal feature of the nineteenth century ;
for this development, by altering the method and
proportions of almost all human undertakings,*
has altered absolutely the grouping and character
of the groups of human beings engaged upon

Throughout the world for forty centuries the
more highly developed societies have always
presented under a considerable variety of super-
ficial differences certain features in common.

* Even the characteristic conditions of writing books, that
least mechanical of pursuits, have been profoundly affected
by the typewriter.



Always at the base of the edifice, supporting all,
subordinate to all, and the most necessary of all,
there has been the working cultivator, peasant,
serf, or slave. Save for a little water-power, a
little use of windmills, the traction of a horse or
mule, this class has been the source of all the work
upon which the community depends. And, more-
over, whatever labor town developments have
demanded has been supplied by the muscle of its
fecund ranks. It has been, in fact and to some
extent still is the multitudinous living machinery
of the old social order; it carried, cropped, tilled,
built, and made. And, directing and sometimes
owning this human machinery, there has always
been a superior class, bound usually by a point of
honor not to toil, often warlike, often equestrian,
and sometimes cultivated. In England this is
the gentility, in most European countries it is
organized as a nobility, it is represented in the
history of India by the " twice-born " castes, and
in China the most philosophically conceived and
the most stably organized social system the old
order ever developed it finds its equivalent in
the members of a variously buttoned mandarinate,
who ride, not on horses, but on a once adequate
and still respectable erudition. These two pri-
mary classes may and do become in many cases
complicated by subdivisions; the peasant class
may split into farmers and laborers, the gentle-
men admit a series of grades and orders, kings,



dukes, earls, and the like, but the broad distinction
remains intact, as though it was a distinction
residing in the nature of things.*

From the very dawn of history until the first
beginnings of mechanism in the eighteenth cen-
tury, this simple scheme of orders was the uni-
versal organization of all but savage humanity,
and the chief substance of history until these later
years has been in essence the perpetual endeavor
of specific social systems of this type to attain in
every region the locally suitable permanent form,
in face of those two inveterate enemies of human
stability, innovation, and that secular increase
in population that security permits. The im-
perfection of the means of communication render-
ed political unions of a greater area than that
swept by a hundred-mile radius highly unstable,
li was a world of small states. Lax empires came
and went, at the utmost they were the linking of
practically autonomous states under a common
Pax. Wars were usually wars between king-
doms conflicts of this local experiment in social

* To these two primary classes the more complicated societies
have added others. There is the priest, almost always in the
social order of the pre-railway period, an integral part, a func-
tional organ of the social body, and there are the lawyer and
the physician. And in the towns constituting, indeed, the
towns there appear, as an outgrowth of the toiling class, a
little emancipated from the gentleman's direct control, the crafts-
man, the merchant, and the trading sailor, essentially accessory
classes, producers of, and dealers in, the accessories of life, and
mitigating and clouding only very slightly that broad duality.



organization with that. Through all the his-
torical period these two well-defined classes of
gentle and simple acted and reacted upon each
other, every individual in each class driven by that
same will to live and do, that imperative of self-
establishment and aggression that is the spirit
of this world. Until the coming of gunpowder,
the man on horseback commonly with some
sort of armor was invincible in battle in the open.
Wherever the land lay wide and unbroken, and
the great lines of trade did not fall, there the
horseman was master or the clerkly man behind
the horseman. Such a land was aristocratic and
tended to form castes. The craftsman sheltered
under a patron, and in guilds in a walled town,
and the laborer was a serf. He was ruled over by
his knight or by his creditor in the end it matters
little how the gentleman began. But where the
land became difficult by reason of mountain or
forest, or where water greatly intersected it, the
pikeman or closer - righting swordsman or the
bowman could hold his own, and a democratic
flavor, a touch of repudiation, was in the aii. In
such countries as Italy, Greece, the Alps, the
Netherlands, and Great Britain, the two forces of
the old order, the aristocrat and the common man,
were in a state of unstable equilibrium through
the whole period of history. A slight change*

* Slight, that is, in comparison with nineteenth - century



in the details of the conflict for existence could
tilt the balance. A weapon a little better adapted
to one class than the other, or a slight widening
of the educational gap, worked out into historically
imposing results, to dynastic changes, class revo-
lutions, and the passing of empires.

Throughout it was essentially one phase of
human organization. When one comes to ex-
amine the final result, it is astonishing to remark
the small amount of essential change, of positively
final and irreparable alteration, in the conditions
of the common life. Consider, for example, how
entirely in sympathy was the close of the eighteenth
century with the epoch of Horace, and how closely
equivalent were the various social aspects of the
two periods. The literature of Rome was living
reading in a sense that has suddenly passed away,
it fitted all occasions, it conflicted with no essential
facts in life. It was a commonplace of the thought
of that time that all things recurred, all things
circled back to their former seasons; there was
nothing new under the sun. But now almost
suddenly the circling has ceased, and we find
ourselves breaking away. Correlated with the
sudden development of mechanical forces that
first began to be socially perceptible in the middle
eighteenth century, has been the appearance of
great masses of population, having quite novel
functions and relations in ihe social body, and
together with this appearance such a suppression,



curtailment, and modification of the older classes
as to point to an entire disintegration of that sys-
tem. The facies of the social fabric has changed,
and as I hope to make clear is still changing
in a direction from which, without a total destruc-
tion and rebirth of that fabric, there can never be
any return.

The most striking of the new classes to emerge
is certainly the share-holding class, the owners of
a sort of property new in the world's history.

Before the eighteenth century the only property
of serious importance consisted of land and build-
ings. These were "real" estate. Beyond these
things were live-stock, serfs, and the furnishings
of real estate, the surface aspect of real estate,
so to speak, personal property, ships, weapons,
and the Semitic invention of money. All such
property had to be actually " held " and administer-
ed by the owner ; he was immediately in connection
with it and responsible for it. He could leave it
only precariously to a steward and manager, and
to convey the revenue of it to him at a distance
was a difficult and costly proceeding. To prevent
a constant social disturbance by lapsing and
dividing property, and in the absence of any or-
ganized agency to receive lapsed property, in-
heritance, and preferably primogeniture, were of
such manifest advantage that the old social or-
ganization always tended in the direction of these
institutions. Such usury as was practised relied



entirely on the land and the anticipated agricult-
ural produce of the land.

But the usury and the sleeping partnerships *
of the joint - stock - company system which took
shape in the eighteenth and the earlier half of the
nineteenth century opened quite unprecedented
uses for money, and created a practically new
sort of property and a new proprietor class. The
peculiar novelty of this property is easily defined.
Given a sufficient sentiment of public honesty,
share property is property that can be owned at
any distance and that yields its revenue without
thought or care on the part of its proprietor; it is,
indeed, absolutely irrjeapojasible. property, a thing .
that no old-world property ever was. But, in
spite of its widely different nature, the laws of
inheritance that the social necessities of the old
order of things established have been applied to
this new species of possession without remark.
It is indestructible, imperishable wealth, subject
only to the mutations of value that economic
changes bring about. Related in its character
of absolute irresponsibility to this share-holding
class is a kindred class that has grown with the
growth of the great towns, the people who live
upon ground - rents. There is every indication
that this element of irresponsible, independent,
and wealthy people in the social body, people
who feel the urgency of no exertion, the pressure
of no specific positive duties, is still on the increase,

6 8l


and may still for a long time increasingly pre-
ponderate. It overshadows the responsible owner
of real property or of real businesses altogether.
And most of the old aristocrats, the old knightly
and land-holding people, have, so to speak, con-
verted themselves into members of this new class.
It is a class with scarcely any specific charac-
teristics beyond its defining one, of the possession
of property and all the potentialities property
entails with a total lack of function with regard
to that property. It is not even collected into a
distinct mass. It graduates insensibly into every
other class, it permeates society as threads and
veins of gold permeate quartz. It includes the
millionaire snob, the political - minded plutocrat,
the wealthy sensualist, open-handed religious
fanatics, the "charitable/' the smart, the magnif-
icently dull, the great army of timid creatures
who tremble through life on a safe bare sufficiency,*
travellers, hunters, minor poets, sporting en-
thusiasts, many of the officers in the British army,
and all sorts and conditions of amateurs. In a
sense it includes several modern royalties, for
the crown in several modern constitutional states
is a corporation sole and the monarch the unique,
unlimited, and, so far as necessity goes, quite
functionless share-holder. He may be a heavy-
eyed sensualist, a small-minded leader of fashion,

* It included, one remembers, Schopenhauer, but, as he re-
marked upon occasion, not Hegel.



a rival to his servants in the gay science of etiquette,
a frequenter of race -courses and music-halls, a
literary or scientific quack, a devotee, an amateur
anything the point is that his income and sus-
tenance have no relation whatever to his activities.
If he fancies it, or is urged to it by those who have
influence over him, he may even "be a king!"
But that is not compulsory, not essential, and
there are practically no conditional restrictions
whatever laid upon him.

Those who belong to this share-holding class
only partially, who partially depend upon dividends
and partially upon activities, occur in every rank
and order of the whole social body. The waiter
one tips probably has a hundred or so in some
remote company, the will of the eminent labor
reformer reveals an admirably distributed series
of investments, the bishop sells tea and digs coal,
or, at any rate, gets a profit from some unknown
persons tea-selling or coal-digging, to eke out the
direct recompense of his own modest corn-tread-
ing. Indeed, above the laboring class, the number
of individuals in the social body whose gross in-
come is entirely the result of their social activities
is very small. Previously in the world's history,
saving a few quite exceptional aspects, the pos-
session and retention of property was conditional
upon activities of some sort, honest or dishonest,
work, force, or fraud. But the share - holding
ingredient of our new society, so far as its share-



holding goes, has no need of strength or wisdom;
the countless untraceable owner of the modern
world presents in a multitudinous- form the image
of a Merovingian king. The share-holder owns
the world de jure, by the common recognition
of the 'rights of property; and the incumbency
of knowledge, management, and toil fall entirely
to others. He toils not, neither does he spin;
he is mechanically released from the penalty of
the Fall; he reaps in a still sinful world all the
practical benefits of a millennium without any
of its moral limitations.

It will be well to glance at certain considerations
which point to the by no means self-evident prop-
osition, that this factor of irresponsible property
is certain to be present in the social body a hun-
dred years ahead. It has no doubt occurred to
the reader that all the conditions of the share-
holder's being unfit him for co-operative action
in defence of the interests of his class. Since
share-holders do nothing in common, except receive
and hope for dividends, since they may be of any
class, any culture, any disposition, or any level
of capacity, since there is nothing to make them
read the same papers, gather in the same places,
or feel any sort of sympathy with each other be-
yond the universal sympathy of man for man,
they will, one may anticipate, be incapable of
any concerted action to defend the income they
draw from society against any resolute attack.


Such crude and obvious denials of the essential
principles of their existence as the various socialis-
tic bodies have proclaimed have no doubt encoun-
tered a vast, unorganized, negative opposition from
them, but the subtle and varied attack of natural
forces they have neither the collective intelligence
to recognize nor the natural organization to resist.
The share-holding body is altogether too chaotic
and diffused for positive defence. And the ques-
tion of the prolonged existence of this compara-
tively new social phenomenon, either in its present
or some modified form, turns, therefore, entirely
on the quasi-natural laws of the social body. If
they favor it, it will survive; when they do not,
it will vanish as the mists of the morning before
the sun.

Neglecting a few exceptional older corporations
which, indeed, in their essence are not usurious
but of unlimited liabilny, the share-holding body
appeared first, in its present character, in the
seventeenth century, and came to its full develop-
ment in the mid-nineteenth. Was its appearance
then due only to the attainment of a certain neces-
sary degree of public credit, or was it correlated
with any other force? It seems in accordance
with facts to relate it to another force, the develop-
ment of mechanism, so far as certain representa-
tive aspects go. Hitherto the only borrower had
been the farmer, then the exploring trader had
found a world too wide for purely individual effort,



and then suddenly the craftsmen of all sorts, and
the carriers discovered the need of the new, great,
wholesale, initially expensive appliances that in-
vention was offering them. It was the develop-
ment of mechanism that created the great bulk
of modern share-holding ; it took its present shape
distinctively only with the appearance of the
railways. The hitherto necessary but subor-
dinate craftsman and merchant classes were to
have new weapons, new powers; they were to
develop to a new importance, to a preponderance
even in the social body. But before they could
attain these weapons, before this new and novel
wealth could be set up, it had to pay its footing
in an apportioned world, it had to buy its right to
disturb the established social order. The dividend
of the share-holder was the tribute the new enter-
prise had to pay the old wealth. The share was
the manumission money of machinery. And es-
sentially the share-holder represents, and will con-
tinue to represent, the responsible managing owner
of a former state of affairs in process of super-

If the great material developments of the nine-
teenth century had been final ; if they had, indeed,
constituted merely a revolution and not an ab-
solute release from the fixed conditions about
which human affairs circled, we might even now
be settling accounts with our Merovingians as
the socialists desire. But these developments



were not final, and one sees no hint as yet of any
coming finality. Invention runs free and our
state is under its dominion. The novel is con-
tinually struggling to establish itself at the rel-
ative or absolute expense of the old. The states-
man's conception of social organization is no
longer stability, but growth. And so long as ma-
terial progress continues this tribute must con-
tinue to be paid; so long as the stream of develop-
ment flows, this necessary back eddy will endure.
Even if we "municipalize" all sorts of under-
takings we shall not alter the essential facts ; we
shall only substitute for the share-holder the cor-
poration stock-holder. The figure of an eddy is
particularly appropriate. Enterprises will come
and go, the relative values of kinds of wealth will
alter, old appliances, old companies, will serve
their time and fall in value, individuals will waste
their substance, individual families and groups
will die out, certain portions of the share property
of the world may be gathered, by elaborate manip-
ulation, into a more or less limited number of
hands, conceivably even families and groups will
be taxed out by graduated legacy duties and
specially apportioned income taxes; but, for all
such possible changes and modifications, the
share-holding element will still endure so long
as our present progressive and experimental state
of society obtains. And the very diversity, laxity,
and weakness of the general share-holding ele-



merit, which will work to prevent its organizing
itself in the interests of its property, or of evolving
any distinctive traditions or positive characters,
will obviously prevent its obstructing the contin-
ual appearance of new enterprises, of new share-
holders to replace the loss of its older constituents.
At the opposite pole of the social scale to that
about which share - holding is most apparent is
a second necessary and quite inevitable conse-
quence of the sudden transition that has occurred
from a very nearly static social organization to a
violently progressive one. This second conse-
quence of progress is the appearance of a great
number of people without either property or any
evident function in the social organism. This
new ingredient is most apparent in the towns;
it is frequently spoken of as the urban poor, but
its characteristic traits are to be found also in the
rural districts. For the most part its individuals
are either criminal, immoral, parasitic in more
or less irregular ways upon the more successful
classes, or laboring, at something less than a
regular bare subsistence wage, in a finally hope-
less competition against machinery that is as
yet not so cheap as their toil. It is, to borrow a
popular phrase, the "submerged" portion of the
social body, a leaderless, aimless multitude, a
multitude of people drifting down towards the
abyss. Essentially it consists of people who
have failed to "catch on" to the altered neces-



sities the development of mechanism has brought
about ; they are people thrown out of employment
by machinery, thrown out of employment by the
escape of industries along some newly opened
line of communication to some remote part of the
world, or born under circumstances that give
them no opportunity of entering the world of ac-

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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 5 of 21)