H. G. (Herbert George) Wells.

The future in America, a search after realities online

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C N T h IN "TS



II. EN ROUTE . . .27

1 III. GROWTH INVINCIBLE ^ . . . . .49




VII. CORRUPTION . / . ...<.. 159

VIII. THE IMMIGRANT . ., . - . ^. . . 183

IK. STATE-BLINDNESS . /. . . ^ . . .209








I 5 ~7 ^ -a 3





[At a Writing-desk in Sandgate in April, 190 6. ,]

" AKE you a Polygamist ? "

" Are you an Anarchist ? "

The questions seem impertinent. They are
part of a long paper of interrogations I must
answer satisfactorily if I am to be regarded
as a desirable alien to enter the United States
of America. I want very much to pass that
great statue of Liberty illuminating the world
(from a central position in New York Harbour)
in order to see things in its light, to talk to
certain people, to anpreciate certain atmo
spheres, an $ist the provocation to
answer imperti I do not even volunteer
that I do nc d am a total abstainer,
on which po. Id seem, the States as
a whole still pen mind. I am full


of curiosity about America, I am possessed
by a problem I feel I cannot adequately dis
cuss even with myself except over there,/
and I must go though it be at the price of
coming to a decision upon the (theoretically)
open questions these two inquiries raise.

My problem, I know, will seem ridiculous
and monstrous when I give it in all its stark
disproportions attacked by me with my equip
ment, it will call up an image of an elephant
assailed by an ant who has not even mastered
Jiu-jiteu but at any rate I ve come to it in
a natural sort of way, and it is one I must,
fo^Hpiy own peace of mind, make some kind
of attempt upon, even if at last it means no
more than the ant crawling in an exploratory
way hither and thither over that vast, un
conscious carcass, and finally getting down
and going away. That may be rather good
for the ant, and the experience may be of
interest to other a .ts; ho 1 jesimal,

from the point of nt, the

final value of his : ^iga b ). - N And

this tremendous pi nd now

is this simply: What is going ppen to

the United States le next

thirty years or so 1



I do not know if the reader has ever
chanced upon any books or writings of mine
before, but if, what is highly probable, he has
not, he may be curious to know how it is that
any human being should be running about in
a state of mind so colossally interrogative.
(For even the present inquiry is by no means
my maximum limit.) And the explanation is
to be found a little in a mental idiosyncrasy
perhaps, but much more in the development of
a special way of thinking, of a habit of mind.

That habit of mind may be indicated by a
proposition that, with a fine air of discovery,
I threw out some years ago, in a happy
ignorance that I had been anticipated by no
less a person than Heraclitus. " There is no
Being but Becoming," that was what appeared
to my unscholarly mind to be almost trium
phantly new. } I have since then informed
myself more fully about Heraclitus ; there are
moments now when I more than half suspect
that all the thinking I shall ever do will simply
serve to illuminate my understanding of him ;


but at any rate that apothegm of his does
exactly convey the intellectual attitude into
which I fall. / I am curiously not interested in
things, and curiously interested in the conse
quences of things. I wouldn t for the world
go to see the United States for what they are
if I had sound reason for supposing that the
entire Western Hemisphere was to be destroyed
next Christmas, I should not, I think, be
among the multitude that would rush for one
last look at that great spectacle. (From which
it follows naturally that I don t propose to see
Niagara.) I should much more probably turn
an inquiring visage eastward, with the west
so certainly provided for. I have come to be,
I am afraid, even a little insensitive to fine
immediate things through this anticipatory

This habit of mind confronts and perplexes
my sense of things that simply are y with my
brooding preoccupation with how they will
shape presently, what they will lead to, what
seed they will sow, and how they will wear.
At times, I can assure the reader, this quality
approaches other-worldliness, in its constant
reference to an all-important hereafter. There
are days, indeed, when it makes life seem so
transparent and flimsy, seem so dissolving, so


passing on to an equally transitory series of
consequences, that the enhanced sense of
instability becomes restlessness and distress;
but on the other hand nothing that exists,
nothing whatever, remains altogether vulgar
or dull and dead or hopeless in its light. But
the interest is shifted. The pomp and splen
dour of established order, the braying triumphs,
ceremonies, consummations, one sees these
glittering shows for what they are through
their threadbare grandeur shine the little
significant things that will make the future. . . .

And now that I am associating myself with
great names, let me discover that I find this
characteristic turn of mind of mine, not only
in Heraclitus, the most fragmentary of philo
sophers, but for one fine passage at any rate
in Mr. Henry James, the least fragmentary
of novelists. In his recent impressions of
America I find him apostrophizing the great
mansions of Fifth-avenue, in words quite after
my heart :

"It s all very well," he writes, "for you
to look as if, since you ve had no past, you re
going in, as the next best thing, for a magni
ficent compensatory future. What are you
going to make your future of, for all your airs,
we want to know ? What elements of a future,


as futures have gone in the great world, are at
all assured to you ? "

I had already, when I read that, figured
myself as addressing, if not these particular
last triumphs of the fine Transatlantic art of
architecture, then at least America in general
in some such words. It is not unpleasant to
be anticipated by the chief master of one s
craft ; it is, indeed, when one reflects upon his
peculiar intimacy with this problem, enormously
reassuring ; and so I have very gladly annexed
his phrasing and put it here to honour and
adorn and in a manner to explain my own
enterprise. I have already studied some of
these fine buildings through the mediation of
an illustrated magazine they appear solid,
they appear wonderful and well done to the
highest pitch and before many days now I
shall, I hope, reconstruct that particular mo
ment, stand the latest admirer from England
regarding these portentous magnificences
from the same sidewalk will they call it ?
as my illustrious predecessor, and with his
question ringing in my mind all the louder
for their proximity and the invigoration of the
American atmosphere : " What are you going
to make your future of, for all your airs ? "

And then, I suppose, I shall return down


town to crane my neck at the Flat-iron Build
ing or the Times skyscraper, and ask all that,
too, an identical question.


Certain phases in the development of these
prophetic exercises one may perhaps be per
mitted to trace.

To begin with, C I remember that to me in
my boyhood speculation about the Future was
a monstrous joke. > Like most people of my
generation, I was launched into life with mil
lennial assumptions. This present sort of
thing, I believed, was going on for a time,
interesting personally, perhaps, but as a whole
inconsecutive, and then it might be in my
lifetime or a little after it there would be
trumpets and shoutings and celestial pheno
mena, a battle of Armageddon, and the Judg
ment. As I saw it, it was to be a strictly
protestant and individualistic judgment, each
soul upon its personal merits. To talk about
the Man of the Year Million was, of course, in
the face of this great conviction, a whimsical


play of fancy. The year Million was just as
impossible, just as gaily nonsensical as fairy
land. . . .

I was a student of biology before I realized
that this, my finite and conclusive End, at least
in the material and chronological form, had
somehow vanished from the scheme of things.
In the place of it had come a blackness and
a vagueness about the endless vista of years
ahead, that was tremendous that terrified.
That is a phase in which lots of educated
people remain to this day. " All this scheme
of things, life, force, destiny, which began
not six thousand years, mark you, but an in
finity ago, that has developed out of such
strange, weird shapes and incredible first in
tentions, out of gaseous nebulas, carboniferous
swamps, saurian giantry, and arboreal apes, is
by the same tokens to continue, developing
into what ? " That was the overwhelming
riddle that came to me, with that realization
of an End averted, that has come now to most
of our world.

The phase that followed one s first helpless
stare of the mind was a wild effort to express
one s sudden apprehension of unlimited pos
sibility. One made fantastic exaggerations,
fantastic inversions of all recognized things.


Anything of this sort might come, anything of
any sort. The books about the future that
followed the first stimulus of the world s reali
zation of the implications of Darwinian science,
have all something of the monstrous experi
mental imaginings of children. I myself, in
my microcosmic way, duplicated my times.
Almost the first thing I ever wrote it survives
in an altered form as one of a bookful of essays
was of this type. " The Man of the Year
Million," was presented as a sort of pantomime
head and a shrivelled body, and years after
that, the " Time Machine," my first published
book, ran in the same vein. At that point,
at a brief astonished stare down the vistas of
time-to-come, at something between wonder
and amazed, incredulous, defeated laughter,
most people, I think, stop. But those who are
doomed to the prophetic habit of mind go on.
j(, The next phase, the third phase, is to
-" shorten the range of the outlook, to attempt
something a little more proximate than the
final destiny of man. One becomes more sys
tematic, one sets to work to trace the great
changes of the last century or so, and one
produces these in a straight line and accord
ing to the rule of three. If the maximum
velocity of land travel in 1800 was twelve


miles an hour and in 1900 (let us say) sixty
miles an hour, then one concludes that in
2000 A.D. it will be three hundred miles an
hour. If the population of America in 1800
but I refrain from this second instance. In
that fashion one got out a sort of gigantesque
caricature of the existing world, everything
swollen to vast proportions and massive beyond
measure. In my case that phase produced a
book, " When the Sleeper Wakes," in which,
I am told by competent New Yorkers, that I,
starting with London, an unbiassed mind, this
rule-of-three method, and my otherwise unaided
imagination, produced something more like
Chicago than any other place wherein righteous
men are likely to be found. That I shall verify
in due course, but my present point is merely
that to write such a book is to discover how
thoroughly wrong is this all too obvious
method of enlarging the present.

One goes on therefore if one is to suc
cumb altogether to the prophetic habit to
a really " scientific " attack upon the future.
The " scientific " phase is not final, but it is
far more abundantly fruitful than its prede
cessors. One attempts a rude, wide analysis
of contemporary history, one seeks to clear
and detach operating causes and to work them


out, and so, combining this necessary set of
consequences with that, to achieve a synthetic
forecast in terms just as broad and general
and vague as the causes considered are few.
I made, it happens, an experiment in this
scientific sort of prophecy in a book called
" Anticipations," and I gave an altogether
excessive exposition and defence of it. I went
altogether too far in this direction in a lecture
to the Eoyal Institution, " The Discovery of
the Future," that survives in odd corners as a
pamphlet, and is to be found, like a scrap of
old newspaper in the roof gutter of a museum
in " Nature" (vol. Ixv. p. 326), and in the
Smithsonian Report (for 1902). Within certain
limits, however, I still believe this scientific
method is sound. It gives sound results in
many cases, results at any rate as sound as
those one gets from the "laws" of political
economy ; one can claim it really does effect
a sort of prophecy on the material side of life.

For example, it was obvious about 1899
that invention and enterprise were very busy
with the means of locomotion, and one could
deduce from that certain practically inevit
able consequences in the distribution of urban
populations. With easier, quicker means of
getting about there were endless reasons,


hygienic, social, economic, why people should
move from the town centres towards their
peripheries, and very few why they should
not. The towns, one inferred therefore, would
get slacker, more diffused; the countryside
more urban. From that, from the spatial
widening of personal interests that ensued,
one could infer certain changes in the spirit
of local politics, and so one went on to a
number of fairly valid adumbrations. Then
again, starting from the practical supersession
in the long run of all unskilled labour by
machinery, one can work out with a fair
certainty many coming social developments,
and the broad trend of one group of influences
at least upon the moral attitude of the mass
of common people. In industry, in domestic
life again, one foresees a steady development
of complex appliances, .demanding, and indeed
in an epoch of frequently changing methods
forcing, a flexible understanding, versatility of
effort, a universal rising standard of education.
So, too, a study of military methods and
apparatus convinces one of the necessary
transfer of power in the coming century from
the ignorant and enthusiastic masses who
made the revolutions of the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries and won Napoleon his


wars, to any more deliberate, more intelligent
and more disciplined class that may possess
an organized purpose. But where will one
find that class ? There comes a question
that goes outside science, that takes one at
once into a field beyond the range of the
" scientific " method altogether.

So long as one adopts the assumptions
of the old political economist and assumes
men without idiosyncrasy, without prejudices,
without, as people say, wills of their own, so
long as one imagines a perfectly acquiescent
humanity that will always in the long run
under pressure liquefy and stream along the
line of least resistance to its own material
advantage, the business of prophecy is easy.
But from the first I felt distrust for that
facility in prophesying, I perceived that always
there lurked something, an incalculable opposi
tion to these mechanically-conceived forces,
in law, in usage and prejudice, in the poietic
power of exceptional individual men. I dis
covered for myself over again, the inseparable
nature of the two functions of the prophet.
In my " Anticipations," for example, I had
intended simply to work out and foretell, and
before I had finished I was in a fine full blast
of exhortation.


That, by an easy transition, brought me
to the last stage in the life history of the
prophetic mind, as it is at present known to
me. One comes out on the other side of the
" scientific " method, into the large temper
ance, the valiant inconclusiveness, the released
creativeness of philosophy. Much may be
foretold as certain, much more as possible,
but the last decisions and the greatest de
cisions, lie in the hearts and wills of unique
incalculable men. { With itliem we have to
deal as our ultimate reality in all these matters,
and our methods have to be not " scientific "
at all for all the greater issues, the humanly-
important issues, but critical, literary, even
if you will artistic. Here insight is of
more account than induction and the percep
tion of fine tones than the counting of heads,
^jcieyace deals with necessity, and necessity is
here but the firm ground on which our freedom
goes. One passes from affairs of predestination
to affairs of free-will.

This discovery spread at once beyond the
field of prophesying. The end, the aim, the
test of science, as a modern man understands
the word, is foretelling by means of "laws,"
and my error in attempting a complete " scien
tific " forecast of human affairs arose in too


careless an assent to the ideas about me, anqi
from accepting uncritically such claims as thafc
history could be "scientific," and that ecot
nomics and sociology (for example) ar3
" sciences." Directly one gauges the fulle/r
implications of that uniqueness of individual s
Darwin s work has so permanently illuminated,
one passes beyond that. The ripened prophet
realizes Schopenhauer as, indeed, I find Pro
fessor Miinsterberg saying. " The deepest sense
of human affairs is reached," he writes, " when
we consider them not as appearances but deci
sions." There one has the same thing coming
to meet one from the psychological side. . . .

But my present business isn t to go into
this shadowy, metaphysical foundation world
on which our thinking rests, but to the
brightly-lit over world of America. This philo
sophical excursion is set here just^to prepare
the reader quite frankly for speculations and
to disabuse his mind of the idea that in writ
ing of the Future in America I m going to
write of houses a hundred stories high and
flying machines in warfare and things like
that. I am not going to America to work a
pretentious horoscope, to discover a Destiny,
but to find out what I can of what must needs
make that Destiny a great nation s Will.



JThe material factors in a nation s future
re subordinate factors, they present advan
tages, such as the easy access of the English
to coal and the sea, or disadvantages, such as
the icebound seaboard of the Eussians, but
these are the circumstances and not neces-
parily the rulers of its fate. ( The essential
factor in the destiny of a nation, as of a man

and of mankind, lies in the form of its Will,


and /in the quality and quantity of its Will.
The drama of a nation s future, as of a man s,
lies in this conflict of its Will with what would
else be " scientifically " predictable, materially
inevitable. If the man, if the nation was an
automaton fitted with good average motives,
so and so, one could say exactly, would be
done. It s just where the thing isn t automatic
that our present interest comes in.

I might perhaps reverse the order of the
three aspects of will I have named, for mani
festly where the quantity of will is small, it
matters nothing what the form or quality. The
man or the people that wills feebly is the sport


of every circumstance, and there if anywhere
the scientific method holds truest, or even
altogether true. Do geographical positions or
mineral resources make for riches, then such
a people will grow insecurely and disastrously
rich. v Is an abundant prolific life at a low level
indicated, they will pullulate and suffer.\ If
circumstances make for a choice between com
fort and reproduction, your feeble people will
dwindle and pass ; if war, if conquest tempt
them, then they will turn from all preoccupa
tions and follow the drums. Little things
provoke their unstable equilibrium, to hostility,
to forgiveness. , . .

And be it noted that the quantity of will
in a nation is not necessarily determined by
adding up the wills of all its people. I am
told, and I am disposed to believe it, that the
Americans of the United States are a people
of great individual force of will; the clear strong
faces of many young Americans, something
almost Eoman in the faces of their statesmen
and politicians, a distinctive quality I detect
in such Americans as I have met, a quality of
sharply-cut determination even though it be
only about details and secondary things, that
one must rouse one s self to meet, inclines me
to give a provisional credit to that ; but how far


does all this possible will-force aggregate to a
great national purpose ? what algebraically
does it add up to when this and that have
cancelled each other ? That may be a different
thing altogether.

{ And next to this net quantity of will a
nation or people may possess, come the ques
tions of its quality, its flexibility, its conscious
ness, and intellectuality. A nation may be
full of will and yet inflexibly and disastrously
stupid in the expression of that will. There
was probably more will-power, more haughty
and determined self-assertion in the young
bull that charged the railway engine than in
several regiments of men, but it was, after
all, a low quality of will, with no method but
a violent and injudicious directness, and in
the end it was suicidal and futile. There,
again, is the substance for ramifying inquiries.
How subtle, how collected and patient, how far
capable of a long plan, is this American nation ?
Suppose it has a will so powerful and with such
resources that whatever simple end may be
attained by rushing upon it is America s for the
asking, there still remains the far more impor
tant question of the ends that are not obvious,
that are intricate and complex, and not to be
won by booms and cataclysms of effort.


An Englishman comes to think that most
of the permanent and precious things for which
a nation s effort goes are like that, and here,
too, I have an open mind and unsatisfied

And, lastly, there is the form of the nation s
purpose. I have been reading what I can
find about that in books for some time, and
now I cross over the Atlantic more particu
larly for that, to question more or less openly
certain Americans, not only men and women,
but the mute expressive presences of house
and appliance, of statue, flag, and public
building, and the large collective visages of
crowds, what it is all up to, what it thinks it
is all after, how far it means to escape or
improve upon its purely material destinies ? I
want over there to find whatever consciousness
or vague consciousness of a common purpose
there may be, what is their Vision, their
American Utopia, how much Will there is
shaping to attain it, how much capacity goes
with the will what, in short, there is in
America, over and above the mere mechanical
consequences of scattering multitudes of ener
getic Europeans athwart a vast, healthy, pro
ductive and practically empty continent in
the temperate zone. There you have the


terms of reference of an inquiry, that is, I
admit (as Mr. Morgan Kichards, the eminent
advertisement agent, would say), " mammoth
in character/


The American reader may very reasonably
inquire at this point why an Englishman does
not begin with the future of his own country.
The answer is that this particular one has
done so, and that in many ways he has
found his intimacy and proximity a disad
vantage. One knows too much of the things
that seem to matter, and that ultimately
don t, one is full of misleading individual
instances intensely seen, one can t see the
wood for the trees. : One comes to America
at last, not only with the idea of seeing
America, but with something more than an
incidental hope of getting one s own England
there in the distance, and as a whole, for the
first time in one s life. And the problem of
America, from this side anyhow, has an air
of being simpler. For all the Philippine


adventure her future still seems to lie on

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Online LibraryH. G. (Herbert George) WellsThe future in America, a search after realities → online text (page 1 of 16)