The War with the Newts, by Karel Čapek

Chapter 5

Wolf Meynert Writes His Oeuvre

It may have been just those tragically glorious sunsets that inspired the lone philosopher, Wolf Meynert, to write his monumental work, The Decline and Fall of Man. We can easily imagine him as he ambles along the shore, his hair loose and his raincoat flapping in the wind, gazing enthralled at the sky that has turned into a blaze of fire and blood. “Yes,” he mutters absent mindedly, “yes, now is the time to write the afterword to the history of mankind!” And so he wrote it.

The tragedy of the human race has reached its final curtain, Wolf Meynert began. Despite mans lust for enterprise and technical prosperity, all this is no more than the lurid red on the face of an organism already condemned to die. Man has never before come face to face with such an elevated conjuncture in the life of his species than today; but find me one man who is happy; show me the class that lives in contentment, the nation that does not fear its existence under threat. In the midst of all the gifts of civilisation, in the rich luxury of material and spiritual property we are all of us falling inexorably into doubt, anguish and unease. Thus Wolf Meynert went on, with irrefutable logic, to analyse the spiritual state of the modern word, this mix of fear and uncertainty, mistrust and megalomania, cynicism and pettiness: in a word, Wolf Meynert concluded, desperation. Typical portents of the end. Moral agony.

So the question is: When was man ever capable of happiness? Individuals, yes, just like any other living thing; but mankind, never. The whole of mans misfortunes arise because he had to become human, or that he became human too late when he was already incorrigibly differentiated into nations and races and faiths and classes and factions and rich and poor and educated and uneducated and lords and slaves. If you take horses, wolves, sheep, cats, foxes, deer, bears and goats, and you herd them into one fold and force them to live in this nonsensical mix-up that you call the Rules of Society and force them to observe these rules, then the result will be unhappiness, discontent and death, a society where not even a divine being could feel at home. That is a more or less precise depiction of the big and hopeless heterogenous herd that we call mankind. Nations, classes, factions cannot all live together in the long term without causing each other worries and getting in each others way until it becomes unbearable; they can all live separated from each other - which was only possible for as long as the world was big enough for them - or they can live against each other, in a struggle of life and death. Biological entities such as race, nation and class have only, where people are concerned, one natural road to take, and that is towards a homogenous and undisturbed bliss; to make a place for themselves and annihilate the others. And that is just what the human race failed to do in time. Now it is too late. We have set up too many doctrines and obligations for ourselves with which we protect these “others” instead of getting rid of them; we have thought up a code of morals, human rights, contracts, laws, equality, humanity and all the rest; we have created a fictitious mankind which includes ourselves and these “others” in some imaginary higher unit. What a fatal mistake! We have set our law of morals above the laws of biology. We have violated the great natural assumption of all societies; that only a homogenous society can be a happy society. And this attainable prosperity is something that we have sacrificed to a great but impossible dream: the creation of one mankind and one social and moral code for all people, nations, classes and factions. Grandiose stupidity. In its way it was man’s only honourable attempt to rise above himself. And now he has to pay for this supreme idealism with his own inevitable end.

The process by which man tries to organise himself in society is as old as civilisation itself, as old as the first laws and the first communities; after all these millennia, all that he has attained is the deepening of the gulf between races, nations and classes; world opinions have dug themselves deep and firm in the bottomless pit that we see today, and we cannot fail to see that mans unfortunate and historic attempt to make all peoples into one mankind has definitively and tragically collapsed. We are finally beginning to realise it; and that is why there are these plans and efforts to unite human society in a different way, a radical way, the way of making room just for one nation, just for one class or just for one faith. But who can say how deeply we have already been infected with the incurable disease of differentiation? Sooner or later, every supposedly homogenous unit inevitably breaks back down into a disparate jumble of various interests, parties, classes and so on, who will either persecute each other or will suffer together in silence. There is no way out. We are caught in a vicious circle; but history will not continue going round in circles forever. Nature herself has taken care of that by creating a place on Earth for the newts.

It is by more than mere chance, Wolf Meynert went on, that the newts have burgeoned just at the time when mans chronic disease, this badly assembled and quickly decaying super-organism, will progress into agony. With few insignificant exceptions, the newts are the only homogenous and large-scale unit; they have so far failed to create any deep distinctions of race, language, nation, state, faith class or caste; there are no masters and slaves among them, no freemen and serfs, no rich and poor; differences have been imposed upon them by their type of work, but for their own perceptions they are of one family, a monolith, of one seed, in all their parts they have the same primitive biology, the same poor natural endowments, the same burdens, and the same low living standard.  The last Negroes and Eskimos have incomparably higher living conditions, enjoy infinitely richer property both materially and culturally, than these billions of civilised newts. And there is not even any indication of suffering among the newts. On the contrary. What we see is that they have no need of any of the things with which man seeks escape and relief from the worries of his life or the horrors of his metaphysics; they survive adequately without philosophy, without life after death and without art; they do not know what are fantasy, humour, mysticism, game-playing or dreams; they go through life simply as realists. They are as remote from man as ants or herrings; and they distinguish themselves from ants and herrings only by having moved over into the environment of another species, the civilisation of man. There they have settled themselves just as dogs have settled into mans shelter; they cannot live without it, but they do not cease to be what they are; a very primitive and little differentiated type of animal. All they wish to do is live and multiply; they might even be happy, for there is no sense of inequality to disturb them. They are simply homogenous. For this reason they might one day, indeed one day very soon, find no difficulty in doing that which has escaped the efforts of man: to disperse their species with its unity intact all around the globe, a single global community, in a word, universal newtdom. This day will see the end of millennia of agony for the human genus. Our planet will not have enough room for two faction, both of which strive to dominate the whole world. One of them must give way. We know already which that will be.

Distributed around the globe today are around twenty thousand million civilised newts, which is about ten times more than all people put together; it is both a matter of historical logic and biological necessity that the newts that man has subjugated will some day free themselves; that being homogenous they will unite; and that thus having become the greatest power the world has ever seen they will take over. Could anyone be such a fool as to think they would then spare mankind? Could anyone think they will repeat the mistake, made again and again throughout history, of exploiting the defeated nations and classes instead of just annihilating them? Would it be in their interest to keep establishing new differences between men so that then, simply through generosity and idealism, they would try to overcome them? No, this is a historic error that the newts will not commit, declared Wolf Meynert, if only because they will have been warned in this book! They will be the inheritors of the whole of human civilisation; all that we have done or attempted to do in our efforts to shape the world will simply fall into their laps; but if they tried to include ourselves with this legacy, they would be acting against their own interests. They must rid themselves of mankind if they wish to maintain their own uniformity. If they failed to act thus they would they would create, sooner or later, their own destructive tendency among themselves: they would create differences and they would have to endure them. But this is something of which we should have no fear; there is today no creature that will continue the history of mankind that would repeat his suicidal madness.

There is no doubt that the world of the newts will be happier than that of mankind; it will be unified, homogenous and governed everywhere in the same spirit. Newt will not be distinct from newt by language, opinion, faith or his requisites for life. There will be no differences among them of culture or class, merely the allocation of tasks. No-one will be master or slave, as all will serve just one Great Newt Whole which will be god, government, employer and spiritual leader. There will be just one nation and just one class. The world will be better and more perfect than ours will have been. This is the only possible Brave New World. Let us therefore make room for it; man is facing his expiry, and there is no more that he can do than to hasten his end with tragic beauty, that is, if it is not too late even for that.

Now lets express the views of Wolf Meynert in a way that is more accessible: we are aware that in this way it will lose a lot of its force and its depth, which was so fascinating for the whole of Europe in its time. The young were especially fascinated and adopted a faith in the decline and annihilation of mankind with great enthusiasm. The German Reich banned the teaching of the great pessimist for a number of political reasons and Wolf Meynert had to flee into Switzerland, but the whole of the educated world was nonetheless content to adopt Meynert’s theories about the end of mankind; his book, 632 pages long, was published in all the languages of the world and many millions of copies were distributed, even among the newts.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/capek/karel/newts/chapter20.html

Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:34