The New World Order, by H. G. Wells

11. International Politics

And now, having completed our picture of what the saner elements in human society may reasonably work for and hope for, having cleared away the horrible nightmares of the class war and the totalitarian slave-state from our imaginations, we are able to attack the immediate riddles of international conflict and relationship with some hope of a general solution. If we realise to the depths of our being that a world settlement based in the three ideas of socialism, law and knowledge, is not only possible and desirable, but the only way of escape from deepening disaster, then manifestly our attitude towards the resentments of Germany, the prejudices of America or Russia, the poverty and undernourishment of India or the ambitions of Japan, must be frankly opportunist. None of these are primary issues. We sane men must never lose sight of our ultimate objective, but our methods of getting there will have to vary with the fluctuating variations of national feeling and national policy.

There is this idea of federalism upon which I have already submitted a criticism in chapter 7. As I have shown there, the Streit proposals will either take you further or land you nowhere. Let us assume that we can strengthen his proposals to the extent of making a socialistic economic consortium and adhesion to that Declaration of Rights, primary conditions for any federal union; then it becomes a matter of mood and occasion with what communities the federal association may be begun. We can even encourage feeble federal experiments which do not venture even so far as that along the path to sanity, in the certainty that either they will fade out again or else that they will become liberal realities of the type to which the whole world must ultimately conform. Behind any such half-hearted tentatives an educational propaganda can be active and effective.

But when it comes to the rate and amount of participation in the construction of a rational world order we can expect from any country or group of countries, we are in a field where there is little more than guessing and haphazard generalisations about “national character” to work upon. We are dealing with masses of people which may be swayed enormously by a brilliant newspaper or an outstandingly persuasive or compelling personality or by almost accidental changes in the drift of events. I, for example, cannot tell how far the generality of educated and capable people in the British Empire now may fall in with our idea of accepting and serving a collectivism, or how strong their conservative resistance may be. It is my own country and I ought to know it best, and I do not know it detachedly enough or deeply enough to decide that. I do not see how anyone can foretell these swirls and eddies of response.

The advocacy of such movements of the mind and will as I am speaking of here is in itself among the operating causes in political adjustment, and those who are deepest in the struggle are least able to estimate how it is going. Every factor in political and international affairs is a fluctuating factor. The wise man therefore will not set his heart upon any particular drift or combination. He will favour everything that trends towards the end at which he aims.

The present writer cherishes the idea that the realisation of a common purpose and a common cultural inheritance may spread throughout all the English-speaking communities, and there can be no harm in efforts to give this concrete expression. He believes the dissociation of the British Empire may inaugurate this great synthesis. At the same time there are factors making for some closer association of the United States of America with what are called the Oslo powers. There is no reason why one of these associations should stand in the way of the other. Some countries such as Canada rest already under what is practically a double guarantee; she has the security of the Monroe Doctrine and the protection of the British fleet.

A Germany of eighty million people which has been brought to acquiesce in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and which is already highly collectivised, may come much earlier to a completely liberal socialist regime than Great Britain or France. If she participates in a consortium for the development of what are called the politically backward regions of the world, she may no longer be disposed for further military adventures and further stress and misery. She may enter upon a phase of social and economic recovery so rapid as to stimulate and react upon every other country in the world. It is not for other countries to dictate her internal politics, and if the German people want to remain united as one people, in federated states or in one centralised state, there is neither righteousness nor wisdom preventing them.

The Germans like the rest of the world have to get on with collectivisation, they have to produce their pattern, and they cannot give themselves to that if they are artificially divided up and disorganised by some old-fashioned Quai d’Orsay scheme. They must do the right thing in their own way.

That the belligerent tradition may linger on in Germany for a generation or so, is a risk the Atlantic powers have to take. The world has a right to insist that not simply some German government but the people generally, recognise unequivocably and repeatedly, the rights of man asserted in the Declaration, and it is reasonable to insist also that Germany remain disarmed and that any aggressive plant, any war plane, warship, gun or arsenal that is discovered in the country shall be destroyed forthwith, brutally and completely. But that is a thing that should not be confined to Germany. Germany should not be singled out for that. Armament should be an illegality everywhere, and some sort of international force should patrol a treaty-bound world. Partial armament is one of those absurdities dear to moderate-minded “reasonable” men. Armament itself is making war. Making a gun, pointing a gun and firing it, are all acts of the same order. It should be illegal to construct anywhere upon earth, any mechanism for the specific purpose of killing men. When you see a gun it is reasonable to ask: “Whom is that intended to kill?”

Germany’s rearmament after 1918 was largely tolerated because she played off British Russophobia against the Russian fear of “Capitalist” attack, but that excuse can no longer serve any furtive war-mongers among her people after her pact with Moscow.

Released from the economic burthens and restrictions that crippled her recovery after 1918, Germany may find a full and satisfying outlet for the energy of her young men in her systematic collectivisation, raising the standard of her common life deliberately and steadily, giving Russia a lead in efficiency and obliging the maundering “politics” and discursive inattention of the Atlantic world to remain concentrated upon the realities of life. The idea of again splitting up Germany into discordant fragments so as to postpone her ultimate recovery indefinitely, is a pseudo-democratic slacker’s dream. It is diametrically opposed to world reconstruction. We have need of the peculiar qualities of her people, and the sooner she recovers the better for the whole world. It is preposterous to resume the policy of holding back Germany simply that the old order may enjoy a few more years of self-indulgence in England, France and America.

A lingering fear of German military aggression may not be altogether bad for the minor states of South–Eastern Europe and Asia Minor, by breaking down their excessive nationalism and inducing them to work together. The policy of the sane man should be to welcome every possible experiment in international co-operations, and if these supra-national understandings duplicate and overlap one another, so much the better. He has to watch the activities of his own Foreign Office with incessant jealousy, for signs of that Machiavellian spirit which foments division among foreign governments and peoples and schemes perpetually to frustrate the progressive movement in human affairs by converting it into a swaying indecisive balance of power.

This book is a discussion of guiding principles and not of the endless specific problems of adjustment that arise on the way to a world realisation of collective unity. I will merely glance at that old idea of Napoleon the Third’s, the Latin Union, at the possibility of a situation in Spanish and Portuguese South America parallel to that overlap of the Monroe Doctrine and the European motherlands which already exists in practice in the case of Canada, nor will I expatiate upon the manifold possibilities of sincere application of the Declaration of the Rights of Man to India and Africa — and particularly to those parts of the world in which more or less black peoples are awakening to the realities of racial discrimination and oppression.

I will utter a passing warning against any Machiavellian treatment of the problem of Northern and Eastern Asia, into which the British may be led by their constitutional Russophobia. The Soviet collectivism, especially if presently it becomes liberalised and more efficient through a recovery from its present obsession by Stalin, may spread very effectively across Central Asia and China. To anyone nourished mentally upon the ideas of an unending competition of Powers for ascendancy for ever and ever, an alliance with Japan, as truculent and militarised a Japan as possible, will seem the most natural response in the world. But to anyone who has grasped the reality of the present situation of mankind and the urgent desirableness of world collectivisation, this immense unification will be something to welcome, criticise and assist.

The old bugbear of Russia’s “designs upon India” may also play its part in distorting the Asiatic situation for many people. Yet a hundred years of mingled neglect, exploitation and occasional outbreaks of genuine helpfulness should have taught the British that the ultimate fate of India’s hundreds of millions rests now upon no conquering ruler but wholly and solely upon the ability of the Indian peoples to co-operate in world collectivisation. They may learn much by way of precept and example from Russia and from the English-speaking world, but the days for mere revolt or for relief by a change of masters have passed. India has to work out for itself, with its own abundant brains, its escape from chaos and its own manner of participation in the struggle for a world order, starting from the British raj as a datum line. No outside power can work that out for the Indian peoples, nor force them to do it if they have no will for it.

But I will not wander further among these ever-changing problems and possibilities. They are, so to speak, wayside eventualities and opportunities. Immense though some of them are they remain secondary. Every year or so now the shifting channels of politics need to be recharted. The activities and responses of the sane man in any particular country and at any particular time will be determined always by the overruling conception of a secular movement towards a single world order. That will be the underlying permanent objective of all his political life.

There is, however, another line of world consolidation to which attention must be drawn before we conclude this section, and is what we may call ad hoc international systems. The essential idea of ad hoc internationalism is admirably set forth in Leonard Woolf’s International Government, a classic which was published in 1916 and still makes profitable reading.

The typical ad hoc organisation is the Postal Union, which David Lubin, that brilliant neglected thinker, would have had extended until it controlled shipping and equalised freights throughout the world. He based his ideas upon his practical experience of the mail order business from which he derived his very considerable fortune. From that problem of freight adjustment he passed to the idea of a controlled survey of world production week by week and month by month, so that a shortage here or a glut there could be foreseen and remedied in time. He realised the idea in the form of the International Institute of Agriculture at Rome, which in its heyday made treaties like an independent sovereign power for the supply of returns from nearly every government upon earth. The war of 1914 and Lubin’s death in 1919 checked the development of this admirable and most inspiring experiment in ad hoc internationalism. Its history is surely something that should be made part of the compulsory education of every statesman and publicist. Yet never in my life have I met a professional politician who knew anything whatever or wanted to know anything about it. It didn’t get votes; it seemed difficult to tax it; what was the good of it?

Another ad hoc organisation which might be capable of a considerable extension of its functions is the Elder Brethren of Trinity House, who control the lighthouses and charting of the seas throughout the world. But it would need a very considerable revision and extension of Mr Woolf’s book and, in spite of the war stresses that have delayed and in some cases reversed their development, it would be quite beyond our present scope, to bring up to date the lengthening tale of ad hoc international networks, ranging from international business cartels, scientific and technical organisations, white-slave-trade suppression and international police co-operation, to health services and religious missions. Just as I have suggested that the United States and Great Britain may become complete socialisms unawares, so it is a not altogether impossible dream that the world may discover to its great surprise that it is already practically a cosmopolis, through the extension and interweaving of these ad hoc co-operations. At any rate we have this very powerful collateral process going on side by side with the more definite political schemes we have discussed.

Surveying the possibilities of these various attacks upon the complicated and intricate obstacles that stand between us and a new and more hopeful world order, one realises both the reasons for hope in that great possibility and the absurdity of over-confidence. We are all like soldiers upon a vast battlefield; we cannot be sure of the trend of things; we may be elated when disillusionment is rushing headlong upon us; we may be on the verge of despair, not knowing that our antagonists are already in collapse. My own reactions vary between an almost mystical faith in the ultimate triumph of human reason and good-will, and moods of stoical determination to carry on to the end in the face of what looks like inevitable disaster. There are quantitative factors in the outlook for which there are no data; there are elements of time and opportunity beyond any estimating. Every one of these activities we have been canvassing tends to delay the drift to destruction and provides a foothold for a further counter-offensive against the adversary.

In the companion predecessor to this book, The Fate of Homo sapiens, I tried to drive home the fact that our species has no more reason to believe it can escape defeat and extinction, than any other organism that plays or has played its part in the drama of life. I tried to make clear how precarious is our present situation, and how urgent it is that we should make a strenuous effort at adjustment now. Only a little while ago it seemed as though that was an appeal to a deaf and blind world, invincibly set in its habitual ways even if they led plainly to destruction. I went into the question whether this inclination towards pessimism reflected a mood or phase in myself, and I threw out a qualifying suggestion or so; but for my own part I could not find any serious reason to believe that the mental effort that was clearly necessary if man was to escape the fate that marched upon him would ever be made. His conservative resistances, his apathy, seemed incurable.

Now suddenly everywhere one meets with alarmed and open and enquiring minds. So far the tremendous dislocations of the present war have been immensely beneficial in stripping off what seemed to be quite invincible illusions of security only a year ago. I never expected to live to see the world with its eyes as widely open as they are to-day. The world has never been so awake. Little may come of it, much may come of it. We do not know. Life would amount to nothing at all if we did.

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30