The New World Order, by H. G. Wells

5. Unsated Youth

We have now to examine these disruptive forces a little more closely, these disruptive forces which are manifestly overstraining and destroying the social and political system in which most of us have been reared. At what particular points in our political and social life are these disruptive forces discovering breaking-points?

Chief among these breaking-points, people are beginning to realise more and more clearly, is the common, half-educated young man.

One particular consequence of this onrush of power and invention in our time, is the release of a great flood of human energy in the form of unemployed young people. This is a primary factor of the general political instability.

We have to recognise that humanity is not suffering, as most animal species when they suffer seem to do, from hunger or want in any material form. It is threatened not by deficiency but by excess. It is plethoric. It is not lying down to die through physical exhaustion; it is knocking itself to pieces.

Measured by any standards except human contentment and ultimate security, mankind appears to be much wealthier now than in 1918. The quantities of power and material immediately available are much greater. What is called productivity in general is greater. But there is sound reason for supposing that a large part of this increased productivity is really a swifter and more thorough exploitation of irreplaceable capital. It is a process that cannot go on indefinitely. It rises to a maximum and then the feast is over. Natural resources are being exhausted at a great rate, and the increased output goes into war munitions whose purpose is destruction, and into sterile indulgences no better than waste. Man, “heir of the ages”, is a demoralised spendthrift, in a state of galloping consumption, living on stimulants.

When we look into the statistics of population, there is irrefutable proof that everywhere we are passing a maximum (see for this Enid Charles’s The Twilight of Parenthood, or R. R. Kuczynski’s Measurement of Population Growth) and that a rapid decline is certain not only in Western Europe but throughout the world. There is sound reason for doubting the alleged vast increase of the Russian people (see Souvarine’s Stalin). Nevertheless, because of the continually increasing efficiency of productive methods, the relative pressure of this new unemployed class increases. The “mob” of the twentieth century is quite different from the almost animal “mob” of the eighteenth century. It is a restless sea of dissatisfied young people, of young women who no longer bear children and young men who can find no outlet for their natural urgencies and ambitions, young people quite ready to “make trouble” as soon as they are shown how.

In the technically crude past, the illiterate Have-nots were sweated and overworked. It was easy to find toil to keep them all busy. Such surplus multitudes are wanted no more. Toil is no longer marketable. Machines can toil better and with less resistance.

These frustrated multitudes have been made acutely aware of their own frustration. The gap of their always partly artificial disadvantage has been greatly diminished because now they all read. Even for incidental employment it has been necessary to teach them that, and the new reading public thus created has evoked a press and literature of excitement and suggestion. The cinema and the radio dazzle them with spectacles of luxury and unrestricted living. They are not the helpless Hodges and factory fodder of a hundred years ago. They are educated up to what must have been the middle-class level in 1889. They are indeed largely a squeezed-out middle class, restless, impatient and as we shall see extremely dangerous. They have assimilated almost all of the lower strata that were formerly illiterate drudges.

And this modernised excess population has no longer any social humility. It has no belief in the infallible wisdom of its rulers. It sees them too clearly; it knows about them, their waste, vices and weaknesses, with an even exaggerated vividness. It sees no reason for its exclusion from the good things of life by such people. It has lost enough of its inferiority to realise that most of that inferiority is arbitrary and artificial.

You may say that this is a temporary state of affairs, that the fall in population will presently relieve the situation, by getting rid of this surplus of the “not wanted”. But it will do nothing of the sort. As population falls, consumption will fall. Industries will still be producing more and more efficiently for a shrinking market and they will be employing fewer and fewer hands. A state of five million people with half a million of useless hands, will be twice as unstable as forty million with two million standing off. So long as the present state of affairs continues, this stratum of perplexed young people “out of it” will increase relatively to the total community.

It is still not realised as clearly as it should be, how much the troubles of the present time are due to this new aspect of the social puzzle. But if you will scrutinise the events of the past half century in the light of this idea, you will see more and more convincingly that it is mainly through this growing mass of unfulfilled desire that the disruptive forces manifest themselves.

The eager and adventurous unemployed young are indeed the shock troops in the destruction of the old social order everywhere. They find guidance in some confident Party or some inspired Champion, who organises them for revolutionary or counter-revolutionary ends. It scarcely matters which. They become Communists or they become Fascists, Nazis, the Irish Republican Army, Ku Klux Klansmen and so forth and so on. The essence is the combination of energy, frustration and discontent. What all such movements have in common, is a genuine indignation at the social institutions that have begotten and then cold-shouldered them, a quasi-military organisation and the resolve to seize power for themselves embodied in their leaders. A wise and powerful government would at any cost anticipate and avert these destructive activities by providing various and interesting new employment and the necessary condition for a satisfyingly successful life for everyone. These young people are life. The rise of the successful leader only puts off the trouble for a time. He seizes power in the name of his movement. And then? When the seizure of power has been effected, he finds himself obliged to keep things going, to create justification for his leadership, exciting enterprises, urgencies.

A leader of vision with adequate technical assistance might conceivedly direct much of the human energy he has embodied into creative channels. For example he could rebuild the dirty, inadequate cities of our age, turn the still slovenly country-side into a garden and playground, re-clothe, liberate and stimulate imaginations, until the ideas of creative progress became a habit of mind. But in doing this he will find himself confronted by those who are sustained by the pre-emptions and appropriations of the old order. These relatively well-off people will bargain with him up to the last moment for their money and impede his seizure and utilisation of land and material resources, and he will be further hampered by the fact that in organising his young people he has had to turn their minds and capacities from creative work to systematic violence and militant activities. It is easy to make an unemployed young man into a Fascist or gangster, but it is hard to turn him back to any decent social task. Moreover the Champion’s own leadership was largely due to his conspiratorial and adventurous quality. He is himself unfit for a creative job. He finds himself a fighter at the head of a fighting pack.

And furthermore, unless his country is on the scale of Russia and the United States, whatever he attempts in order to make good his promises of an abundant life, has to be done in face of that mutual pressure of the sovereign states due to the abolition of distance and change of scale which we have already considered. He has no elbow-room in which to operate. The resultant of these convergent difficulties is to turn him and his fighting pack relentlessly towards the simplifying, liberating and releasing flux of predatory war.

Everywhere in the world, under varying local circumstances, we see governments primarily concerned with this supreme problem of what to do with these young adults who are unemployable under present conditions. We have to realise that and bear it constantly in mind. It is there in every country. It is the most dangerous and wrong-headed view of the world situation, to treat the totalitarian countries as differing fundamentally from the rest of the world.

The problem of reabsorbing the unemployable adult is the essential problem in all states. It is the common shape to which all current political dramas reduce. How are we to use up or slake this surplus of human energy? The young are the live core of our species. The generation below sixteen or seventeen has not yet begun to give trouble, and after forty, the ebb of vitality disposes men to accept the lot that has fallen to them.

Franklin Roosevelt and Stalin find themselves in control of vast countries under-developed or so misdeveloped that their main energies go into internal organisation or reorganisation. They do not press against their frontiers therefore and they do not threaten war. The recent Russian annexations have been precautionary-defensive. But all the same both Russia and America have to cater for that troublesome social stratum quite as much as Europe. The New Deal is plainly an attempt to achieve a working socialism and avert a social collapse in America; it is extraordinarily parallel to the successive “policies” and “Plans” of the Russian experiment. Americans shirk the word “socialism”, but what else can one call it?

The British oligarchy, demoralised and slack with the accumulated wealth of a century of advantage, bought off social upheaval for a time by the deliberate and socially demoralising appeasement of the dole. It has made no adequate effort to employ or educate these surplus people; it has just pushed the dole at them. It even tries to buy off the leader of the Labour Party with a salary of £2000 a year. Whatever we may think of the quality and deeds of the Nazi or Fascist regimes or the follies of their leaders, we must at any rate concede that they attempt, however clumsily, to reconstruct life in a collectivist direction. They are efforts to adjust and construct and so far they are in advance of the British ruling class. The British Empire has shown itself the least constructive of all governing networks. It produces no New Deals, no Five Year Plans; it keeps on trying to stave off its inevitable dissolution and carry on upon the old lines — and apparently it will do that until it has nothing more to give away.

“Peace in our time”, that foolishly premature self-congratulation of Mr Chamberlain, is manifestly the guiding principle of the British elder statesmen. It is that natural desire we all begin to feel after sixty to sit down comfortably somewhere. Unprogressive tranquillity they want at any price, even at the price of a preventive war. This astonishing bunch of rulers has never revealed any conception whatever of a common future before its sprawling Empire. There was a time when that Empire seemed likely to become the nexus of a world system, but now manifestly it has no future but disintegration. Apparently its rulers expected it to go on just as it was for ever. Bit by bit its component parts have dropped away and become quasi-independent powers, generally after an unedifying struggle; Southern Ireland for example is neutral in the present war, South Africa hesitated.

Now, and that is why this book is being written, these people, by a string of almost incredible blunders, have entangled what is left of their Empire in a great war to “end Hitler”, and they have absolutely no suggestion to offer their antagonists and the world at large, of what is to come after Hitler. Apparently they hope to paralyse Germany in some as yet unspecified fashion and then to go back to their golf links or the fishing stream and the doze by the fire after dinner. That is surely one of the most astounding things in history, the possibility of death and destruction beyond all reckoning and our combatant governments have no idea of what is to follow when the overthrow of Hitler is accomplished. They seem to be as void of any sense of the future, as completely empty-headed about the aftermath of their campaigns, as one of those American Tories who are “just out against F.D.R. Damn him!”

So the British Empire remains, paying its way down to ultimate bankruptcy, buying itself a respite from the perplexing problems of the future, with the accumulated wealth and power of its past. It is rapidly becoming the most backward political organisation in the world. But sooner or later it will have no more money for the dole and no more allies to abandon nor dominions to yield up to their local bosses, and then possibly its disintegration will be complete (R.I.P.), leaving intelligent English people to line up at last with America and the rest of the intelligent world and face the universal problem. Which is: how are we to adapt ourselves to these mighty disruptive forces that are shattering human society as it is at present constituted?

In the compressed countries which have little internal scope and lack the vast natural resources of the Russian and Atlantic communities, the internal tension makes more directly for aggressive warfare, but the fundamental driving-force behind their aggressiveness is still the universal trouble, that surplus of young men.

Seen in this broader vision, the present war falls into its true proportions as a stupid conflict upon secondary issues, which is delaying and preventing an overdue world adjustment. That it may kill hundreds of thousands of people does not alter that. An idiot with a revolver can murder a family. He remains an idiot.

From 1914 to 1939 has been a quarter of a century of folly, meanness, evasion and resentment, and only a very tedious and copious historian would attempt to distribute the blame among those who had played a part in the story. And when he had done it, what he had done would not matter in the least. An almost overwhelmingly difficult problem has confronted us all, and in some measure we have all of us lost our heads in the face of it, lost our dignity, been too clever by half, pinned ourselves to cheap solutions, quarrelled stupidly among ourselves. “We have erred and strayed. . . . We have left undone those things that we ought to have done and we have done those things which we ought not to have done and there is no health in us.”

I do not see any way to a solution of the problem of World Peace unless we begin with a confession of universal wrong-thinking and wrong-doing. Then we can sit down to the question of a solution with some reasonable prospect of finding an answer.

Now let us assume that “we” are a number of intelligent men, German, French, English, American, Italian, Chinese and so forth, who have decided in consequence of the war and in spite of the war, while the war is still going on, to wipe out all these squabbling bygones from our minds, and discuss plainly and simply the present situation of mankind. What is to be done with the world? Let us recapitulate the considerations that so far have been brought into the case and then examine where they lead us, what other general considerations can be brought in, and what prospects they open, if any, of some hopeful concerted action, action that would so revolutionise the human outlook as to end war and that hectic recurrent waste of human life and happiness, for ever.

Firstly then it has been made apparent that humanity is at the end of an age, an age of fragmentation in the management of its affairs, fragmentation politically among separate sovereign states and economically among unrestricted business organisations competing for profit. The abolition of distance, the enormous increase of available power, root causes of all our troubles, have suddenly made what was once a tolerable working system — a system that was perhaps with all its inequalities and injustices the only practicable working system in its time — enormously dangerous and wasteful, so that it threatens to exhaust and destroy our world altogether. Man is like a feckless heir who has suddenly been able to get at his capital and spend it as though it were income. We are living in a phase of violent and irreparable expenditure. There is an intensified scramble among nations and among individuals to acquire, monopolise and spend. The dispossessed young find themselves hopeless unless they resort to violence. They implement the ever-increasing instability. Only a comprehensive collectivisation of human affairs can arrest this disorderly self-destruction of mankind. All this has been made plain in what has gone before.

This essential problem, the problem of collectivisation, can be viewed from two reciprocal points of view and stated in two different ways. We can ask, “What is to be done to end the world chaos?” and also “How can we offer the common young man a reasonable and stimulating prospect of a full life?”

These two questions are the obverse and reverse of one question. What answers one answers the other. The answer to both is that we have to collectivise the world as one system with practically everyone playing a reasonably satisfying part in it. For sound practical reasons, over and above any ethical or sentimental considerations, we have to devise a collectivisation that neither degrades nor enslaves.

Our imaginary world conference then has to turn itself to the question of how to collectivise the world, so that it will remain collectivised and yet enterprising, interesting and happy enough to content that common young man who will otherwise reappear, baffled and sullen, at the street corners and throw it into confusion again. To that problem the rest of this book will address itself.

As a matter of fact it is very obvious that at the present time a sort of collectivisation is being imposed very rapidly upon the world. Everyone is being enrolled, ordered about, put under control somewhere — even if it is only in an evacuation or concentration camp or what not. This process of collectivisation, collectivisation of some sort, seems now to be in the nature of things and there is no reason to suppose it is reversible. Some people imagine world peace as the end of that process. Collectivisation is going to be defeated and a vaguely conceived reign of law will restore and sustain property, Christianity, individualism and everything to which the respectable prosperous are accustomed. This is implicit even in the title of such a book as Edward Mousley’s Man or Leviathan? It is much more reasonable to think that world peace has to be the necessary completion of that process, and that the alternative is a decadent anarchy. If so, the phrase for the aims of liberal thought should be no Man or Leviathan but Man masters Leviathan.

On this point, the inevitability of collectivisation as the sole alternative to universal brigandage and social collapse, our world conference must make itself perfectly clear.

Then it has to turn itself to the much more difficult and complicated question of HOW.

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