Sunday, 17 September 2017

The War and Socialism (1914)



The war stirred Wells to new energies of textual production:—he was, as David Smith notes, ‘unusually productive during the wartime period’. This blog isn't going to attempt to chart the entire, complex web of newspaper articles, magazine pieces, pamphlets and other kinds of writing he produced over this period, though I will touch on a few indicative pieces. The point is that ‘his fame was [now] such that his name sold copies of newspapers and pamphlets’, and that he therefore produced a lot. He also got involved on a public level. During 1914-18:
he wrote a half-dozen novels, published four of five collections of his newspaper pieces, which appeared in great numbers. He held a government position for a time, as well as taking a leading part both in the efforts of the British Science Guild to revise the school curriculum and in the various attempts he hoped would bring about a form of the League of Nations. [David Smith, H G Wells: Desperately Mortal (Yale Univ. Press 1986), 218]
Smith points out that the war radically changed Wells's outlook on things, and ushered in a ‘second phase’ in his life and writing: ‘no longer would small disagreements with the Fabians, Henry James or the directions taken by British politics excite him much. The war proved to him, and to many others, that such matters were trivial. What did matter was the future of the world, of the species; to use a later phrase of him, who would win the race between education and catastrophe?’

There's a shift in the tenor of his wartime non-fiction, along these line too; and The War and Socialism (1915) is very much an early piece of work. The war is straightforwardly Germany's fault, but such fault inheres in an evil ideological indoctrination rather than anything specifically German: ‘We fight because a whole nation has become obsessed by pride and the cant of cynicism and the vanity of violence, by the evil suggestion of such third-rate writers as Gobineau and Stewart Chamberlain that they were a people of peculiar excellence destined to dominate the earth … by the theatricalism of the Kaiser and by two stirring songs about Deutschland and the Rhine.’ If, Wells implies, bad and contemptible ideas can have such an effect, just imagine what great and ennobling ideas, like ‘peace’ and ‘socialism’ might have, if only they were properly put across! There are some nice apothegms (‘intellect without faith is the devil, but faith without intellect is a negligent angel with rusty weapons’) and some rousing calls for a brighter future.

The pamphlet was reprinted pretty much word-for-word as one of the pieces in The War That Will End War under the new title ‘The War for the Mind’.

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