Thursday, 1 February 2018

The New World Order (1940)

This slender volume was published on its own early in 1940 and reissued bound-in as a twofer with The Fate of Homo Sapiens (1939) as The Outlook for Homo Sapiens (1942).

‘In this small book,’ says Wells, kicking off The New World Order, ‘I want to set down as compactly, clearly and usefully as possible the gist of what I have learnt about war and peace in the course of my life.’ When he was a child, in the 1880s, he says, ‘not only I but most of my generation—in the British Empire, America, France and indeed throughout most of the civilised world—thought that war was dying out’. The consensus was that a balance of power had been achieved, and though Wells realises such optimism looks foolish to the point of idiocy from the wrong side of the Great War and at the commencement of the Second World War, he defends his former blitheness. The forces that led to war, though prodigious, were subterranean: ‘deeper forces at work that were preparing trouble’. To put an end to war, says Wells, means addressing those forces, and that means abolishing the nation state, reorganizing the world economy to make war unprofitable and to revolutionize pedagogy on a global footing to give empower not a small elite but the entire globe through education.

It's the hymn Wells has been singing since the 19-teens and earlier, here set out with a useful economy. Modernity had shrunk the world, in terms of travel and communication, and massively increased the power available to humankind for destructive, as well as creative, purposes (‘there is more power expended in a modern city like Birmingham in a day than we need to keep the whole of Elizabethan England going for a year; there is more destructive energy in a single tank than sufficed the army of William I for the conquest of England’ [3])—but humankind persisted stubbornly in thinking in dangerously out-of-date ways about both these new facts of global life. Only a comprehensive reform of everything could ensure the survival of the species going forward.

We must, he insists, take collective control. Wells works to draw a sharp distinction between what he means by collectivisation and the word's more usual Marxist associations: he's not having any of that Marxist gubbins. Indeed, he absolutely refuses to believe that there even is such a thing as a ‘Capitalist system’ on the not entirely unreasonable grounds that the core truth of Capitalism is how completely unsystematic it is. He repeats from The Fate of Homo Sapiens his argument that it is asking for trouble to have so many young men at a loose end, loafing about full of testosterone (Wells doesn't mention that hormone, but that's what he means). ‘The dispossessed young,’ says Wells, ‘find themselves hopeless unless they resort to violence. They implement the ever-increasing instability’ adding that ‘only a comprehensive collectivisation of human affairs can arrest this disorderly self-destruction of mankind’ by answering the question‘How can we offer the common young man a reasonable and stimulating prospect of a full life?’ [5] And Wells states compactly his overall World State philosophy:
The establishment of a progressive world socialism in which the freedoms, health and happiness of every individual are protected by a universal law based on a re-declaration of the rights of man, and wherein there is the utmost liberty of thought, criticism and suggestion, is the plain, rational objective before us now. Only the effective realisation of this objective can establish peace on earth and arrest the present march of human affairs to misery and destruction. We cannot reiterate this objective too clearly and too frequently. The triangle of collectivisation, law and knowledge should embody the common purpose of all mankind. [New World Order, 9]
Along the way, Wells is particularly emphatic on the need for free speech. Wells had given personal and financial support to the creation of the National Council for Civil Liberties in 1934 (he was vice-president of the organisation for a while), and in this book he urges citizens to join it, and otherwise fight for freedom of speech:
Before anything else, therefore, in this survey of the way to world peace, I put free speech and vigorous publication. It is the thing best worth fighting for. It is the essence of your personal honour. It is your duty as a world citizen to do what you can for that. You have not only to resist suppressions, you have to fight your way out of the fog. If you find your bookseller or newsagent failing to distribute any type of publication whatever--even if you are in entire disagreement with the views of that publication--you should turn the weapon of the boycott upon the offender and find another bookseller or newsagent for everything you read. The would-be world citizen should subscribe also to such organisation as the National Council for Civil Liberties; he should use any advantage his position may give him to check suppression of free speech; and he should accustom himself to challenge nonsense politely but firmly and say fearlessly and as clearly as possible what is in his mind and to listen as fearlessly to whatever is said to him. [New World Order, 2]
The New World Order ends with a ten-point proposal for a Declaration of the Rights of Man. Wells wasn't the force in international politics he'd been in 1918, but this, together with his energetic contributions to the Sankey Committee (also 1940) and its ‘Sankey Declaration of the Rights of Man’ directly fed into the process by which the actual 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted. So in that respect, even in his eighth decade, Wells was influencing world politics. It's an oblique influence, but still.
(1) That every man without distinction of race, of colour or of professed belief or opinions, is entitled to the nourishment, covering, medical care and attention needed to realise his full possibilities of physical and mental development and to keep him in a state of health from his birth to death.

(2) That he is entitled to sufficient education to make him a useful and interested citizen, that special education should be so made available as to give him equality of opportunity for the development of his distinctive gifts in the service of mankind, that he should have easy access to information upon all matters of common knowledge throughout his life and enjoy the utmost freedom of discussion, association and worship.

(3) That he may engage freely in any lawful occupation, earning such pay as the need for his work and the increment it makes to the common welfare may justify. That he is entitled to paid employment and to a free choice whenever there is any variety of employment open to him. He may suggest employment for himself and have his claim publicly considered, accepted or dismissed.

(4) That he shall have the right to buy or sell without any discriminatory restrictions anything which may be lawfully bought or sold, in such quantities and with such reservations as are compatible with the common welfare.

(5) That he and his personal property lawfully acquired are entitled to police and legal protection from private violence, deprivation, compulsion and intimidation.

(6) That he may move freely about the world at his own expense. That his private house or apartment or reasonably limited garden enclosure is his castle, which may be entered only with consent, but that he shall have the right to come and go over any kind of country, moorland, mountain, farm, great garden or what not, or upon the seas, lakes and rivers of the world, where his presence will not be destructive of some special use, dangerous to himself nor seriously inconvenient to his fellow-citizens.

(7) That a man unless he is declared by a competent authority to be a danger to himself and to others through mental abnormality, a declaration which must be annually confirmed, shall not be imprisoned for a longer period than six days without being charged with a definite offence against the law, nor for more than three months without public trial. At the end if the latter period, if he has not been tried and sentenced by due process of law, he shall be released. Nor shall he be conscripted for military, police or any other service to which he has a conscientious objection.

(8) That although a man is subject to the free criticism of his fellows, he shall have adequate protection from any lying or misrepresentation that may distress or injure him. All administrative registration and records about a man shall be open to his personal and private inspection. There shall be no secret dossiers in any administrative department. All dossiers shall be accessible to the man concerned and subject to verification and correction at his challenge. A dossier is merely a memorandum; it cannot be used as evidence without proper confirmation in open court.

(9) That no man shall be subjected to any sort of mutilation or sterilisation except with his own deliberate consent, freely given, nor to bodily assault, except in restraint of his own violence, nor to torture, beating or any other bodily punishment; he shall not be subjected to imprisonment with such an excess of silence, noise, light or darkness as to cause mental suffering, or to imprisonment in infected, verminous or otherwise insanitary quarters, or be put into the company of verminous or infectious people. He shall not be forcibly fed nor prevented from starving himself if he so desire. He shall not be forced to take drugs nor shall they be administered to him without his knowledge and consent. That the extreme punishments to which he may be subjected are rigorous imprisonment for a term of not longer than fifteen years or death.

(10) That the provisions and principles embodied in this Declaration shall be more fully defined in a code of fundamental human rights which shall be made easily accessible to everyone. This Declaration shall not be qualified nor departed from upon any pretext whatever. It incorporates all previous Declarations of Human Right. Henceforth for a new ear it is the fundamental law for mankind throughout the whole world.
‘He’ for ‘S/he’ is awkward, of course, for all that Wells earlier insists he means to encompass both men and women under that pronoun; but otherwise this is a pretty good fist, I think. In particular the addition of the ‘common welfare’ stipulation in 3 and 4 would make for a radical change in present affairs if it were enforced, or if it had made it through to the actual Declaration. Wells returns to the tabulation of human rights in 1943's The Rights of Man.


  1. Adam,
    Aside from praising you for this immensely informative and fascinating blog, I wanted to ask if this book's title might not qualify for your list of four popular phrases Wells coined, such as "atom bomb". It's seen a great deal of use since the Nineties, the collapse of Communism, and a more unipolar world. Wells may not have been its inventor (would you know?), but his fame at this point might have given it greater currency. I think I'll see if Google Ngram can shed any light on it. In the meantime, thanks so much for this blog; I can't wait for your book.

  2. Back again...
    Ngram says the phrase "New World Order" doesn't take off till around 1915, dips around 1922, rises around 1927, peaks in 1943, down again, leveling off in 1953, takes off again in 1987,peaks again in 1994, and declines since: so I guess I'm wrong proposing Wells might have made it famous. Ah, empirical evidence; what a pain. Never mind, as Emily Litella used to say...The blog is still great, though. (The Palgrave history, too.)

  3. David: thanks for the kind words, and for that Ngram evidence: it's very useful. I did wonder about Wells using a phrase associated nowadays, I'd say, with Nazism: but the German "Neuordnung" is a regular word for "realignment, rearrangement, reorganization" (and the specific Nazi usage doesn't become a thing until 1942 and doesn't filter through to English until after the war).

  4. FWIW I associate "new world order" with George H. W. Bush:

    The most widely discussed application of the phrase of recent times came at the end of the Cold War. Presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush used the term to try to define the nature of the post Cold War era, and the spirit of great power cooperation that they hoped might materialize. Gorbachev's initial formulation was wide-ranging and idealistic, but his ability to press for it was severely limited by the internal crisis of the Soviet system. Bush's vision was, in comparison, not less circumscribed: “A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor. Today that new world is struggling to be born, a world quite different from the one we've known.”[1] However, given the new unipolar status of the United States, Bush's vision was realistic: "...there is no substitute for American leadership."[1] The Gulf War of 1991 was regarded as the first test of the new world order: "Now, we can see a new world coming into view. A world in which there is the very real prospect of a new world order... The Gulf war put this new world to its first test..."