Holy Crap! H.G. Wells was a totalitarian!

Apologies if this is old news to anyone. I’d known of course that Wells was a socialist progressive, and I’d thought that like others who held fashionably leftist views in early-twentieth century Britain, Wells was simply a naive idealist who believed in things that in hindsight are now regarded as quaintly uptopian: that the way to abolish war was to establish a world government; that religion was a primitive superstition that would wither away in a modern world, that economic activity would and should be controlled by the government, etc.

Then I read the actual text of his novel, The Shape of Things to Come I’d seen the movie, which dwells mainly on the collapse of civilization as we knew it and it’s rescue by a technocracy. But the novel spells out in gruesome detail what the move didn’t: just what measures the fledgling world government would take to secure it’s control. The only hint of mercy in “‘The Dictatorship of the Air’” is that it posesses a knockout gas that allows it to merely subdue, rather than kill, rebellious populations. In every other respect, the Dictatorship follows a program that Vladamir Lenin would have approved of. To give just one example, religion is repressed by the power of the state- kosher butcher shops are forcibly closed and the Jews are assimilated.

What stands out in the novel is Wells’s attitude that all conventional morality is simply the relic of a pre-industrial society, and that the world of the future would have utterly different (by our lights, inhuman) values. And that Wells openly proclaims this and regards it as self-evidently admirable.

It’s a very long time since I read it, but what makes you think he’s presenting a Utopia?

You mean Stalin? Not Lenin.

There appears to be a number of people, from all ends of the political or religious spectrums, who appear to think that their own vision of society/government is superior to all others, and that folks should be made (forced) to live under that (benevolent, of course) rule. For their own good, you see: The “mob” is too stupid to be given the power to choose it’s own way.

These strongly held values seem, sometimes, to instill a belief of righteousness, and that the ends justify the means.

Sure. Progressivism - the idea that the educated elites can better manage the lives of the masses than said masses could themselves, was a big deal back then. It was the driving force behind feminism, Prohibition, public schooling, eugenics, and so on. Wells was merely extrapolating it to the future.

Of course while policies change, the idea that wise elites should use top-down political tools to make “good decisions” for the masses, and that this supposed efficiency is more important than liberty, has hardly died out.

Hey, ya let freedom take care of things & the rich pampered owners become weak infantile surface-dwelling Eloi while the sturdy lowly workers become strong simian subterranean Morlocks. Ya wanna be Morlock food?

Tangentially relevant essay by George Orwell: “Wells, Hitler, and the World State” (1941).

He meant Lenin. Lenin was a dictator who exterminated millions. Lenin wasn’t as bad as Stalin, just like Mussolini and Franco weren’t as bad as Hitler. But “not as bad as Stalin” is a pretty low hurdle.

Yes, as others have said, his views weren’t too much different from what you’d expect to find among the group of progressive, upper-class English gentlemen at the time. It’s more a reflection on how poorly our educational system covers history that many people are unaware of the currents of thought that went through Britain and other western countries in the early 20th century.


I was looking at the example…

you know… with the freedom of religion being ensured in the first USSR constitution… and Lenin’s stance against antisemitism and all that. It just sounds like it fits Stalin better.

And I don’t think Lenin would have done anything to alienate Trotsky, who was Jewish.


My post is my cite.

Yea… I was wondering about it too since I haven’t seen statistics to imply that. Sure, people died in the civil war… and the '21 famine killed what, 5 million-ish people. But exterminate seem a bit strong… besides, I was saving it for later :smiley:


Y’know, if you’d just watch the season opener of Warehouse 13, you’d have known about H.G. Wells’ evil ways. She’s the Big Bad of Season 2.

Says BrotherCadfael"Y’know, if you’d just watch the season opener of Warehouse 13, you’d have know about H.G. Wells’ evil ways. She’s the Big Hottie of Season 2."

Fixed that for ya.

A quibble. A minor point, but that’s the trouble with quibbles…

I can see how one could see Well’s notions as “totalitarian” but I reserve that term for structures that are imposed rather than structures which evolve. I think Wells saw his future society as one that would necessarily evolve from rationalist principles, or, if they did not evolve, there would be no future for mankind, “totalitarian” or otherwise. I don’t see anything like a suggestion that a technocrat cabal will seize power.

Lenin, by comparison, also believed in a rationalist culture, and believed it inevitable, that is the core principle, the inevitability of History. But he firmly believed in the imposition of such a society, a dictatorship of the proletariat, led by the revolutionary cadres, and imposed by force upon the majority, regardless of their will or their views.

In my view, Lenin perfectly deserves the epithet “totalitarian”, if for no other reason than his ruthless commitment to a political ideal. Welles would write, Welles would argue, Welles would beseech and implore. I don’t seeing him shooting anyone. Unless, of course, it was his only opportunity to get his hands on a genuine 1920’s Style Death Ray. Then, maybe.

Well read the story for yourself if you haven’t already. The rationalist world state “evolves” up to the point where it’s time to suppress the holdouts, regressives and obstructionists; then it’s unapologetically imposed. And anyone who thinks that that is wrong is simply holding on to primitive, outmoded concepts. :rolleyes:

If Wells had been born in Russia rather than Britain then instead of being an armchair pundit he might have fit in perfectly with the Bolsheviks. Or perhaps it’s a case of the cynical saying “totalitarianism is philosophy given political power”.

Goddamned Horses! Foisting industrialization off on Humanity so they can throw off their yoke of oppression.