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What is Coming? by H. G. Wells

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What is Coming?

A Forecast of Things after the War






Prophecy may vary between being an intellectual amusement and a serious
occupation; serious not only in its intentions, but in its consequences.
For it is the lot of prophets who frighten or disappoint to be stoned.
But for some of us moderns, who have been touched with the spirit of
science, prophesying is almost a habit of mind.

Science is very largely analysis aimed at forecasting. The test of any
scientific law is our verification of its anticipations. The scientific
training develops the idea that whatever is going to happen is really
here now--if only one could see it. And when one is taken by surprise
the tendency is not to say with the untrained man, "Now, who'd ha'
thought it?" but "Now, what was it we overlooked?"

Everything that has ever existed or that will ever exist is here--for
anyone who has eyes to see. But some of it demands eyes of superhuman
penetration. Some of it is patent; we are almost as certain of next
Christmas and the tides of the year 1960 and the death before 3000 A.D.
of everybody now alive as if these things had already happened. Below
that level of certainty, but still at a very high level of certainty,
there are such things as that men will probably be making aeroplanes of
an improved pattern in 1950, or that there will be a through railway
connection between Constantinople and Bombay and between Baku and Bombay
in the next half-century. From such grades of certainty as this, one may
come down the scale until the most obscure mystery of all is reached:
the mystery of the individual. Will England presently produce a military
genius? or what will Mr. Belloc say the day after to-morrow? The most
accessible field for the prophet is the heavens; the least is the secret
of the jumping cat within the human skull. How will so-and-so behave,
and how will the nation take it? For such questions as that we need the
subtlest guesses of all.

Yet, even to such questions as these the sharp, observant man may risk
an answer with something rather better than an even chance of being

The present writer is a prophet by use and wont. He is more interested
in to-morrow than he is in to-day, and the past is just material for
future guessing. "Think of the men who have walked here!" said a tourist
in the Roman Coliseum. It was a Futurist mind that answered: "Think of
the men who will." It is surely as interesting that presently some
founder of the World Republic, some obstinate opponent of militarism or
legalism, or the man who will first release atomic energy for human use,
will walk along the Via Sacra as that Cicero or Giordano Bruno or
Shelley have walked there in the past. To the prophetic mind all history
is and will continue to be a prelude. The prophetic type will
steadfastly refuse to see the world as a museum; it will insist that
here is a stage set for a drama that perpetually begins.

Now this forecasting disposition has led the writer not only to publish
a book of deliberate prophesying, called "Anticipations," but almost
without premeditation to scatter a number of more or less obvious
prophecies through his other books. From first to last he has been
writing for twenty years, so that it is possible to check a certain
proportion of these anticipations by the things that have happened, Some
of these shots have hit remarkably close to the bull's-eye of reality;
there are a number of inners and outers, and some clean misses. Much
that he wrote about in anticipation is now established commonplace. In
1894 there were still plenty of sceptics of the possibility either of
automobiles or aeroplanes; it was not until 1898 that Mr. S.P. Langley
(of the Smithsonian Institute) could send the writer a photograph of a
heavier-than-air flying machine actually in the air. There were articles
in the monthly magazines of those days _proving_ that flying was

One of the writer's luckiest shots was a description (in "Anticipations"
in 1900) of trench warfare, and of a deadlock almost exactly upon the
lines of the situation after the battle of the Marne. And he was
fortunate (in the same work) in his estimate of the limitations of
submarines. He anticipated Sir Percy Scott by a year in his doubts of
the decisive value of great battleships (_see_ "An Englishman Looks at
the World"); and he was sound in denying the decadence of France; in
doubting (before the Russo-Japanese struggle) the greatness of the power
of Russia, which was still in those days a British bogey; in making
Belgium the battle-ground in a coming struggle between the mid-European
Powers and the rest of Europe; and (he believes) in foretelling a
renascent Poland. Long before Europe was familiar with the engaging
personality of the German Crown Prince, he represented great airships
sailing over England (which country had been too unenterprising to make
any) under the command of a singularly anticipatory Prince Karl, and in
"The World Set Free" the last disturber of the peace is a certain
"Balkan Fox."

In saying, however, here and there that "before such a year so-and-so
will happen," or that "so-and-so will not occur for the next twenty
years," he was generally pretty widely wrong; most of his time estimates
are too short; he foretold, for example, a special motor track apart
from the high road between London and Brighton before 1910, which is
still a dream, but he doubted if effective military aviation or aerial
fighting would be possible before 1950, which is a miss on the other
side. He will draw a modest veil over certain still wider misses that
the idle may find for themselves in his books; he prefers to count the
hits and leave the reckoning of the misses to those who will find a
pleasure in it.

Of course, these prophecies of the writer's were made upon a basis of
very generalised knowledge. What can be done by a really sustained
research into a particular question--especially if it is a question
essentially mechanical--is shown by the work of a Frenchman all too
neglected by the trumpet of fame--Clement Ader. M. Ader was probably the
first man to get a mechanism up into the air for something more than a
leap. His _Eole_, as General Mensier testifies, prolonged a jump as far
as fifty metres as early as 1890. In 1897 his _Avion_ fairly flew. (This
is a year ahead of the date of my earliest photograph of S.P. Langley's
aeropile in mid-air.) This, however, is beside our present mark. The
fact of interest here is that in 1908, when flying was still almost
incredible, M. Ader published his "Aviation Militaire." Well, that was
eight years ago, and men have been fighting in the air now for a year,
and there is still nothing being done that M. Ader did not see, and
which we, if we had had the wisdom to attend to him, might not have been
prepared for. There is much that he foretells which is still awaiting
its inevitable fulfilment. So clearly can men of adequate knowledge and
sound reasoning power see into the years ahead in all such matters of
material development.

But it is not with the development of mechanical inventions that the
writer now proposes to treat. In this book he intends to hazard certain
forecasts about the trend of events in the next decade or so. Mechanical
novelties will probably play a very small part in that coming history.
This world-wide war means a general arrest of invention and enterprise,
except in the direction of the war business. Ability is concentrated
upon that; the types of ability that are not applicable to warfare are
neglected; there is a vast destruction of capital and a waste of the
savings that are needed to finance new experiments. Moreover, we are
killing off many of our brightest young men.

It is fairly safe to assume that there will be very little new furniture
on the stage of the world for some considerable time; that if there is
much difference in the roads and railways and shipping it will be for
the worse; that architecture, domestic equipment, and so on, will be
fortunate if in 1924 they stand where they did in the spring of 1914. In
the trenches of France and Flanders, and on the battlefields of Russia,
the Germans have been spending and making the world spend the comfort,
the luxury and the progress of the next quarter-century. There is no
accounting for tastes. But the result is that, while it was possible
for the writer in 1900 to write "Anticipations of the Reaction of
Mechanical Progress upon Human Life and Thought," in 1916 his
anticipations must belong to quite another system of consequences.

The broad material facts before us are plain enough. It is the mental
facts that have to be unravelled. It isn't now a question of "What
thing--what faculty--what added power will come to hand, and how will it
affect our ways of living?" It is a question of "How are people going to
take these obvious things--waste of the world's resources, arrest of
material progress, the killing of a large moiety of the males in nearly
every European country, and universal loss and unhappiness?" We are
going to deal with realities here, at once more intimate and less
accessible than the effects of mechanism.

As a preliminary reconnaissance, as it were, over the region of problems
we have to attack, let us consider the difficulties of a single
question, which is also a vital and central question in this forecast.
We shall not attempt a full answer here, because too many of the factors
must remain unexamined; later, perhaps, we may be in a better position
to do so. This question is the probability of the establishment of a
long world peace.

At the outset of the war there was a very widely felt hope among the
intellectuals of the world that this war might clear up most of the
outstanding international problems, and prove the last war. The writer,
looking across the gulf of experience that separates us from 1914,
recalls two pamphlets whose very titles are eloquent of this
feeling--"The War that will End War," and "The Peace of the World." Was
the hope expressed in those phrases a dream? Is it already proven a
dream? Or can we read between the lines of the war news, diplomatic
disputations, threats and accusations, political wranglings and stories
of hardship and cruelty that now fill our papers, anything that still
justifies a hope that these bitter years of world sorrow are the
darkness before the dawn of a better day for mankind? Let us handle this
problem for a preliminary examination.

What is really being examined here is the power of human reason to
prevail over passion--and certain other restraining and qualifying
forces. There can be little doubt that, if one could canvass all mankind
and ask them whether they would rather have no war any more, the
overwhelming mass of them would elect for universal peace. If it were
war of the modern mechanical type that was in question, with air raids,
high explosives, poison gas and submarines, there could be no doubt at
all about the response. "Give peace in our time, O Lord," is more than
ever the common prayer of Christendom, and the very war makers claim to
be peace makers; the German Emperor has never faltered in his assertion
that he encouraged Austria to send an impossible ultimatum to Serbia,
and invaded Belgium because Germany was being attacked. The Krupp-Kaiser
Empire, he assures us, is no eagle, but a double-headed lamb, resisting
the shearers and butchers. The apologists for war are in a hopeless
minority; a certain number of German Prussians who think war good for
the soul, and the dear ladies of the London _Morning Post_ who think war
so good for the manners of the working classes, are rare, discordant
voices in the general chorus against war. If a mere unsupported and
uncoordinated will for peace could realise itself, there would be peace,
and an enduring peace, to-morrow. But, as a matter of fact, there is no
peace coming to-morrow, and no clear prospect yet of an enduring
universal peace at the end of this war.

Now what are the obstructions, and what are the antagonisms to the
exploitation of this world-wide disgust with war and the world-wide
desire for peace, so as to establish a world peace?

Let us take them in order, and it will speedily become apparent that we
are dealing here with a subtle quantitative problem in psychology, a
constant weighing of whether this force or that force is the stronger.
We are dealing with influences so subtle that the accidents of some
striking dramatic occurrence, for example, may turn them this way or
that. We are dealing with the human will--and thereby comes a snare for
the feet of the would-be impartial prophet. To foretell the future is to
modify the future. It is hard for any prophet not to break into
exhortation after the fashion of the prophets of Israel.

The first difficulty in the way of establishing a world peace is that it
is nobody's business in particular. Nearly all of us want a world
peace--in an amateurish sort of way. But there is no specific person or
persons to whom one can look for the initiatives. The world is a
supersaturated solution of the will-for-peace, and there is nothing for
it to crystallise upon. There is no one in all the world who is
responsible for the understanding and overcoming of the difficulties
involved. There are many more people, and there is much more
intelligence concentrated upon the manufacture of cigarettes or
hairpins than upon the establishment of a permanent world peace. There
are a few special secretaries employed by philanthropic Americans, and
that is about all. There has been no provision made even for the
emoluments of these gentlemen when universal peace is attained;
presumably they would lose their jobs.

Nearly everybody wants peace; nearly everybody would be glad to wave a
white flag with a dove on it now--provided no unfair use was made of
such a demonstration by the enemy--but there is practically nobody
thinking out the arrangements needed, and nobody making nearly as much
propaganda for the instruction of the world in the things needful as is
made in selling any popular make of automobile. We have all our
particular businesses to attend to. And things are not got by just
wanting them; things are got by getting them, and rejecting whatever
precludes our getting them.

That is the first great difficulty: the formal Peace Movement is quite

It is so amateurish that the bulk of people do not even realise the very
first implication of the peace of the world. It has not succeeded in
bringing this home to them.

If there is to be a permanent peace of the world, it is clear that
there must be some permanent means of settling disputes between Powers
and nations that would otherwise be at war. That means that there must
be some head power, some point of reference, a supreme court of some
kind, a universally recognised executive over and above the separate
Governments of the world that exist to-day. That does not mean that
those Governments Have to disappear, that "nationality" has to be given
up, or anything so drastic as that. But it does mean that all those
Governments have to surrender almost as much of their sovereignty as the
constituent sovereign States which make up the United States of America
have surrendered to the Federal Government; if their unification is to
be anything more than a formality, they will have to delegate a control
of their inter-State relations to an extent for which few minds are
prepared at present.

It is really quite idle to dream of a warless world in which States are
still absolutely free to annoy one another with tariffs, with the
blocking and squeezing of trade routes, with the ill-treatment of
immigrants and travelling strangers, and between which there is no means
of settling boundary disputes. Moreover, as between the united States of
the world and the United States of America there is this further
complication of the world position: that almost all the great States of
Europe are in possession, firstly, of highly developed territories of
alien language and race, such as Egypt; and, secondly, of barbaric and
less-developed territories, such as Nigeria or Madagascar. There will be
nothing stable about a world settlement that does not destroy in these
"possessions" the national preference of the countries that own them and
that does not prepare for the immediate or eventual accession of these
subject peoples to State rank. Most certainly, however, thousands of
intelligent people in those great European countries who believe
themselves ardent for a world peace will be staggered at any proposal to
place any part of "our Empire" under a world administration on the
footing of a United States territory. Until they cease to be staggered
by anything of the sort, their aspirations for a permanent peace will
remain disconnected from the main current of their lives. And that
current will flow, sluggishly or rapidly, towards war. For essentially
these "possessions" are like tariffs, like the strategic occupation of
neutral countries or secret treaties; they are forms of the conflict
between nations to oust and prevail over other nations.

Going on with such things and yet deprecating war is really not an
attempt to abolish conflict; it is an attempt to retain conflict and
limit its intensity; it is like trying to play hockey on the
understanding that the ball shall never travel faster than eight miles
an hour.

Now it not only stands in our way to a permanent peace of the world that
the great mass of men are not prepared for even the most obvious
implications of such an idea, but there is also a second invincible
difficulty--that there is nowhere in the world anybody, any type of men,
any organisation, any idea, any nucleus or germ, that could possibly
develop into the necessary over-Government. We are asking for something
out of the air, out of nothingness, that will necessarily array against
itself the resistance of all those who are in control, or interested in
the control, of the affairs of sovereign States of the world as they are
at present; the resistance of a gigantic network of Government
organisations, interests, privileges, assumptions.

Against this a headless, vague aspiration, however universal, is likely
to prove quite ineffective. Of course, it is possible to suggest that
the Hague Tribunal is conceivably the germ of such an overriding
direction and supreme court as the peace of the world demands, but in
reality the Hague Tribunal is a mere legal automatic machine. It does
nothing unless you set it in motion. It has no initiative. It does not
even protest against the most obvious outrages upon that phantom of a
world-conscience--international law.

Pacificists in their search for some definite starting-point, about
which the immense predisposition for peace may crystallise, have
suggested the Pope and various religious organisations as a possible
basis for the organisation of peace. But there would be no appeal from
such a beginning to the non-Christian majority of mankind, and the
suggestion in itself indicates a profound ignorance of the nature of the
Christian churches. With the exception of the Quakers and a few Russian
sects, no Christian sect or church has ever repudiated war; most have
gone out of the way to sanction it and bless it.

It is altogether too rashly assumed by people whose sentimentality
outruns their knowledge that Christianity is essentially an attempt to
carry out the personal teachings of Christ. It is nothing of the sort,
and no church authority will support that idea. Christianity--more
particularly after the ascendancy of the Trinitarian doctrine was
established--was and is a theological religion; it is the religion that
triumphed over Arianism, Manichseism, Gnosticism, and the like; it is
based not on Christ, but on its creeds. Christ, indeed, is not even its
symbol; on the contrary, the chosen symbol of Christianity is the cross
to which Christ was nailed and on which He died. It was very largely a
religion of the legions. It was the warrior Theodosius who, more than
any single other man, imposed it upon Europe.

There is no reason, therefore, either in precedent or profession, for
expecting any plain lead from the churches in this tremendous task of
organising and making effective the widespread desire of the world for
peace. And even were this the case, it is doubtful if we should find in
the divines and dignitaries of the Vatican, of the Russian and British
official churches, or of any other of the multitudinous Christian sects,
the power and energy, the knowledge and ability, or even the goodwill
needed to negotiate so vast a thing as the creation of a world

One other possible starting-point has been suggested. It is no great
feat for a naive imagination to suppose the President of the Swiss
Confederation or the President of the United States--for each of these
two systems is an exemplary and encouraging instance of the possibility
of the pacific synthesis of independent States--taking a propagandist
course and proposing extensions of their own systems to the suffering

But nothing of the sort occurs. And when you come to look into the
circumstances of these two Presidents you will discover that neither of
them is any more free than anybody else to embark upon the task of
creating a State-overriding, war-preventing organisation of the world.
He has been created by a system, and he is bound to a system; his
concern is with the interests of the people of Switzerland or of the
United States of America. President Wilson, for example, is quite
sufficiently occupied by the affairs of the White House, by the clash of
political parties, by interferences with American overseas trade and the
security of American citizens. He has no more time to give to projects
for the fundamental reconstruction of international relationships than
has any recruit drilling in England, or any captain on an ocean liner,
or any engineer in charge of a going engine.

We are all, indeed, busy with the things that come to hand every day. We
are all anxious for a permanent world peace, but we are all up to the
neck in things that leave us no time to attend to this world peace that
nearly every sane man desires.

Meanwhile, a small minority of people who trade upon
contention--militarists, ambitious kings and statesmen, war contractors,
loan mongers, sensational journalists--follow up their interests and
start and sustain war.

There lies the paradoxical reality of this question. Our first inquiry
lands us into the elucidation of this deadlock. Nearly everybody desires
a world peace, and yet there is not apparent anywhere any man free and
able and willing to establish it, while, on the other hand, there are a
considerable number of men in positions of especial influence and power
who will certainly resist the arrangements that are essential to its

But does this exhaust the question, and must we conclude that mankind is
doomed to a perpetual, futile struggling of States and nations and
peoples--breaking ever and again into war? The answer to that would
probably, be "Yes" if it were not for the progress of war. War is
continually becoming more scientific, more destructive, more coldly
logical, more intolerant of non-combatants, and more exhausting of any
kind of property. There is every reason to believe that it will continue
to intensify these characteristics. By doing so it may presently bring
about a state of affairs that will supply just the lacking elements that
are needed for the development of a world peace.

I would venture to suggest that the present war is doing so now: that it
is producing changes in men's minds that may presently give us both the
needed energy and the needed organisation from which a world direction
may develop.

The first, most distinctive thing about this conflict is the
exceptionally searching way in which it attacks human happiness. No war
has ever destroyed happiness so widely. It has not only killed and
wounded an unprecedented proportion of the male population of all the
combatant nations, but it has also destroyed wealth beyond precedent. It
has also destroyed freedom--of movement, of speech, of economic
enterprise. Hardly anyone alive has escaped the worry of it and the
threat of it. It has left scarcely a life untouched, and made scarcely a
life happier. There is a limit to the principle that "everybody's
business is nobody's business." The establishment of a world State,
which was interesting only to a few cranks and visionaries before the
war, is now the lively interest of a very great number of people. They
inquire about it; they have become accessible to ideas about it.

Peace organisation seems, indeed, to be following the lines of public
sanitation. Everybody in England, for example, was bored by the
discussion of sanitation--until the great cholera epidemic. Everybody
thought public health a very desirable thing, but nobody thought it
intensely and overridingly desirable. Then the interest in sanitation
grew lively, and people exerted themselves to create responsible
organisations. Crimes of violence, again, were neglected in the great
cities of Europe until the danger grew to dimensions that evolved the
police. There come occasions when the normal concentration of an
individual upon his own immediate concerns becomes impossible; as, for
instance, when a man who is stocktaking in his business premises
discovers that the house next door is on fire. A great many people who
have never troubled their heads about anything but their own purely
personal and selfish interests are now realising that quite a multitude
of houses about them are ablaze, and that the fire is spreading.

That is one change the war will bring about that will make for world
peace: a quickened general interest in its possibility. Another is the
certainty that the war will increase the number of devoted and fanatic
characters available for disinterested effort. Whatever other outcome
this war may have, it means that there lies ahead a period of extreme
economic and political dislocation. The credit system has been strained,
and will be strained, and will need unprecedented readjustments. In the
past such phases of uncertainty, sudden impoverishment and disorder as
certainly lie ahead of us, have meant for a considerable number of minds
a release--or, if you prefer it, a flight--from the habitual and
selfish. Types of intense religiosity, of devotion and of endeavour are
let loose, and there will be much more likelihood that we may presently
find, what it is impossible to find now, a number of devoted men and
women ready to give their whole lives, with a quasi-religious
enthusiasm, to this great task of peace establishment, finding in such
impersonal work a refuge from the disappointments, limitations, losses
and sorrows of their personal life--a refuge we need but little in more
settled and more prosperous periods. They will be but the outstanding
individuals in a very universal quickening. And simultaneously with this
quickening of the general imagination by experience there are certain
other developments in progress that point very clearly to a change under
the pressure of this war of just those institutions of nationality,
kingship, diplomacy and inter-State competition that have hitherto stood
most effectually in the way of a world pacification. The considerations
that seem to point to this third change are very convincing, to my mind.

The real operating cause that is, I believe, going to break down the
deadlock that has hitherto made a supreme court and a federal government
for the world at large a dream, lies in just that possibility of an
"inconclusive peace" which so many people seem to dread. Germany, I
believe, is going to be beaten, but not completely crushed, by this war;
she is going to be left militarist and united with Austria and Hungary,
and unchanged in her essential nature; and out of that state of affairs
comes, I believe, the hope for an ultimate confederation of the nations
of the earth.

Because, in the face of a league of the Central European Powers
attempting recuperation, cherishing revenge, dreaming of a renewal of
the struggle, it becomes impossible for the British, the French, the
Belgians, Russians, Italians or Japanese to think any longer of settling
their differences by war among themselves. To do so will mean the
creation of opportunity for the complete reinstatement of German
militarism. It will open the door for a conclusive German hegemony.
Now, however clumsy and confused the diplomacy of these present Allies
may be (challenged constantly, as it is, by democracy and hampered by a
free, venal and irresponsible Press in at least three of their
countries), the necessity they will be under will be so urgent and so
evident, that it is impossible to imagine that they will not set up some
permanent organ for the direction and co-ordination of their joint
international relationships. It may be a queerly constituted body at
first; it may be of a merely diplomatic pretension; it may be called a
Congress, or any old name of that sort, but essentially its business
will be to conduct a joint fiscal, military and naval policy, to keep
the peace in the Balkans and Asia, to establish a relationship with
China, and organise joint and several arbitration arrangements with
America. And it must develop something more sure and swift than our
present diplomacy. One of its chief concerns will be the right of way
through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles, and the watching of the
forces that stir up conflict in the Balkans and the Levant. It must have
unity enough for that; it must be much more than a mere leisurely,
unauthoritative conference of representatives.

For precisely similar reasons it seems to me incredible that the two
great Central European Powers should ever fall into sustained conflict
again with one another. They, too, will be forced to create some
overriding body to prevent so suicidal a possibility. America too, it
may be, will develop some Pan-American equivalent. Probably the hundred
millions of Latin America may achieve a method of unity, and then deal
on equal terms with the present United States. The thing has been ably
advocated already in South America. Whatever appearances of separate
sovereignties are kept up after the war, the practical outcome of the
struggle is quite likely to be this: that there will be only three great
World Powers left--the anti-German allies, the allied Central Europeans,
the Pan-Americans. And it is to be noted that, whatever the constituents
of these three Powers may be, none of them is likely to be a monarchy.
They may include monarchies, as England includes dukedoms. But they will
be overriding alliances, not overriding rulers. I leave it to the
mathematician to work out exactly how much the chances of conflict are
diminished when there are practically only three Powers in the world
instead of some scores. And these new Powers will be in certain respects
unlike any existing European "States." None of the three Powers will be
small or homogeneous enough to serve dynastic ambitions, embody a
national or racial Kultur, or fall into the grip of any group of
financial enterprises. They will be more comprehensive, less romantic,
and more businesslike altogether. They will be, to use a phrase
suggested a year or so ago, Great States.... And the war threat between
the three will be so plain and definite, the issues will be so lifted
out of the spheres of merely personal ambition and national feeling,
that I do not see why the negotiating means, the standing conference of
the three, should not ultimately become the needed nucleus of the World
State for which at present we search the world in vain.

There are more ways than one to the World State, and this second
possibility of a post-war conference and a conference of the Allies,
growing almost unawares into a pacific organisation of the world, since
it goes on directly from existing institutions, since it has none of the
quality of a clean break with the past which the idea of an immediate
World State and Pax Mundi involves, and more particularly since it
neither abolishes nor has in it anything to shock fundamentally the
princes, the diplomatists, the lawyers, the statesmen and politicians,
the nationalists and suspicious people, since it gives them years in
which to change and die out and reappear in new forms, and since at the
same time it will command the support of every intelligent human being
who gets his mind clear enough from his circumstances to understand its
import, is a far more credible hope than the hope of anything coming _de
novo_ out of Hague Foundations or the manifest logic of the war.

But, of course, there weighs against these hopes the possibility that
the Allied Powers are too various in their nature, too biased, too
feeble intellectually and imaginatively, to hold together and maintain
any institution for co-operation. The British Press may be too silly not
to foster irritation and suspicion; we may get Carsonism on a larger
scale trading on the resuscitation of dying hatreds; the British and
Russian diplomatists may play annoying tricks upon one another by sheer
force of habit. There may be many troubles of that sort. Even then I do
not see that the hope of an ultimate world peace vanishes. But it will
be a Roman world peace, made in Germany, and there will have to be
several more great wars before it is established. Germany is too
homogeneous yet to have begun the lesson of compromise and the
renunciation of the dream of national conquest. The Germans are a
national, not an imperial people. France has learnt that through
suffering, and Britain and Russia because for two centuries they have
been imperial and not national systems. The German conception of world
peace is as yet a conception of German ascendancy. The Allied conception
becomes perforce one of mutual toleration.

But I will not press this inquiry farther now. It is, as I said at the
beginning, a preliminary exploration of one of the great questions with
which I propose to play in these articles. The possibility I have
sketched is the one that most commends itself to me as probable. After a
more detailed examination of the big operating forces at present working
in the world, we may be in a position to revise these suggestions with a
greater confidence and draw our net of probabilities a little tighter.


The prophet who emerges with the most honour from this war is Bloch. It
must be fifteen or sixteen years ago since this gifted Pole made his
forecast of the future. Perhaps it is more, for the French translation
of his book was certainly in existence before the Boer War. His case was
that war between antagonists of fairly equal equipment must end in a
deadlock because of the continually increasing defensive efficiency of
entrenched infantry. This would give the defensive an advantage over the
most brilliant strategy and over considerably superior numbers that
would completely discourage all aggression. He concluded that war was
played out.

[Footnote 1: This chapter was originally a newspaper article. It was
written in December, 1915, and published about the middle of January.
Some of it has passed from the quality of anticipation to achievement,
but I do not see that it needs any material revision on that account.]

His book was very carefully studied in Germany. As a humble disciple of
Bloch I should have realised this, but I did not, and that failure led
me into some unfortunate prophesying at the outbreak of the war. I
judged Germany by the Kaiser, and by the Kaiser-worship which I saw in
Berlin. I thought that he was a theatrical person who would dream of
vast massed attacks and tremendous cavalry charges, and that he would
lead Germany to be smashed against the Allied defensive in the West, and
to be smashed so thoroughly that the war would be over. I did not
properly appreciate the more studious and more thorough Germany that was
to fight behind the Kaiser and thrust him aside, the Germany we British
fight now, the Ostwald-Krupp Germany of 1915. That Germany, one may now
perceive, had read and thought over and thought out the Bloch problem.

There was also a translation of Bloch into French. In English a portion
of his book was translated for the general reader and published with a
preface by the late Mr. W.T. Stead. It does not seem to have reached the
British military authorities, nor was it published in England with an
instructive intention. As an imaginative work it would have been
considered worthless and impracticable.

But it is manifest now that if the Belgian and French frontiers had been
properly prepared--as they should have been prepared when the Germans
built their strategic railways--with trenches and gun emplacements and
secondary and tertiary lines, the Germans would never have got fifty
miles into either France or Belgium. They would have been held at Liege
and in the Ardennes. Five hundred thousand men would have held them
indefinitely. But the Allies had never worked trench warfare; they were
unready for it, Germans knew of their unreadiness, and their unreadiness
it is quite clear they calculated. They did not reckon, it is now clear
that they were right in not reckoning, the Allies as contemporary
soldiers. They were going to fight a 1900 army with a 1914 army, and
their whole opening scheme was based on the conviction that the Allies
would not entrench.

Somebody in those marvellous maxims from the dark ages that seem to form
the chief reading of our military experts, said that the army that
entrenches is a defeated army. The silly dictum was repeated and
repeated in the English papers after the battle of the Marne. It shows
just where our military science had reached in 1914, namely, to a level
a year before Bloch wrote. So the Allies retreated.

For long weeks the Allies retreated out of the west of Belgium, out of
the north of France, and for rather over a month there was a loose
mobile war--as if Bloch had never existed. The Germans were not fighting
the 1914 pattern of war, they were fighting the 1899 pattern of war, in
which direct attack, outflanking and so on were still supposed to be
possible; they were fighting confident in their overwhelming numbers, in
their prepared surprise, in the unthought-out methods of their
opponents. In the "Victorian" war that ended in the middle of September,
1914, they delivered their blow, they over-reached, they were
successfully counter-attacked on the Marne, and then abruptly--almost
unfairly it seemed to the British sportsmanlike conceptions--they
shifted to the game played according to the very latest rules of 1914.
The war did not come up to date until the battle of the Aisne. With that
the second act of the great drama began.

I do not believe that the Germans ever thought it would come up to date
so soon. I believe they thought that they would hustle the French out of
Paris, come right up to the Channel at Calais before the end of 1914,
and then entrench, produce the submarine attack and the Zeppelins
against England, working from Calais as a base, and that they would end
the war before the spring of 1915--with the Allies still a good fifteen
years behindhand.

I believe the battle of the Marne was the decisive battle of the war, in
that it shattered this plan, and that the rest of the 1914 fighting was
Germany's attempt to reconstruct their broken scheme in the face of an
enemy who was continually getting more and more nearly up to date with
the fighting. By December, Bloch, who had seemed utterly discredited in
August, was justified up to the hilt. The world was entrenched at his
feet. By May the lagging military science of the British had so far
overtaken events as to realise that shrapnel was no longer so important
as high explosive, and within a year the significance of machine guns, a
significance thoroughly ventilated by imaginative writers fifteen years
before, was being grasped by the conservative but by no means
inadaptable leaders of Britain.

The war since that first attempt--admirably planned and altogether
justifiable (from a military point of view, I mean)--of Germany to
"rush" a victory, has consisted almost entirely of failures on both
sides either to get round or through or over the situation foretold by
Bloch. There has been only one marked success, the German success in
Poland due to the failure of the Russian munitions. Then for a time the
war in the East was mobile and precarious while the Russians retreated
to their present positions, and the Germans pursued and tried to
surround them. That was a lapse into the pre-Bloch style. Now the
Russians are again entrenched, their supplies are restored, the Germans
have a lengthened line of supplies, and Bloch is back upon his pedestal
so far as the Eastern theatre goes.

Bloch has been equally justified in the Anglo-French attempt to get
round through Gallipoli. The forces of the India Office have pushed
their way through unprepared country towards Bagdad, and are now
entrenching in Mesopotamia, but from the point of view of the main war
that is too remote to be considered either getting through or getting
round; and so too the losses of the German colonies and the East African
War are scarcely to be reckoned with in the main war. They have no
determining value. There remains the Balkan struggle. But the Balkan
struggle is something else; it is something new. It must be treated
separately. It is a war of treacheries and brags and appearances. It is
not a part of, it is a sequence to, the deadlock war of 1915.

But before dealing with this new development of the latter half of 1915
it is necessary to consider certain general aspects of the deadlock
war. It is manifest that the Germans hoped to secure an effective
victory in this war before they ran up against Bloch. But reckoning with
Bloch, as they certainly did, they hoped that even in the event of the
war getting to earth, it would still be possible to produce novelties
that would sufficiently neutralise Bloch to secure a victorious peace.
With unexpectedly powerful artillery suddenly concentrated, with high
explosives, with asphyxiating gas, with a well-organised system of
grenade throwing and mining, with attacks of flaming gas, and above all
with a vast munition-making plant to keep them going, they had a very
reasonable chance of hacking their way through.

Against these prepared novelties the Allies have had to improvise, and
on the whole the improvisation has kept pace with the demands made upon
it. They have brought their military science up to date, and to-day the
disparity in science and equipment between the antagonists has greatly
diminished. There has been no escaping Bloch after all, and the
deadlock, if no sudden peace occurs, can end now in only one thing, the
exhaustion in various degrees of all the combatants and the succumbing
of the most exhausted. The idea of a conclusive end of the traditional
pattern to this war, of a triumphal entry into London, Paris, Berlin or
Moscow, is to be dismissed altogether from our calculations. The end of
this war will be a matter of negotiation between practically immobilised
and extremely shattered antagonists.

There is, of course, one aspect of the Bloch deadlock that the Germans
at least have contemplated. If it is not possible to get through or
round, it may still be possible to get over. There is the air path.

This idea has certainly taken hold of the French mind, but France has
been too busy and is temperamentally too economical to risk large
expenditures upon what is necessarily an experiment. The British are too
conservative and sceptical to be the pioneers in any such enterprise.
The Russians have been too poor in the necessary resources of mechanics
and material.

The Germans alone have made any sustained attempt to strike through the
air at their enemies beyond the war zone. Their Zeppelin raids upon
England have shown a steadily increasing efficiency, and it is highly
probable that they will be repeated on a much larger scale before the
war is over. Quite possibly, too, the Germans are developing an
accessory force of large aeroplanes to co-operate in such an attack.
The long coasts of Britain, the impossibility of their being fully
equipped throughout their extent, except at a prohibitive cost of men
and material, to resist air invaders, exposes the whole length of the
island to considerable risk and annoyance from such an expedition.

It is doubtful, though, if the utmost damage an air raid is likely to
inflict upon England would count materially in the exhaustion process,
and the moral effect of these raids has been, and will be, to stiffen
the British resolution to fight this war through to the conclusive
ending of any such possibilities.

The net result of these air raids is an inflexible determination of the
British people rather to die in death grips with German militarism than
to live and let it survive. The best chance for the aircraft was at the
beginning of the war, when a surprise development might have had
astounding results. That chance has gone by. The Germans are racially
inferior to both French and English in the air, and the probability of
effective blows over the deadlock is on the whole a probability in
favour of the Allies. Nor is there anything on or under the sea that
seems likely now to produce decisive results. We return from these
considerations to a strengthened acceptance of Bloch.

The essential question for the prophet remains therefore the question of
which group of Powers will exhaust itself most rapidly. And following on
from that comes the question of how the successive stages of exhaustion
will manifest themselves in the combatant nations. The problems of this
war, as of all war, end as they begin in national psychology.

But it will be urged that this is reckoning without the Balkans. I
submit that the German thrust through the wooded wilderness of Serbia is
really no part of the war that has ended in the deadlock of 1915. It is
dramatic, tragic, spectacular, but it is quite inconclusive. Here there
is no way round or through to any vital centre of Germany's antagonists.
It turns nothing; it opens no path to Paris, London, or Petrograd. It is
a long, long way from the Danube to either Egypt or Mesopotamia, and
there--and there--Bloch is waiting. I do not think the Germans have any
intention of so generous an extension of their responsibilities. The
Balkan complication is no solution of the deadlock problem. It is the
opening of the sequel.

A whole series of new problems are opened up directly we turn to this
most troubled region of the Balkans--problems of the value of kingship,
of nationality, of the destiny of such cities as Constantinople, which
from their very beginning have never had any sort of nationality at all,
of the destiny of countries such as Albania, where a tangle of intense
tribal nationalities is distributed in spots and patches, or Dalmatia,
where one extremely self-conscious nation and language is present in the
towns and another in the surrounding country, or Asia Minor, where no
definite national boundaries, no religious, linguistic, or social
homogeneities have ever established themselves since the Roman legions
beat them down.

But all these questions can really be deferred or set aside in our
present discussion, which is a discussion of the main war. Whatever
surprises or changes this last phase of the Eastern Empire, that
blood-clotted melodrama, may involve, they will but assist and hasten on
the essential conclusion of the great war, that the Central Powers and
their pledged antagonists are in a deadlock, unable to reach a decision,
and steadily, day by day, hour by hour, losing men, destroying material,
spending credit, approaching something unprecedented, unknown, that we
try to express to ourselves by the word exhaustion.

Just how the people who use the word "exhaustion" so freely are
prepared to define it, is a matter for speculation. The idea seems to be
a phase in which the production of equipped forces ceases through the
using up of men or material or both. If the exhaustion is fairly mutual,
it need not be decisive for a long time. It may mean simply an ebb of
vigour on both sides, unusual hardship, a general social and economic
disorganisation and grading down. The fact that a great killing off of
men is implicit in the process, and that the survivors will be largely
under discipline, militates against the idea that the end may come
suddenly through a vigorous revolutionary outbreak. Exhaustion is likely
to be a very long and very thorough process, extending over years. A
"war of attrition" may last into 1918 or 1919, and may bring us to
conditions of strain and deprivation still only very vaguely imagined.
What happens in the Turkish Empire or India or America or elsewhere may
extend the areas of waste and accelerate or retard the process, but is
quite unlikely to end it.

Let us ask now which of the combatants is likely to undergo exhaustion
most rapidly, and what is of equal or greater importance, which is
likely to feel it first and most? No doubt there is a bias in my mind,
but it seems to me that the odds are on the whole heavily against the
Central Powers. Their peculiar German virtue, their tremendously
complete organisation, which enabled them to put so large a proportion
of their total resources into their first onslaught and to make so great
and rapid a recovery in the spring of 1915, leaves them with less to
draw upon now. Out of a smaller fortune they have spent a larger sum.
They are blockaded to a very considerable extent, and against them fight
not merely the resources of the Allies, but, thanks to the complete
British victory in the sea struggle, the purchasable resources of all
the world.

Conceivably the Central Powers will draw upon the resources of their
Balkan and Asiatic allies, but the extent to which they can do that may
very easily be over-estimated. There is a limit to the power for treason
of these supposititious German monarchs that Western folly has permitted
to possess these Balkan thrones--thrones which need never have been
thrones at all--and none of the Balkan peoples is likely to witness with
enthusiasm the complete looting of its country in the German interest by
a German court. Germany will have to pay on the nail for most of her
Balkan help. She will have to put more into the Balkans than she takes

Compared with the world behind the Allies the Turkish Empire is a
country of mountains, desert and undeveloped lands. To develop these
regions into a source of supplies under the strains and shortages of
war-time, will be an immense and dangerous undertaking for Germany. She
may open mines she may never work, build railways that others will
enjoy, sow harvests for alien reaping. The people the Bulgarians want in
Bulgaria are not Germans but Bulgarians; the people the Turks want in
Anatolia are not Germans but Turks. And for all these tasks Germany must
send men. Men?

At present, so far as any judgment is possible, Germany is feeling the
pinch of the war much more even than France, which is habitually
parsimonious, and instinctively cleverly economical, and Russia, which
is hardy and insensitive. Great Britain has really only begun to feel
the stress. She has probably suffered economically no more than have
Holland or Switzerland, and Italy and Japan have certainly suffered
less. All these three great countries are still full of men, of gear, of
saleable futures. In every part of the globe Great Britain has colossal
investments. She has still to apply the great principle of conscription
not only to her sons but to the property of her overseas investors and
of her landed proprietors. She has not even looked yet at the German
financial expedients of a year ago. She moves reluctantly, but surely,
towards such a thoroughness of mobilisation. There need be no doubt that
she will completely socialise herself, completely reorganise her whole
social and economic structure sooner than lose this war. She will do it
clumsily and ungracefully, with much internal bickering, with much
trickery on the part of her lawyers, and much baseness on the part of
her landlords; but she will do it not so slowly as a logical mind might
anticipate. She will get there a little late, expensively, but still in

The German group, I reckon, therefore, will become exhausted first. I
think, too, that Germany will, as a nation, feel and be aware of what is
happening to her sooner than any other of the nations that are sharing
in this process of depletion. In 1914 the Germans were reaping the
harvest of forty years of economic development and business enterprise.
Property and plenty were new experiences, and a generation had grown up
in whose world a sense of expansion and progress was normal. There
existed amongst it no tradition of the great hardship of war, such as
the French possessed, to steel its mind. It had none of the irrational
mute toughness of the Russians and British. It was a sentimental people,
making a habit of success; it rushed chanting to war against the most
grimly heroic and the most stolidly enduring of races. Germany came into
this war more buoyantly and confidently than any other combatant. It
expected another 1871; at the utmost it anticipated a year of war.

Never were a people so disillusioned as the Germans must already be,
never has a nation been called upon for so complete a mental
readjustment. Neither conclusive victories nor defeats have been theirs,
but only a slow, vast transition from joyful effort and an illusion of
rapid triumph to hardship, loss and loss and loss of substance, the
dwindling of great hopes, the realisation of ebb in the tide of national
welfare. Now they must fight on against implacable, indomitable Allies.
They are under stresses now as harsh at least as the stresses of France.
And, compared with the French, the Germans are untempered steel.

We know little of the psychology of this new Germany that has come into
being since 1871, but it is doubtful if it will accept defeat, and still
more doubtful how it can evade some ending to the war that will admit
the failure of all its great hopes of Paris subjugated, London humbled,
Russia suppliant, Belgium conquered, the Near East a prey. Such an
admission will be a day of reckoning that German Imperialism will
postpone until the last hope of some breach among the Allies, some
saving miracle in the old Eastern Empire, some dramatically-snatched
victory at the eleventh hour, is gone.

Nor can the Pledged Allies consent to a peace that does not involve the
evacuation and compensation of Belgium and Serbia, and at least the
autonomy of the lost Rhine provinces of France. That is their very
minimum. That, and the making of Germany so sick and weary of military
adventure that the danger of German ambition will cease to overshadow
European life. Those are the ends of the main war. Europe will go down
through stage after stage of impoverishment and exhaustion until these
ends are attained, or made for ever impossible.

But these things form only the main outline of a story with a vast
amount of collateral interest. It is to these collateral issues that the
amateur in prophecy must give his attention. It is here that the German
will be induced by his Government to see his compensations. He will be
consoled for the restoration of Serbia by the prospect of future
conflicts between Italian and Jugoslav that will let him in again to the
Adriatic. His attention will be directed to his newer, closer
association with Bulgaria and Turkey. In those countries he will be told
he may yet repeat the miracle of Hungary. And there may be also another
Hungary in Poland. It will be whispered to him that he has really
conquered those countries when indeed it is highly probable he has only
spent his substance in setting up new assertive alien allies. The
Kaiser, if he is not too afraid of the precedent of Sarajevo, may make a
great entry into Constantinople, with an effect of conquering what is
after all only a temporarily allied capital. The German will hope also
to retain his fleet, and no peace, he will be reminded, can rob him of
his hard-earned technical superiority in the air. The German air fleet
of 1930 may yet be something as predominant as the British Navy of 1915,
and capable of delivering a much more intimate blow. Had he not better
wait for that? When such consolations as these become popular in the
German Press we of the Pledged Allies may begin to talk of peace, for
these will be its necessary heralds.

The concluding phase of a process of general exhaustion must almost
inevitably be a game of bluff. Neither side will admit its extremity.
Neither side, therefore, will make any direct proposals to its
antagonists nor any open advances to a neutral. But there will be much
inspired peace talk through neutral media, and the consultations of the
anti-German allies will become more intimate and detailed. Suggestions
will "leak out" remarkably from both sides, to journalists and neutral
go-betweens. The Eastern and Western Allies will probably begin quite
soon to discuss an anti-German Zollverein and the co-ordination of their
military and naval organisations in the days that are to follow the war.
A discussion of a Central European Zollverein is already afoot. A
general idea of the possible rearrangement of the European States after
the war will grow up in the common European and American mind; public
men on either side will indicate concordance with this general idea, and
some neutral power, Denmark or Spain or the United States or Holland,
will invite representatives to an informal discussion of these

Probably, therefore, the peace negotiations will take the extraordinary
form of two simultaneous conferences--one of the Pledged Allies, sitting
probably in Paris or London, and the other of representatives of all the
combatants meeting in some neutral country--Holland would be the most
convenient--while the war will still be going on. The Dutch conference
would be in immediate contact by telephone and telegraph with the Allied
conference and with Berlin....

The broad conditions of a possible peace will begin to get stated
towards the end of 1916, and a certain lassitude will creep over the
operations in the field.... The process of exhaustion will probably have
reached such a point by that time that it will be a primary fact in the
consciousness of common citizens of every belligerent country. The
common life of all Europe will have become--miserable. Conclusive blows
will have receded out of the imagination of the contending Powers. The
war will have reached its fourth and last stage as a war. The war of the
great attack will have given place to the war of the military deadlock;
the war of the deadlock will have gone on, and as the great combatants
have become enfeebled relatively to the smaller States, there will have
been a gradual shifting of the interest to the war of treasons and
diplomacies in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Quickly thereafter the last phase will be developing into predominance,
in which each group of nations will be most concerned, no longer about
victories or conquests, but about securing for itself the best chances
of rapid economic recuperation and social reconstruction. The commercial
treaties, the arrangements for future associated action, made by the
great Allies among themselves will appear more and more important to
them, and the mere question of boundaries less and less. It will dawn
upon Europe that she has already dissipated the resources that have
enabled her to levy the tribute paid for her investments in every
quarter of the earth, and that neither the Germans nor their antagonists
will be able for many years to go on with those projects for world
exploitation which lay at the root of the great war. Very jaded and
anaemic nations will sit about the table on which the new map of Europe
will be drawn.... Each of the diplomatists will come to that business
with a certain pre-occupation. Each will be thinking of his country as
one thinks of a patient of doubtful patience and temper who is coming-to
out of the drugged stupor of a crucial, ill-conceived, and unnecessary
operation ... Each will be thinking of Labour, wounded and perplexed,
returning to the disorganised or nationalised factories from which
Capital has gone a-fighting, and to which it may never return.


The war has become a war of exhaustion. One hears a great deal of the
idea that "financial collapse" may bring it to an end. A number of
people seem to be convinced that a war cannot be waged without money,
that soldiers must be paid, munitions must be bought; that for this
money is necessary and the consent of bank depositors; so that if all
the wealth of the world were nominally possessed by some one man in a
little office he could stop the war by saying simply, "I will lend you
no more money."

Now, as a matter of fact, money is a power only in so far as people
believe in it and Governments sustain it. If a State is sufficiently
strong and well organised, its control over the money power is
unlimited. If it can rule its people, and if it has the necessary
resources of men and material within its borders, it can go on in a
state of war so long as these things last, with almost any flimsy sort
of substitute for money that it chooses to print. It can enrol and use
the men, and seize and work the material. It can take over the land and
cultivate it and distribute its products. The little man in the office
is only a power because the State chooses to recognise his claim. So
long as he is convenient he seems to be a power. So soon as the State is
intelligent enough and strong enough it can do without him. It can take
what it wants, and tell him to go and hang himself. That is the
melancholy ultimate of the usurer. That is the quintessence of
"finance." All credit is State-made, and what the State has made the
State can alter or destroy.

The owner and the creditor have never had any other power to give or
withhold credit than the credit that was given to them. They exist by
sufferance or superstition and not of necessity.

It is the habit of overlooking this little flaw in the imperatives of
ownership that enables people to say that this war cannot go on beyond
such and such a date--the end of 1916 is much in favour just
now--because we cannot pay for it. It would be about as reasonable to
expect a battle to end because a landlord had ordered the soldiers off
his estate. So long as there are men to fight and stuff to fight with
the war can go on. There is bankruptcy, but the bankruptcy of States is
not like the bankruptcy of individuals. There is no such thing among
States as an undischarged bankrupt who is forbidden to carry on. A State
may keep on going bankrupt indefinitely and still carry on. It will be
the next step in our prophetic exercise to examine the differences
between State bankruptcy and the bankruptcy of a subject of the State.

The belligerent Powers are approaching a phase when they will no longer
be paying anything like twenty shillings in the pound. In a very
definite sense they are not paying twenty shillings in the pound now.
That is not going to stop the war, but it involves a string of
consequences and possibilities of the utmost importance to our problem
of what is coming when the war is over.

The exhaustion that will bring this war to its end at last is a process
of destruction of men and material. The process of bankruptcy that is
also going on is nothing of the sort. Bankruptcy destroys no concrete
thing; it merely writes off a debt; it destroys a financial but not an
economic reality. It is, in itself, a mental, not a physical fact. "A"
owes "B" a debt; he goes bankrupt and pays a dividend, a fraction of his
debt, and gets his discharge. "B's" feelings, as we novelists used to
say, are "better imagined than described"; he does his best to satisfy
himself that "A" can pay no more, and then "A" and "B" both go about
their business again.

In England, if "A" is a sufficiently poor man not to be formidable, and
has gone bankrupt on a small scale, he gets squeezed ferociously to
extract the last farthing from him; he may find himself in jail and his
home utterly smashed up. If he is a richer man, and has failed on a
larger scale, our law is more sympathetic, and he gets off much more
easily. Often his creditors find it advisable to arrange with him so
that he will still carry on with his bankrupt concern. They find it is
better to allow him to carry on than to smash him up.

There are countless men in the world living very comfortably indeed, and
running businesses that were once their own property for their
creditors. There are still more who have written off princely debts and
do not seem to be a "ha'p'orth the worse." And their creditors have
found a balm in time and philosophy. Bankruptcy is only painful and
destructive to small people and helpless people; but then for them
everything is painful and destructive; it can be a very light matter to
big people; it may be almost painless to a State.

If England went bankrupt in the completest way to-morrow, and repudiated
all its debts both as a nation and as a community of individuals, if it
declared, if I may use a self-contradictory phrase, a permanent
moratorium, there would be not an acre of ploughed land in the country,
not a yard of cloth or a loaf of bread the less for that. There would be
nothing material destroyed within the State. There would be no immediate
convulsion. Use and wont would carry most people on some days before
they even began to doubt whether So-and-so could pay his way, and
whether there would be wages at the end of the week.

But people who lived upon rent or investments or pensions would
presently be very busy thinking how they were going to get food when the
butcher and baker insisted upon cash. It would be only with comparative
slowness that the bulk of men would realise that a fabric of confidence
and confident assumptions had vanished; that cheques and bank notes and
token money and every sort of bond and scrip were worthless, that
employers had nothing to pay with, shopkeepers no means of procuring
stock, that metallic money was disappearing, and that a paralysis had
come upon the community.

Such an establishment as a workhouse or an old-fashioned monastery,
living upon the produce of its own farming and supplying all its own
labour, would be least embarrassed amidst the general perplexity. For it
would not be upon a credit basis, but a socialistic basis, a basis of
direct reality, and its need for payments would be incidental. And
land-owning peasants growing their own food would carry on, and small
cultivating occupiers, who could easily fall back on barter for anything

The mass of the population in such a country as England would, however,
soon be standing about in hopeless perplexity and on the verge of
frantic panic--although there was just as much food to be eaten, just as
many houses to live in, and just as much work needing to be done.
Suddenly the pots would be empty, and famine would be in the land,
although the farms and butchers' shops were still well stocked. The
general community would be like an automobile when the magneto fails.
Everything would be there and in order, except for the spark of credit
which keeps the engine working.

That is how quite a lot of people seem to imagine national bankruptcy:
as a catastrophic jolt. It is a quite impossible nightmare of cessation.
The reality is the completest contrast. All the belligerent countries of
the world are at the present moment quietly, steadily and progressively
going bankrupt, and the mass of people are not even aware of this
process of insolvency.

An individual when he goes bankrupt is measured by the monetary standard
of the country he is in; he pays five or ten or fifteen or so many
shillings in the pound. A community in debt does something which is in
effect the same, but in appearance rather different. It still pays a
pound, but the purchasing power of the pound has diminished. This is
what is happening all over the world to-day; there is a rise in prices.
This is automatic national bankruptcy; unplanned, though perhaps not
unforeseen. It is not a deliberate State act, but a consequence of the
interruption of communications, the diversion of productive energy, the
increased demand for many necessities by the Government and the general
waste under war conditions.

At the beginning of this war England had a certain national debt; it has
paid off none of that original debt; it has added to it tremendously; so
far as money and bankers' records go it still owes and intends to pay
that original debt; but if you translate the language of L.s.d. into
realities, you will find that in loaves or iron or copper or hours of
toil, or indeed in any reality except gold, it owes now, so far as that
original debt goes, far less than it did at the outset. As the war goes
on and the rise in prices continues, the subsequent borrowings and
contracts are undergoing a similar bankrupt reduction. The attempt of
the landlord of small weekly and annual properties to adjust himself to
the new conditions by raising rents is being checked by legislation in
Great Britain, and has been completely checked in France. The attempts
of labour to readjust wages have been partially successful in spite of
the eloquent protests of those great exponents of plain living, economy,
abstinence, and honest, modest, underpaid toil, Messrs. Asquith,
McKenna, and Runciman. It is doubtful if the rise in wages is keeping
pace with the rise in prices. So far as it fails to do so the load is on
the usual pack animal, the poor man.

The rest of the loss falls chiefly upon the creditor class, the people
with fixed incomes and fixed salaries, the landlords, who have let at
long leases, the people with pensions, endowed institutions, the Church,
insurance companies, and the like. They are all being scaled down. They
are all more able to stand scaling down than the proletarians.

Assuming that it is possible to bring up wages to the level of the
higher prices, and that the rise in rents can be checked by legislation
or captured by taxation, the rise in prices is, on the whole, a thing to
the advantage of the propertyless man as against accumulated property.
It writes off the past and clears the way for a fresh start in the

An age of cheapness is an old usurers' age. England before the war was a
paradise of ancient usuries; everywhere were great houses and enclosed
parks; the multitude of gentlemen's servants and golf clubs and such
like excrescences of the comfort of prosperous people was perpetually
increasing; it did not "pay" to build labourers' cottages, and the more
expensive sort of automobile had driven the bicycle as a pleasure
vehicle off the roads. Western Europe was running to fat and not to
muscle, as America is to-day.

But if that old usurer's age is over, the young usurer's age may be
coming. To meet such enormous demands as this war is making there are
three chief courses open to the modern State.

The first is to _take_--to get men by conscription and material by
requisition. The British Government _takes_ more modestly than any other
in the world; its tradition from Magna Charta onward, the legal training
of most of its members, all make towards a reverence for private
ownership and private claims, as opposed to the claims of State and
commonweal, unequalled in the world's history.

The next course of a nation in need is to _tax_ and pay for what it
wants, which is a fractional and more evenly distributed method of
taking. Both of these methods raise prices, the second most so, and so
facilitate the automatic release of the future from the boarding of the
past. So far all the belligerent Governments have taxed on the timid

Finally there is the _loan_. This mortgages the future to the present
necessity, and it has so far been the predominant source of war credits.
It is the method that produces least immediate friction in the State; it
employs all the savings of surplus income that the unrest of civil
enterprise leaves idle; it has an effect of creating property by a
process that destroys the substance of the community. In Germany an
enormous bulk of property has been mortgaged to supply the subscriptions
to the war loans, and those holdings have again been hypothecated to
subscribe to subsequent loans. The Pledged Allies with longer stockings
have not yet got to this pitch of overlapping. But everywhere in Europe
what is happening is a great transformation of the property owner into a
_rentier_, and the passing of realty into the hands of the State.

At the end of the war Great Britain will probably find herself with a
national debt so great that she will be committed to the payment of an
annual interest greater in figures than the entire national expenditure
before the war. As an optimistic lady put it the other day: "All the
people who aren't killed will be living quite comfortably on War Loan
for the rest of their lives."

But part, at least, of the bulk of this wealth will be imaginary rather
than real because of the rise in prices, in wages, in rent, and in
taxation. Most of us who are buying the British and French War Loans
have no illusions on that score; we know we are buying an income of
diminishing purchasing power. Yet it would be a poor creature in these
days when there is scarcely a possible young man in one's circle who has
not quite freely and cheerfully staked his life, who was not prepared to
consider his investments as being also to an undefined extent a national

A rise in prices is not, however, the only process that will check the
appearance of a new rich usurer class after the war. There is something
else ahead that has happened already in Germany, that is quietly coming
about among the Allies, and that is the cessation of gold payments. In
Great Britain, of course, the pound note is still convertible into a
golden sovereign; but Great Britain will not get through the war on
those terms. There comes a point in the stress upon a Government when it
must depart from the austerer line of financial rectitude--and tamper in
some way with currency.

Sooner or later, and probably in all cases before 1917, all the
belligerents will be forced to adopt inconvertible paper money for their
internal uses. There will be British assignats or greenbacks. It will
seem to many financial sentimentalists almost as though Great Britain
were hauling down a flag when the sovereign, which has already
disappeared into bank and Treasury coffers, is locked up there and
reserved for international trade. But Great Britain has other sentiments
to consider than the finer feelings of bankers and the delicacies of
usury. The pound British will come out of this war like a company out of
a well-shelled trench--attenuated.

Depreciation of the currency means, of course, a continuing rise in
prices, a continuing writing off of debt. If labour has any real grasp
of its true interests it will not resent this. It will merely insist
steadfastly on a proper adjustment of its wages to the new standard. On
that point, however, it will be better to write later....

Let us see how far we have got in this guessing. We have considered
reasons that seem to point to the destruction of a great amount of old
property and old debt, and the creation of a great volume of new debt
before the end of the war, and we have adopted the ideas that currency
will probably have depreciated more and more and prices risen right up
to the very end.

There will be by that time a general habit of saving throughout the
community, a habit more firmly established perhaps in the propertied
than in the wages-earning class. People will be growing accustomed to a
dear and insecure world. They will adopt a habit of caution; become
desirous of saving and security.

Directly the phase of enormous war loans ends, the new class of
_rentiers_ holding the various great new national loans will find
themselves drawing this collectively vast income and anxious to invest
it. They will for a time be receiving the bulk of the unearned income of
the world. Here, in the high prices representing demand and the need for
some reinvestment of interest representing supply, we have two of the
chief factors that are supposed to be necessary to a phase of business
enterprise. Will the economic history of the next few decades be the
story of a restoration of the capitalistic system upon a new basis?
Shall we all become investors, speculators, or workers toiling our way
to a new period of security, cheapness and low interest, a restoration
of the park, the enclosure, the gold standard and the big automobile,
with only this difference--that the minimum wage will be somewhere about
two pounds, and that a five-pound note will purchase about as much as a
couple of guineas would do in 1913?

That is practically parallel with what happened in the opening half of
the nineteenth century after the Napoleonic wars, and it is not an
agreeable outlook for those who love the common man or the nobility of
life. But if there is any one principle sounder than another of all
those that guide the amateur in prophecy, it is that _history never
repeats itself_. The human material in which those monetary changes and
those developments of credit will occur will be entirely different from
the social medium of a hundred years ago.

The nature of the State has altered profoundly in the last century. The
later eighteenth and earlier nineteenth centuries constituted a period
of extreme individualism. What were called "economic forces" had
unrestricted play. In the minds of such people as Harriet Martineau and
Herbert Spencer they superseded God. People were no longer reproached
for "flying in the face of Providence," but for "flying in the face of
Political Economy."

In that state of freedom you got whatever you could in any way you
could; you were not your neighbour's keeper, and except that it
interfered with the enterprise of pickpockets, burglars and forgers, and
kept the dice loaded in favour of landlords and lawyers, the State stood
aside from the great drama of human getting. For industrialism and
speculation the State's guiding maxim was _laissez faire_.

The State is now far less aloof and far more constructive. It is far
more aware of itself and a common interest. Germany has led the way from
a system of individuals and voluntary associations in competition
towards a new order of things, a completer synthesis. This most modern
State is far less a swarming conflict of businesses than a great
national business. It will emerge from this war much more so than it
went in, and the thing is and will remain so plain and obvious that only
the greediest and dullest people among the Pledged Allies will venture
to disregard it. The Allied nations, too, will have to rescue their
economic future from individual grab and grip and chance.

The second consideration that forbids us to anticipate any parallelism
of the history of 1915-45 with 1815-45 is the greater lucidity of the
general mind, the fact that all Western Europe, down to the agricultural
labourers, can read and write and does read newspapers and "get ideas."
The explanation of economic and social processes that were mysterious to
the elect a hundred years ago are now the commonplaces of the tap-room.
What happened then darkly, and often unconsciously, must happen in
1916-26 openly and controllably. The current bankruptcy and liquidation
and the coming reconstruction of the economic system of Europe will go
on in a quite unprecedented amount of light. We shall see and know what
is happening much more clearly than anything of the kind has ever been
seen before.

It is not only that people will have behind them, as a light upon what
is happening, the experiences and discussions of a hundred years, but
that the international situation will be far plainer than it has ever
been. This war has made Germany the central fact in all national affairs
about the earth. It is not going to destroy Germany, and it seems
improbable that either defeat or victory, or any mixture of these, will
immediately alter the cardinal fact of Germany's organised

The war will not end the conflict of anti-Germany and Germany, That will
only end when the results of fifty years of aggressive education in
Germany have worn away. This will be so plain that the great bulk of
people everywhere will not only see their changing economic
relationships far more distinctly than such things have been seen
hitherto, but that they will see them as they have never been seen
before, definitely orientated to the threat of German world
predominance. The landlord who squeezes, the workman who strikes and
shirks, the lawyer who fogs and obstructs, will know, and will know that
most people know, that what he does is done, not under an empty,
regardless heaven, but in the face of an unsleeping enemy and in
disregard of a continuous urgent necessity for unity.

So far we have followed this speculation upon fairly firm ground, but
now our inquiry must plunge into a jungle of far more difficult and
uncertain possibilities. Our next stage brings us to the question of how
people and peoples and classes of people are going to react to the new
conditions of need and knowledge this war will have brought about, and
to the new demands that will be made upon them.

This is really a question of how far they will prove able to get out of
the habits and traditions of their former social state, how far they
will be able to take generous views and make sacrifices and unselfish
efforts, and how far they will go in self-seeking or class selfishness
regardless of the common welfare. This is a question we have to ask
separately of each great nation, and of the Central Powers as a whole,
and of the Allies as a whole, before we can begin to estimate the
posture of the peoples of the world in, say, 1946.

Now let me here make a sort of parenthesis on human nature. It will be
rather platitudinous, but it is a necessary reminder for what follows.

So far as I have been able to observe, nobody lives steadily at one
moral level. If we are wise we shall treat no man and no class--and for
the matter of that no nation--as either steadfastly malignant or
steadfastly disinterested. There are phases in my life when I could die
quite cheerfully for an idea; there are phases when I would not stir six
yards to save a human life. Most people fluctuate between such extremes.
Most people are self-seeking, but most people will desist from a
self-seeking cause if they see plainly and clearly that it is not in the
general interest, and much more readily if they also perceive that other
people are of the same mind and know that they know their course is

The fundamental error of orthodox political economy and of Marxian
socialism is to assume the inveterate selfishness of everyone. But most
people are a little more disposed to believe what it is to their
interest to believe than the contrary. Most people abandon with
reluctance ways of living and doing that have served them well. Most
people can see the neglect of duty in other classes more plainly than
they do in their own.

This war has brought back into the everyday human life of Europe the
great and overriding conception of devotion to a great purpose. But that
does not imply clear-headedness in correlating the ways of one's
ordinary life with this great purpose. It is no good treating as cynical
villainy things that merely exhibit the incapacity of our minds to live

One Labour paper a month or so ago was contrasting Mr. Asquith's
eloquent appeals to the working man to economise and forgo any rise in
wages with the photographs that were appearing simultaneously in the
smart papers of the very smart marriage of Mr. Asquith's daughter. I
submit that by that sort of standard none of us will be blameless. But
without any condemnation, it is easy to understand that the initiative
to tax almost to extinction large automobiles, wedding dresses,
champagne, pate de foie gras and enclosed parks, instead of gin and
water, bank holiday outings and Virginia shag, is less likely to come
from the Prime Minister class than from the class of dock labourers.
There is an unconscious class war due to habit and insufficient thinking
and insufficient sympathy that will play a large part in the
distribution of the burthen of the State bankruptcy that is in progress,
and in the subsequent readjustment of national life.

And having made this parenthesis, I may perhaps go on to point out the
peculiar limitations under which various classes will be approaching the
phase of reorganisation, without being accused of making this or that
class the villain of an anticipatory drama.

Now, three great classes will certainly resist the valiant
reconstruction of economic life with a vigour in exact proportion to
their baseness, stupidity and narrowness of outlook. They will, as
classes, come up for a moral judgment, on whose verdict the whole future
of Western civilisation depends. If they cannot achieve a considerable,
an unprecedented display of self-sacrifice, unselfish wisdom, and
constructive vigour, if the community as a whole can produce no forces
sufficient to restrain their lower tendencies, then the intelligent
father had better turn his children's faces towards the New World. For
Europe will be busy with social disorder for a century.

The first great class is the class that owns and holds land and
land-like claims upon the community, from the Throne downward. This
Court and land-holding class cannot go on being rich and living rich
during the strains of the coming years. The reconstructing world cannot
bear it. Whatever rises in rent may occur through the rise in prices,
must go to meet the tremendous needs of the State.

This class, which has so much legislative and administrative power in at
least three of the great belligerents--in Great Britain and Germany
perhaps most so--must be prepared to see itself taxed, and must be
willing to assist in its own taxation to the very limit of its
statistical increment. The almost vindictive greed of the landowners
that blackened the history of England after Waterloo, and brought Great
Britain within sight of revolution, must not be repeated. The British
Empire cannot afford a revolution in the face of the Central European
Powers. But in the past century there has been an enormous change in
men's opinions and consciences about property; whereas we were
Individualists, now we are Socialists. The British lord, the German
junker, has none of the sense of unqualified rights that his
great-grandfather had, and he is aware of a vigour of public criticism
that did not exist in the former time....

How far will these men get out of the tradition of their birth and

Next comes the great class of lawyers who, through the idiotic method of
voting in use in modern democracies, are able practically to rule Great
Britain, and who are powerful and influential in all democratic

In order to secure a certain independence and integrity in its courts,
Great Britain long ago established the principle of enormously
overpaying its judges and lawyers. The natural result has been to give
our law courts and the legal profession generally a bias in favour of
private wealth against both the public interest and the proletariat. It
has also given our higher national education an overwhelming direction
towards the training of advocates and against science and constructive
statecraft. An ordinary lawyer has no idea of making anything; that
tendency has been destroyed in his mind; he waits and sees and takes
advantage of opportunity. Everything that can possibly be done in
England is done to make our rulers Micawbers and Artful Dodgers.

One of the most anxious questions that a Briton can ask himself to-day
is just how far the gigantic sufferings and still more monstrous
warnings of this war have shocked the good gentlemen who must steer the
ship of State through the strong rapids of the New Peace out of this
forensic levity their training has imposed upon them....

There, again, there are elements of hope. The lawyer has heard much
about himself in the past few years. His conscience may check his
tradition. And we have a Press--it has many faults, but it is no longer
a lawyer's Press....

And the third class which has immediate interests antagonistic to bold
reconstructions of our national methods is that vaguer body, the body of
investing capitalists, the savers, the usurers, who live on dividends.
It is a vast class, but a feeble class in comparison with the other
two; it is a body rather than a class, a weight rather than a power. It
consists of all sorts of people with nothing in common except the
receipt of unearned income....

All these classes, by instinct and the baser kinds of reason also, will
be doing their best to check the rise in prices, stop and reverse the
advance in wages, prevent the debasement of the circulation, and
facilitate the return to a gold standard and a repressive social
stability. They will be resisting any comprehensive national
reconstruction, any increase in public officials, any "conscription" of
land or railways or what not for the urgent civil needs of the State.
They will have fighting against these tendencies something in their own
consciences, something in public opinion, the tradition of public
devotion their own dead sons have revived--and certain other forces.

They will have over against them the obvious urgent necessities of the

The most urgent necessity will be to get back the vast moiety of the
population that has been engaged either in military service or the
making of munitions to productive work, to the production of food and
necessary things, and to the restoration of that export trade which, in
the case of Great Britain at least, now that her overseas investments
have been set off by overseas war debts, is essential to the food
supply. There will be coming back into civil life, not merely thousands,
but millions of men who have been withdrawn from it. They will feel that
they have deserved well of their country. They will have had their
imaginations greatly quickened by being taken away from the homes and
habits to which they were accustomed. They will have been well fed and
inured to arms, to danger, and the chances of death. They will have no
illusions about the conduct of the war by the governing classes, or the
worshipful heroism of peers and princes. They will know just how easy is
courage, and how hard is hardship, and the utter impossibility of doing
well in war or peace under the orders of detected fools.

This vast body will constitute a very stimulating congregation of
spectators in any attempt on the part of landlord, lawyer and investor
to resume the old political mystery dance, in which rents are to be sent
up and wages down, while the old feuds of Wales and Ireland, ancient
theological and sectarian jealousies and babyish loyalties, and so forth
are to be waved in the eyes of the no longer fascinated realist.

"Meanwhile," they will say, with a stiff impatience unusual in their
class, "about _us_?" ...

Here are the makings of internal conflict in every European country. In
Russia the landlord and lawyer, in France the landlord, are perhaps of
less account, and in France the investor is more universal and jealous.
In Germany, where Junker and Court are most influential and brutal,
there is a larger and sounder and broader tradition of practical
efficiency, a modernised legal profession, and a more widely diffused
scientific imagination.

How far in each country will imagination triumph over tradition and
individualism? How far does the practical bankruptcy of Western
civilisation mean a revolutionary smash-up, and a phase that may last
for centuries, of disorder and more and more futile conflict? And how
far does it mean a reconstruction of human society, within a few score
of years, upon sounder and happier lines? Must that reconstruction be
preceded by a revolution in all or any of the countries?

To what extent can the world produce the imagination it needs? That, so
far, is the most fundamental question to which our prophetic
explorations have brought us.


Will the war be followed by a period of great distress, social disorder
and a revolution in Europe, or shall we pull through the crisis without
violent disaster? May we even hope that Great Britain will step straight
out of the war into a phase of restored and increasing welfare?

Like most people, I have been trying to form some sort of answer to this
question. My state of mind in the last few months has varied from a
considerable optimism to profound depression. I have met and talked to
quite a number of young men in khaki--ex-engineers, ex-lawyers,
ex-schoolmasters, ex-business men of all sorts--and the net result of
these interviews has been a buoyant belief that there is in Great
Britain the pluck, the will, the intelligence to do anything, however
arduous and difficult, in the way of national reconstruction. And on the
other hand there is a certain stretch of road between Dunmow and

That stretch of road is continually jarring with my optimistic
thoughts. It is a strongly pro-German piece of road. It supports
allegations against Great Britain, as, for instance, that the British
are quite unfit to control their own affairs, let alone those of an
empire; that they are an incompetent people, a pig-headedly stupid
people, a wasteful people, a people incapable of realising that a man
who tills his field badly is a traitor and a weakness to his country....

Let me place the case of this high road through Braintree (Bocking
intervening) before the reader. It is, you will say perhaps, very small
beer. But a straw shows the way the wind blows. It is a trivial matter
of road metal, mud, and water-pipes, but it is also diagnostic of the
essential difficulties in the way of the smooth and rapid reconstruction
of Great Britain--and very probably of the reconstruction of all
Europe--after the war. The Braintree high road, I will confess, becomes
at times an image of the world for me. It is a poor, spiritless-looking
bit of road, with raw stones on one side of it. It is also, I perceive,
the high destiny of man in conflict with mankind. It is the way to
Harwich, Holland, Russia, China, and the whole wide world.

Even at the first glance it impresses one as not being the road that
would satisfy an energetic and capable people. It is narrow for a high
road, and in the middle of it one is checked by an awkward bend, by
cross-roads that are not exactly cross-roads, so that one has to turn
two blind corners to get on eastward, and a policeman, I don't know at
what annual cost, has to be posted to nurse the traffic across. Beyond
that point one is struck by the fact that the south side is considerably
higher than the north, that storm water must run from the south side to
the north and lie there. It does, and the north side has recently met
the trouble by putting down raw flints, and so converting what would be
a lake into a sort of flint pudding. Consequently one drives one's car
as much as possible on the south side of this road. There is a
suggestion of hostility and repartee between north and south side in
this arrangement, which the explorer's inquiries will confirm. It may be
only an accidental parallelism with profounder fact; I do not know. But
the middle of this high road is a frontier. The south side belongs to
the urban district of Braintree; the north to the rural district of

If the curious inquirer will take pick and shovel he will find at any
rate one corresponding dualism below the surface. He will find a
Bocking water main supplying the houses on the north side and a
Braintree water main supplying the south. I rather suspect that the
drains are also in duplicate. The total population of Bocking and
Braintree is probably little more than thirteen thousand souls
altogether, but for that there are two water supplies, two sets of
schools, two administrations.

To the passing observer the rurality of the Bocking side is
indistinguishable from the urbanity of the Braintree side; it is just a
little muddier. But there are dietetic differences. If you will present
a Bocking rustic with a tin of the canned fruit that is popular with the
Braintree townsfolk, you discover one of these differences. A dustman
perambulates the road on the Braintree side, and canned food becomes
possible and convenient therefore. But the Braintree grocers sell canned
food with difficulty into Bocking. Bocking, less fortunate than its
neighbour, has no dustman apparently, and is left with the tin on its
hands. It can either bury it in its garden--if it has a garden--take it
out for a walk wrapped in paper and drop it quietly in a ditch, if
possible in the Braintree area, or build a cairn with it and its
predecessors and successors in honour of the Local Government Board
(President L5,000, Parliamentary Secretary L1,500, Permanent Secretary
L2,000, Legal Adviser L1,000 upward, a total administrative expenditure
of over L300,000 ...). In death Bocking and Braintree are still divided.
They have their separate cemeteries....

Now to any disinterested observer there lies about the Braintree-Bocking
railway station one community. It has common industries and common
interests. There is no _octroi_ or anything of that sort across the
street. The shops and inns on the Bocking side of the main street are
indistinguishable from those on the Braintree side. The inhabitants of
the two communities intermarry freely. If this absurd separation did not
exist, no one would have the impudence to establish it now. It is
wasteful, unfair (because the Bocking piece is rather better off than
Braintree and with fewer people, so that there is a difference in the
rates), and for nine-tenths of the community it is more or less of a

It is also a nuisance to the passing public because of such
inconvenience as the asymmetrical main road. It hinders local
development and the development of a local spirit. It may, of course,
appeal perhaps to the humorous outlook of the followers of Mr. G.K.
Chesterton and Mr. Belloc, who believe that this war is really a war in
the interests of the Athanasian Creed, fatness, and unrestricted drink
against science, discipline, and priggishly keeping fit enough to join
the army, as very good fun indeed, good matter for some jolly reeling
ballad about Roundabout and Roundabout, the jolly town of Roundabout;
but to anyone else the question of how it is that this wasteful
Bocking-Braintree muddle, with its two boards, its two clerks, its two
series of jobs and contracts, manages to keep on, was even before the
war a sufficiently discouraging one.

It becomes now a quite crucial problem. Because the muddle between the
sides of the main road through Bocking and Braintree is not an isolated
instance; it is a fair sample of the way things are done in Great
Britain; it is an intimation of the way in which the great task of
industrial resettlement that the nation must face may be attempted.

It is--or shall I write, "it may be"?

That is just the question I do not settle in my mind. I would like to
think that I have hit upon a particularly bad case of entangled local
government. But it happens that whenever I have looked into local
affairs I have found the same sort of waste and--insobriety of
arrangement. When I started, a little while back, to go to Braintree to
verify these particulars, I was held up by a flood across the road
between Little Easton and Dunmow. Every year that road is flooded and
impassable for some days, because a bit of the affected stretch is under
the County Council and a bit under the Little Easton Parish Council, and
they cannot agree about the contribution of the latter. These things
bump against the most unworldly. And when one goes up the scale from the
urban district and rural district boundaries, one finds equally crazy
county arrangements, the same tangle of obstacle in the way of quick,
effective co-ordinations, the same needless multiplicity of clerks, the
same rich possibilities of litigation, misunderstanding, and deadlocks
of opinion between areas whose only difference is that a mischievous
boundary has been left in existence between them. And so on up to
Westminster. And to still greater things....

I know perfectly well how unpleasant all this is to read, this outbreak
at two localities that have never done me any personal harm except a
little mud-splashing. But this is a thing that has to be said now,
because we are approaching a crisis when dilatory ways, muddle, and
waste may utterly ruin us. This is the way things have been done in
England, this is our habit of procedure, and if they are done in this
way after the war this Empire is going to smash.

Let me add at once that it is quite possible that things are done almost
as badly or quite as badly in Russia or France or Germany or America; I
am drawing no comparisons. All of us human beings were made, I believe,
of very similar clay, and very similar causes have been at work
everywhere. Only that excuse, so popular in England, will not prevent a
smash if we stick to the old methods under the stresses ahead. I do not
see that it is any consolation to share in a general disaster.

And I am sure that there must be the most delightful and picturesque
reasons why we have all this overlapping and waste and muddle in our
local affairs; why, to take another example, the boundary of the Essex
parishes of Newton and Widdington looks as though it had been sketched
out by a drunken man in a runaway cab with a broken spring.

This Bocking-Braintree main road is, it happens, an old Stane Street,
along which Roman legions marched to clean up the councils and clerks of
the British tribal system two thousand years ago, and no doubt an
historian could spin delightful consequences; this does not alter the
fact that these quaint complications in English affairs mean in the
aggregate enormous obstruction and waste of human energy. It does not
alter the much graver fact, the fact that darkens all my outlook upon
the future, that we have never yet produced evidence of any general
disposition at any time to straighten out or even suspend these fumbling
intricacies and ineptitudes. Never so far has there appeared in British
affairs that divine passion to do things in the clearest, cleanest,
least wasteful, most thorough manner that is needed to straighten out,
for example, these universal local tangles. Always we have been content
with the old intricate, expensive way, and to this day we follow it....

And what I want to know, what I would like to feel much surer about than
I do is, is this in our blood? Or is it only the deep-seated habit of
long ages of security, long years of margins so ample, that no waste
seemed altogether wicked. Is it, in fact, a hopeless and ineradicable
trait that we stick to extravagance and confusion?

What I would like to think possible at the present time, up and down the
scale from parish to province, is something of this sort. Suppose the
clerk of Braintree went to the clerk of Bocking and said: "Look here,
one of us could do the work of both of us, as well or better. The easy
times are over, and offices as well as men should be prepared to die for
their country. Shall we toss to see who shall do it, and let the other
man go off to find something useful to do?" Then I could believe. Such
acts of virtue happen in the United States. Here is a quotation from the
New York _World_ of February 15th, 1916:

"For two unusual acts Henry Bruere may be remembered by New York longer
than nine days. Early in his incumbency he declared that his office was
superfluous and should be abolished, the Comptroller assuming its
duties. He now abolishes by resignation his own connection with it, in
spite of its $12,000 salary."

Suppose the people of Braintree and Bocking, not waiting for that lead,
said: "But this is absurd! Let us have an identical council and one
clerk, and get ahead, instead of keeping up this silly pretence that one
town is two." Suppose someone of that 300,000 pounds' worth of gentlemen
at the Local Government Board set to work to replan our local government
areas generally on less comic lines. Suppose his official superiors
helped, instead of snubbing him....

I see nothing of the sort happening. I see everywhere wary, watchful
little men, thinking of themselves, thinking of their parish, thinking
close, holding tight....

I know that there is a whole web of excuses for all these complicated,
wasteful, and obstructive arrangements of our local government, these
arrangements that I have taken merely as a sample of the general human
way of getting affairs done. For it is affairs at large I am writing
about, as I warned the reader at the beginning. Directly one inquires
closely into any human muddle, one finds all sorts of reasonable rights
and objections and claims barring the way to any sweeping proposals. I
can quite imagine that Bocking has admirable reasons for refusing
coalescence with Braintree, except upon terms that Braintree could not
possibly consider. I can quite understand that there are many
inconveniences and arguable injustices that would be caused by a merger
of the two areas. I have no doubt it would mean serious loss to
So-and-so, and quite novel and unfair advantage to So-and-so. It would
take years to work the thing and get down to the footing of one water
supply and an ambidextrous dustman on the lines of perfect justice and
satisfactoriness all round.

But what I want to maintain is that these little immediate claims and
rights and vested interests and bits of justice and fairness are no
excuse at all for preventing things being done in the clear, clean,
large, quick way. They never constituted a decent excuse, and now they
excuse waste and delay and inconvenience less than ever. Let us first do
things in the sound way, and then, if we can, let us pet and compensate
any disappointed person who used to profit by their being done
roundabout instead of earning an honest living. We are beginning to
agree that reasonably any man may be asked to die for his country; what
we have to recognise is that any man's proprietorship, interest, claims
or rights may just as properly be called upon to die. Bocking and
Braintree and Mr. John Smith--Mr. John Smith, the ordinary comfortable
man with a stake in the country--have been thinking altogether too much
of the claims and rights and expectations and economies of Bocking and
Braintree and Mr. John Smith. They have to think now in a different

Just consider the work of reconstruction that Great Britain alone will
have to face in the next year or so. (And her task is, if anything, less
than that of any of her antagonists or Allies, except Japan and Italy.)
She has now probably from six to ten million people in the British
Isles, men and women, either engaged directly in warfare or in the
manufacture of munitions or in employments such as transit, nursing, and
so forth, directly subserving these main ends. At least five-sixths of
these millions must be got back to employment of a different character
within a year of the coming of peace. Everywhere manufacture, trade and
transit has been disorganised, disturbed or destroyed. A new economic
system has to be put together within a brief score or so of weeks; great
dislocated masses of population have to be fed, kept busy and
distributed in a world financially strained and abounding in wounded,
cripples, widows, orphans and helpless people.

In the next year or so the lives of half the population will have to be
fundamentally readjusted. Here is work for administrative giants, work
for which no powers can be excessive. It will be a task quite difficult
enough to do even without the opposition of legal rights, haggling
owners, and dexterous profiteers. It would be a giant's task if all the
necessary administrative machinery existed now in the most perfect
condition. How is this tremendous job going to be done if every Bocking
in the country is holding out for impossible terms from Braintree, and
every Braintree holding out for impossible terms from Bocking, while
the road out remains choked and confused between them; and if every John
Smith with a claim is insisting upon his reasonable expectation of
profits or dividends, his reasonable solatium and compensation for
getting out of the way?

I would like to record my conviction that if the business of this great
crisis is to be done in the same spirit, the jealous, higgling, legal
spirit that I have seen prevailing in British life throughout my
half-century of existence, it will not in any satisfactory sense of the
phrase get done at all. This war has greatly demoralised and discredited
the governing class in Great Britain, and if big masses of unemployed
and unfed people, no longer strung up by the actuality of war, masses
now trained to arms and with many quite sympathetic officers available,
are released clumsily and planlessly into a world of risen prices and
rising rents, of legal obstacles and forensic complications, of greedy
speculators and hampered enterprises, there will be insurrection and
revolution. There will be bloodshed in the streets and the chasing of

There _will_ be, if we do seriously attempt to put the new wine of
humanity, the new crude fermentations at once so hopeful and so
threatening, that the war has released, into the old administrative
bottles that served our purposes before the war.

I believe that for old lawyers and old politicians and "private
ownership" to handle the great problem of reconstruction after the war
in the spirit in which our affairs were conducted before the war is
about as hopeful an enterprise as if an elderly jobbing brick-layer,
working on strict trade-union rules, set out to stop the biggest
avalanche that ever came down a mountain-side. And since I am by no
means altogether pessimistic, in spite of my qualmy phases, it follows
that I do not believe that the old spirit will necessarily prevail. I do
not, because I believe that in the past few decades a new spirit has
come into human affairs; that our ostensible rulers and leaders have
been falling behind the times, and that in the young and the untried,
in, for example, the young European of thirty and under who is now in
such multitudes thinking over life and his seniors in the trenches,
there are still unsuspected resources of will and capacity, new mental
possibilities and new mental habits, that entirely disturb the
argument--based on the typical case of Bocking and Braintree--for a
social catastrophe after the war.

How best can this new spirit be defined?

It is the creative spirit as distinguished from the legal spirit; it is
the spirit of courage to make and not the spirit that waits and sees and
claims; it is the spirit that looks to the future and not to the past.
It is the spirit that makes Bocking forget that it is not Braintree and
John Smith forget that he is John Smith, and both remember that they are

For everyone there are two diametrically different ways of thinking
about life; there is individualism, the way that comes as naturally as
the grunt from a pig, of thinking outwardly from oneself as the centre
of the universe, and there is the way that every religion is trying in
some form to teach, of thinking back to oneself from greater standards
and realities. There is the Braintree that is Braintree against England
and the world, giving as little as possible and getting the best of the
bargain, and there is the Braintree that identifies itself with England
and asks how can we do best for the world with this little place of
ours, how can we educate best, produce most, and make our roads straight
and good for the world to go through.

Every American knows the district that sends its congressman to
Washington for the good of his district, and the district, the rarer
district, that sends a man to work for the United States. There is the
John Smith who feels toward England and the world as a mite feels toward
its cheese, and the John Smith who feels toward his country as a
sheep-dog feels toward the flock. The former is the spirit of
individualism, "business," and our law, the latter the spirit of
socialism and science and--khaki.... They are both in all of us, they
fluctuate from day to day; first one is ascendant and then the other.

War does not so much tilt the balance as accentuate the difference. One
rich British landowner sneaks off to New York State to set up a home
there and evade taxation; another turns his mansion into a hospital and
goes off to help Serbian refugees. Acts of baseness or generosity are
contagious; this man will give himself altogether because of a story of
devotion, this man declares he will do nothing until Sir F.E. Smith goes
to the front. And the would-be prophet of what is going to happen must
guess the relative force of these most impalpable and uncertain things.

This Braintree-Bocking boundary which runs down the middle of the road
is to be found all over the world. You will find it in Ireland and the
gentlemen who trade on the jealousies of the north side and the
gentlemen who trade on the jealousies of the south. You will find it in
England among the good people who would rather wreck the Empire than
work honestly and fairly with Labour. There are not only parish
boundaries, but park boundaries and class and sect boundaries. You will
find the Bocking-Braintree line too at a dozen points on a small scale
map of Europe.... These Braintree-Bocking lines are the barbed-wire
entanglements between us and the peace of the world. Against these
entanglements in every country the new spirit struggles in many
thousands of minds. Where will it be strongest? Which country will get
clear first, get most rapidly to work again, have least of the confusion
and wrangling that must in some degree occur everywhere? Will any
country go altogether to pieces in hopeless incurable discord?

Now I believe that the answer to that last question is "No." And my
reason for that answer is the same as my reason for believing that the
association of the Pledged Allies will not break up after the war; it is
that I believe that this war is going to end not in the complete
smashing up and subjugation of either side, but in a general exhaustion
that will make the recrudescence of the war still possible but very

Mars will sit like a giant above all human affairs for the next two
decades, and the speech of Mars is blunt and plain. He will say to us
all: "Get your houses in order. If you squabble among yourselves, waste
time, litigate, muddle, snatch profits and shirk obligations, I will
certainly come down upon you again. I have taken all your men between
eighteen and fifty, and killed and maimed such as I pleased; millions of
them. I have wasted your substance--contemptuously. Now, mark you, you
have multitudes of male children between the ages of nine and nineteen
running about among you. Delightful and beloved boys. And behind them
come millions of delightful babies. Of these I have scarcely smashed and
starved a paltry hundred thousand perhaps by the way. But go on
muddling, each for himself and his parish and his family and none for
all the world, go on in the old way, stick to-your 'rights,' stick to
your 'claims' each one of you, make no concessions and no sacrifices,
obstruct, waste, squabble, and presently I will come back again and take
all that fresh harvest of life I have spared, all those millions that
are now sweet children and dear little boys and youths, and I will
squeeze it into red pulp between my hands, I will mix it with the mud of
trenches and feast on it before your eyes, even more damnably than I
have done with your grown-up sons and young men. And I have taken most
of your superfluities already; next time I will take your barest

So the red god, Mars; and in these days of universal education the great
mass of people will understand plainly now that that is his message and
intention. Men who cannot be swayed by the love of order and creation
may be swayed by the thought of death and destruction.... There, I
think, is the overriding argument that will burst the proprietorships
and divisions and boundaries, the web of ineffectiveness that has held
the world so long. Labour returning from the trenches to its country and
demanding promptness, planning, generous and devoted leaderships and
organisation, demanding that the usurer and financier, the landlord and
lawyer shall, if need be, get themselves altogether out of the way, will
have behind its arguments the thought of the enemy still unsubdued,
still formidable, recovering. Both sides will feel that. This world is a
more illuminated world than 1816; a thousand questions between law and

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