H. G. Wells: The Open Conspiracy (selected passages – 1933)



H. G. Wells launched the idea of an Open Conspiracy in a booklet in 1928 and then, in a more extended text, in 1933. Here we offer some extracts from the various chapters of the later work. The vision that emerges from this selection is that of a conspiracy of cosmopolitan individuals for the organization of a world community that leaves behind the heavy burden of nationalism and militarism. This view is sometimes associated with a slightly different one of a world state run by a world directorate for the advancement and the well-being of humanity.

When Wells wrote this essay the dominant progressive thinking was that of gigantic companies that would totally replace small firms; besides that, planning was conceived only as coming from a directing centre that would eliminate waste and the wrong allocation of resources. Now we know that these were just myths, devoid of any foundation on reality. Moreover, we now live in a technological reality of instant communication and ubiquitous information that has shown the ineffectiveness of both gigantism and dirigisme.

Having said so, the analysis of Wells still remains interesting and many of his remarks and suggestions are still fresh and powerful as when they were first formulated.

From Chapter I. The present crisis in human affaires

The world is undergoing immense changes. Never before have the conditions of life changed so swiftly and enormously as they have changed for mankind in the last fifty years. We have been carried along – with no means of measuring the increasing swiftness in the succession of events. We are only now beginning to realize the force and strength of the storm of change that has come upon us.

From Chapter II. The idea of the Open Conspiracy

It seemed to me that all over the world intelligent people were waking up to the indignity and absurdity of being endangered, restrained, and impoverished, by a mere uncritical adhesion to traditional governments, traditional ideas of economic life, and traditional forms of behaviour, and that these awaking intelligent people must constitute first a protest and then a creative resistance to the inertia that was stifling and threatening us. These people I imagined would say first, “We are drifting; we are doing nothing worth while with our lives. Our lives are dull and stupid and not good enough.”

Then they would say, “What are we to do with our lives?”

And then, “Let us get together with other people of our sort and make over the world into a great world-civilization that will enable us to realize the promises and avoid the dangers of this new time.”

It seemed to me that as, one after another, we woke up, that is what we would be saying. It amounted to a protest, first mental and then practical, it amounted to a sort of unpremeditated and unorganized conspiracy, against the fragmentary and insufficient governments and the wide-spread greed, appropriation, clumsiness, and waste that are now going on. But unlike conspiracies in general this widening protest and conspiracy against established things would, by its very nature, go on in the daylight, and it would be willing to accept participation and help from every quarter. It would, in fact, become an “Open Conspiracy,” a necessary, naturally evolved conspiracy, to adjust our dislocated world.

From Chapter III. We have to clear and clean up our minds

Fundamentally the Open Conspiracy must be an intellectual rebirth.

Human thought is still very much confused by the imperfection of the words and other symbols it employs and the consequences of this confused thinking are much more serious and extensive than is commonly realized. We still see the world through a mist of words; it is only the things immediately about us that are plain fact. Through symbols and especially through words, man has raised himself above the level of the ape and come to a considerable mastery over his universe. But every step in his mental ascent has involved entanglement with these symbols and words he was using; they were at once helpful and very dangerous and misleading. A great part of our affairs, social, political, intellectual, is in a perplexing and dangerous state to-day because of our loose, uncritical, slovenly use of words.

Thinking clearly and effectively does not come by nature. Hunting the truth is an art. We blunder naturally into a thousand misleading generalizations and false processes. Yet there is hardly any intelligent mental training done in the schools of the world to-day. We have to learn this art, if we are to practice it at all. Our schoolteachers have had no proper training themselves, they miseducate by example and precept, and so it is that our press and current discussions are more like an impromptu riot of crippled and deaf and blind minds than an intelligent interchange of ideas. What bosh one reads! What rash and impudent assumptions! What imbecile inferences!

But re-educating oneself, getting one’s mind into health and exercising it and training it to think properly, is only the beginning of the task before the awakening of the Open Conspirator. He has not only to think clearly, but he has to see that his mind is equipped with the proper general ideas to form a true framework for his everyday judgments and decisions.

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