The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 27, 1936
BOOK REVIEW AND EDITORIAL
Wells Sees A Sad World, But Declines To Despair
By W. J. Cash
H.G. Wells, author of
"The Anatomy of Frustration,"
(Portrait by M. Boucard)
(As originally appearing with article.)
Site ed. note: Here, Cash takes from an author noted for ominous predictions of the future, H.G. Wells, and expounds in the latter paragraphs on his own take on the coming decade--an extrapolation which was profoundly correct--something which seems painfully obvious now, but then the stuff of rare debate, as few saw the coming danger of Hitler and Mussolini in 1936.
SOME three hundred years ago now, Robert Burton launched into the world from his Oxford study that immensely long and immensely fantastic work "The Anatomy of Melancholy," wherein, attempting to analyze the causes for the prevailing English mood in the first half of the Seventeenth century and to set forth its cure, he ended by despairing not only of England but of the whole human race, as incurably irrational and brutal.
And last Tuesday there issued from the New York presses of the Macmillan company a vastly smaller (it runs to only 17 pages of large print) and much less fantastic opus, "The Anatomy of Frustration"--wherein the industrious Mr. Herbert George Wells attempts to analyze and propose cures for what, as nobody will dispute, is the peculiarly characteristic disease of our Western civilization in the years which have followed the great murder-fest in Flanders.
He Declines Despair
UNLIKE Burton, however, Mr. Wells (or William Burroughs Steele, the American scientist on whom, by a convenient fiction, Mr. Wells hangs his opinions) declines, as Mr. Wells has always declined, to despair. Mr. Wells says flatly, indeed, that such despair as Burton's is a mood which is not really possible to modern man. "What is in our way to a sane world? What prevents us? What is preventing us? That is the modern question... We are no longer content to seek mere escape from the madness in things, we attack the madness in things. Steele can be angry; he can be dismayed and weary to the pitch of neurasthenia, but he never ceases to be combative.
"There we have the spirit of our newer age. That is the difference three centuries have made to the human mind...it is the contrast of an age capable of limitless objectives with an age boxed in imaginatively by the creation and day of judgment. In Burton's world there was no time for change, there was no idea of fundamental change. Things were fated. Things were so."
Let's Take Command!
MR. WELLS, in short, proceeds from the assumptions he has proceeded from in all his previous volumes. He tells us now, as he was telling us of the "Outline of History" 16 years ago: "Let us as human beings take command of our fate. There is not one single thing in the world before us which we cannot get over--not one single thing to which we do not hold the key in our power of taking thought and of acting on our best thought aggressively. It would be better certainly, if we had an ounce or two more of brains in our skulls, for then our problems would be so many cobwebs to be blown away with a breath. But no matter, we can get on as we are, stumbling and staggering a little no doubt, but still on the whole making steadily to the goal of triumphant mastery and fulfillment of life."
Such, in paraphrase, is the fundamental approach of Mr. Wells to the problem of modern frustration. And his analysis of that frustration--and his cures. To begin with, he says, we have to ask ourselves what it is that man wants.
The Inevitable Fear
AND OF all the things he wants, the first and most certain is this: to somehow escape death. "All religions, all philosophies of conduct, stripped down to their bare essentials, express the impulse to escape this inherent final frustration." But it is no longer possible, says Mr. Wells, for modern man, in so far as he has realized himself intellectually to achieve that escape through belief in personal immortality. Indeed, it has never been possible for men of first-rate intellectual equipment to achieve escape so; hence there have always existed "merger-immortalities." "Even in the lowest types of men there lie about the central core of the self-conscious, self-seeking ego great systems of personal abandon. There are love loyalties, family loyalties, group loyalties, tribal loyalties... So far as a human being transfers his will and hope to those ends, he may, says Steele, escape ultimate frustration." Hence the way out for modern man is quite plain. It is, Mr. Wells holds, absorption in the concept of universal man, and the formula "I am Life" or better "I am Man."
And We Want Peace
OTHER first things that man wants are abundance for all, a World Pax. And both, says Mr. Wells, are entirely feasible and even, in the present state of things, imperatively necessary. But "we are doomed to go on enduring starvation in the midst of plenty" and periodic and more and more horrible orgies of murder until we are willing to use our minds cooly on the facts of the case and to follow out what he believes to be plain. In the first place, we shall have to recognize that the property-money question of the world is the single inextricable question, and must be solved for the earth as a unit: that economic nationalism is stupid madness defeating itself and hurrying the race to suicidal battles; and that some sort of socialist world state, organized for production and distribution, is the only possible solution.
And in the second place, we shall have to grant, he thinks, that a much more complex and realistic morality than that resting on the Ten Commandments is necessary; that what we actually need is not ten commands but a hundred; for, says he, such a commandment as that against stealing becomes, under the conditions of our complex life, not only no effective rule of conduct, but a mockery and a snare in the very name of which ten thousand scoundrelisms and brutalities are daily perpetrated.
UTOPIA. It violates human nature? Nonsense, says Mr. Wells. Man has in his nature both impulses to individualistic anarchy and to social cooperation; and the whole story of human advances is the story of his learning to subordinate his anarchic impulses to the social ones. It can be done, and if the race is to be saved from chaos and destruction, it must be done. It will not be easy, no. The world is in labor, and before it is delivered of the Things to Come, it will have to suffer many convulsions. Force will likely have to be met with force. There are governments in the world which plainly will have to be destroyed.
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