A Modern Utopia
H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells

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Appendix: Scepticism of the Instrument


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A Modern Utopia

Copyright © 1905 by H. G. Wells

Chapter the Seventh

A Few Utopian Impressions
§ 1 From a number of beautifully printed placards at the street corners, adorned with caricatures of considerable pungency, we discover an odd little election is in progress. This is the selection, upon strictly democratic lines, with a suffrage that includes every permanent resident in the Lucerne ward over the age of fifteen, of the ugliest local building. [...] Every year every minor local governing body pulls down a building selected by local plebiscite, and the greater Government pays a slight compensation to the owner, and resumes possession of the land it occupies. The idea would strike us at first as simply whimsical, but in practice it appears to work as a cheap and practical device for the æsthetic education of builders, engineers, business men, opulent persons, and the general body of the public.



§ 4 There is, indeed, no beauty whatever save that transitory thing that comes and comes again; all beauty is really the beauty of expression, is really kinetic and momentary. That is true even of those triumphs of static endeavour achieved by Greece. The Greek temple, for example, is a barn with a face that at a certain angle of vision and in a certain light has a great calm beauty.



Chapter the Eighth

My Utopian Self
§ 5

Here is a world and a glorious world, and it is for me to take hold of it, to have to do with it, here and now, and behold! I can only think that I am burnt and scarred, and there rankles that wretched piece of business, the mean unimaginative triumph of my antagonist——

I wonder how many men have any real freedom of mind, are, in truth, unhampered by such associations, to whom all that is great and noble in life does not, at times at least, if not always, seem secondary to obscure rivalries and considerations, to the petty hates that are like germs in the blood, to the lust for self-assertion, to dwarfish pride, to affections they gave in pledge even before they were men.



Chapter the Ninth

The Samurai

Note (Hal’s):
Wells chooses the title “samurai” for the “voluntary nobility” who take a role in designing, guiding, operating and maintaining his Utopian World State.

— end note

§ 1 That hasty despair of specialisation for government that gave our poor world individualism, democratic liberalism, and anarchism, and that curious disregard of the fund of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice in men, which is the fundamental weakness of worldly economics, do not appear in the history of Utopian thought. All that history is pervaded with the recognition of the fact that self-seeking is no more the whole of human life than the satisfaction of hunger; that it is an essential of a man’s existence no doubt, and that under stress of evil circumstances it may as entirely obsess him as would the food hunt during famine, but that life may pass beyond to an illimitable world of emotions and effort. Every sane person consists of possibilities beyond the unavoidable needs, is capable of disinterested feeling, even if it amounts only to enthusiasm for a sport or an industrial employment well done, for an art, or for a locality or class. In our world now, as in the Utopian past, this impersonal energy of a man goes out into religious emotion and work, into patriotic effort, into artistic enthusiasms, into games and amateur employments, and an enormous proportion of the whole world’s fund of effort wastes itself in religious and political misunderstandings and conflicts, and in unsatisfying amusements and unproductive occupations.
§ 2

Four main classes of mind were distinguished, called, respectively, the Poietic, the Kinetic, the Dull, and the Base. The former two are supposed to constitute the living tissue of the State; the latter are the fulcra and resistances, the bone and cover of its body. They are not hereditary classes, nor is there any attempt to develop any class by special breeding, simply because the intricate interplay of heredity is untraceable and incalculable. They are classes to which people drift of their own accord. [...]

The Poietic or creative class of mental individuality embraces a wide range of types, but they agree in possessing imaginations that range beyond the known and accepted, and that involve the desire to bring the discoveries made in such excursions, into knowledge and recognition. The scope and direction of the imaginative excursion may vary very greatly. It may be the invention of something new or the discovery of something hitherto unperceived. When the invention or discovery is primarily beauty then we have the artistic type of Poietic mind; when it is not so, we have the true scientific man. [...] All religious ideas, all ideas of what is good or beautiful, entered life through the poietic inspirations of man. Except for processes of decay, the forms of the human future must come also through men of this same type, and it is a primary essential to our modern idea of an abundant secular progress that these activities should be unhampered and stimulated.

The Kinetic class consists of types, various, of course, and merging insensibly along the boundary into the less representative constituents of the Poietic group, but distinguished by a more restricted range of imagination. Their imaginations do not range beyond the known, experienced, and accepted, though within these limits they may imagine as vividly or more vividly than members of the former group. They are often very clever and capable people, but they do not do, and they do not desire to do, new things. The more vigorous individuals of this class are the most teachable people in the world, and they are generally more moral and more trustworthy than the Poietic types. They live,—while the Poietics are always something of experimentalists with life. [...]


Below these two classes in the Utopian scheme of things, and merging insensibly into them, come the Dull. The Dull are persons of altogether inadequate imagination, the people who never seem to learn thoroughly, or hear distinctly, or think clearly. (I believe if everyone is to be carefully educated they would be considerably in the minority in the world, but it is quite possible that will not be the reader’s opinion. It is clearly a matter of an arbitrary line.) [...]

Finally, with a bold disregard of the logician’s classificatory rules, these Utopian statesmen who devised the World State, hewed out in theory a class of the Base. [...] In the queer phrasing of earthly psychology with its clumsy avoidance of analysis, they have no “moral sense.” They count as an antagonism to the State organisation.

Obviously, this is the rudest of classifications and no Utopian has ever supposed it to be a classification for individual application, a classification so precise that one can say, this man is “poietic,” and that man is “base.” In actual experience these qualities mingle and vary in every possible way. It is not a classification for Truth, but a classification to an end. [...] The State, dealing as it does only with non-individualised affairs, is not only justified in disregarding, but is bound to disregard, a man’s special distinction, and to provide for him on the strength of his prevalent aspect as being on the whole poietic, kinetic, or what not. In a world of hasty judgments and carping criticism, it cannot be repeated too often that the fundamental ideas of a modern Utopia imply everywhere and in everything, margins and elasticities, a certain universal compensatory looseness of play.

§ 3 The general life-history of a State had been the same on either planet. First, through poietic activities, the idea of a community has developed, and the State has shaped itself; poietic men have arisen first in this department of national life, and then that, and have given place to kinetic men of a high type—for it seems to be in their nature that poietic men should be mutually repulsive, and not succeed and develop one another consecutively—and a period of expansion and vigour has set in. The general poietic activity has declined with the development of an efficient and settled social and political organisation; the statesman has given way to the politician who has incorporated the wisdom of the statesman with his own energy, the original genius in arts, letters, science, and every department of activity to the cultivated and scholarly man. [...] With this substitution of the efficient for the creative type, the State ceases to grow, first in this department of activity, and then in that, and so long as its conditions remain the same it remains orderly and efficient. But it has lost its power of initiative and change; its power of adaptation is gone, and with that secular change of conditions which is the law of life, stresses must arise within and without, and bring at last either through revolution or thorugh defeat the release of fresh poietic power.
§ 4 “Typically, the samurai are engaged in administrative work. Practically the whole of the responsible rule of the world is in their hands; all our head teachers and disciplinary heads of colleges, our judges, barristers, employers of labour beyond a certain limit, practising medical men, legislators, must be samurai, and all the executive committees, and so forth, that play so large a part in our affairs are drawn by lot exclusively from them. The order is not hereditary—we know just enough of biology and the uncertainties of inheritance to know how silly that would be—and it does not require an early consecration or novitiate or ceremonies and initiations of that sort. The samurai are, in fact, volunteers.”
§ 5

“Wealth,” he said, “is no sort of power at all unless you make it one. If it is so in your world it is so by inadvertency. Wealth is a State-made thing, a convention, the most artificial of powers. You can, by subtle statesmanship, contrive what it shall buy and what it shall not. In your world it would seem you have made leisure, movement, any sort of freedom, life itself, purchaseable. The more fools you! A poor working man with you is a man in discomfort and fear. No wonder your rich have power. But here a reasonable leisure, a decent life, is to be had by every man on easier terms than by selling himself to the rich. And rich as men are here, there is no private fortune in the whole world that is more than a little thing beside the wealth of the State. The samurai control the State and the wealth of the State, and by their vows they may not avail themselves of any of the coarser pleasures wealth can still buy. Where, then, is the power of your wealthy man?”

“But, then—where is the incentive——?”

“Oh! a man gets things for himself with wealth—no end of things. But little or no power over his fellows—unless they are exceptionally weak or self-indulgent persons.“



“Our Founders organised motives from all sorts of sources, but I think the chief force to give men self-control is Pride. Pride may not be the noblest thing in the soul, but it is the best King there, for all that. They looked to it to keep a man clean and sound and sane.”
§ 7

The leading principle of the Utopian religion is the repudiation of the doctrine of original sin; the Utopians hold that man, on the whole, is good. [...] They accept Religion as they accept Thirst, as something inseparably in the mysterious rhythms of life. And just as thirst and pride and all desires may be perverted in an age of abundant opportunities, and men may be degraded and wasted by intemperance in drinking, by display, or by ambition, so too the nobler complex of desires that constitutes religion may be turned to evil by the dull, the base, and the careless.


Original Sin

The aspect of God is different in the measure of every man’s individuality, and the intimate thing of religion must, therefore, exist in human solitude, between man and God alone. Religion in its quintessence is a relation between God and man; it is perversion to make it a relation between man and man, and a man may no more reach God through a priest than love his wife through a priest.
§ 8 Practically all political power vests in the samurai. Not only are they the only administrators, lawyers, practising doctors, and public officials of almost all kinds, but they are the only voters. Yet, by a curious exception, the supreme legislative assembly must have one-tenth, and may have one-half of its members outside the order, because, it is alleged, there is a sort of wisdom that comes of sin and laxness, which is necessary to the perfect ruling of life.
Chapter the Tenth

Race in Utopia
§ 1

Above the sphere of the elemental cravings and necessities, the soul of man is in a perpetual vacillation between two conflicting impulses: the desire to assert his individual differences, the desire for distinction, and his terror of isolation. He wants to stand out, but not too far out, and, on the contrary, he wants to merge himself with a group, with some larger body, but not altogether. [...] The study of the aggregations and of the ideals of aggregations about which men’s sympathies will twine, and upon which they will base a large proportion of their conduct and personal policy, is the legitimate definition of sociology.

The natural man does not feel he is aggregating at all, unless he aggregates against something. He refers himself to the tribe; he is loyal to the tribe, and quite inseparably he fears or dislikes those others outside the tribe. The tribe is always at least defensively hostile and usually actively hostile to humanity beyond the aggregation. [...] All real working gods, one may remark, all gods that are worshipped emotionally, are tribal gods, and every attempt to universalise the idea of God trails dualism and the devil after it as a moral necessity.

The necessity for marking out classes has brought with it a bias for false and excessive contrast, and we never invent a term but we are at once cramming it with implications beyond its legitimate content. There is no feat of irrelevance that people will not perform quite easily in this way; there is no class, however accidental, to which they will not at once ascribe deeply distinctive qualities. [...] Such stupid generalisations have been believed with the utmost readiness, and acted upon by great numbers of sane, respectable people. And when the class is one’s own class, when it expresses one of the aggregations to which one refers one’s own activities, then the disposition to divide all qualities between this class and its converse, and to cram one’s own class with every desirable distinction, becomes overwhelming.

It is part of the training of the philosopher to regard all such generalisations with suspicion; it is part of the training of the Utopist and statesman, and all good statemen are Utopists, to mingle something very like animosity with that suspicion. For crude classifications and false generalisations are the curse of all organised human life.

§ 2 The great intellectual developments that centre upon the work of Darwin have exacerbated the realisation that life is a conflict between superior and inferior types, it has underlined the idea that specific survival rates are of primary significance in the world’s development, and a swarm of inferior intelligences has applied to human problems elaborated and exaggerated versions of these generalisations. These social and political followers of Darwin have fallen into an obvious confusion between race and nationality, and into the natural trap of patriotic conceit. The dissent of the Indian and Colonial governing class to the first crude applications of liberal propositions in India has found a voice of unparalleled penetration in Mr. Kipling, whose want of intellectual deliberation is only equalled by his poietic power. The search for a basis for a new political synthesis in adaptable sympathies based on linguistic affinities, was greatly influenced by Max Müller’s unaccountable assumption that language indicated kindred, and led straight to wildly speculative ethnology, to the discovery that there was a Keltic race, a Teutonic race, an Indo-European race, and so forth. [...] True to the law that all human aggregation involves the development of a spirit of opposition to whatever is external to the aggregation, extraordinary intensifications of racial definition are going on; the vileness, the inhumanity, the incompatibility of alien races is being steadily exaggerated. The natural tendency of every human being towards a stupid conceit in himself and his kind, a stupid depreciation of all unlikeness, is traded upon by this bastard science. With the weakening of national references, and with the pause before reconstruction in religious belief, these new arbitrary and unsubstantial race prejudices become daily more formidable. They are shaping policies and modifying laws, and they will certainly be responsible for a large proportion of the wars, hardships, and cruelties the immediate future holds in store for our earth.

Compare to:



Max Müller

What the average Chinaman or Englishman may be, is of no importance whatever to our plan of a World State. It is not averages that exist, but individuals. The average Chinaman will never meet the average Englishman anywhere; only individual Chinamen will meet individual Englishmen.



§ 5

Liberalism in England is not quite the same thing as Liberalism in the rest of the world; it is woven of two strands. There is Whiggism, the powerful tradition of seventeenth-century Protestant and republican England, with its great debt to republican Rome, its strong constructive and disciplinary bias, its broad and originally very living and intelligent outlook; and interwoven with this there is the sentimental and logical Liberalism that sprang from the stresses of the eighteenth century, [...] flowered in the emotional democratic naturalism of Rousseau, and bore abundant fruit in the French Revolution. These are two very distinct strands. Directly they were freed in America from the grip of conflict with British Toryism, they came apart as the Republican and Democratic parties respectively. Their continued union in Great Britain is a political accident.



Modern war, modern international hostility, is, I believe, possible only through the stupid illiteracy of the mass of men and the conceit and intellectual indolence of rulers and those who feed the public mind. Were the will of the mass of men lit and conscious, I am firmly convinced it would now burn steadily for synthesis and peace.



text checked (see note) Mar 2006

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