Men Like Gods
Chapter 5: the Governance and History of Utopia
Came a pause. The Earthlings looked at one another and their gaze seemed to converge upon Mr. Cecil Burleigh. That statesman feigned to be unaware of the general expectation. "Rupert," he said.
"I reserve my comments," said Mr. Catskill. "Father Amerton, you are accustomed to treat of other worlds."
"Not in your presence, Mr. Cecil. No."
"But what am I to tell them?"
"What you think of it," said Mr. Barnstaple.
"Exactly," said Mr. Catskill. "Tell them what you think of it."
No one else appeared to be worthy of consideration. Mr. Burleigh rose slowly and walked thoughtfully to the centre of the semicircle.
He grasped his coat lapels and remained for some moments with face downcast as if considering what he was about to say. "Mr.
Serpentine," he began at last, raising a candid countenance and regarding the blue sky above the distant lake through his glasses.
"Ladies and Gentlemen--"
He was going to make a speech!--as though he was at a Primrose
League garden party--or Geneva. It was preposterous and yet, what else was there to be done?
"I must confess, Sir, that although I am by no means a novice at public speaking, I find myself on this occasion somewhat at a loss.
Your admirable discourse, Sir, simple, direct, lucid, compact, and rising at times to passages of unaffected eloquence, has set me a pattern that I would fain follow--and before which, in all modesty,
I quail. You ask me to tell you as plainly and clearly as possible the outline facts as we conceive them about this kindred world out of which with so little premeditation we have come to you. So far as my poor powers of understanding or discussing such recondite matters go, I do not think I can better or indeed supplement in any way your marvellous exposition of the mathematical aspects of the case. What you have told us embodies the latest, finest thoughts of terrestrial science and goes, indeed, far beyond our current ideas. On certain matters, in, for example, the relationship of time and gravitation,
I feel bound to admit that I do not go with you, but that is rather a failure to understand your position than any positive dissent.
Upon the broader aspects of the case there need be no difficulties between us. We accept your main proposition unreservedly; namely, that we conceive ourselves to be living in a parallel universe to yours, on a planet the very brother of your own, indeed quite amazingly like yours, having regard to all the possible contrasts we might have found here. We are attracted by and strongly disposed to accept your view that our system is, in all probability, a little less seasoned and mellowed by the touch of time than yours, short perhaps by some hundreds or some thousands of years of your experiences. Assuming this, it is inevitable, Sir, that a certain humility should mingle in our attitude towards you. As your juniors it becomes us not to instruct but to learn. It is for us to ask:
What have you done? To what have you reached? rather than to display to you with an artless arrogance all that still remains for us to learn and do..."
"No!" said Mr. Barnstaple to himself but half audibly. "This is a dream ... If it were anyone else..."
He rubbed his knuckles into his eyes and opened them again, and there he was still, sitting next to Mr. Mush in the midst of these
Olympian divinities. And Mr. Burleigh, that polished sceptic, who never believed, who was never astonished, was leaning forward on his toes and speaking, speaking, with the assurance of a man who has made ten thousand speeches. He could not have been more sure of himself and his audience in the Guildhall in London. And they were understanding him! Which was absurd!
There was nothing to do but to fall in with this stupendous absurdity--and sit and listen. Sometimes Mr. Barnstaple's mind wandered altogether from what Mr. Burleigh was saying. Then it returned and hung desperately to his discourse. In his halting, parliamentary way, his hands trifling with his glasses or clinging to the lapels of his coat, Mr. Burleigh was giving Utopia a brief account of the world of men, seeking to be elementary and lucid and reasonable, telling them of states and empires, of wars and the Great War, of economic organization and disorganization, of revolutions and Bolshevism, of the terrible Russian famine that was beginning, of the difficulties of finding honest statesmen and officials, and of the unhelpfulness of newspapers, of all the dark and troubled spectacle of human life. Serpentine had used the term "the Last Age of Confusion," and Mr. Burleigh had seized upon the phrase and was making much of it...
It was a great oratorical impromptu. It must have gone on for an hour, and the Utopians listened with keen, attentive faces, now and then nodding their acceptance and recognition of this statement or that. "Very like," would come tapping into Mr. Barnstaple's brain.
"With us also--in the Age of Confusion."
At last Mr. Burleigh, with the steady deliberation of an old parliamentary hand, drew to his end. Compliments.
He bowed. He had done. Mr. Mush startled everyone by a vigorous hand-clapping in which no one else joined.
The tension in Mr. Barnstaple's mind had become intolerable.
He leapt to his feet.
He stood making those weak propitiatory gestures that come so naturally to the inexperienced speaker. "Ladies and Gentlemen," he said. "Utopians, Mr. Burleigh! I crave your pardon for a moment.
There is a little matter. Urgent."
For a brief interval he was speechless.
Then he found attention and encouragement in the eye of Urthred.
"Something I don't understand. Something incredible--I mean, incompatible. The little rift. Turns everything into a fantastic phantasmagoria."
The intelligence in Urthred's eye was very encouraging. Mr.
Barnstaple abandoned any attempt to address the company as a whole, and spoke directly to Urthred.
"You live in Utopia, hundreds of thousands of years in advance of us. How is it that you are able to talk contemporary English--to use exactly the same language that we do? I ask you, how is that? It is incredible. It jars. It makes a dream of you. And yet you are not a dream? It makes me feel--almost--insane."
Urthred smiled pleasantly. "We don't speak English," he said.
Mr. Barnstaple felt the ground slipping from under his feet. "But
I hear you speaking English," he said.
"Nevertheless we do not speak it," said Urthred.
He smiled still more broadly. "We don't--for ordinary purposes--speak anything."
Mr. Barnstaple, with his brain resigning its functions, maintained his pose of deferential attention.
"Ages ago," Urthred continued, "we certainly used to speak languages. We made sounds and we heard sounds. People used to think, and then chose and arranged words and uttered them. The hearer heard, noted, and retranslated the sounds into ideas. Then, in some manner which we still do not understand perfectly, people began to
get the idea before it was clothed in words and uttered in sounds.
They began to hear in their minds, as soon as the speaker had arranged his ideas and before he put them into word symbols even in his own mind. They knew what he was going to say before he said it.
This direct transmission presently became common; it was found out that with a little effort most people could get over to each other in this fashion to some extent, and the new mode of communication was developed systematically.
"That is what we do now habitually in this world. We think directly
to each other. We determine to convey the thought and it is conveyed at once--provided the distance is not too great. We use sounds in this world now only for poetry and pleasure and in moments of emotion or to shout at a distance, or with animals, not for the transmission of ideas from human mind to kindred human mind any more. When I think to you, the thought, so far as it finds corresponding ideas and suitable words in your mind, is reflected in your mind. My thought clothes itself in words in your mind, which words you seem to hear--and naturally enough in your own language and your own habitual phrases. Very probably the members of your party are hearing what I am saying to you, each with his own individual difference of vocabulary and phrasing."
Mr. Barnstaple had been punctuating this discourse with sharp, intelligent nods, coming now and then to the verge of interruption.
Now he broke out with: "And that is why occasionally--as for instance when Mr. Serpentine made his wonderful explanation just now--when you soar into ideas of which we haven't even a shadow in our minds, we just hear nothing at all."
"Are there such gaps?" asked Urthred.
"Many, I fear--for all of us," said Mr. Burleigh.
"It's like being deaf in spots," said Lady Stella. "Large spots."
Father Amerton nodded agreement.
"And that is why we cannot be clear whether you are called Urthred or Adam, and why I have found myself confusing Arden and Greentrees and Forest in my mind."
"I hope that now you are mentally more at your case?" said Urthred.
"Oh, quite," said Mr. Barnstaple. "Quite. And all things considered, it is really very convenient for us that there should be this method of transmission. For otherwise I do not see how we could have avoided weeks of linguistic bother, first principles of our respective grammars, logic, significs, and so forth, boring stuff for the most part, before we could have got to anything like our present understanding."
"A very good point indeed," said Mr. Burleigh, turning round to Mr.
Barnstaple in a very friendly way. "A very good point indeed. I should never have noted it if you had not called my attention to it.
It is quite extraordinary; I had not noted anything of this--this difference. I was occupied, I am bound to confess, by my own thoughts. I supposed they were speaking English. Took it for granted."
It seemed to Mr. Barnstaple that this wonderful experience was now so complete that there remained nothing more to wonder at except its absolute credibility. He sat in this beautiful little building looking out upon dreamland flowers and the sunlit lake amidst this strange mingling of week-end English costumes and this more than
Olympian nudity that had already ceased to startle him, he listened and occasionally participated in the long informal conversation that now ensued. It was a discussion that brought to light the most amazing and fundamental differences of moral and social outlook. Yet everything had now assumed a reality that made it altogether natural to suppose that he would presently go home to write about it in the
Liberal and tell his wife, as much as might seem advisable at the time, about the manners and costumes of this hitherto undiscovered world. He had not even a sense of intervening distances. Sydenham might have been just round the corner.
Presently two pretty young girls made tea at an equipage among the rhododendra and brought it round to people. Tea! It was what we should call China tea, very delicate, and served in little cups without handles, Chinese fashion, but it was real and very refreshing tea.
The earlier curiosities of the Earthlings turned upon methods of government. This was perhaps natural in the presence of two such statesmen as Mr. Burleigh and Mr. Catskill.
"What form of government do you have?" asked Mr. Burleigh. "Is it a monarchy or an autocracy or a pure democracy? Do you separate the executive and the legislative? And is there one central government for all your planet, or are there several governing centres?"
It was conveyed to Mr. Burleigh and his companions with some difficulty that there was no central government in Utopia at all.
"But surely," said Mr. Burleigh, "there is someone or something, some council or bureau or what not, somewhere, with which the final decision rests in cases of collective action for the common welfare,
Some ultimate seat and organ of sovereignty, it seems to me, there
No, the Utopians declared, there was no such concentration of authority in their world. In the past there had been, but it had long since diffused back into the general body of the community.
Decisions in regard to any particular matter were made by the people who knew most about that matter.
"But suppose it is a decision that has to be generally observed?
A rule affecting the public health, for example? Who would enforce it?"
"It would not need to be enforced. Why should it?"
"But suppose someone refused to obey your regulation?"
"We should inquire why he or she did not conform. There might be some exceptional reason."
"But failing that?"
"We should make an inquiry into his mental and moral health."
"The mind doctor takes the place of the policeman," said Mr.
"I should prefer the policeman," said Mr. Rupert Catskill.
"You would, Rupert," said Mr. Burleigh as who should say:
"Got you that time."
"Then do you mean to say," he continued, addressing the Utopians with an expression of great intelligence, "that your affairs are all managed by special bodies or organizations--one scarcely knows what to call them--without any co-ordination of their activities?"
"The activities of our world," said Urthred, "are all co-ordinated to secure the general freedom. We have a number of intelligences directed to the general psychology of the race and to the interaction of one collective function upon another."
"Well, isn't that group of intelligences a governing class?" said
"Not in the sense that they exercise any arbitrary will," said
Urthred. "They deal with general relations, that is all. But they rank no higher, they have no more precedence on that account than a philosopher has over a scientific specialist."
"This is a republic indeed!" said Mr. Burleigh. "But how it works and how it came about I cannot imagine. Your state is probably a highly socialistic one?"
"You live still in a world in which nearly everything except the air, the high roads, the high seas and the wilderness is privately owned?"
"We do," said Mr. Catskill. "Owned--and competed for."
"We have been through that stage. We found at last that private property in all but very personal things was an intolerable nuisance to mankind. We got rid of it. An artist or a scientific man has complete control of all the material he needs, we all own our tools and appliances and have rooms and places of our own, but there is no property for trade or speculation. All this militant property, this property of manoeuvre, has been quite got rid of. But how we got rid of it is a long story. It was not done in a few years.
The exaggeration of private property was an entirely natural and necessary stage in the development of human nature. It led at last to monstrous results, but it was only through these monstrous and catastrophic results that men learnt the need and nature of the limitations of private property."
Mr. Burleigh had assumed an attitude which was obviously habitual to him. He sat very low in his chair with his long legs crossed in front of him and the thumb and fingers of one hand placed with meticulous exactness against those of the other.
"I must confess," he said, "that I am most interested in the peculiar form of Anarchism which seems to prevail here. Unless I misunderstand you completely every man attends to his own business as the servant of the state. I take it you have--you must correct me if I am wrong--a great number of people concerned in the production and distribution and preparation of food; they inquire, I assume, into the needs of the world, they satisfy them and they are a law unto themselves in their way of doing it. They conduct researches, they make experiments. Nobody compels, obliges, restrains or prevents them. ("People talk to them about it," said Urthred with a faint smile.) And again others produce and manufacture and study metals for all mankind and are also a law unto themselves. Others again see to the habitability of your world, plan and arrange these delightful habitations, say who shall use them and how they shall be used. Others pursue pure science. Others experiment with sensory and imaginative possibilities and are artists. Others again teach."
"They are very important," said Lychnis.
"And they all do it in harmony--and due proportion. Without either a central legislature or executive. I will admit that all this seems admirable--but impossible. Nothing of the sort has ever been even suggested yet in the world from which we come."
"Something of the sort was suggested long ago by the Guild
Socialists," said Mr. Barnstaple.
"Dear me!" said Mr. Burleigh. "I know very little about the Guild
Socialists. Who were they? Tell me."
Mr. Barnstaple tacitly declined that task. "The idea is quite familiar to our younger people," he said. "Laski calls it the pluralistic state, as distinguished from the monistic state in which sovereignty is concentrated. Even the Chinese have it. A
Pekin professor, Mr. S. C. Chang, has written a pamphlet on what he calls 'Professionalism.' I read it only a few weeks ago. He sent it to the office of the Liberal. He points out how undesirable it is and how unnecessary for China to pass through a phase of democratic politics on the western model. He wants China to go right straight on to a collateral independence of functional classes, mandarins, industrials, agricultural workers and so forth, much as we seem to find it here. Though that of course involves an educational revolution. Decidedly the germ of what you call Anarchism here is also in the air we come from."
"Dear me!" said Mr. Burleigh, looking more intelligent and appreciative than ever. "And is that so? I had no idea--!"
The conversation continued desultory in form and yet the exchange of ideas was rapid and effective. Quite soon, as it seemed to Mr.
Barnstaple, an outline of the history of Utopia from the Last Age of Confusion onward shaped itself in his mind.
The more he learnt of that Last Age of Confusion the more it seemed to resemble the present time on earth. In those days the Utopians had worn abundant clothing and lived in towns quite after the earthly fashion. A fortunate conspiracy of accidents rather than any set design had opened for them some centuries of opportunity and expansion. Climatic phases and political chances had smiled upon the race after a long period of recurrent shortage, pestilence and destructive warfare. For the first time the Utopians had been able to explore the whole planet on which they lived, and these explorations had brought great virgin areas under the axe, the spade and the plough. There had been an enormous increase in real wealth and in leisure and liberty. Many thousands of people were lifted out of the normal squalor of human life to positions in which they could, if they chose, think and act with unprecedented freedom. A few, a sufficient few, did. A vigorous development of scientific inquiry began and, trailing after it a multitude of ingenious inventions, produced a great enlargement of practical human power.
There had been previous outbreaks of the scientific intelligence in Utopia, but none before had ever occurred in such favourable circumstances or lasted long enough to come to abundant practical fruition. Now in a couple of brief centuries the Utopians, who had hitherto crawled about their planet like sluggish ants or travelled parasitically on larger and swifter animals, found themselves able to fly rapidly or speak instantaneously to any other point on the planet. They found themselves, too, in possession of mechanical power on a scale beyond all previous experience, and not simply of mechanical power; physiological and then psychological science followed in the wake of physics and chemistry, and extraordinary possibilities of control over his own body and over his social life dawned upon the Utopian. But these things came, when at last they did come, so rapidly and confusingly that it was only a small minority of people who realized the possibilities, as distinguished from the concrete achievements, of this tremendous expansion of knowledge. The rest took the novel inventions as they came, haphazard, with as little adjustment as possible of their thoughts and ways of living to the new necessities these novelties implied.
The first response of the general population of Utopia to the prospect of power, leisure and freedom thus opened out to it was proliferation. It behaved just as senselessly and mechanically as any other animal or vegetable species would have done. It bred until it had completely swamped the ampler opportunity that had opened before it. It spent the great gifts of science as rapidly as it got them in a mere insensate multiplication of the common life. At one time in the Last Age of Confusion the population of Utopia had mounted to over two thousand million...
"But what is it now?" asked Mr. Burleigh.
About two hundred and fifty million, the Utopians told him. That had been the maximum population that could live a fully developed life upon the surface of Utopia. But now with increasing resources the population was being increased.
A gasp of horror came from Father Amerton. He had been dreading this realization for some time. It struck at his moral foundations. "And you dare to regulate increase! You control it! Your women consent to bear children as they are needed--or refrain!"
"Of course," said Urthred. "Why not?"
"I feared as much," said Father Amerton, and leaning forward he covered his face with his hands, murmuring, "I felt this in the atmosphere! The human stud farm! Refusing to create souls! The
wickedness of it! Oh, my God!"
Mr. Burleigh regarded the emotion of the reverend gentleman through his glasses with a slightly shocked expression. He detested catchwords. But Father Amerton stood for very valuable conservative elements in the community. Mr. Burleigh turned to the Utopian again.
"That is extremely interesting," he said. "Even at present our earth contrives to carry a population of at least five times that amount."
"But twenty millions or so will starve this winter, you told us a little while ago--in a place called Russia. And only a very small proportion of the rest are leading what even you would call full and spacious lives?"
"Nevertheless the contrast is very striking," said Mr. Burleigh.
"It is terrible!" said Father Amerton.