Emphatically titled How H.G. Wells Distorted The Idea of Liberalism!, a well-meaning article takes issue with Wells’s fawning on Stalin whom he interviewed in 1934.
In common with G.B. Shaw, Wells solved the problem of divided loyalties by loving both Bolshevism and Nazism. One has to acknowledge that, while his intellect was at best mediocre, Wells’s instincts were acute.
He obviously detected a common thread running through both infernal regimes, and did an Ariadne by following it faithfully. The thread was the violent muscularity of totalitarianism, and there’s something about it that has always attracted effete British intellectuals.
Parenthetically, this tendency perseveres, and it’s observable in today’s admirers of Putin’s bare torso with its developed musculature. A real he-man, old Vlad, and he practises the Gordian approach to life in an admirably robust manner – unlike our own wishy-washy politicos restrained by such petty annoyances as the law.
Wells admired Putin’s typological predecessors with fervent passion. On that particular occasion, he told Stalin: “I cannot yet appreciate what has been done in your country; I only arrived yesterday. But I have already seen the happy faces of healthy men and women and I know that something very considerable is being done here. The contrast with 1920 is astounding.”
How things have changed. Today’s hacks, Wells’s descendants, don’t need longer than a day to appreciate everything about a country they know nothing about. But happy faces still act as unerring indicators: see a few of those on, say, a Moscow bus, and Boris is your uncle. The hack instantly knows that Putin is beyond reproach.
Considering that in 1934 just about every Russian had someone in the family arrested or shot, expected to go that way himself any day and starved in the meantime, the Soviets must have found it hard to make sure the visitor saw happy faces. But they were good at that sort of thing.
As to the astounding contrast with 1920, it didn’t prevent Wells from loving Lenin as much then as he loved Stalin in 1934. In his book Russia in the Shadows, he described the syphilitic ghoul as “the dreamer in the Kremlin”. The dreams were rather nightmarish, for Lenin was murdering on average two million victims a year, twice Stalin’s rate at the time of so many happy faces.
Lenin loved Wells back, sufficiently so to add him to a large group of western intellectuals assigned OGPU whores as either mistresses or wives. Wells’s spying paramour was Moura Budberg, Nick Clegg’s ancestor of whom he’s self-admittedly proud.
In due course, Wells developed a similar affection for Mussolini and Hitler, to a point where he urged Oxford students to be “liberal fascists” and “enlightened Nazis”. The author of the article is suitably indignant about that, as he is about Wells’s Bolshevik sympathies. And well he should be.
However, at that point our paths begin to diverge. “Wells,” says the author, “distorted the meaning of liberalism and enlightenment by linking these concepts with fascism and Nazism.” The author’s mind isn’t a match for Wells’s instincts when it comes to following Ariadne’s thread.
He’s too attached to the accepted political taxonomy to see that, different as various modern regimes may be, they all overlap on a vast common element. Rather than distorting the meaning of ‘enlightenment’, they all came out of it the way Eve came out of Adam’s rib.
The misnomer ‘Enlightenment’ is applied to the West’s suicidal effort to destroy the metaphysical underpinnings of our civilisation. The prevailing feeling was that replacing transcendence with transience would open up shining paths leading to paradise on earth. But instead of eudemonic paradise we got demonic hell.
Missing the commonality of all modern regimes, whatever they call themselves, is an easy mistake to make. After all, they’ve been at daggers drawn since the world became ‘enlightened’.
Fascists and Nazis fought communists, communists fought liberals, liberals fought socialists and socialists fought Marxists. But then none so hostile as divergent exponents of the same creed.
All modern regimes worship at the altar of the omnipotent central state growing ad infinitum, eventually beyond national borders. Wells, for example, was a champion of a single world government, as were the communists and Nazis, and are today’s federasts.
Hence, much as these regimes may detest one another, they can always find a common ground. For example, the Second World War was started by Nazi-Soviet-fascist allies who at the time found it easy to reconcile their differences.
However, no modern political contrivance can be reconciled with the traditional, organic state of Western polity. That point was made abundantly clear by the First World War, when modernity joined forces to obliterate the last political vestiges of Christendom.
Wells perceived all that viscerally. And even rationally the fundamental differences among the dominant contemporaneous regimes were slight. For example, put Stalin’s Five-Year Plan, Roosevelt’s New Deal and Hitler’s Four-Year Plan side by side, and you won’t find many differences in their economics.
Totalitarian regimes differ from ‘liberal democracies’ only in methods, not in the underlying imperatives. The former murder millions, the latter don’t, at least not directly. That makes a practical difference to people who live in those countries, and it’s important. But we risk falling into an intellectual abyss if we ignore how much all modern states have in common.
Wells didn’t distort anything. He kept his nose to the wind and caught a whiff of modernity.