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April 2, 1921

The Salvaging of Civilization

The Enlargement of Patriotism to a World State

By H. G. Wells


IN MY opening argument I have shown the connection between the present intense political troubles of the world, and more particularly of Europe, and the advance in mechanical knowledge during the past hundred and fifty years. I have shown that without a very drastic readjustment of political ideas and habits there opens before Europe and the world generally a sure prospect of degenerative conflicts; that without such a readjustment our civilization has passed its zenith, and must continue the process of collapse that has been in progress since August, 1914.

Now this readjustment means an immediate conflict with existing patriotisms. We have embarked here upon a discussion in which emotion and passion seem quite unavoidable, the discussion of nationality. At the very outset we bump violently against patriotism as any European understands that word. And it is, I hold, impossible not to bump against European patriotisms. We cannot temporize with patriotism as one finds it in Europe, and get on towards a common human welfare. The two things are flatly opposed. One or other must be sacrificed. The political and social muddle of Europe at the present time is very largely due to the attempt to compromise between patriotism and the common good of Europe.

Do we want to get rid of patriotism altogether? Can we? Frankly, I do not think we want to get rid of patriotism, and I do not think we could, even if we wanted to do so. It seems to be necessary to one's moral life that he should feel himself part of a community, belonging to it, and it belonging to him; and that this community should be a single and lovable reality, inspired by a common idea, with a common fashion and aim.

The Infection of National Egotism

BUT a point I have been trying to bring out throughout all this argument so far is this—that when a European goes to the United States of America he finds a new sort of state, materially bigger and materially less encumbered than any European state. And he also finds an intensely patriotic people whose patriotism isn't really the equivalent of a European patriotism. It is historically and practically a synthesis of European patriotisms. It is numerically bigger. It is geographically ten times as big. That is very important indeed from the point of view of this discussion. And it is synthetic; it is a thing made out of something smaller. People, I believe, talk of 100 per cent Americans. There is no 100 per cent American except the Red Indian. There isn't a white man in the United States from whose blood a large factor of European patriotism hasn't been washed out to make way for his American patriotism.

Upon this fact of American patriotism, as a larger, different thing than European patriotism, I build. The thing can be done. If it can be done in the Europeans and their descendants who have come to America, it can conceivably be done in the Europeans who abide in Europe. And how can we set about doing it?

America, the silent, comprehensive continent of America, did the thing by taking all the various nationalities who have made up her population and obliging them to live together. Unhappily, we cannot take the rest of our European nations now and put them on a great virgin continent to learn a wider political wisdom. There are no more virgin continents. Europe must stay where she is.

Now I am told it sometimes helps scientific men to clear up their ideas about a process by imagining that process reversed, and so getting a view of it from a different direction. Let us, then, for a few moments, instead of talking of the expansion and synthesis of patriotism in Europe, imagine a development of narrow patriotism in America, and consider how that case could be dealt with. Suppose, for instance, there was a serious outbreak of local patriotism in Kentucky. Suppose you found the people of Kentucky starting a flag of their own and objecting to what they would probably call the vague internationalism of the Stars and Stripes. Suppose you found them wanting to set up tariff barriers to the trade of the states round about them. Suppose you found they were preparing to annex considerable parts of the State of Virginia by force in order to secure a proper strategic frontier among the mountains to the east, and that they were also talking darkly of their need for an outlet to the sea of their very own.

What would an American citizen think of such an outbreak? He would probably think that Kentucky had gone mad. But this, which seems such fantastic behavior when we imagine it occurring in Kentucky, is exactly what is happening in Europe in the case of little states that are hardly any larger than Kentucky. They have always been so. They have not gone mad; if this sort of thing is madness, then they were born mad. And they have never been cured. A state of affairs that is regarded in Europe as normal would be regarded in the United States as a grave case of local mental trouble.

And what would the American community probably do in such a case? It would probably begin by inquiring where Kentucky had got these strange ideas. They would look for sources of infection. Somebody must have been preaching there or writing in the newspapers or teaching mischief in the schools. And I suppose the people of the United States would set themselves very earnestly to see that sounder sense was talked and taught to the people of Kentucky about these things.

Now that is precisely what has to be done in the parallel European case. Everywhere in Europe there goes on, in the national schools, in the patriotic churches, in the national presses, in the highly nationalized literatures, a unity-destroying propaganda of patriotism. The schools of all the European countries at the present time, with scarcely an exception, teach the most rancid patriotism; they are centers of an abominable political infection. The children of Europe grow up with an intensity of national egotism that makes them, for all practical international purposes, insane. They are not born with it, but they are infected with it as soon as they can read and write. The British learn nothing but the glories of Britain and the British Empire; the French are, if possible, still more insanely concentrated on France; the Germans are just recovering from the bitter consequences of forty years of intensive nationalist education. And so on. Every country in Europe is its own Sinn Fein, cultivating that ugly and silly obsession of "ourselves alone." "Ourselves alone" is the sure guide to conflict and disaster, to want, misery, violence, degradation and death for our children and our children's children—until our race is dead.

The first task before us in Europe is, at any cost, to release our children from this nationalist obsession, to teach the mass of European people a little truthful history in which each one will see the past and future of his own country in their proper proportions, and a little truthful ethnology in which each country will get over the delusion that its people are a distinct and individual race. The history teaching in the schools of Europe is at the very core of this business.


Why Make Two Bites at a Planet?

BUT that is only, so to speak, the point of application of great complex influences, the influences that mold us ill childhood—the teachings of literature, of the various religious bodies, and the daily reiteration of the press. Before Europe can get on there has to be a colossal turnover of these moral and intellectual forces in the direction of creating an international mind. If that can be effected, then there is hope for Europe and the Old World. If it cannot be effected, then certainly Europe will go down—with its flags nailed to its masts. We are on a sinking ship that only one thing can save. We have to oust these European patriotisms by some greater idea or perish. What is this greater idea to be?

Now I submit that this greater idea had best be the idea of the world state of all mankind. I will admit that so far I have made a case only for teaching the idea of a United States of Europe in Europe. I have concentrated our attention upon that region of maximum congestion and conflict. But as a matter of fact there are no real and effective barriers and boundaries in the Old World between Europe and Asia and The ordinary Russian talks of Europe as one who is outside it. The European political systems flow over and have always overflowed into the greater areas to the east and south. Remember the early empires of Macedonia and Rome. See how the Russian language runs to the Pacific, and how Islam radiates into all three continents. I will not elaborate this case.

When you bear such things in mind I think you will agree with me that if we are to talk of a United States of Europe it is just as easy and practicable to talk of a United States of the Old World. And are we to stop at a United States of the Old World?

No doubt the most evident synthetic forces in America at the present time point towards some sort of pan-American unification. That is the nearest thing. That may come first. But are we to contemplate a sort of dual world—the New World against the Old?

I do not think that would be any very satisfactory stopping place. Why make two bites at a planet? If we work for unity on the large scale we are contemplating we may as well work for world unity.

A World Government Will Arise Out of
Not only in distance but in a score of other matters are London and Rome nearer to New York than is Patagonia, and San Francisco is always likely to be more interesting to Japan than Paris or Madrid. I cannot see any reason for