Comments on Imperialism and the Open Conspiracy by H. G. Wells
Criterion Miscellany No. 3, Faber & Faber,
By Alan Mercer
By Alan Mercer
In a non-fiction article, Imperialism and the Open Conspiracy, published in 1929, author H. G. Wells (War of the Worlds, etc.) advocates a unified world state. The point of his article is to criticize the idea of a “self-sufficient” patriotic
Wells put across the idea in his story, The World of William Clissold, that “… great complexes [corporations] already transcend the boundaries of existing sovereign states, and that they make for a single economic world organization, for Cosmopolis that is and not for Empire.” [p.6]
I think it is significant for those who are steeped in the left-right paradigm that Wells advocated “socialism” at the same time that he also promoted “free trade” policies and promoted the style followed by large corporations.
Wells asserts he was a strong imperialist in the days of the Boer War, but that imperialism changed. His ideal was “cosmopolitan” and his opposition to “nationalism and nationalist patriotism has never varied”. These “forms”, he asserts, are “degrading” and produce “intellectual difficulties” that are “in the way to the world state and a rationalized conduct of human affairs.” [p.7]
In other words, his goal, and that of his pals, was a centrally planned world government; and the
To him, the
Note that he glorifies the banking establishment: “The City really ran the credit of the world.” He thought it had been “conceivable”, that “in co-operation with other liberal powers”, the
Wells says he wrote about these ideas in Anticipations (1900, ‘The New Republic’) and Modern Utopia, and was opposed to the “opposite conception of Empire” of the kind promoted by Rudyard Kipling, as a “system of high and swaggering conquest”. [p. 8]
He claims that because Joseph Chamberlain embraced protectionist policies, “the Empire turned its back upon its possibilities as a world nexus, and faced towards narrowness, patriotism, and inevitable conflict with the rest of mankind.” [p.9]
Wells describes the Club of Coefficients meetings:
“In a little dining and debating club of thirteen members, invented by Mrs. Sidney Webb, people like Mr. Bertrand Russell, the late Lord Haldane, the new Lord Passfield and myself, met and rubbed minds with people like Mr. Amery, Mr. Leo Maxse, Mr. Mackinder, Lord Milner, and Lord Grey. Our alleged object was to get a common conception of the Empire….” [p. 10]
The same meetings are mentioned in The Anglo-American Establishment by Carroll Quigley, a professor at the United States School of Foreign Service at
“Milner was the creator of the Round Table Group… In the sketch of Milner in the Dictionary of National Biography, written by Basil Williams …, we read: ‘He was always ready to discuss national questions on a non-party basis,…, and in a more heterogeneous society, the ‘Coefficients,’ where he discussed social and imperial problems with such curiously assorted members as L. S. Amery, H. G. Wells, (Lord) Haldane, Sir Edward Grey, (Sir) Michael Sadler, Bernard Shaw, J. L. Garvin, William Pembler Reeves, and W. A. S. Hewins.” [Anglo-American Establishment, by Carroll Quigley, Ch. 7, p. 137, publisher: G S G & Associates]
It’s striking that these meetings included both “left” and “right” – Fabian socialists such as Wells, Shaw and Russell meeting with prominent “conservatives” such as Milner.
According to Quigley, Lord Alfred Milner, who held significant roles in the British government, carried on work of Cecil Rhodes using the secretive “Milner Group” to promote the goal of world imperial federation. The Milner Group created the Royal Institute of International Affairs, which became the CFR or Council on Foreign Relations in the
Lord Milner was a “combination of technocrat and guild socialist” (Quigley, p. 131), disagreeing with some members of his group who favoured traditional monetary policies, and I think he was another of these imperial protectionists Wells disagreed with. Quigley also says (p. 130, 131) that the Milner Group, “in the early stages at least”, promoted an “undemocratic kind of socialism, which was willing to make many sacrifices to the well-being of the masses of the people but reluctant to share with these masses political power that might allow them to seek their own well-being”.
So it seems that the Milner Group was flying from the “right” to the same elitist utopia that Wells and the Fabians were flying to from the “left”.
Milner was tied in with the British financial establishment and worked for a time as an adviser for certain international financiers in
On p. 190 of the Anglo-American Establishment, Quigley gives an idea of the banking and industrial power of the Milner Group and their backing for the Royal Institute for International Affairs:
“…In 1929 pledges were obtained from about a score of important banks and corporations, promising annual grants to the Institute. Most of these had one or more members of the Milner Group on their boards of directors. Included in the group were the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company; the Bank of England; Barclay’s Bank; Baring Brothers; the British American Tobacco Company; the British South Africa Company; Central Mining and Investment Corporation; Erlangers, Ltd; the Ford Motor Company; Hambros’ Bank; Imperial Chemical Industries; Lazard Brothers; Lever Brothers; Lloyd’s; Lloyd’s Bank; the Mercantile and General Insurance Company; the Midland Bank; Reuters; Rothschild and Sons; Stern Brothers; Vickers-Armstrong; the Westminster Bank; and Whitehall Securities Corporation.”
Leo Amery, listed by Wells as attending the Club of Coefficients meetings, was also one of the central members of the Milner Group (Quigley, p. 312).
The “Lord Grey” mentioned by H. G. Wells or “Sir Edward Grey” mentioned by Quigley refers to the British foreign secretary during World War I of that name. This particular Grey was apparently not a core member of the Milner Group (Quigley, p. 312), but Quigley says Milner was closely associated with Sir Edward Grey (p. 30, 38) and the Liberal League (imperialist liberals) which included Grey.
According to sparacus.schoolnet.co.uk:
“Sidney Webb was at this time a leading figure in the Fabian Society. The society believed that capitalism had created an unjust and inefficient society. The members, who included Edward Carpenter, Annie Besant, Walter Crane, and George Bernard Shaw agreed that the ultimate aim of the group should be to reconstruct “society in accordance with the highest moral possibilities“. Beatrice also shared these views and also joined the group.”
Philosopher Bertrand Russell, who attended, in addition to George Bernard Shaw, was also a member of the Fabian Society:
“In 1931 Bertrand succeeded his elder brother as 3rd Earl of Russell” and became a member of the House of Lords.
So the British aristocracy included a Fabian socialist, as well as Liberals like Grey and Conservatives like Milner.
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