Created: 1999-05-22
Last Modified: 1999-05-22
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H.G. Wells's Open Conspiracy

From Martin Gardner (1983), TheWhys of a Philosophical Scrivener (New York: William Morrow: 068802064X).

pp. 122-3: I assume we agree that constitutional democracy is superior to any system in which there are either no elections or voting is... a bogus ritual. Another belief I take for granted is that the recent worldwide awareness that humanity has the power to control its own destiny... the power to shape a better world... is also a good thing.... Like democracy, the idea is as old as the ancient Greeks, but only in recent times has it become sufficiently widespread to be a force for change.

H.G. Wells had a phrase for it that I have always liked. He called it the Open Conspiracy. "Open" was intended to distinguish it from such closed, clandestine conspiracies as anarchism and communism. It is a movement that operates in daylight, not in darkness. Wells saw the Open Conspiracy as a broad, formless, ill-defined process of mass education correlated with slow, nonviolent changes made cautiously, by democratic means, within open societies such as Wells's England and our own....

What sort of gentle poundings are the most effective in improving the world's shape. Following the sage advice of the Cheshire Cat, that you can't find the best road to take unless you know where you want to go, is it not obvious that any Open Conspirator must have in mind, if only dimly, the shape of what Plato called the City in the Skies?

p. 167: "While there is a chance of the world getting through its troubles," said Wells... "I hold that a reasonable man has to behave as though he was sure of it. If at the end your cheerfullness is not justified, at any rate you will have been cheerful." Let me close by quoting... the final chapter of his Open Conspiracy:

The Open Conspiracy is the awaking of mankind from a nightmare, an infantile nightmare, of the struggle for existence and the inevitability of war. The light of day thrusts between our eyelids, and the multitudinous sounds of morning clamor in our ears. A time will come when men will sit with history before them or with some old newpapaer before them and ask incredulously, "Was there ever such a world?"

Professor of Economics J. Bradford DeLong, 601 Evans Hall, #3880
University of California at Berkeley
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