15 February 2010

Article: H.G. Wells's "Liberal Fascism"

Philip Coupland, "H.G. Wells's 'Liberal Fascism'" ("Journal of Contemporary History", 35 [4], October 2000: pp. 541-58):


Abstract: "During the 1930s H.G. Wells's theory of revolutionary praxis centred around a concept of 'liberal fascism' whereby the Wellsian 'liberal' utopia would be achieved by an authoritarian élite. Taking inspiration from the militarized political movements of the 1930s, this marked a development in the Wellsian theory of revolution from the 'open conspiracy' of the 1920s. Although both communist and fascist movements evinced some of the desired qualities of a Wellsian vanguard, it was fascism rather than communism which came closest to Wells's ideal. However, in practice, despite the failure of approaches to parties of the left and centre as possible agents of revolution, Wells rejected the British Union of Fascists. The disparity between Wells's theory and his actions when faced by the reality of fascism echoes the unresolved tension between ends and means at the heart of the concept of 'liberal fascism'."

Excerpts: "[I]n [the writer, social critic, and utopian] Wells's thinking the forces of destruction and creation, darkness and light, are best understood as a dialectical unity. The same paradigm, I would argue, when applied to Wells's theory of revolutionary praxis in the 1930s, shows how he was not forced to be either a liberal or an authoritarian, but could seek 'liberal' ends by means which were anything but. [...] The relationship between these two sides of Wellsism is well illustrated by the 'Liberal Fascism' which Wells called for in his address to the Young Liberals at their Summer School in Oxford in July 1932.

"'Central' to this reborn 'Liberalism' would be what Wells called a 'competent receiver', by which he meant 'a responsible organisation, able to guide and rule the new scale human community'. The 'competent receiver' was also, Wells carefully explained, 'flatly opposed' to the norms of 'parliamentary democracy', being a 'special class of people' of the type anticipated in 'the Guardian of Plato's Republic'. 'Concrete expressions of this same idea' included 'the Fascisti in Italy', Wells believed. [...] The alternative was for 'civilization' to be left to 'stagger down past redemption to chaotic violence and decadence'. [...]

"[L]iberalism would become an organization to 'replace the dilatory indecisiveness of parliamentary politics' [...,] 'a sort of Liberal Communist Party or a sort of Liberal Fascism'; 'a Liberal Fascisti, for enlightened Nazis ... a greater Communist Party' [...]. The early [Russian communist] party had been acceptable because it replaced the mysticism of 'the version of deified democracy, the Proletariat' with an authoritarian élite. However, against this he saw the 'heavy load of democratic and equalitarian cant' which 'ordained that at the phrase "Class War" every knee should bow'. [...] Wells condemned 'the old sentimental unwashed sweating "democratic" side' of socialism, 'all natural virtue, brotherhood and kisses' [...].

"Wells believed that the early twentieth century had seen the opening of 'the epoch of dictatorships and popular "saviours"'. However, not all forms of authoritarian rule were equal in his opinion. Because Wells firmly and consistently believed that the cult of the leader displaced the force of reason, what was important in the modern form of dictatorship was not the person of the leader but the organization he led. [...] He dismissed the Soviet system as 'a politician's dictatorship, propagandising rather than performing, disappointing her well-wishers abroad'."

Philip Coupland earned a PhD in History from the University of Warwick in 2000. The author of a book and various articles, he does not appear to be currently affiliated to any university.

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