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The Future in America: A Search After…

The Future in America: A Search After Realities (1906)

by H. G. Wells

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H.G. Wells report of his visit to the U.S. 1906. Interesting as the views of an intelligent Fabian observer just before World War I and the great changes of the early 20th century. Interested in predicting about the next 30 years of US history; opens with interesting comparisons between this exercise and his early SF such as The Time Machine, when he tried to predict much further ahead. It goes on to include very interesting interviews with Booker T. Washington--with a comparison with W.E.B. DuBois, whose Souls of Black Folk Wells ha read -- and with Teddy Roosevelt, and with a British "Anarchist" named MacQueen who was imprisoned for speaking at the Patterson strike, and Maxim Gorky, who was harassed for living with a woman not his wife (though, as Wells points out, Ben Franklin did the same). Also very vivid accounts of New York, Chicago, Washington, child labor, Wellesley College etc. ( )
  antiquary | Aug 26, 2013 |
The H. G. Wells travelogue of 1906 gives his impressions of and visions for America. As a renowned author, he had the chance to interview almost anyone, and he took broad advantage of that chance. His subjects range from President Roosevelt to a prison inmate, from Jane Addams at Hull House to immigrants at Ellis Island, from porters and cab-drivers to the president of Harvard. The detail and style that so greatly contribute to his fiction are also applied here.

What Wells found seemed to him to be chaos, given more rapid transit and massive capacity. From New York City, the Flatiron Building, the Brooklyn and the Williamsburg Bridge; he notes that everyone expects a better, cleaner, bigger and more prosperous future, but almost none have plans to bring it about. Then in Boston he encounters planning, “And nowhere is it passing more certainly from the first phase of a mob-like rush of individualistic undertakings into a planned and ordered progress.”

At Niagara, Wells was most impressed by the power plant, its dynamos and quiet efficiency a marvelous source of power and proof of ingenuity; then depressed with the brick box-like exterior and likely use of power for things like “night advertisements for drug shops and music halls.”

When he starts to review society and politics Wells makes two broad observations; that the classes of English society are missing, and that so are political party differences. In terms of classes there is no aristocracy, with its noblesse oblige, and no proper serving class with its deference. In politics, both parties are liberal and are equivalent to European Christian and Social Democrats, with no Labor Party and no Conservative or Tory Party. European immigrants seem to absorb this view immediately. Thus Americans all remind him of the Englishmen of Birmingham and Lancashire, with their roots in manufacture, trade, and commerce. Wells refers to the process that creates this situation as homologisation. But English liberals “remained within”…”the frame of regal, aristocratic and feudal institutions” while America “escaped to complete self development.” He views the American Revolution as yielding the absolute right of property, while the Europeans still views it as limited, even after the English and French revolutions; and even further that this set of property rights is more anarchistic than democratic. Property is necessary since “without property…” (Meaning “the possession, acquisition, and development…” of it) “…freedom is a featureless and unsubstantial theory”. But Wells viewed this equality as fleeting, since riches accumulate, and the rich constitute Well’s new class. “That steady trend towards concentration under individualistic rules, until individual competition becomes disheartened and hopeless, is the essential form of economic and social process in America as I see it now, and it has become the cardinal topic of thought and discussion in the American mind.”

Ever true to his Fabian roots, Wells sees hope for intellectual, university, and government expansion to learn from Europe and grow a more socialist future. There are powerful observations along the way, such as “Congress is not sovereign; there is no national sovereign power in America.” He sees elements of that struggle toward social planning and quotes Andrew White of Cornell who said in 1883 that “The greatest work which the coming century has to do in this country is to build up a aristocracy of thought and feeling which shall hold its own against the aristocracy of mercantilism.” With disappointment, he characterizes Boston and New York as archetypes, the Scylla and Charybdis of creative minds; one sacrificed to progress of business the other to excessive details of history. Wells concludes that on the whole, “that in America, by sheer virtue of its size, its free traditions, and the habit of initiative in its people, the leadership of progress must ultimately rest.”

Just as much of Wells’ science fiction was strongly predictive, his social and political musings are also of value. Much of the struggle he expected in the 20’s in still going un and coming to fruition now. Regardless of your choice between individualist capitalism or government directed socialism, this book gives an excellent snapshot of some of the rots of the struggle; and is well worth a scan. ( )
  ServusLibri | Nov 7, 2009 |
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The Future in America -A Search After Realities is a 1906 travel essay by H. G. Wells recounting his impressions from the first of half a dozen visits he would make to the United States. Table of contents: Chapter I. The Prophetic Habit Of Mind Chapter II. Material Progress Chapter III. New York Chapter IV. Growth Invincible Chapter V. The Economic Process Chapter VI. Some Aspects Of American Wealth Chapter VII. Certain Workers Chapter VIII. Corruption Chapter IX. The Immigrant Chapter X. State-Blindness Chapter XI. Two Studies In Disappointment Chapter XII. The Tragedy Of Color Chapter XIII. The Mind Of A Modern State Chapter XIV. Culture Chapter XV. At Washington… (more)

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