I have thoroughly enjoyed three of H.G. Wells’ science fiction novels in the past few weeks: The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, and just today, I was completely enraptured by his telling of The Time Machine. Admittedly, there’s some decidedly communistic analysis of both present and future conditions in The Time Machine that frankly is just wrong. However, I think Wells himself was somewhat disenfranchised with the Communist/Socialist utopia embodied by many intellectuals of his day. I gathered this from the insights of the Time Traveler regarding his experience with human civilization in the year 802,701 A.D.
During that year, (spoiler alert), the Time Traveler finds two classes of men co-existing. One class, the Eloi, live in a naive and childlike daze above ground. They frolic in the daylight sun, eat fruit off the trees, bathe in sparkling streams of water, and have no economic, rational, or otherwise laborious concerns that would cause stress. The other class, the Morlocks, lives in a brutal sub-world underneath the earth’s surface. Their lives are run by machines and they are scared and bedazzled whenever confronted with light. Their long existence underneath the earth has transformed them into hideous and bleached creatures with enormous and dilated eyes. Nevertheless, they are humans–degenerate, ugly, and barbaric–but still humans.
As the Time Traveler spends his first days in this future world, he theorizes that the Eloi are in a state of communist perfection (not knowing of the existence of the terrible Morlocks yet). To him, the Eloi live a life of no worries, no labor, and no danger, just perfection and utopia. However, when he discovers the existence of the Morlocks, he hypothesizes that the Eloi are remnants of the capitalist overlords, which is why they live in wealth. Meanwhile, the Morlocks are leftovers of the proletariat, living in misery. But when the Time Traveler actually descends into the nest of the Morlocks, he discovers that it is they that hold the power over the Eloi. They make everything above the world easy and peaceful for the Eloi until the time comes to eat. At that point, the Morlocks capture and kill the fatted Eloi that they’ve been harvesting for the purposes of consumption all along. In other words, the human race has degenerated into two groups–one that is lazy, non-intelligent, frivolous, and cripplingly innocent; and the other that is savage, brutal, and cannibalistic. I truly appreciated this because it seemed to me to show that that Wells, at least at the time of this writing, might have believed there was a pitfall behind the coming revolution of the proletariat as predicted by Marx and other communists. Wells seemed to acknowledge that such a revolution would create an illusion of utopia, but otherwise continue to perpetuate the use of force by one group to dominate another group.
And so, in chapter 10, the Time Traveller takes time to contemplate this miserable state of the human condition in the year 802,701. His thoughts were to me extremely prophetic, and at the same time, highly sobering. Although we do not face a future tomorrow of barbaric Under-World Morlocks and idiotic Upper-World Eloi, it is the kind of direction we should not want to take. We obviously don’t want to be like the Morlocks, but just as importantly, we do not want to be like the Eloi. At this, let’s see what Wells had to say through the eyes of the Time Traveller as he gazes over this new world (with my emphasis added):
“Here was the same beautiful scene, the same abundant foliage, the same splendid palaces and magnificent ruins, the same silver river running between its fertile banks. The gay robes of the beautiful people moved hither and thither among the trees. Some were bathing in exactly the place where I had saved Weena, and that suddenly gave me a keen stab of pain. And like blots upon the landscape rose the cupolas above the ways to the Under-world. I understood now what all the beauty of the Over- world people covered. Very pleasant was their day, as pleasant as the day of the cattle in the field. Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same.
I grieved to think how brief the dream of the human intellect had been. It had committed suicide. It had set itself steadfastly towards comfort and ease, a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes – to come to this at last. Once, life and property must have reached almost absolute safety. The rich had been assured of his wealth and comfort, the toiler assured of his life and work. No doubt in that perfect world there had been no unemployed problem, no social question left unsolved. And a great quiet had followed.“
To me, these are clearly the words of a man who recognizes that, despite the wonderful predictions of a utopia brought about through the overthrow of the capitalists, there is something more sinister in its victory than anything that the previous civilizations had to offer: the death of the intellect and the nullification of the human soul.
I end this with (as the title of this post promised) a footnote from Alexis de Tocqueville, the author of Democracy in America. Tocqueville’s greatest fear for the future of America was that it would turn into a nation of sheep, governed by shepherds who only pretend to care about the sheep on the outside. So Tocqueville feared that they would keep the sheep very happy and content with themselves, allowing the shepherds to do as they would in the shadows (sounds just a bit like the Morlocks and the Eloi, doesn’t it?). The nature of this power is that it,
“does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.” (Democracy in America, p. 662, Mansfield and Winthrop translation)
So it appears to me that Wells’ Morlocks and Eloi, upon closer examination, are just Tocqueville’s concerns carried to very extreme conclusions. However, the principle is the same.
Tomorrow, we will not literally be the Eloi cattle to feed the Morlocks, but I ask you: are we becoming the timid and industrious animals that are content to allow our political masters to make us fat and happy while they work their schemes and systems upon society? Are we becoming like the Eloi in that we don’t know (and don’t care) about the fundamental things of life and the expansion of our intellectual capacity and the strengthening of our moral fibers? Do we just want comfort and ease under a seemingly benign slavery to bureaucrats, congressmen, and presidents, or do we want to hardship, sacrifice, endurance, and liberty under the sovereignty of God’s power?
Just a thought from my reading of H.G. Wells (with a footnote from Tocqueville).
"Like the cattle, they knew of no enemies and provided against no needs. And their end was the same." - H.G. Wells, "The Time Machine"