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The Open Conspiracy is a book published in 1928 by H. G. Wells. In 1930 a revised and expanded version was published, and a further revised edition appeared in 1931 titled What are we to do with our Lives?. A final version appeared in 1933 under its original title. This is one of Wells's essays in working towards a utopian society. In it, he describes how everyone in the world could take part in an "Open Conspiracy" which would "adjust our dislocated world." Wells attempts to show how political, social, and religious differences could be reconciled, resulting in a more unified, inter-cooperating human race.


Excerpt from What are we to do with our Lives?

It seemed to me that all over the world intelligent people were waking up to the indignity and absurdity of being endangered, restrained, and impoverished, by a mere uncritical adhesion to traditional governments, traditional ideas of economic life, and traditional forms of behaviour, and that these awaking intelligent people must constitute first a protest and then a creative resistance to the inertia that was stifling and threatening us.



W. Warren Wagar's critical appraisal

The American political scientist W. Warren Wagar has published a new edition of The Open Conspiracy with an extensive critical introduction.[1] Wagar presents a number of issues on which he is in disagreement with Wells's scheme for global reconstruction and a 'global commonweal'. Wagar's seven negative points can be summarized as follows:

  • Wells harboured a dangerous antipathy to the whole idea of democracy, of government by the people.
  • Wells was Anti-Marxist to the extent that he would not learn anything from Marx and Engels.
  • Wagar cannot 'reconcile (Wells's) vision of how the Open Conspiracy would be structured - or rather, not structured - and the tremendous tasks he assigned it to undertake'.
  • Wells maintained what Wagar calls 'a late Victorian faith in the natural and social sciences'.
  • Wells overestimated the good will and progressive intent of the 'Atlantic nations'.
  • The largely dismissive attitude (of Wells in The open Conspiracy) towards Asia, Africa and the rest of the non-Western world
  • Wells's call for citizen refusal to take part in future patriotic wars.[2]

However, these substantial criticisms are overshadowed by Wagar's appraisal of the Open Conspiracy. Wagar arrives at seven points where he is in agreement with Wells:

  • There can be no effective Open Conspiracy without a massive educational effort (cf. Chapters 3-4 of OC).
  • Wells was right in his emphasis on world biological controls.
  • A world commonweal will not mark the end of the human story.
  • Wagar is in agreement with Wells in his provision for armed resistance (if necessary) to the sovereign state system.
  • Wagar endorses Wells's appeal for the emergence of a new secular religion of humanity.
  • and Wells's demand for the transfer of the ownership of several key categories of capital from private hands to duly constituted world authorities.
  • "The basic idea of an Open Conspiracy to lead our divided, bickering tribes to the Cosmopolis of an organic world civilization is the most urgent idea of our time" (Wagar).[3]

Chesterton's critique

In a June 16, 1928 article in the Illustrated London News, Wells's good friend and life-long critic G. K. Chesterton reviewed the book and explained the danger he saw in what Wells was saying about the "general tendency towards establishing a world control."

But it seems to me that a good many things might happen, if there is nothing to control the movement towards control. Ideas can be perverted only too easily even when they are strict ideas; I cannot see how we preserve them from perversion merely by making them loose ideas. A thing like the Catholic system is a system; that is, one idea balances and corrects another. A man like Mahomet or Marx, or, in his own way, Calvin, find that system too complex, and simplifies everything to a single idea. But it is a definite idea. He naturally builds a rather unbalanced system with his one definite idea. But I cannot see why there should be a better chance for a man trying to build up a balanced system with one indefinite idea....

There are two other difficulties I feel in this glorification of world government. One is the very simple fact that the real difficulty of representative government is how to make it representative, even in the smallest of small nationalities, even in the nearest parish council. Why we should talk as if we should have more influence over rulers governing the whole earth from Geneva or Chicago, I have never been able to see. Mr. Wells can spread himself in describing how 'world controls' would control us. He seems relatively vague about how we should control them. The other objection is less simple and would need a more atmospheric description, but it is even more real. Mr. Wells is driven to perpetual disparagement of patriotism and militant memories, and yet his appeal is always to the historic pride of man. Now nearly all normal men have in fact received their civilisation through their citizenship; and to lose their past would be to lose their link with mankind. An Englishman who is not English is not European; a Frenchman who is not fully French is not fully human. Nations have not always been seals or stoppers closing up the ancient wine of the world; they have been the vessels that received it. And, as with many ancient vessels, each of them is a work of art.


There are 19 Chapters in the book:

I. The Present Crisis in Human Affairs

II. The Idea of the Open Conspiracy

III. We Have to Clear and Clean Up Our Minds

IV. The Revolution in Education

V. Religion in the New World

VI. Modern Religion is Objective

VII. What Mankind Has to do

VIII. Broad Characteristics of a Scientific World Commonweal

IX. No Stable Utopia is Now Conceivable

X. The Open Conspiracy is not to be thought of as a single Organization; it is a conception of life out of which efforts, organizations and new orientations will arise

XI. Forces and Resistances in the Great Modern Communities now prevalent, which are antagonistic to The Open Conspiracy. The War with Tradition

XII. The Resistances of the less industralized peoples to the drive of The Open Conspiracy

XIII. Resistances and antagonistic forces in our conscious and unconscious selves

XIV. The Open Conspiracy begins as a movement of discussion, explanation, and propaganda

XV. Early constructive work of The Open Conspiracy

XVI. Existing and developing movements which are contributory to The Open Conspiracy and which must develop a common consciousness. The Parable of Provinder Island

XVII. The creative home, social group and school: the present waste of Idealistic Will

XVIII. Progressive development of the activities of The Open Conspiracy into a World Control and Commonweal: the hazards of the attempt

XIX. Human life in the coming World Community


  1. ^ H.G. Wells on World Revolution. Edited and with a Critical Introduction by W. Warren Wagar. Praeger 2002.
  2. ^ op.cit. pp. 19-26.
  3. ^ op.cit. pp. 26-30.

External links


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