The events which we have just described, and the discussions to which they gave rise, took place in the twenty-fifth century of the Christian era. Humanity was not destroyed by the shock of the comet, although this was the most memorable event in its entire history, and one never forgotten, notwithstanding the many transformations which the race has since undergone. The earth had continued to rotate and the sun to shine; little children had become old men, and their places had been filled by others in the eternal succession of generations. Centuries and ages had succeeded each other, and humanity, slowly advancing in knowledge and happiness, through a thousand transitory interruptions, had reached its apogee and accomplished its destiny.
But how vast these series of transformations—physical and mental!
The population of Europe, from the year 1900 to the year 3000, had increased from 375 to 700 millions; that 188of Asia, from 875 to 1000 millions; that of the Americas, from 120 to 1500 millions; that of Africa, from 75 to 200 millions; that of Australia, from 5 to 60 millions; which, for the total population of the globe, gives an increase of 2010 millions. And this increase had continued, with some fluctuations.
Language had become transformed. The never-ceasing progress of science and industry had created a large number of new words, generally of Greek derivation. At the same time, the English language had spread over the entire world. From the twenty-fifth to the thirtieth centuries, the spoken language of Europe was based upon a mixture of English, of French, and of Greek derivatives. Every effort to create artificially a new universal language had failed.
Long before the twenty-fifth century, war had disappeared, and it became difficult to conceive how a race which pretended to knowledge and reason could have endured so long the yoke of clever rascals who lived at its expense. In vain had later sovereigns proclaimed, in high-sounding words, that war was a divine institution; that it was the natural result of the struggle for existence; that it constituted the noblest of professions; that patriotism was the chief of virtues. In vain were battle-fields called fields of honor; in vain were the statues of the victors erected in the most populous cities. It was, at last, observed that, with the exception of certain ants, no animal species had set an example of such boundless folly as the human race; that the struggle for life did not consist in slaughtering one another, but in the conquest of nature; that all the resources of humanity were absolutely wasted in the bottomless gulf of standing armies; and that the mere obligation of military service, as formulated by law, was an encroachment upon human liberty, so serious that, under the guise of honor, slavery had been re-established.
Men perceived that the military system meant the maintenance of an army of parasites and idlers, yielding a passive obedience to the orders of diplomats, who were simply speculating upon human credulity. In early times, war had been carried on between villages, for the advantage and glory of chieftains, and this kind of petty warfare still prevailed in the nineteenth century, between the villages of central Africa, where even young men and women, persuaded of their slavery, were seen, at certain times, to present themselves voluntarily at the places where they were to be sacrificed. Reason having, at last, begun to prevail, men had then formed themselves into provinces, and a warfare between provinces arose—Athens contending with Sparta, Rome with Carthage, Paris with Dijon; and history had celebrated the glorious wars of the Duke of Burgundy against the king of France, of the Normans against the Parisians, of the Belgians against the Flemish, of the Saxons against the Bavarians, of the Venetians against the Florentines, etc., etc. Later, nations had been formed, thus doing away with provincial flags and boundaries; but men continued to teach their children to hate their neighbors, and citizens were accoutred for the sole purpose of mutual extermination. Interminable wars arose, wars ceaselessly renewed, between France, England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria, Russia, Turkey, etc. The development of weapons of destruction had kept pace with the progress of chemistry, mechanics, aeronautics, and most of the other sciences, and theorists were to be found, especially among statesmen, who declared that war was the necessary condition of progress, forgetting that it was only the sorry heritage of barbarism, and that the majority of those who have contributed to the progress of science and industry, electricity, physics, mechanics, etc., have all been the most pacific of men. Statistics had proved that war regularly claimed forty million victims per century, 1100 per day, without truce or intermission, and had made 1200 million corpses in three thousand years. It was not surprising that nations had been exhausted and ruined, since in the nineteenth century alone they had expended, to this end, the sum of 700,000 million francs. These divisions, appealing to patriotic sentiments skillfully kept alive by politicians who lived upon them, long prevented Europe from imitating the example of America in the suppression of its armies, which consumed all its vital forces and wasted yearly more than ten thousand million francs of the resources acquired at such sacrifice by the laborer, and from forming a United States of Europe. But though man could not make up his mind to do away with the tinsel of national vanity, woman came to his rescue.
Under the inspiration of a woman of spirit, a league was formed of the mothers of Europe, for the purpose of educating their children, especially their daughters, to a horror of the barbarities of war. The folly of men, the frivolity of the pretexts which arrayed nations against each other, the knavery of statesmen who moved heaven and earth to excite patriotism and blind the eyes of peoples; the absolute uselessness of the wars of the past and of that European equilibrium which was always disturbed and never established; the ruin of nations; fields of battle strewn with the dead and the mangled, who, an hour before, lived joyously in the bountiful sun of nature; widows and orphans—in short, all the misery of war was forced upon the mind, by conversation, recital and reading. In a single generation, this rational education had freed the young from this remnant of animalism, and inculcated a sentiment of profound horror for all which recalled the barbarism of other days. Still, governments refused to disarm, and the war budget was voted from year to year. It was then that the young girls resolved never to marry a man who had borne arms; and they kept their vow.
The early years of this league were trying ones, even for the young girls: for the choice of more than one fell upon some fine-looking officer, and, but for the universal reprobation, her heart might have yielded. There were, it is true, some desertions; but, as those who formed these marriages were, from the outset, despised and ostracized by society, they were not numerous. Public opinion was formed, and it was impossible to stem the tide.
For about five years there was scarcely a single marriage or union. Every citizen was a soldier, in France, in Germany, in Italy, in Spain, in every nation of Europe—all ready for a confederation of States, but never recoiling before questions represented by the national flag. The women held their ground; they felt that truth was on their side, but their firmness would deliver humanity from the slavery which oppressed it, and that they could not fail of victory. To the passionate objurgations of certain men, they replied: “No; we will have nothing more to do with fools;” and, if this state of affairs continued, they had decided to keep their vow, or to emigrate to America, where, centuries before, the military system had disappeared.
The most eloquent appeals for disarmament were made at every session to the committee of administrators of the state, formerly called deputies or senators. Finally, after a lapse of five years, face to face with this wall of feminine opposition, which, day by day, grew stronger and more impregnable, the deputies of every country, as if animated by a common motive, eloquently advocated the cause of women, and that very week disarmament was voted in Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Spain.
It was spring-time. There was no disorder. Innumerable marriages followed. Russia and England had held aloof from the movement, the suffrage of women in these countries not having been unanimous. But as all the states of Europe were formed into a republic the ensuing year, uniting in a single confederated state, on the invitation of the government of the United States of Europe, these two great nations also decreed a gradual disarmament. Long before this time, India had been lost to England, and the latter had become a republic. As for Russia, the monarchical form of government still existed. It was then the middle of the twenty-fourth century, and from that epoch the narrow sentiment of patriotism was replaced by the general one of humanity.
Delivery from the ball and chain of military slavery, Europe had immediately gotten rid of the bureaucracy which had also exhausted nations, condemned to perish, as it were, by plethora. But for this a radical revolution was necessary. From that time on, Europe had advanced as by magic in a marvellous progress—social, scientific, artistic and industrial. Taxation, diminished by nine-tenths, served only for the maintenance of internal order, the security of life and property, the support of schools, and the encouragement of new researches. But individual initiative was far more effective than the old-time official centralization which for so many years had stifled individual effort, and bureaucracy was dead and buried.
At last one breathed freely, one lived. In order to pay 700,000 millions every century to citizens withdrawn from all productive work, and to maintain the bureaucracy, governments had been obliged to increase taxation to a fearful degree. The result was that everything was taxed; the air one breathes, the water one drinks, the light and heat of the sun, bread, wine and every article of food, clothing, houses, the streets of cities, the country roads, animals, horses, oxen, dogs, cats, hens, rabbits, birds in cages, plants, flowers, musical instruments, pianos, organs, violins, zithers, flutes, trumpets, trades and professions, the married and the unmarried, children, furniture—everything, absolutely everything; and this taxation had grown until it equalled the net product of all human labor, with the single exception of the “daily bread.” Then, all work had ceased. It seemed thenceforth impossible to live. It was this state of affairs which led to the great social revolution of the international socialists, of which mention was made at the beginning of this book, and to others which followed it. But these upheavals had not definitely liberated Europe from the barbarism of bygone days, and it was to the young women’s league that humanity owes its deliverance.
The unification of nations, of ideas, of languages, had brought about also that of weights and measures. No nation had resisted the universal adoption of the metric system, based upon the dimensions of the planet itself. A single kind of money was in circulation. One initial meridian ruled in geography. This meridian passed through the observatory of Greenwich, and at its antipode the day changed its name at noon.
Nations which we call modern had vanished like those of the past. France had disappeared in the twenty-eighth century, after an existence of about two thousand years. Germany disappeared in the thirty-second; Italy in the twenty-ninth; England had spread over the surface of the ocean.
Meteorology had attained the precision of astronomy, and about the thirtieth century the weather could be predicted without error.
The forests, sacrificed to agriculture and the manufacture of paper, had entirely disappeared.
The legal rate of interest had fallen to one-half of one per cent.
Electricity had taken the place of steam. Railroads and pneumatic tubes were still in use, but only for the transportation of freight. Voyages were made preferably by dirigible balloons, aeroplanes and air-ships, especially in the daytime.
This very fact of aerial navigation would have done away with frontiers if the progress of reason had not already abolished them. Constant intercourse between all parts of the globe had brought about internationalism, and the absolutely free exchange of goods and ideas. Custom-houses had been suppressed.
The telephonoscope disseminated immediately the most important and interesting news. A comedy played at Chicago or Paris could be heard and seen in every city of the world.
Astronomy had attained its end: the knowledge of the life of other worlds and the establishment of communication with them. All philosophy, all religion, was founded upon the progress of astronomy.
Marvellous instruments in optics and physics had been invented. A new substance took the place of glass, and had yielded the most unexpected results to science. New natural forces had been conquered.
Social progress had been no less great than that of science. Machines driven by electricity had gradually taken the place of manual labor. At the same time the production of food had become entirely revolutionized. Chemical synthesis had succeeded in producing sugar, albumen, the amides and fats, from the air, water and vegetables, and, by skillfully varying the proportions, in forming the most advantageous combinations of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen, so that sumptuous repasts no longer consisted of the smoking remains of slaughtered animals—beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, fish and birds,—but were served amid the harmonies of music in rooms adorned with plants ever green and flowers ever in bloom, in an atmosphere laden with perfumes. Freed from the vulgar necessity of masticating meats, the mouth absorbed the principles necessary for the repair of organic tissues in exquisite drinks, fruits, cakes and pills.
About the thirtieth century, especially, the nervous system began to grow more delicate, and developed in unexpected ways. Woman was still somewhat more narrow-minded than man, and her mental operations differed from his as before (her exquisite sensibility responding to sentimental considerations before reason could act in the lower cells), and her head had remained smaller, her forehead narrower; but the former was so elegantly placed upon a neck of such supple grace, and rose so nobly from the shoulders and the bust, that it compelled more than ever the admiration of man, not only as a whole, but also by the penetrating sweetness and beauty of the mouth and the light curls of its luxuriant hair. Although comparatively smaller than that of man, the head of woman had nevertheless increased in size with the exercise of the intellectual faculties; but the cerebral circonvolutions had experienced the most change, having become more numerous and more pronounced in both sexes. In short, the head had grown, the body had diminished in size. Giants were no longer to be seen.
Four permanent causes had modified insensibly the human form; the development of the intellectual faculties and of the brain, the decrease in manual labor and bodily exercise, the transformation of food, and the marriage system. The first had increased the size of the cranium as compared with the rest of the body; the second had decreased the strength of the limbs; the third had diminished the size of the abdomen and made the teeth finer and smaller; the tendency of the fourth had been rather to perpetuate the classic forms of human beauty: masculine beauty, the nobility of an uplifted countenance, and the graceful outlines of womanhood. About the two hundredth century of our era, a single race existed, rather small in stature, light colored, in which anthropologists might, perhaps, have discovered some form of Anglo-Saxon and Chinese descent.
Humanity had tended towards unity, one race, one language, one general government, one religion. There were no more state religions; only the voice of an enlightened conscience, and in this unity former anthropological differences had disappeared.
In former ages poets had prophesied that in the marvellous progress of things man would finally acquire wings, and fly through the air by his muscular force alone; but they had not studied the origin of anthropomorphic structure and had forgotten that for a man to have at the same time arms and wings, he must belong to a zoölogical order of sextupeds which does not exist on our planet; for man belongs to the quadrupeds, a type which has been gradually modified. But though he had not acquired new natural organs, he had acquired artificial ones, to say nothing of his physical transformation. He had conquered the region of the air and could soar in the sky by light apparatus, whose motor power was electricity, and the atmosphere had become his domain as it had been that of the birds. It is very probable that if in the course of ages a winged race could have acquired, by the development of its faculties of observation, a brain analogous to that of even the most primitive man, it would have soon dominated the human species and replaced it by a new one,—a winged race of the same zoölogical type as the quadrupeds and bipeds. But the force of gravity is an obstacle to any such organic development of the winged species, and humanity, grown more perfect, had remained master of the world.
At the same time, in the lapse of ages, the animal population of the globe had completely changed. The wild species, lions, tigers, hyenas, panthers, elephants, giraffes, kangaroos, as also whales and seals, had become extinct.