Thursday, 4 April 2013

The Inheritors

Ford Madox Ford - from Wikipedia

Ford Madox Ford’s novel The Inheritors (1901) was the first of his collaborations with Joseph Conrad. It introduces the Inheritors as amoral materialists calling themselves Fourth Dimensionalists. Their plan is to inherit the Earth.

I found it rather loosely structured but quite readable and oddly prescient. Once we grasp that probity is seen as the great stumbling block in the way of the Inheritors' amoral ambitions, it even seems curiously modern in spite of being written well over a century ago.

After all, probity is what most of us want from politics. Yet ours is an audit, not a probity culture. We may value probity and try to live up to it, but find ourselves continually fobbed off with laws, regulations and processes because probity doesn't suit the gilded ones strutting the corridors of power.

I heard the Dimensionists described: a race clear-sighted, eminently practical, incredible; with no ideals, prejudices, or remorse; with no feeling for art and no reverence for life; free from any ethical tradition; callous to pain, weakness, suffering and death, as if they had been invulnerable and immortal.

 “But—” I said. A feeling of unrest was creeping over me. “But why do you tell me all this?” I asked. “Do you think I will enlist with you?”

“You will have to in the end,” she said, “and I do not wish to waste my strength. If you had to work unwittingly you would resist and resist and resist. I should have to waste my power on you. As it is, you will resist only at first, then you will begin to understand.

You will see how we will bring a man down — a man, you understand, with a great name, standing for probity and honour. You will see the nets drawing closer and closer, and you will begin to understand. Then you will cease resisting, that is all.

It isn’t even only Churchill,” she said, “not even only that de Mersch will bring down Churchill with him. It is that he must bring down everything that Churchill stands for. You know what that is — the sort of-"

“I don’t,” I answered, “I don’t understand at all.”

“Ah, yes, you do,” she said, “you understand….” She paused for a long while, and I was silent. I understood vaguely what she meant; that if Churchill fell amid the clouds of dust of such a collapse, there would be an end of belief in probity … or nearly an end. But I could not see what it all led up to; where it left us.

“Don’t you see? Don’t you understand? We are the inevitable … and you can’t keep us back. We have to come and you, you will only hurt yourself, by resisting.”


Sam Vega said...

"Ours is an audit, not a probity culture."

With just an iota more probity and one less audit, this could be the mission statement of my workplace.

A K Haart said...

Sam - "one less audit", is that the one where you have to audit probity?

James Higham said...

Warburg was one of those, House.

A K Haart said...

James - Warburg?

Edward Spalton said...

This is a highly prophetic book, once you have got used to the style. It foresees an evil far more subtle than open communism or fascism. The New Supermen and Superwomen from the Fourth Dimension are characterised by their total, clear-eyed , willing grasp of pitiless amorality.

I am only part way through and the insights of Conrad & Maddox Ford ( semi detached outsiders themselves) keep resonating with today. Here is the germ of New Labour, of Cameron as "the heir to Blair", of Common Purpose and the Media Standards Trust

And you can download a PDF for nothing!

A K Haart said...

Edward - I was certainly impressed enough to move on to the Parade's End series.