Philip Dru, Administrator is the book that nearly killed this series of blog posts. I strive for clarity in my writing, which is why I do not call Philip Dru a novel.
It’s more like the outline of a novel, written by an author who makes up for his lack of narrative ability with his fascination — again, knack would be the wrong word — his fascination for military tactics.
For a long time, I had little idea what to say about it, and even less enthusiasm for reading it. Philip Dru stands alone in the series in that I cannot think of a single individual who would benefit by picking it up. I am therefore not terribly dismayed that it is only available in a highly imperfect edition via a specialty reprint house.
Philip Dru is an extended war fantasy. To call it war pornography would almost do it justice. Its eponymous hero is a brilliant war strategist, or so we are reminded to numbness. He is also handsome, patriotic, wise, merciful, persecuted, and, ultimately, a fascist dictator. He’s Mussolini in a cheap paper mask of Christ.
War in Philip Dru is the distinctively American way of solving problems. War brings the men of ability to power. Power is all they need, so war is clearly a positive good. And what do you need to achieve real progress on domestic policy? Why, a civil war, of course.
Progress on domestic policy consists of… Well, that’s where things just get really, really weird. The author appears to have apprehended the notion that war brings out the men of ability. He perhaps inferred that, short of an actual war, the men of ability could be identified by their allegiance to the principle that war brings out the men of ability. Yet Edward Mandell House was a man of no discernible ability whatsoever.
Thus, while Philip Dru is badly narrated, it’s also strangely vacuous in its public policy goals. Where Looking Backward has this elaborate, finely crafted social structure, in which every detail seems to have been anticipated by the author, and in which all the gears mesh precisely with one another (albeit in blatant disregard of the laws of economics), Philip Dru has virtually nothing. I wrote of Looking Backward:
[I]t’s immensely appealing to think that if we only find the right sociological laws, the mess that is society will obediently straighten itself out. For centuries, social theorists have held out this hope, even as societies themselves became increasingly complex and unpredictable.
It’s not the finding of laws, but rather the making of war, that purports to set society straight in House’s universe.
This entails… some slapdash gesturing at mutualism, I guess. Populism here and there. Businessmen are the enemies; hardly unusual. There’s a model U.S. constitution and a model state constitution, each of which is obviously unworkable for incompleteness. Oh, and we take over Canada and Mexico.
Aside from that, there’s little more than a laundry list of strange, inexplicable grievances. Dru agitates for cremation of corpses rather than burial, and for fewer physicians, because for some reason we have too damn many of them. The future has some really neat new battleships, and aerial warfare is illegal. (Is this surprising? Should it be? House adores traditional battlefield strategy, and airplanes blow all that to bits.)
In my favorite example of these bizarre, misplaced score-settlings, we learn that in the future no one will be permitted to sell stocks, bonds, commodities, or “anything of value” short. “Or long,” House adds, as if captivated by symmetry.
Given that Woodrow Wilson was at least an educated and visionary man, what Wilson saw in House is beyond me. The two were close friends and Wilson often relied on his counsel as president. What Philip Dru, Administrator teaches is that for just enough people, and for just enough time, “war” plus “technology” didn’t equal impersonal, coldly efficient mass slaughter. They meant vigor and progress. Wilson seems to have bought it.
Philip Dru appeared in 1912. In only a short time, its way of looking at the world would become a lot more difficult to sustain.