“The Marching Morons,” by Cyril W. Kornbluth


One of our readers pointed out the similiarity between the movie Idiocracy and a short story by Cyril W. Kornbluth named “The Marching Morons” which appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction in April, 1951.

Like Idiocracy, the story involves a man who is put into stasis for centuries and wakes up in a new world where humanity has bred itself into oblivion. The Margaret Sanger style eugenics implications are even clearer in this story than in Idiocracy, told with both wit and compassion. Unlike the movie, this story addresses the question of how technology could persist, and comes up with the Nietzschean idea of an upper caste of intelligent people who have ended up enslaved to the masses of fools.

The story falls into the style which is convenient to call “honest” when we in fact mean realistic, with some aggression behind it in the telling of an important story that is mostly forgotten because of its political inconvenience. For Kornbluth, who was Jewish, to explore anything tinged with eugenics in the years after WWII was not only personally brave but ran the risk of great condemnation. Perhaps he was a victim of political correctness because it seems this story should have wider reach.

“The Marching Morons” is written in the older style of science fiction that readers of Ray Bradbury may be familiar with, which is not so much self-consciously “literary” content embedded in mass market writing but a compact, vivid style in which every detail is important but the big picture is not lost in the details. Kornbluth writes with what we might call passion but is more appropriately termed “urgency” in that this story takes place in a desperate time, and was written in a desperate time.

While the presence of this story in the heritage of Idiocracy seems obvious, it is also important to point to an earlier work which it would have been hard for any science fiction fan to miss: The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells. In this book, a Victorian scientist travels to the future. He finds the planet is now divided into two groups: the Morlocks, brutal and crude creatures that fear the light and control the planet from its surface, and Eloi, light and graceful creatures of intelligence which live below the surface in menial circumstances.

As the protagonist explores, he discovers that the Morlocks have descended from the working classes of his time and have through evolutionary pressures become essentially Orcs, thoughtless and violent but obsessive. They live by feeding on the Eloi, to whom Darwin has not been kind because when intelligence is no longer needed for survival, it becomes a burden and the thoughtless and violent dominate it.

Apparently Wells was influenced by E. Ray Lankester’s book Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwinism (1880) in which the author sets forth the idea that if a species gains a constant food supply, evolution pushes toward a suppression of form in a kind of marginal profit obtained by removing expensive features that are no longer necessary.

It may also serve as an answer to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race, in which he posits an underground species of angelic human-like creatures known as Vril-ya will take over earth with superior intelligence. Much as Orwell answered Huxley, Wells answered Bulwer-Lytton, suggesting that instead of the utopian vision he portrays a Lankesterian degeneration of humanity lurked in the future, which is the theme held in common with both Idiocracy and “The Marching Morons.”

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13 thoughts on ““The Marching Morons,” by Cyril W. Kornbluth”

  1. Richard Head says:

    I think you have some things backward in your synopsis of The Time Machine.

    The Eloi acted as if they had the intelligence of children, as Weena reacted superstisiously or emotionally while around the hero (forgot his name). They had no government or culture to speak of; they lounges about and played and were raised like cattle by the Morlocks. Now the Morlocks lived in subterranean passages and were obviously the more intelligent ones as they built machines, had industry, and had totally made the Eloi their bitches.

    1. Phil says:

      I wanted to say this.

      You don’t think Brett actually reads these books, do you? He skims the blurb on the back to check if they are fascist enough.

      Nah j/k.

      I love dystopian stuff. The masses are all fighting for the end of history yet the forward thinkers are endlessly fearful of what comes after it.

      1. The masses are all fighting for the end of history yet the forward thinkers are endlessly fearful of what comes after it.

        What we have now is a delusional species, unable to stop itself from pathological acts, with a long historical record of failure by going down this path. It’s not rocket science to tell what is coming.

        1. Richard Head says:

          Brett; read The Time Machine again and give it another think-through. The Morlocks arise from the “Illuminati” of our day; ruthless manipulators who pull the strings of society from the shadows. The Eloi descend from the apathetic pleasure-seeking masses who are content to contribute as little as possible to the structure of society and are only good for a snack now and then. They’ve had all the questioning curiosity bred out of them.

          The whole point of the book is that none of that shit matters because far in the future, the planet will be a desolate wasteland rules by monstrous crustaceans.

        2. Phil says:

          Humans make a lot of mistakes (we are a fallen race) and may temporarily go into decline, but the trend is clear – onwards and upwards for freedom and prosperity. I fully believe in the premise of Whig history.

          I do not fear for the future, even though I indulge in those who may.

  2. Lord Mosher says:

    After reading a post where Richard Head critized Averse Sefira for being anti-Christian, I just did a little research and found this tasty interview. Is there acorrelation between bands that are willing to sacrifice anything for metal and the quality output they eventually release? And most importantly, why is S.R. Prozak is so keen to detect high quality material?

    quote: “I also understand you walked away from a decent job to go on this tour with Averse Sefira, which is an obvious sign of dedication.”



    1. Richard Head says:

      I didn’t. I think it was “Phil” who said that AS were anti-Christian and thus “part of the problem”, so I asked him about it. I’ve never criticized a band for being anti-Christian and AS is one of my favorite black metal bands, let the record show.

      1. Phil says:

        Wasn’t me, brah. Slay the believers.

        1. Richard Head says:

          Well sorry then. Too many namefags around here anymore.

      2. Is AS anti-Christian so much as not-Christian and seeking another mythology that has more depth to it?

        1. Lord Mosher says:

          The fact they would sacrifice anything for their music is simply admirable. It takes courage and passion rarely seen these days when nobody believes in anything other than deceit and bitterness.
          Last week I’ve been listening to Averse’s discography over and over again and finally I’m getting into it, slowly but surely. I rose to the challenge and it has payed off.

          The trick is to start Battles Clarion with track 9 “Ablaze” and then track 5 before letting yourself immerse in the experience.

          Although the two most beautiful black metal albums of all time are still Gorgoroth’s first and DarkThrone Transilvanian Hunger.

        2. Richard Head says:

          Seems that they just borrowed Kabbalistic imagery (which is square; Kabbalah mystics preceded Mosaic teaching) and some of the ideas like the emination of worlds (Refractions of an Exploded Singularity is specific enough that I doubt they were just coming up with random cool-sounding words).

          I remember a video interview of two members and they stated unambiguously that Christianity is vile and they were maximally opposed to its influence.

          1. Lord Mosher says:

            Averse Sefira talk about shoegaze black metul band Liturgy:

            “when a pseudo-intellectual who looks like Kurt Cobain tries to write himself into the pages of black metal history by adulterating its meaning to fit the non-agenda of his shrill little band. It is revisionism at its most transparent and a weak display of narcissism besides.”

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