If it was a battle between 1984 and Brave New World, it’s all too apparent that Huxley’s magnum opus won out in the end.
Aldous Huxley to George Orwell: My Hellish Vision of the Future is Better Than Yours (1949)
In 1949, George Orwell received a curious letter from his former high school French teacher.
Orwell had just published his groundbreaking book Nineteen Eighty-Four, which received glowing reviews from just about every corner of the English-speaking world. His French teacher, as it happens, was none other than Aldous Huxley who taught at Eton for a spell before writing Brave New World (1931), the other great 20th century dystopian novel.
Huxley starts off the letter praising the book, describing it as “profoundly important.” He continues, “The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it.”
Then Huxley switches gears and criticizes the book, writing, “Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World.”
Actually, contra my own intro above, there’s no reason to think it can’t be both—and in fact, hasn’t been. The text of Huxley’s letter to Orwell makes it clear that Huxley himself in the main agreed that, instead of being directly in conflict with one another or contradictory, the two theses should be thought of as being more akin to waystations along tyranny’s greater continuum:
Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.
Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.
Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
So in sum, then, it’s as I’ve always maintained, in this and other related contexts: what we have here is not an event, but a process.
Update! Forgot to include this with a “Via…” link, so I’ll just tuck it down here instead, with a little further exposition which a mere “Via” link doesn’t allow for anyhoo.
We’re all living in Brave New World, the technocratic nightmare envisioned in the dystopian 1932 science fiction novel written by UNESCO founder Julian Huxley’s brother, Aldous Huxley.
In some ways, Brave New World is the neglected redheaded stepchild of the futuristic dystopia literary genre. 1984, George Orwell’s magnum opus, gets the most play in the popular discourse in terms of comparing current events to the prescient warnings contained in the historic novel.
However, the horrific future imagined in Brave New World describes more accurately the nature of totalitarianism we are headed for under the stewardship of the World Economic Forum.
“You will own nothing and be happy,” is truly the ruling elites’ ethos.
The key differences between the Brave New World and 1984 dystopias are the mechanisms of control that the state uses to maintain its power. In the latter, the Inner Party relies on pure brute force, as explained by O’Brien in 1984: “If you want a vision of the future, Winston, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.”
In the former, Brave New World, the mechanism of social control is subtler, yet arguably more effective than the kind of simple violence used by despots throughout history up until the modern era.
In Brave New World, in contrast to 1984, social conditioning and psychological manipulation are the tools of social control. The nuclear family has been obliterated as humans are birthed in laboratories using curated genetic material. Existential angst is treated with consequence-free sex (minus any meaningful emotional bonds) and a sedative drug called soma. At every turn, the individual is infantilized and conditioned to reflexively depend on the nanny state, afflicted by learned helplessness and neediness and malleable in the Pavlovian tradition.
Nope, none of that sounds even vaguely familiar, now does it? THANK GOODNESS IT COULD NEVER HAPPEN HERE…
Updated update! The last laugh?