Utopian Dream Or Bottomless Nightmare?: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

Perennial Classics edition published 1998. Copyright © 1932, 1946 by Aldous Huxley.

I think there are two works of literature that really capture the fears we human beings have about our futures, both of which can be put under the label of social science fiction.  One of them is George Orwell‘s Nineteen Eighty-Four, in which a totalitarian regime has wiped out democracy, civil liberties, and any form of individuality in favor of a system of control, terror, and hatred.

The other is Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.  And frankly, I find it scarier than Orwell’s vision.

Huxley is basically extrapolating from his own era in the 1920s, where the end of a terrible war and an abundance of wealth led to an era of thrill-seeking.  Instead of ruling through fear, the Powers That Be in Brave New World govern through pleasure.  Instead of indoctrination and patriotic rallies, the System uses slogans and jingles that have been conditioned into everyone since birth through sleep-learning.  Instead of repressing pleasure and thought, the System encourages a wholesale hedonistic pursuit of pleasure, which renders any kind of higher thought pointless.

We get a Shakespeare-reciting Native American named John who is transported to this “advanced” civilization, whose old-fashioned views of austerity and suffering as good for the soul run counter to this all-about-the-flesh society.  Everyone is conditioned to accept what they’re given, and only John can comprehend the utter horror of a world where peace and pleasure reign while free will and freethinking are extinct.

This is why I find Brave New World so terrifying: because it is entirely possible within our own society.  Within any sufficiently industrialized nation.  All it requires is a lack of concern for human dignity, for us to forget the needs of the soul and the mind, for our greed and fear to overcome our courage and reason.

Bibliography: Huxley, Aldous.  Brave New World.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1932.

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6 thoughts on “Utopian Dream Or Bottomless Nightmare?: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World

  1. Patricia Brown

    You are spot on, Alex. Technology is the “Soma” of our universe. We are losing the way in human contact. One day the machines may all stop.

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  2. I enjoyed this so much more than Orwell’s 1984…. Have you read Yevgeny Zamyatin’s ‘We’? It’s the same plot as 1984 but written in 1922… So, I dislike Orwell even more — Zamyatin fled Russia to England in the 1920s so his works were published in his new home (i.e. Orwell had read ‘We’).

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