Huxley’s Brave New World revisited

Even during the writing of his masterpiece, Huxley seemed to have been in doubt as to how it was to be understood. Should one take it as a satire, a prophecy or a guide to political action? The fact is that no other author describing a so evidently fictional world better succeeded in convincing us that his persons are human beings made of blood and flesh and some of them even of a most delicate psyche. In Brave New World, Huxley has developed a plot embedded into what may be justly called a ‘novel of ideas’. In a nutshell it embraces the whole philosophy of a new time, which happens to be our own.

Torn between horror and fascination

Probably Huxley could never have given his vision such a convincing expression, had he not asked himself whether – man being what he is – he confronts us with a horror picture show, or, on the contrary, with the best of all possible worlds. It is this lingering doubt, which makes ‘Brave New World’ so much more interesting than ‘1984’ by George Orwell, because there remains no doubt whatsoever as to the latter. ‘1984’ is a novel of horror and nothing else. We should not forget that before 1932, the year when Huxley published his novel, he looked at democracy with the same contempt as did H. G. Wells (and many other intellectuals), because he thought that the only hope for modern mass society to survive lay with an elite government of autocratic experts. Who does not immediately feel the soundness of such a judgment when comparing two present-day states like India and China? While the pseudo-communist Chinese dictatorship managed in quite a short time to substantially enhance prosperity for over a billion people and is likely to transform the country into the first-ranking superpower during the next two decades; India, in former times a continent gaudy and many-faced like a fairy-tale, has to fight endless woes on its way to a modern state committed to the cold ideas of technological rationality and economic efficiency. If the task of modern governments consists in providing a maximum of people in a minimum of time with the enticements of technological civilization, then we must concede that the dictatorial Chinese regime succeeds a lot better in accomplishing this task.

Fun instead of violence

However, the Chinese have not yet understood what belongs to the most secure insights of Mustapha Mond and parts of Western society. If people are to be permanently and securely controlled, then brutal violence can never be the method of choice (the Chinese regime continues to proceed merciless against all its critics)! Satisfy human needs as much as you can and there will be hardly any resistance against government. The Chinese have practiced their one-child policy risking terrible human sacrifices (especially from the female part of the population). In Huxley’s Brave New World such coercion is not necessary at all, since the sexual instinct was strictly separated from procreation. Sexual pleasure has become a matter of daily need just as drink or food. At the same time the capitalist attitude described in Houellebecq’s ‘Particules élémentaires’, where the winner takes all, while the losers are condemned to a life of eternal frustration, belongs to the past. Even when being children practicing youthful sexual games, decent women as well as decent men have thoroughly internalized that First Commandment that ‘everybody belongs to everyone else`. It is true that Otto Mühl, the Austrian communitarian, proceeded in a rather cumbersome way. Through painstaking bookkeeping he tried to make sure that each young woman really slept as often and the same length of time with their male companions. In Brave New World, there is no need for pedantic ritual since general promiscuity has become the basic rule of social life. So fun pervades your daily existence. But in case that your organism, some slanted look or bad weather should really spoil your temper, then there is still a last resort: Soma, the drug, which guarantees salvation. That much Western young generations have certainly learned from Huxley.

Increase fun and consumption, then people will remain peaceful and the state becomes stable!

At the beginning of the Thirties, when Huxley pondered over his novel, the separation of man’s sexual drive from procreation was still anything but self-evident. Such revolution was only achieved by the Pill, an invention foreseen by Huxley in the guise of contraceptive belts to be worn by every woman. The unleashing of sexuality and pleasure in every conceivable form has become the pillar of New World mentality – and of present-day mentality for that matter. With the connivance of the powers that be omnipotent advertising is constantly luring us into all kinds of lust and enjoyment, since both have always provided the most effective bulwark against rebellion. Fun society, as Huxley describes it in his novel, has, indeed, become ubiquitous Western reality. And Huxley intuitively perceived, that fun turns into outright passion when aroused by the latest high-tech gadgets. Who does not remember the orgiastic pleasures that Steve Jobs produced among his followers all over the world when he presented to them the latest versions of Apple’s super-toys?

Mustapha Mond speaks the language of investors and company managers

Quite different are the feelings evoked by the savage from New Mexico, whom Huxley needs as an antithesis to his New World. Those feelings are composed of compassion and disgust. Disgust, because the savage seems to be ill-conditioned by a primitive culture, which makes him express all kinds of archaic views long since believed to be overcome; Pity, because this culture made him stay so far away from the blessings of modern technology. What does the poor fellow do with himself and his life when he is debarred from playing on the keys of a mobile phone or a computer (to use present-day analogies)? The fact that nature’s products such as a jaguar – not least human beings themselves – are infinitely more complex than any man-made product, including computers and mobile phones, does not, of course, get into the heads of our New World’s technology freaks.

A further argument even speaks more imperatively for manic high-tech consumption. The products and also the fun provided by nature to savages all over the world are free, they cost nothing. But everybody knows that no sound economy can be built on things free of charge. The economy would suffer a total breakdown if publicity does not permanently encourage, persuade, or seduce man to consume as much (and more) as he can. When Huxley makes Mustapha Mond, the top Controller, expound his philosophy, he shows himself to know what managers and investors want to believe. Certainly, once upon a time, primitive man liked to restore his strength on walks or sportive practices in the midst of nature. But such behavior was a stumbling block on the way to progress. In Brave New World man has become an obedient hamster in all types of high-tech wheels. His well-dosed daily sporting pensum he accomplishes by means of high-grade gadgets in fitness centers – for he knows that that’s the only responsible way of keeping the economy going.

Ford, the inventor of the assembly line and of mass production,

stands at the cradle of the new era, which is one of technology – ubiquitous and victorious. The savage from New Mexico realizes that all those Delta sub-men are subjugated by technology, they have been reduced to abulic automatons. So he wants to free these termite people from their inhuman slavery.

What a stupid thing! He is rebuked by Mustapha Mond. Earlier, before the onset of the new era, human populations were composed exclusively of free people with about the same level of inborn intelligence. And what was inevitably to come out of such equality? Everyone wanted to be at the top, no one wanted to execute menial tasks. In constant revolutions and bloody wars, that never ended, the first struggled for the privilege of remaining at the head, while the latter only thought of how to topple their superiors in order to take their place.

The spectacle is familiar enough being as old as human history. In Western Europe, for example, we still have the opportunity to hire people from the neighboring countries of Eastern Europe for low-cost services, but Huxley rightly foresaw that when such sources are running dry, a permanent struggle will ensue among people who consider themselves to be equal and endowed with equal rights. So, according to Mustapha Mond – and here Huxley seems to speak through his mouth – a stable society cannot be established on such shaky ground.

,Rules for the Human Park’

In the twenties of the last century there was much talk about eugenics. Not only Huxley, but also great philosophers such as Bertrand Russell or eminent biologists like Konrad Lorenz were concerned about the progress of civilization and human self-domestication, which seemed to entail a worsening of the genetic pool. Before Hitler came to power it seemed legitimate to deal with such thoughts in a theoretical way (strangely enough Peter Sloterdijk, the German philosopher, when expounding the ‘Rules for the Human Park’ did not seem to notice that after Hitler such thoughts were no longer tolerated). It is the consequence of eugenics applied by barbarians, which made Brave New World appear as a horror vision to later readers. With the blessing of government people are bred in different formats to become different castes. The compelling logic of what the French call ‘Folie raisonnante’ (a logic-born out of madness) makes Huxley’s vision both plausible and at the same time intolerable. If it is true that we may not turn geniuses such as Leonardo, Mozart, or Shakespeare into scavengers without provoking a war against society as they rebel against such a fate (just as it is true that the intellectual proletariat of jobless people produced in many developing societies, is a source of persistent political unrest), then – and that is the conclusion both Mustapha Mond and Huxley derive from this premise – strict reason demands that there have to be people of different kinds: besides the Mozarts, Leonardos, and Shakespeares, who represent the Alpha level, there must be Betas, Gammas and Epsilons for garbage collection and other menial tasks. And what is even more important: low cast people must be so conditioned as to do with enthusiasm what they are destined to do. Every caste must see its very purpose of life in its actual occupation so that no spite or envy against the highest castes is found among its members.

Huxley’s Brave New World pre-figured in nature

The members of beehives and termite hills are genetically differentiated beings, which, obviously, live quite successfully within their respective caste systems. In the past, human society attempted to introduce the same differentiation on a cultural level. In ancient Egypt, we find a caste society as we do even now in present-day India. It may well be assumed that in the case of strictly enforced genetic separation of different castes (i.e. a strict prohibition of intermarriage as demanded by Indian classical religious texts) some genetic differentiation into a stratified society with Alpha, Beta, and Epsilon people would probably have occurred after a couple of thousand years. Huxley was certainly right when he maintained that caste societies are more stable than other social models; the Indian caste system, which has survived more than two thousand, would probably continue to do so were it not for the eroding influence of present-day Western thought.

But it is precisely this new kind of thinking, which we may no longer switch off at will: better less stability, better more dissatisfaction, or even outright rebellion than caste-bound societies, where full-fledged human beings are forced to live side by side with servile monkeys – in the shape of genetically modified sub-humans! Better to continue that unfortunate history of man, the eternal succession of struggles and revolutions in states never attaining stability, than to accept a kind of perfect stability, which would transform mankind into a termite hill! To this extent, the vision of Aldous Huxley will probably never come true.

The present overpowers and destroys history

But what is already happening in our time is cultural blending, the transition to a worldwide unified culture, tolerating only a handful of museum-like reservations in far-off countries. The worldwide extinction of cultures, including languages, is well under way. All kinds of traditions, whether or not opposed to technical rationality and economic efficiency, are items on the red list of endangered species. Only things new, the latest technical inventions, are able to unleash the passions of modern man – what is old he either destroys or relegates into mausoleums. Mustapha Moon’s world consists of glittering skyscrapers, destined to bury under their sheer mass what remains of our beautiful cities of yore. And Mond is not lost for proper explanations. Why should we still cling to history when the present fulfills all our needs?

In Brave New World the extinction of everything old even acquires an immediate and uncanny concrete meaning. With the accompaniment of celestial music the elderly are euthanized when they still look, so that the sight of frail, ugly and repulsive individuals does not create misgivings within fun society. 21. century mankind has not yet gone that far, we are only pushing old age into special storage homes, but death itself has been erased from collective awareness. It occurs in complete silence as if it did not exist.

In Brave New World, science may only serve as an auxiliary force

It fulfills an indispensable role as a means of continually increasing consumption and satisfying all needs, but it is frowned upon, and, indeed, strictly forbidden in so far as it promotes critical thinking, which may lead to rifts between society and individuals. People like Helmholtz Watson and Bernard Marx, who cannot get rid of unorthodox thoughts, are regarded as mis-conditioned. Something must have got wrong at the stage of their manufacture in the Department of Hatcheries and Conditioning. Such people are a danger to stability and social harmony. In order to prevent any major damage they are banished to distant islands.

Left and right likewise led ad absurdum

There can be no heroes in Huxley’s New World, no Agamemnon, no Alexander and no Napoleon; there are no Mozarts, no Michelangelos, no supreme artists at all, because great men are no longer allowed to exist. No one should dare to override his fellows – obviously this has always been a leftist demand; only think of the great scholar Lavoisier who was sent to the scaffold by the French Revolutionary Committee because of his impudence to know more about chemistry than anyone else.

The uncanny part of Huxley’s vision of future society is that it fulfills so many ideals of the right and the left while at the same time leading them ad absurdum. The insistence on inequality is primarily found among people of the right – so we may say that Huxley’s hierarchical termite state gives the logically most extreme expression to that way of thinking. On the contrary, the insistence on equality is rather found among leftists. The case being, they may profit from the work of the Guillotine in case some citizens are too far removed from the standard. In Brave New World it has led to systematic cloning in so-called Bokanovsky groups that represent people of identical genetic outlay. This is the most perfect way of achieving total equality of individuals belonging to one and the same class.

Huxley shows what becomes of our most lofty ideas when ‘folie raisonnante’, madness born out of merciless logic, transforms them into visions of horror. Starting from Plato’s ‘State’ via Campanella’s ‘Città del Sole’ up to Francis Bacons’ ‘Atlantis’, this is a common trait of all blueprints of radical world improvement, but Huxley has gone much further while at the same time giving a more convincing expression to his view than anyone else. With a sensibility only found in a genius he recognized many of those subliminal excrescences of logic-born madness, which were to determine the times to come.Nor did it occur to him to idealize the past. The savage from New Mexico comes from a culture that is no less merciless and brutal about outsiders than Brave New World. New Mexico – the relapse into archaic conditions – is by no means hailed as a cure for Termite Society. Nevertheless, in one respect the unhappy savage, who ultimately feels at home in neither of both worlds, is closer to Aldous Huxley than Mustapha Mond. The savage asks about God – in contrast to fun society, for which God is simply superfluous, because people have no needs he could possibly fulfill. We know that Huxley later on wrote a book about mysticism. But what brings the savage still nearer to the author is his love for the works of William Shakespeare, which he partly knows by heart. The savage experiences the burning inebriations produced by art, while Mustapha Moon, the Controller, is only receptive to the icy delights of abstract intelligence. Huxley grew up in a scientifically highly educated family; he was able to enjoy both types of bliss and did so particularly in this ‘novel of ideas’. Which is what imparts to the latter its twofold character as an eminent work of art, providing us, at the same time, with something like a dumbfounding philosophy of times to come.