By Michael Dwyer.
Orwell’s “1984” is, I suspect, the better known and more widely read of the two great dystopian novels of the twentieth century. It is indeed a wonderful and terrifying piece of writing. Yet a few years after it was written it had acquired the taste of history and high journalism. It was diamond hard satire on a world we knew existed.
Huxleys “Brave New World” had and remains different in tone and vision, and that makes it the more frightening and uncomfortable work. This feels more like prophesy than reportage. And worse something deep within ourselves and our culture, tells us that this is how we will be enslaved. Not by the hammering jack, boot but by gentle caress of a soma dream.
Reading it again, in the run up to this fiftieth anniversary of Huxley’s death of course, I made discoveries as we always do on returning to a great work of art. One purely trivial, though to me personally satisfying, was to learn that Bertie Russell considered the novel to have plagiarised his book “The Scientific Approach” and had to be persuaded by his publishers not to pursue the matter in the courts.
The theme that struck me so powerfully was not that which had impressed the sixteen old me, fascinated as I was then by the apparent prescience of Huxley regarding technology and its potential to stultify and control.
The awful anxiety of “Brave New World” revolves about two insights that must resonate with the contemporary reader. Mustafa Mond does what he does for the good of the people. It is not simply a naked and self interested grab for power and position that drives him, but a desire to improve and perfect. Huxley’s warning is clear, the well intentioned but wrong headed will always be more dangerous than the mere tyrant or despot. Those who seek genuinely to build heaven on earth will wreak infinitely more devastation than the man driven only by lust or greed.
In contrast the lives of John, the Savage, and that of the Malpais are untidy, dirty, and unpredictable. They age. They fear death. However this is a world where art survives, where beauty has value and where love and family exist, not just sex and reproduction in the hatchery.
This Huxley clearly sees as being a truly human life, a life worth living, open to possibility and experience. In the language of another place it is the contrast between the Authentic and the Inauthentic. It is the recognition that we can live in freedom with all of the attendant chaos and discomfort it brings, or we can live as well fed anaesthetised helots. Freedom may not be easy, but it is only when we are free that we can be human.