Thursday, October 31, 2013

Book Review: Brave New World

After writing my last review of 1984, I was inspired to reread Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. In this futuristic fantasy, one that predated Orwell's, we find a gentler way for a government to maintain order. In this society, happiness is maintained through social conditioning and pleasant distraction. No one needs to be tortured or imprisoned. On the rare occasion that a person refuses to conform, they are simply sent away to live on an island.

I think the links between Huxley and Orwell are fascinating. In 1917, Orwell was a 14-year-old student in Huxley's French class. In 1932, Brave New World was published to lackluster critical reviews. In 1949, Orwell published 1984 and received a letter from his former teacher.

Essentially, Huxley writes this letter to say that his own fictional future is a better prediction than Orwell's:
"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."
For the most part, I agree. I think both authors imagine governments that waste their energy trying to exert absolute control over the population. They differ in their methods - in 1984, it's force; in Brave New World, it's drugs and brainwashing - but the two books have an awful lot in common.

Both worlds are obsessed with "orthodoxy". Both see overproduction as a problem to maintaining necessary class division. (Orwell solves this problem with perpetual war; Huxley with consumerism.) Both dismantle families and any sort of close human relationships. Both discourage any time spent on one's own. Time is filled with community activities. Books and historical records are destroyed.

Actually, it seems to me that 1984 is simply an earlier evolutionary stage than Brave New World. Force is necessary as long as people can still remember being raised in families. Once those relationships have been forgotten, the pleasant distractions of Brave New World are all they need. 

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