Aldous Huxley published Brave New World in 1932. The novel describes a futuristic society that boasts a world government with the motto “Community, Identity, Stability.” The year is After Ford 632, and babies are decanted rather than born. Eugenics has been refined to the point where viviparous births no longer occur. Human ova are extracted from purchased ovaries and manually fertilized and grown in bottles to produce specific castes of individuals, from Alpha to Epsilon. In the controlled process, growth and development are intentionally stunted in the lower castes, to pre-condition them to lives of menial labor and servitude.
There are no families, and the words “mother” and “father” are obscenities. There is no social unrest, no disease, and no war. Books like Shakespeare and the Bible have been banned, because they are old. The Brave New World emphasizes everything new, with consumerism raised to the level of a religion, in fond memory of “Our Ford.” Solitude and individuality are considered subversive. Sexual promiscuousness is promoted, and the popular “feelies” are pornographic movies with sensual enhancement. The feel-good drug, soma, is dispensed freely as a work benefit, allowing everyone to maintain a state of happiness at all times.
Author Aldous Huxley was a teacher at Eton College to Eric Blair, pseudonym George Orwell, who in 1949, published his own dystopic novel, 1984. When offered a chance to review 1984, Huxley was impressed but claimed his own dystopia was more realistic. Huxley believed that punishment only deters undesirable behavior a short time, but a system of rewards prompting people to love their servitude was more effective. He believed his vision in Brave New World, in which soma and easy gratification of desire kept discontent at bay, more probable than the 1984 notion of a fear-and-punishment-based society.
It strikes me that the themes of the books are similar, in that both are dystopias dealing with world government, including control by a powerful, if shrouded, elite. The parallels between what Huxley and Orwell predicted and today’s political climate are strongly evocative, showing how beliefs seeded years and centuries ago grow over time. There is nothing new about empire building, or the desire for control of larger and larger areas or groups of people. Fundamentally, it comes down to the desire to control the minds of others, on a grand scale, to make them love (Huxley) or fear (Orwell) their masters. Individuality, the anarchist, the malcontent, the extremist, become the enemies of the state and threatening to the masses, who are comfortable in the status quo. These outliers must be discouraged, disempowered, disdained, discredited, disliked, or eliminated, if they veer too far from accepted norms.
While people claim to want leaders, they also resist the authority they delegate. In Brave New World, perpetual child-like dependency allows for the social stability that seems to ensure the lasting power of the ruling class. It also creates a state of perpetual stagnation, in which people have no free will and face no challenges or consequences that force them to grow and, theoretically, mature.
It seems unlikely to me that the world government some hope and others fear will ever be attained, if only because few people fully submit to control by others. They subvert outside authority through passive resistance or passive aggression if not outright defiance. The more control government claims, the more unrest it creates, until the forces of resistance overwhelm the efforts to contain it.
Brave New World Revisited, published in 1958, contains twelve essays in which Huxley explored the differences between democracies and totalitarian governments. He worried that over-population would lead to over-organization, with increasing efforts by the State to fit individuals into machine-like roles, as in corporations. He emphasized that organizations are not living beings. Freedom is necessary in order to become fully human.
Both Brave New World and 1984 depict totalitarian governments teetering on their foundations, forced to use extreme tactics to maintain control of the people they have subjugated. But for what? Are the World Controllers in Brave New World, or the Big Brother’s henchmen in 1984 any happier for their lofty positions? What gratification comes from ruling over a passive and demoralized people, those who are kept in a state of perpetual child-like submissiveness?
It’s hard for me to imagine a totalitarian government lasting for long, simply because its foundations would be composed of homogenized individuals who have never learned to stand on their own, support themselves or each other, and are not motivated or able to carry their presumptive masters.