Orwell v Huxley on the nature of the left

huxley-to-orwell

The writer of Brave New World had previously taught high school French to the writer of 1984! What follows below is the text of the letter Huxley wrote to Orwell in 1949. But what is truly fascinating and worth dwelling on is that Huxley argued that a soft fascism, guided by a gentle and soothing elite who made their prisoners love their almost invisible chains, was the way totalitarian governments would evolve, rather than a world of increasingly brutalised citizens, the mailed fist and the gulag. I will note that the bolding in the text below is my own.

Shortly after George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, he received a letter from his onetime high school French teacher, Aldous Huxley, who had published Brave New World 17 years earlier. Here are Huxley’s comments, via Letters of Note:

Wrightwood. Cal.

21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. 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. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large-scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley

No one in 1949 could possibly imagine what our world would be like, but of the two forms of totalitarian control, the vision Huxley had then is the one more true to form about the world in which we find ourselves living today. But Orwell did get the part about those who control the past controlling the future. We have gone beyond the memory hole to the point where some events are never recorded while what never occurred instantly becomes the official narrative even while millions perfectly well know none of it is or was ever true. There is plenty of both of these disturbing and prophetic books in our modern world.

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48 Responses to Orwell v Huxley on the nature of the left

  1. Empire GTHO Phase III

    Grear post, Steve.

    What we now face is a synthesis of the two visions. Hollywood for distraction and the NSA for surveillance.

  2. Infidel Tiger

    Everything huxley predicted came true.

  3. RobK

    The opium of power appears to transcend all ages. As for the ultimate revolution, as the war to end wars is an era specific description, valid for the argument at hand but not necessarily describing the end of struggle of the human condition.

  4. Delta A

    But Orwell did get the part about those who control the past controlling the future.

    This, combined with infant conditioning is where we are today. Sometimes I despair for the future.

  5. RobK

    Both these men were wonderful gifts to humanity.

  6. Roger

    Sometimes I despair for the future.

    Despair is a luxury we cannot afford at the present time.

    Hope derives from the knowledge that the final resolution (not revolution, pace RobK) of the human struggle against evil is eschatological – it comes from without.

    We are all called to play our part in the meantime.

  7. RobK

    Hollywood for distraction and the NSA for surveillance.”
    Along with an expanded pharmacopeia of mental illness remedies, digital accounting, miniscule digital cameras, micro chips for pets. Westerners spend thousands of dollars each to voluntarily leave a large digital footprint of everything.

  8. A Lurker

    For too long evil has been allowed to prosper.
    To all those good men sitting on their hands waiting for someone else to do something.
    Now, is the time to act.

  9. Leo G

    For too long evil has been allowed to prosper.
    To all those good men sitting on their hands waiting for someone else to do something.
    Now, is the time to act.

    Good men aren’t given the time. They’re how evil prospers.

  10. and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.

    All the way with LBJ anyone?
    He popularised that social valium called welfare, enabling hundreds of millions into servitude.

  11. Tom

    I’m an optimist.

    Even though the 21st century left are play-acting their “revolution” with the same totalitarian propaganda (that might as well be controlled by the state), the same invasion and trashing of institutions and even the same tendency for street violence as the national socialists of the 1930s, every last 21st century neo-Stalinist snowflake millenial is terrified of guns, professes to be a pacifist and is so lazy and stupid he/she would struggle with even the basics of military fighting efficiency.

    They will try to co-opt enemies of their enemies (i.e. Islamic State and the Shiites in Tehran), but there will be no ground war in the West because the left can’t fight and the right own all the guns.

    And the internet’s disruption of traditional media’s monopoly on information has been heaven-sent.

    Never forget that Trump has the generals on his side in what I consider the most important battle between the forces of light and darkness in human history.

  12. H B Bear

    As regards infant conditioning, we are fortunate that the quality of teachers and teaching is so low that they are not more successful.

  13. alexnoaholdmate

    A casual approach to birth control and human life? Check.

    The promotion of casual and meaningless sex, divorced from any morality or consequences (i.e. children, marriage, or family), as ‘modern’ and ‘enlightened’ ? Check (even if I am guilty of partaking myself).

    An all-pervasive consumerist-entertainment complex (I made that term up) that keeps the population docile and blinds them to reality? Check.

    Genetic engineering to design the perfect – as in, fit for the purpose the state has in mind for them – human beings? Soon-to-be-check (we’re already up to designer babies and aborting ‘inconvenient’ children, after all).

    The dismissal of the sublime and the canonical in works of art or literature as old, irrelevant, or even ‘incorrect’? Boy howdy, check.

    It’s Brave New World all the way, baby. Get on board the soma train.

  14. Rafe Champion

    Somewhere on the net there is a long Utube lecture about the shift in Orwell’s thinking over his lifetime. He contemplated the spectrum from capitalism through soft leftism to full-on communism and eventually near the end of his life concluded that once you took up leftism you were going to end up with the full catastrophe. He had not reached that point when he reviewed The Road to Serfdom.

  15. alexnoaholdmate

    Oh, and an ivory-tower state dominated by technocrats and intellectuals divorced from the general population, serving as the ultimate arbiter of morality, of justice, of right-and-wrong?

    Check, check, and checkmate.

  16. Tintarella di Luna

    Thanks for this excellent post Steve.

    Re-reading the collected works of George Orwell back in 2008 when The Rudd Catastrophe was getting started was comforting – Fifteen when I read Brave New World all I remember was the Malthusian exercises which I thought was hilarious (now morphed into reproductive health/abortion and pink pussy hats – still hilarious) and that the narrator hung himself at the end, which I thought was to succumb to hopelessness – I’m a “where there’s life there’s hope and where there’s hope there’s life’ kinda gal.

  17. zyconoclast

    What a beautifully crafted letter.

  18. Lem

    The future has arrived. We are all now just electrons in space.

  19. Oh come on

    The Orwellian dystopia is multifaceted. The jackboot on the face is used to keep at heel the careerists, the petty intelligentsia, the social climbers, the unremarkably educated – I guess those which we’d describe today as the chattering classes. The chattering classes would people the Outer Party. Huxley’s vision of the future is reserved for the Proles, who remain largely free but in a state of docile ignorance, in thrall to the crumbs thrown at them by their keepers who know to stand at a safe distance.

  20. mh

    Trump Ousts Hollywood From White House

    Where does the tradition of combining politicians, actors & reporters in one televised room come from?

  21. Dr Fred Lenin

    Just wait till the next revolution.the national green laboral party desparately struggling to keep power ,the conservative revolutionary rebels causing great slaughter at the universities and the union volunteers defending the comrades ,the Green Guard led by marshal Bandt ,with the brave sailors of the maritime union attacking the counter revolutionary workers .Inspiring speeches by malcolm ruddbull in support of his comrades ,Chairman Shorten and his commisars hidden in the safety of the bomb shelter . The media comrades doing their bit to inspire the swinging voters . Exciting times .the result is a foregone conclusion lefty interlekchools couldnt fight their way out of a wet paper bag ,all talk ,no guts .

  22. Tel

    As regards infant conditioning, we are fortunate that the quality of teachers and teaching is so low that they are not more successful.

    As they get worse at teaching math, science, literature and history, they get better at teaching entitlement, envy, racist white privilege, sexist male privilege and how to throw your toys out of the pram.

    Those brain cells don’t get lost, they just get reallocated.

  23. Jannie

    The Brave New World has been possible because of the diligent work of previous generations building the technology and capital to afford the consumption of todays generation. And yet this generation must borrow the money to keep it running and the people fed. The soft nanny state authoritarianism is a dud business model and is insolvent. When they run out of other peoples money, and the ability to borrow, they will revert to the cheaper authoritarian model, that of the prison and the club. I vote for Orwell.

  24. Recent Historian

    If Gold and silver coins were the only Currency neither 1984 or BNW would be possible. Central banking, fiat and fractional reserve banking are requirements of totalitarianism.

  25. alexnoaholdmate

    If Gold and silver coins were the only Currency neither 1984 or BNW would be possible. Central banking, fiat and fractional reserve banking are requirements of totalitarianism.

    As I said on another thread, when this same poster popped up to give us his/her unsought views on gold (despite having nothing to do with the topic at hand) –

    Goldbugs are like vegans. You’ll know if they’re around, because they’ll make sure to tell you.

    Atheists too.

  26. Gavin R Putland

    The most powerful influences on your life are those that you don’t question — regardless of what they call themselves, and regardless of whether you’re allowed to question them.

  27. Ellen of Tasmania

    We are all called to play our part in the meantime.

    “‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo.
    ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

    ‘It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.'”

  28. Rabz

    We have gone beyond the memory hole to the point where some events are never recorded while what never occurred instantly becomes the official narrative

    What’s the saying?

    A lie can travel half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on.

    Collectivists rely on the creation and perpetuation of an illiterate, innumerate and ahistorical populace for very sound reasons.

    That’s why 1984 was so prophetic.

  29. Clam Chowdah

    Really, it’s both. Orwellian fascism will no doubt re-emerge, and in any case is here now in North Korea.

  30. Rabz

    Orwellian fascism will no doubt re-emerge

    Wonderful – can’t wait for its timely re-emergence.

    Tasty dirt cakes, leavened with loud, all pervasive televisual broadcasts of fat fascists, for all.

    You know you want it.

  31. alexnoaholdmate

    Guys, it’s all nonsense – 1984 and Brave New World. Don’t get your knickers in a knot.

    A world where the government is so concerned about thoughtcrime that they’re reading your emails and listening into your conversations?

    A world where we teach kids that human life is cheap, and that nothing must stand in the way of their right to whatever sexual thrill they feel entitled to – and that anyone who disagrees with such beliefs must be full of hate, and therefore hounded out of their job and polite society, perhaps even to be arrested if they utter such views in public?

    A world where we treat babies as disposable, and seek to abort those who are ‘inconvenient’ to our lifestyles, or who may not be perfect?

    A world where children are regarded as the property of the state rather than their parents, and where the views of parents regarding what the children are taught at school are completely irrelevant, perhaps even criminal?

    Come on, guys. It’s all outrageous fiction. It can’t ever happen here.

  32. Rob MW

    Really, it’s both. Orwellian fascism will no doubt re-emerge, and in any case is here now in North Korea.

    Don’t you mean South Australia and coming to a suburb near you in the People’s Republic of Queensland. At the very least, here in NSW, Baird had the decency to resign after his failed ban on racing dogs shit all over him. So there is some hope.

  33. egg_

    a soft fascism, guided by a gentle and soothing elite who made their prisoners love their almost invisible chains,

    Aided by the MSM.
    US Author Thomas Frank on The Link on TheirABC with Stan Grant recently saying that the message from the elites in politics is that if you don’t have the right qualifications from the right institutions or move in the right circles/say the right things – you don’t count, even according to Obama ‘this is the new reality’ and so the average Joe voted for Trump ‘out of desperation’ as they didn’t matter to the political elite.

  34. egg_

    The soft nanny state authoritarianism is a dud business model and is insolvent. When they run out of other peoples money, and the ability to borrow, they will revert to the cheaper authoritarian mode

    The SA defacto Green Govt just ran into reality recently.

  35. BorisG

    If anything, the Brexit and Trump (as well as Thatcher and Raegan before them) suggest that the democratic institutions are more resilient than doomsday forecasters suggest.

    That is not to take away the genius of those who warned of those possibilities.

  36. Nerblnob

    Orwell, writing after WW2, has proved more correct.
    Energy Ministers promoting over blackouts? How Ministry of Truth is that?

  37. Clam Chowdah

    Come on, guys. It’s all outrageous fiction. It can’t ever happen here.

    I never said it would happen here (and don’t think it’s likely apart from Gramscian invidiousness). But it is a reality in DPRK, and close to it in some of the Stans. Even you should be able to suppress your Marxist gag reflex and admit that, surely?

  38. calli

    Both are correct. The West resembles Huxley’s vision. Third world nations and the ME conform more to Orwell’s. They exist side by side and at war. Right now.

    Which one will prove the stronger?

  39. Enlightenment is overrated. I feel enlightened, but that just makes me feel like a tiny Island of enlightenment in a sea of imbecility. I’m surrounded by educated ignorants in the real world, populated by cardboard cut-out villains in the manufactured guise of white privilege, coal miners, men, non-socialists, Christians, and constitutionalists. I’m soooooo evil! Who knew?

    Unfortunately, they’re both right. We’ll get the expensive totalitarianism followed by the cheap totalitarianism when the money runs out.

    Worse, Malthusian elites will gladly oversee mass Malthusianism, if not actually enact it themselves.

  40. alexnoaholdmate

    I never said it would happen here (and don’t think it’s likely apart from Gramscian invidiousness). But it is a reality in DPRK, and close to it in some of the Stans. Even you should be able to suppress your Marxist gag reflex and admit that, surely?

    Uhhh… If you have a look at what I actually wrote, you might want to withdraw that comment.

    The entire purpose was to point out that it has already happened here.

    Sheesh. Who’s the one with the ‘reflex’ ?

  41. David

    The elevation of Eureka is a classic example. It has been used to pretend that democracy emerged from the people, against the power of an oppressive colonial administration.

    In the context of Eureka, Gough Whitlam commented:

    It is a truism, perhaps, that the importance of an historical event lies not in what happened but in what later generations believe to have happened.

    Eureka has been proposed as a centrepiece for a new ‘civic nationalism’:

    Australia needs a ‘new nationalism’, where we fashion a relevant national story from Australia’s past and link it meaningfully to our future. This requires that we find new angles and new approaches to our old national story and make our national symbols unambiguously Australian to reflect and celebrate Australian independence. In this context we propose that the Eureka uprising be made the centrepiece of the new Australian national story: the birthplace of Australian democracy, the earliest exemplar of Australian multiculturalism and witness to the first stirrings of Australian republicanism.

    Serle’s view does not conform with those who seek to elevate Eureka:

    Both historians and propagandists have produced a bewildering variety of explanations for the causes and significance of Eureka which have often been characterized by over-simplification and biased distortion…. No final conclusions can be drawn on the controversial subject of Eureka’s immediate effects. So many reforms followed so quickly that it is not surprising that many people at the time attributed the series of democratic victories to the men of Eureka, and not all historians of Eureka have recognized the fallaciousness of post hoc, propter hoc arguments.

    But Serle does allow at least one conclusion:

    All or almost all of the reforms which followed Eureka must in any case soon have occurred.

    For Serle, any suggestion that the Eureka incident represented the birthplace of democracy in Australia was ‘absurd’. Serle points to ‘the long-standing democratic movements in New South Wales and South Australia, especially as expressed in opposition to transportation and in the challenge to Wentworth’s draft constitution’ as indicative of prior democratic sentiment and victories.

    Serle might also have referred to long standing commitment to democracy of key players in the colonial Office, and their associates, many of whom were followers of Jeremy Bentham, and important theorist of democracy.

    1. Whitlam unveiling the restored Eureka Flag, Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, 3rd December, 1973 at “The Eureka Centre Website,” available from https://pmtranscripts.pmc.gov.au/release/transcript-3092%5D, quoted in David Miller, “The Eureka Tradition,” available from http://www.hereticpress.com/Dogstar/Logos/Hanrahan/THE_EUREKA_TRADITION.pdf%5D

    2. Leigh Duncan, Madden and Tynan, Imagining Australia – Ideas for Our Future (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2004), 21

    3. Serle, The Golden Age, 180-5

    Jeremy Bentham and Australian Colonial Constitutions: https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/handle/11343/108748

  42. Mother Lode

    It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references

    My, how our contemporaries would snicker at allowing such archaic practices to interrupt the creative flow.

  43. cuckoo

    Somewhere in A Clockwork Orange Alex, who lives in a kind of Sovietized Britain, refers to the movies on at the local cinema. These are clearly agit-prop indoctrination tracts dressed up as westerns, melodramas, etc. I think of his words whenever I make the mistake of catching sight of any ABC or BBC ‘drama’ or ‘comedy’. With every passing year it becomes clearer that, for the makers of these shows, any actual entertainment value is strictly secondary to the chance to indoctrinate viewers about the desirable appearance of society. Here you can insert any of my earlier rants about feisty (yawn) female protagonists and interracial same-sex couples in what used to be the comfy-cardigan shows.

    The people who make these shows know it’s not true, and we know it’s not true. And they know we know, and we know they know. And they know we know they know, which is when it gets to the level of propaganda. Even Call the Midwife, set in 1950s Britain, has a lipstick lesbian plot line, or at least is promoted in a way to make us think it does (Two dolly birds in a clinch, seated on a bed,under a very prominent crucifix, tearfully proclaiming their devotion to each other).

  44. Rob

    “A nightmarish future created by combining the surveillance state, big data, intelligent algorithms and automated drones is being created. It will combine aspects of Huxley and Orwell’s dystopian visions” more at the link

  45. BorisG

    had any of you guys actually lived under a totalitarian rule, you would cherish the present a lot more.

  46. Boris, ya bonehead, we are trying to avoid having to endure it. We don’t wanna be the dumbfucks who didn’t see it coming.

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