Russell Hayes's Reviews > Brave New World

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
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Dec 23, 09

bookshelves: classics, favorites
Read in December, 2009

Generally I'm skeptical of modern novels written by drug-using spiritualists that critique American capitalism, but this book turned out to be surprisingly good. It was both enjoyable and thought-provoking, as any piece of literature should be.

In this brave new world, the government controls its citizens by providing them with seemingly endless pleasure. The citizens are not encouraged to think for themselves, but rather are engineered believing that they are just another (replaceable) cog in the system. In addition, they are forbidden to know about history (the ordinary citizens have never heard of Jesus or Shakespeare.)

To me, this all sounds like modern secular education. Indeed, "secularism" literally means living within the bounds of this age. The characters in the brave new world have totally forgotten the past, and do not even consider the future (they view death with apathy as long as their bodies help fuel the incinerator.) For them, there is no transcendent reality or truth; there is only the physical world. In such a world, there can be no human dignity or individualism. If we all emerged from slime, how can we have any dignity? How can it matter whether we are free or enslaved? How can a creature who evolved from nothing, which has its ultimate end as nothing, assume any sort of dignity? How can there be any intrinsic beauty in the universe? (the characters do not "love" but rather the men can at just about any time "have" a woman if they feel like it.)

This all culminates in the conversation between the Mustapha Mond, the dictator of Western Europe, and Savage, who is brought to London from an Indian reservation. (Ironically, the Savage is more civilized than the Londoners--he at least has read Shakespeare.) Mond tells him that old plays like Othello, while intrinsically beautiful and objectively better than the sensual plays of the civilized world, are banned because he wants the people to like the new things, not the old things. Thus, everything in the past is necessarily more barbaric and less evolved, while the here-and-now is by definition more advanced and thus preferred (a bit odd, if in the future everything ultimately will become nothing!)

The scenario envisioned in this book is the logical end of naturalism and evolutionism, and is rapidly becoming reality in Europe, and to a lesser extent, America. As the "Controller" explained in the book, whenever the masses, who are uneducated in the classics and the "great ideas," seize political power, only physical pleasure and "happiness" matter; transcendent concepts like truth and beauty are relegated to the sidelines. "Happiness is a hard master... A much harder master... than truth." Perhaps unless impossibly "conditioned" as they were in this book, people cannot find true happiness in pleasure--if they seek it incessantly it will only lead to misery. Only by thoughtfully pursuing truth and beauty can anyone obtain lasting happiness.
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