We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited byÂ OrwellianÂ nightmares.
But we had forgotten that alongsideÂ Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling:Â Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated,Â HuxleyÂ andÂ OrwellÂ did not prophesy the same thing.Â OrwellÂ warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But inÂ Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.
WhatÂ OrwellÂ feared were those who would ban books. WhatÂ HuxleyÂ feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.Â OrwellÂ feared those who would deprive us of information.Â HuxleyÂ feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism.Â OrwellÂ feared that the truth would be concealed from us.Â HuxleyÂ feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.Â OrwellÂ feared we would become a captive culture.Â HuxleyÂ feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. AsÂ HuxleyÂ remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984,Â OrwellÂ added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short,Â OrwellÂ feared that what we fear will ruin us.Â HuxleyÂ feared that what we desire will ruin us.
This book is about the possibility thatÂ Huxley, notÂ Orwell, was right.