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brave new worldWe were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy did not, 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 by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another—slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in 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.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley 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, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us.

Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us. This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.

This is an excerpt  from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (Kindle Locations 239-255). Books on the topic of this essay may be found at The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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3 replies to this post
  1. This using of Huxley and Orwell to discuss the future has been on the mind of some leftists for quite a while now. A life of being entertained seems to be the biggest of sense of entitlement in America. It both reassures us that, regardless of reality, things are ok and it is a source of escape so that we can avoid looking into the foreseeable future. It seems that at a certain level, the more we have the less we are able to cope.

  2. Having read Huxley and Orwell, I have for some time desired to read this work. However, it has not been my lot to do so, thus far. The ironic spirit of the first two works has been subverted to serve the forces that are hard at work to undermine the whole of civilization, seeking to deliver all of mankind into the hands of a conspiracy that is not to be believed. Just consider the latest today, an item on Fox News no less: the celebration of a Satanic Black Mass at Harvard University, and the only noted protestors are those led by the Archdiocese of Boston. It has been observed on the news that Harvard would never allow a burning of the Koran on campus. Why? Due to the consequences. The real issue here, however, is this: Whatever happened to the heirs of the Puritans and the Pilgrims? Whatever happened to the respect for the Bible, the real key to the nation in which we live? The morals as well the supernatural and other elements are denigrated by that school as well as the other Ivy League academics. Funny, how we should be offered the option of the Catholic Church or the Satanic Black Mass. Could it be that folks who doubt truth will wind up believing anything?

  3. In comparing Nineteen Eighty Four and Brave New World, we are nor comparing like to like. Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty Four as a commentary on contemporary society, not a prediction of the future (Orwell was going to name his book “Nineteen Forty Eight” but his publishers persuaded him to change it). The author of Brave New World, on the other hand, examined contemporary social trends and predicted where they would lead (with surprising accuracy).

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