Huxley

The other brilliant dystopian of this early period, Aldous Huxley, also came from a prominent British family. The great grandson of T.H. Huxley on his father’s side and the grand nephew of Matthew Arnold on his mother’s side, Aldous Huxley came from a family of distinguished thinkers in the arts and the sciences. Huxley’s masterpiece, Brave New World, did not appear until 1932, however, a full twenty-five years after Lord of the World. Indeed, Huxley was only nineteen when Benson died. Once again, Huxley offered a relatively prosperous and sanitized dystopia in his book. An interwar dystopia, it remains innocent of the Holocaust Camps still to come and the Gulags already in progress but still little known in 1931 and 1932. These horrors would inform the gritty, grimy dystopias of Orwell and Atwood, but Benson and Huxley still hoped for a clinically sanitary dystopia.

As with so many important dystopians from England, Huxley hovered around and interacted with many of the various intellectuals, artists, writers, and scholars of his day. He never sought artistic isolation, but debated ceaselessly with a community of literary men and women. He critiqued vital figures such as Christopher Dawson, and they him. Not without some legitimate concern, Orwell feared that Huxley belonged to a group of disciples of the late, martyred poet and literary critic, T.E. Hulme. In December 1943 he labeled these Hulme-ites “neo-reactionary,” noting that they were as influential as they were intelligent, talented, and persuasive. Strangely, he continued, obviously perplexed, they somehow incorporated the seemingly non-cohesive elements of Catholicism, conservatism, and anarchism into their own works and ideas. Among their number were T.S. Eliot, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Aldous Huxley.1 Certainly, Huxley served as an important citizen of the English republic of letters of the twentieth century.

Not surprisingly, then, Huxley’s essays on a variety of subjects influenced many throughout the entire century and continue to do so to this present day. An exploration of just two issues important to Huxley reveals much about him. First, he worried deeply about the rise of propaganda in his own day and age, seeing it as a means to dehumanize society, to politicize and manipulate it. In this, of course, he echoes sentiments and arguments expressed by such diverse figures as Walter Lippman in America and J.R.R. Tolkien in Oxford. Propagandists were, he lamented, legion.2

Additionally, time and its mechanization by industry intrigued him. As we’ll see throughout this short book, chronology in its various forms plays a significant role for each dystopian—its neglect, its misuse, as well as its natural powers. Huxley, though, feared that time had been made our tyrant. The issue of modern time, he argued, dated only back to the beginning days of the United States and the rise of industrialism. With the rise of the machine, man embraced a minute, specific form of artificial time, readily relegating the time of Christian liturgy and the seasons to a superstitious past.

This brings us to a seeming paradox. Acutely aware of the smallest constituent particles of time – of time, as measured by clock-work and train arrivals and the revolutions of machines – industrialized man has to a great extent lost the old awareness of time in its larger divisions. The time of which we have knowledge is artificial, machine-made time. Of natural, cosmic time, as it is measured out by sun and moon, we are for the most part almost wholly unconscious. Pre-industrial people know time in its daily, monthly and seasonal rhythms. They are aware of sunrise, noon and sunset, of the full moon and the new; of equinox and solstice; of spring and summer, autumn and winter. All the old religions, including Catholic Christianity, have insisted on this daily and seasonal rhythm. Pre-industrial man was never allowed to forget the majestic movement of cosmic time.3

In effect, though, by making the exchange, man merely enslaves himself to a new machine, losing a larger perspective on the cosmos in the process.4

He also, of course, had numerous connections to the American counterparts of the English humanists. He had spent time in New Mexico as a young man, and he knew Americans such as Ray Bradbury well. After reading the latter’s The Martian Chronicles, he told the young author in person that he was a poet. It would be hard to exaggerate how important such praise was to Bradbury who relished fame and recognition. Russell Kirk thought highly of him as well. In one article published early in the history of National Review, the young conservative raved:

Mr. Huxley’s theological suggestions, though very briefly expressed, give sanction to both classical and Christian ideas of heaven, hell, and purgatory. It is possible, he argues that most human souls after death, cannot endure the Clear Light of ‘the Divine Ground,’ the Godhead; and so they drift back into the twilight ghost-realm. . . . When time has a stop, the soul lives still; but whether that mysterious existence is a torment or a blessing depends upon the combination of spiritual discipline with that grace which passes understanding. Only the dogmatic old-fangled mechanist and materialist will think Mr. Huxley’s speculations silly and profitless.5

Throughout his writing career, Kirk continued to praise Huxley as one of the greatest and most important minds and writers upholding the western ideal of imaginative thinking. Huxley found fame in the 1960s as well, but from a very different crowd. Just as they embraced the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, so the counterculture co-opted much of Huxley’s work, especially that on the use of drugs as a means of attaining spiritual enlightenment. In rock culture, no one offered more explicit praise of Huxley than did two Californians, Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek, who founded a band named after the English author’s The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell (1963).6

brave-new-worldThough Huxley wrote and published a near avalanche of non-fiction and fiction, his masterpiece was his 1932 book, Brave New World, a title taken from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. As with other early dystopians, he envisions a society that gleams rather than one that collapses under its own grime. It is worth remembering that this book came before the major revelations of Soviet atrocities and before the National Socialists even claimed national power in Germany. His dystopia is a world five hundred years into our future, governed by consumerism, collectivism, caste systems, eugenics, and soft drugs. Everyone has been so modified through breeding selection and through mental and psychological conditioning that a secret police and omnipotent, intolerant, jackbooted state is almost unnecessary. The men and women of this world are no longer men and women. They have been treated as cattle and as experiments. They are something simultaneously below and above humanity. The society is neither capitalist, nor socialist, nor fascist but an amalgamation of all three. Only 10,000 names exist, and, tellingly, those names revolve around combinations of famous advocates of efficiency, immediate gratification, and totalitarianism: Henry Ford; V.I. Lenin; Benito Mussolini; and Karl Marx being the most conspicuous. Indeed, much of the story revolves around Benito, atypically for the Brave New World of immediate gratification and no emotional attachments, falling in love with Lenina Crowne. In the Manichean world of the early 1930s, a Lenina and Benito would have been a wildly interesting juxtaposition. As Huxley so well understood, little difference existed between the philosophies and realities of the two dictators.

As with the totalitarian Mason-Communists of Benson’s world, the rulers of Brave New World find it necessary to perform secular liturgies. As with all liturgies, some are sublime while others are outrageously elaborate. Most importantly, everything has been dated as AF: “After Ford” and the ruler is known as “His Fordship.” When Henry Ford’s name is mentioned, all make “the sign of the T.”7 The leaders of society, the “Alpha Pluses,” participate in a group orgy periodically, an attempt to bring all individuals into a collective body.

Round they went, a circular procession of dancers, each with hands on the hips of the dancer preceding, round and round, shouting in unison, stamping to the rhythm of the music with their feet, beating it, beating it out with hands on the buttocks in front; twelve pairs of hands beating as one; as one, twelve buttocks slabbily resounding. Twelve as one, twelve as one. “I hear Him, I hear Him coming.” The music quickened; faster beat the feet, faster, faster fell the rhythmic hands. And all at once a great synthetic bass boomed out the words which announced the approaching atonement and final con-summation of solidarity, the coming of the Twelve-in-One, the incarnation of the Greater Being.8

The religious symbolism is blatant and obvious, the transference of sacred to secular transparent.

So cleverly conceived and executed, Brave New World could be a bizarre science fiction story, a sociological fairy nightmare, or a Swiftian modest proposal. In it, though, as Huxley himself regretted later, he presents only two possibilities for life, the ultra eugenicized gleaming consumerist world and the savage pagan world. In a 1946 preface to the book, after the terrors of the Second World War and the revelations of the Gulag and Holocaust camps, the author admitted his own naivety fifteen years earlier. Were he to tamper with the book, he noted, he would have included a third perspective, what we might call a heterodox Christian Humanist perspective, or what Orwell called neo-reactionary. As Huxley wrote, a third alternative would have been had a decentralized economy based on the works of Henry George, a science in the service of humanity, and a religion as “the conscious and intelligent pursuit of man’s Final End, the unitive knowledge of the immanent Tao or Logos, the transcendent Godhead or Brahmin.”9 In this, he paralleled and probably drew upon the works of Christopher Dawson and C.S. Lewis. For the first edition, Huxley had already offered a quote from the famous Soviet dissident and humanist, Nicholas Berdyaev, so his move toward some form of Christian Humanism is perhaps not as surprising as it might have been.

1 George Orwell, As I Please, ed. by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (2000), 63.

2 Aldous Huxley, “”Writers and Readers” in The Olive Tree and Other Essays (London, ENG: Chatto and Windus, 1936), 3.

3 Huxley, “Time and the Machine,” 123-124.

4 Huxley, “Time and the Machine,” in The Olive Tree, 122-124.

5 Russell Kirk, “Via Mescalin to Swedenborg,” National Review 2 (August 1, 1956): 24.

6 See John Densmore, Riders on the Storm: My Life with Jim Morrison and The Doors reissued (Delta, 2009). Interestingly enough, Morrison makes an appearance twice in this Imaginative Conservative Guide. He also talked very briefly with the protagonist of Stephen King’s The Stand, though his very presence “creeped” him out.

7 A few years ago, I had the misfortune of attending Catholic Mass at a parish in Springfield, Missouri. The modern architecture went beyond tacky and toward the diabolic. Rather than the cross, the architect employed the “T” throughout the building. I was, needless to write, rather horrified by such a grotesque perversion of sacred space. In my own uncharitable thoughts, I wondered in what level of Hell Dante would have him (or her) reside.

8 Huxley, Brave New World, 56.

9 Huxley, “Foreword” to the 1946 edition, Brave New World, viii-ix.

This is part of a series on dystopian literature. Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.

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