Aldous Huxley on Government

I’m never fully sure whether the man is advocating his ‘Utopia’ or not; by the sounds of it he would have been the first to admit that he changed his views more often than he changed his socks. However, I have stumbled on a short passage where I agree, more or less, with his every syllable.  The quote below is from Huxley’s 1946 Foreword to Brave New World:

But meanwhile we are in the first phase of what is perhaps the penultimate revolution. Its next phase may be atomic warfare, in which case we do not have to bother with prophecies about the future. But it is conceivable that we may have enough sense, if not to stop fighting altogether, at least to behave as rationally as did our eighteenth-century ancestors. The unimaginable horrors of the Thirty Years War actually taught men a lesson, and for more than a hundred years the politicians and generals of Europe consciously resisted the temptation to use their military resources to the limits of destructiveness or (in the majority of conflicts) to go on fighting until the enemy was totally annihilated. They were aggressors, of course, greedy for profit and glory; but they were also conservatives, determined at all costs to keep their world intact, as a going concern. For the last thirty years there have been no conservatives; there have only been nationalistic radicals of the right and nationalistic radicals of the left. The last conservatives statesman was the fifth Marquess of Lansdowne; and when he wrote a letter to The Times, suggesting that the First World War should be concluded with a compromise, as most of the wars of the eighteenth century had been, the editor of that once conservative journal refused to print it. The nationalistic radicals had their way,  with the consequences that we all know – Bolshevism, Fascism, inflation, depression, Hitler, The Second World War, the ruin of Europe and all but universal famine.

Assuming, then, that we are capable of learning as much from Hiroshima as our forefathers learned from Magdeburg, we may look forward to a period, not indeed of peace, but of limited and only partially ruinous warfare. During that period it may be assumed that nuclear energy will be harnessed to industrial uses. The result, pretty obviously, will be a series of economic and social changes unprecedented in rapidity and completeness. All the existing patterns of human life will be disrupted and new patterns will have to be improvised to conform with the nonhuman fact of atomic power. Procrustes in modern dress, the nuclear scientist will prepare the bed on which mankind must lie; and if mankind doesn’t fit – well, that will be just too bad for mankind. There will have to be some stretchings and a bit of amputation – the same sort of stretchings and amputations as have been going on ever since applied science really got into its stride, only this time they will be a good deal more drastic than in the past. These far from painless operations will be directed by highly centralised totalitarian governments. Inevitably so; for the immediate future is likely to resemble the immediate past, and in the immediate past rapid technological changes, taking place in a mass-producing economy and among a population predominantly propertyless, have always tended to produce economic and social confusion. To deal with confusion, power has been centralised and government control increased. It is probable that all the world’s governments will be more or less completely totalitarian even before the harnessing of atomic energy; that they will be totalitarian during and after the harnessing seems almost certain. Only a large-scale popular movement towards decentralisation and selfhelp can arrest the present tendency towards statism. At present there is no sign that such a movement will take place.

There is, of course, no reason why the new totalitarianisms should resemble the old. Government by clubs and firing squads, by artificial famine, mass imprisonment and mass deportation, is not merely inhumane (nobody cares much about that nowadays): it is demonstrably inefficient – and in an age of advanced technology, inefficiency is the sin against the Holy Ghost. A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and school-teachers.

Then he starts on about recreational drugs and sex…

4 responses to “Aldous Huxley on Government

  1. It is perfectly possible for most people (or at least most heads of households) to own property – their homes, their pension investments, and so on.

    Owning the means of production is another matter – although the technological changes (and they were valid technological changes – not some sort of statist conspiracy) that made factories overwhelmingly more efficient than small scale production may (in the fullness of time) be replaced by other technological changes (such as the nano technology that people have been going on for decades) that will sweep this away – only time will tell.

    Getting rid of large scale production and transport without some super technology is NOT a good idea – as Byran Ward-Perkins makes clear in his short book “The Fall of Rome: And The End Of Civilisation” (Clarendon Press 2005).

    On war – the wars for land and trading advantages of the late 17th and 18th centuries were largely absurd.

    As such people as J. Tucker (Dean of Gloucester) and Edmund Burke made clear (indeed as Sir Dudley North had made clear before them) even the winners lose such wars (the cost is greater than the gain). In short the thinking of Pitt the Elder (and co) is wrongheaded when it comes to trade, colonies and war.

    Ideological wars with “radicals” – nationalistic radicals (of “the right”) or Social Justice radicals (of “the left”)……

    Mr Huxley was quite correct – such wars are vastly worse (vastly more damaging) that the stupid wars for trading advantages (and a bit of land here and there) of the late 17th and 18th centuries.

    However, he is wrong in thinking that conservatives such as Lord L. were correct in their response to such threats.

    One should not treat a radical as if they were a conservative – and try and make a deal (a compromise) with them.

    The Keiser (indeed the German academic and political elite in general) was not really interested in civilised deals – and the German leader who came after him was even less interested in such deals (although he artfully pretended to be – in order to deceive).

    In facing an “armed doctrine” (as Edmund Burke put it) that seeks one’s destruction one must be as hard as they are – or be exterminated or enslaved.

    One can not (in the end) make lastly deals with such enemies – one can only be destroyed by them, or destroy them. As much as Sean might write articles denouncing me for pointing out this (rather basic and obvious) fact.

    I would even argue that there was something (to some extent) of the radical in Louis XIV (the Sun King) although his “armed doctrine” was rather crude – that he personally should rule everything (everywhere).

    There was little rational calculation of profit and loss in the thought of the Sun King (however much he may have regretted that on his death bed – when the consideration of a higher authority and being judged, loomed large in his thoughts).

    Pitt the Elder (and co) were (some decades later) getting their calculations wrong – people like the Sun King often are not calculating profit and loss at all (they have other interests).

  2. Well, I think Brave New World is a dystopia not a utopia; it is not a book of advocacy. The world he depicts is a world in which all meaning and humanity has been lost, and I think he very much feared that this was the world we were heading for when he wrote it.

  3. Well, I suppose I should to be honest and admit that up until about 5 years ago I had never heard of him. That was until somebody sent me a link to this following video clip of him being interviewed.

    I found the interview, and him, extremely interesting.

    It also did not escape my attention that there is nothing much on our televisions these days which match this kind of cerebral discussions about the bigger questions, about ideological movements, about the subversive elements that may be being used in the world today.

    The paranoid element within me thinks that this not exactly an accident. We all know and see what we get instead of this, whether it be celebrity obsessed garbage, sports, micromanagement of little issues such as parking fines or whatever else, and political panel shows that only churn out the mouthpieces that give the same cliché arguments or bursts of such stupidity of logic that you can’t believe it has been said.

    Perhaps as a consequence of this general lack of thing in modern society, or, at least, the lack of airing of it anyway, there generally seems to have been a great dumbing down of our so called “intellectuals” and indeed the wider public, the vast majority of whom I suspect would never get past the first two minutes without turning it off.

    We may have more TV channels than ever, more “coverage” than ever, but in a way, it is perhaps narrowing down the mind when it comes to those bigger aspects, narrowing down the debate, the discourse, the direction of things.

    I think his remarks about the use of television (and drugs) in the interview is quite prescient on this score. The recognition/alluding of people creating a system where people embrace slavery is very foresighted also.

  4. ‘Brave New World’ is of course a dystopian classic, but Aldous Huxley’s last book ‘Island’ is where he presents his utopian ideas, ideas hinted at in the foreword to BNW quoted above. Considering his vast knowledge, it is a bit surprising that he is so unrealistic in his imaginings of a better world.