In high school, I went through a dystopian future phase. I read Orwell and Rand and loved them, but somehow Huxley’s Brave New World slipped through. It’s been recommended to me several times over the years. Well, I’m finally getting to it. And I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m only five chapters in, but I have to share some of my thoughts.
It’s unlikely I will be giving away too much of the plot. At this point in the book, the plot doesn’t interest me as much as the world. The world is excellently constructed and takes a different approach to the dystopian future. I enjoyed Orwell and tolerated Rand. They both wrote of oppressive, brutal, and authoritarian style regimes. Huxley’s world doesn’t, at this point, have a brutal regime. Instead, distraction and brainwashing are used to get people to submit. I feel as if Orwell’s 1984 is a critique of an authoritarian Communist/Socialist state. In my opinion, capitalistic democracies are more likely to progress to Huxley’s dystopia. I find Brave New World to be a more apt critique of the United States’ culture and future.
Huxley, like Rand and Orwell, critiques socialist and progressive philosophies of the early 1900s. However, Rand and Orwell criticize the authoritarian governments that they believed these philosophies would deploy. Huxley’s criticism is cultural. Rand and Orwell answer the question, “What kind of government would these philosophies need?” Huxley answers the question, “What kind of culture would these philosophies need?” I personally, Huxley’s question is far more interesting.
We live in a world that is heavily influenced by Christianity. It’s pervasive through our lives. People have names based on Christian saints. Our architecture and even our pejoratives have Christian roots. In Brave New World the influences are famous socialists, progressives, and industrialists from the turn of the century. The god of Brave New World isn’t Jesus, it’s Henry Ford. The premiere progressive industrialist from the 1900s. In the book, they chop the top off crosses to make them into T’s. In honor of Henry Ford’s Model T. The characters even use Ford’s name in vain. Saying “Oh, Ford!” instead of “Oh, Lord!” But my favorite part of the culture are the names. They’re all based on famous thinkers of the 1900s. Here are a few:
Benard Marx. The main character. A reference two famous socialists: Karl Marx and George Bernard Shaw. George Bernard Shaw is frequently a target of criticism from one of my favorite authors: G.K. Chesterton.
Lenina Crowne. The love interest. Lenina is a feminized version, Lenin. A reference to Vladimir Lenin. No idea about Crowne. Perhaps a reference to monarchies?
Benito Hoover. An old love interest of Lenina. Benito as in Benito Mussolini. And Hoover after the US president.
There are many more. I look forward to seeing how these characters develop. It will be telling on Huxley’s thoughts on the various thinkers. I am particularly interested in Benito Hoover. Neither Benito Mussolini nor Herbert Hoover were progressives. Benito Mussolini was an Italian fascist. And Herbert Hoover was a conservative who was critical of the new deal. Both men would be in conflict with many of the thought leaders of the 1900s. So far Benito Hoover is considered a very likable guy. A potentially telling fact. I hope to learn more about this character.
One last point I want to make as I’d this post to be somewhat succinct. The first chapter in the book takes place in a Central London Hatchery. Essentially a building where fetuses are raised and born. In the book they use cloning and fetal manipulation to create people of different classes/intelligence, and by extension worth. The fetuses improved by either giving them nutrients and light. Or poisoning them with alcohol and suffocating them to make them less intelligent. This is an allusion to eugenics. An idea that was very much a part of the Progressive Era. George Bernard Shaw was a known supporter.
I think starting in a eugenics-based birthing facility was a brilliant move by Huxley. He is critiquing the Progressive era. Time of the superman and the Model T. What better place to start than an assembly line for humans. Some of which were destined to be supermen. It is a logical combination of the two ideologies Huxley examines: Industrialism and Progressivism. It sets the tone for the book. And is an excellent display of 1900s progressive ideals and industrial methods.
I want to throw it one last comment. Organized eugenics was popular in the early 1900s. But a form of it exists today. Down Syndrome rates have been declining. This is due to a prenatal test for Down Syndrome. There is no cure for Down Syndrome. Instead, when there is a positive test for Down Syndrome the pregnancy is usually terminated(The Snopes article about it). Could this be spontaneously ordered eugenics? I don’t know, but I think it’s food for thought.