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Orwell was, for his time, a well-travelled man. Born in British India, he worked in Burma, famously wrote about being a plongeur in Paris and then, in Homage to Catalonia, about the Spanish Civil War. And although he never visited Eastern Europe or the Soviet Union, his experience of the ruthlessness of the Communists in Spain alerted him to what was happening under Stalin. He had an extraordinary sense of political morality, in a way that a Marxist historian like Eric Hobsbawm never did. Orwell’s basis sense of decency alerted him to when something was rotten. He knew instinctively that Soviet Communism stank from the head down.

But Orwell didn’t know America. Huxley did; and this is what gives Brave New World its prophetic genius. While Orwell looked East, Huxley looked West. He first visited America in 1926 and it made a huge impression on the young writer, barely into his thirties. The literary critic, David Bradshaw, wrote, “The final section of [Huxley’s travel book] Jesting Pilate, published later that year, contains a gleeful execration of the gimcrack movies, bank-faced “pneumatic” flappers, “barbarous” jazz and unrelenting pop which Huxley had encountered in Los Angeles (“the City of Dreadful Joy”) . . .” This is why Huxley’s book seemed to anticipate the Sixties in a way that Orwell didn’t. He was fascinated by (and experimented with) drugs (“Soma”), sexuality and consumerism, just as Orwell was fascinated by poverty and sadism.

But there was something else about Brave New World that speaks to us almost a century after it was first published. Unlike Orwell, Huxley was hugely interested in science and technology. He came from one of the great English scientific families: his grandfather was “Darwin’s Bulldog”, T.H. Huxley; his brother was the evolutionary biologist, Sir Julian Huxley; and his half-brother, Sir Andrew Huxley, was a Nobel Prize-winning physiologist and biophysicist. In the 1946 foreword to Brave New World, Huxley wrote that the book’s theme “is not the advancement of science as such; it is the advancement of science as it affects human individuals”. What fascinated him was “the application to human beings of the results of future research in biology, physiology and psychology”.

The greatness of Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four was that they understood what was happening in the Soviet Union and Communist Eastern Europe. But this wasn’t a prediction of the future, it was an account of the Communist world at the time Orwell was writing. Hence the title: 1948 reversed. Huxley, however, used his interest in science to think about what a future society, based on scientific principles, might be like. It is a mix of science, eugenics and the new hedonistic world that he had glimpsed in California. That’s why he wasn’t interested in propaganda and Newspeak. It seemed so crude and unscientific. For Huxley, control in the future would be about genetics and conditioning, not newspapers.

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Mel Profit
March 23rd, 2017
1:03 PM
Herman is correct that Huxley's "totalitarian lite" is our present and probable future. But his musings about Trump's limited constituency are mistaken. For if, as he speculates, the dystopian future is driven by the substitution of humans by machines, then Trump's base of disposed and disenfranchised will only increase, leaving the two coasts as gated fortresses for an elite 1% fast on its way to becoming a half-percent or quarter percent. How does one employ 300 million people who cannot all be high tech entrepreneurs and engineers, investment bankers and hedge fund managers, nor all bartenders, burger flipper and dog walkers? Until we figure out how, Trumpian "populism" will have gale winds at its back

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