Review: Brave New World

I read Huxley’s 1932 masterpiece a few decades ago, but I got the chance to read it again recently, and I found it to be just as compelling and sad as the first time. On the other hand, I didn’t really like the ending, which I’ll also discuss.

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: Orwell’s 1984 came out 17 years later, after WWII and after the horrors of totalitarian Nazi and Soviet regimes were well known. Both books should be required reading (especially these days) rather than substitutes for each other. Read this short comparison.

Next, let’s indeed focus on Huxley’s plot, i.e., a world where people are engineered into castes (from superior alphas down to subhuman epsilons) in a bid to maximize productive efficiencies (a tragic foreshadowing of Nazi and Soviet policies, but also a rebuke of eugenics, which was popular in the “free world”). Children are “decanted” rather than born; they do not have parents and are brainwashed away from emotional connections in favor of reliability. As adults, they spew propaganda (I gagged several times while reading this… as it reminded me of “fake news,” “Taiwan is China,” “heteronormative,” and other empty dogwhistles that displace actual listening, debate and nuance) as they move from one “maximum consumption” activity to the next (because GDP is all that matters).

The deity in this book is Henry Ford, which is why people say “in Ford’s name” all the time. Ford was a good choice.

After establishing the setting, Huxley introduces a “savage” who was born to a mother, who was allowed to read (Shakespeare, by happy chance), and who is thrilled to be allowed to leave his reservation for the “Brave New World” that he had heard so much about. The phrase is from Shakespeare’s Tempest:

O wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ‘t.

Spoiler alert — it does not go well for the “savage” in this Brave New World, mostly because those creatures are not goodly, but also because of a culture clash between “inefficient” human instinct and “efficient” scientific scientistic planning — which Hayek clearly critiqued in a less creative, but theoretically robust manner in 1945.

As to the ending, I found it a bit of a let down, with too much violence and not enough grace in terms of how the savage would or could handle the clash between his vision and the reality of a “brave new world.” But other may disagree, and the ending does not detract from the book’s critique of the planners who seek human perfection or our willingness to “drink the kool aid” in a quest to fit in. FIVE STARS.

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

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