Aldous Huxley’s warning against a ‘Brave New World’

The prescient English writer and philosopher, Aldous Huxley, was through the 1930’s, a keen critical observer of the rise of political extremism, coupled with the irresistible progress of modern technology. Self-exiled in California, in 1938, for health and political reasons, he lamented the spread of fascist ideology across Europe and the absence of pacifist solutions to the imminent threat of a world conflagration. In March 1946, a few months after the end of the worst conflict ever, he published a short essay entitled ‘Science, Liberty and Peace’, in which he warned against the type of society likely to become the template for post-war Western democracies. He describes the tedious life of millions of workers sacrificed, since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, on the altar of productivity to the detriment of their own self-improvement and happiness. Far from concentrating power and wealth in the hands of a few, the author of the chilling ‘Brave New World’ (1932) points out that science is meant to serve the talents and aspirations of individuals as ‘the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; and the same is true of applied science. Human beings have certain physical and psychological wants.’

Huxley’s lifelong search for spiritual enlightenment, developed in his 1945 inspiring anthology ‘The Perennial Philosophy’, is analysed, here, in the context of a forthcoming society giving short shrift to this most fundamental aspect of human existence. In the name of ‘inevitable progress’, some scientists regard it as their duty to aim for the total control of human experience as if an exhaustive account of reality could only be measured and quantified in scientific language such as statistical analysis. This one-sided vision of a world eventually run by technology is, for Huxley, a harbinger of doom as the political and social consequences of this ‘nothing-but’ philosophy leads to the ‘widespread indifference to the values of human personality and human life.’ Written seventy years ago, Huxley’s essay remains topical with its plea for a world in which scientists would oppose any kind of arms race and would concentrate their efforts on feeding the poorest inhabitants of the planet and where self-sufficiency would be encouraged through more community spirit and freedom from over powering central governments. Huxley continued his campaign against the growing threats to individual freedom in ‘Brave New World Revisited’, published in 1958.

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