Blueprint or Satire?

Despite its firm dystopian (or at least anti-utopian) credentials, there is at times a detectable ambivalence in Brave New World as if, just occasionally, the author is beguiled by the world he has created. And indeed this may be closer to the truth than the author would later have liked to admit.

Despite his dislike for Wells, the Huxley of the 1920s and '30s had a certain amount in common with the man. Like many 'visionaries' of the time, they both shared a suspicion of parliamentary democracy, and felt that society would be in a better state if tightly organised into a hierarchy of mental ability, and controlled by an intellectual élite. This sort of thinking often went hand in hand with the Eugenics movement which found much popularity across the political spectrum in the first half of the Twentieth Century, before Hitler's Germany exposed the stark reality of the biological manipulation of a population. Wells is often accused of being a proponent of the movement, although he actually wrote against its practises, preferring instead social reforms. However, Brave New World's World State has no need for social reforms, because it is a biologically perfect society. Here, as with many of his views, he was not always consistent throughout his life, delivering the memorable quote: 'these black and brown and dirty-white and yellow people who do not come into the needs of the new efficiency, they will have to go". Although it engineers its population primarily through post-fertilisation biological and social conditioning, it is clear that the Alphas, Betas and so on are pre-selected on a genetic level. As the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning says to a student: "Hasn't it occurred to you that an Epsilon embryo must have an Epsilon environment as well as an Epsilon heredity?" And Bokanovsky's process of 'budding' multiple individual from a single embryo is essentially a process of human cloning. Clearly the shadow of Eugenics (and more) haunts Brave New World, and it touched Huxley's own views. Though he may have been embarrassed to mention it in the 1946 forword to the novel, in the early 1930s Huxley was on record as, if not a supporter of Eugenics, then at least someone who was interested in the results it might be able to achieve. In a talk broadcast in January 1932 on BBC Radio he discussed the possible use of Eugenics as an instrument of social control, and saw it as a solution to the "rapid deterioration of the whole West European Stock". "It may be," he said, "that circumstances will compel the humanist to resort to scientific propaganda, just as they may compel the liberal to resort to dictatorship. Any form of order is better than chaos." The message is one of necessary evil, and Brave New World poses the question: when does a necessary evil undermine the intended good?

It was the question of stability that interested Huxley, just as it interests the World State: "'Stability,' said the Controller, 'stability. No civilization without social stability. No social stability without individual stability... Stability. The primal and the ultimate need. Stability.'" Back in the real world, the Wall Street Crash of October 1929 had sent the world spiralling into economic collapse and, by 1931, Britain appeared to be on the brink of chaos. After visiting areas of mass-unemployment, and witnessing the run on sterling, the abandonment of the gold standard, and the increasingly ineffectual posture and dither of Parliament, Huxley concluded that it was time to abandon democracy and submit to rule "by men who will compel us to do and suffer what a rational foresight demands". He advocated widespread propaganda (what is this, if not a form of conditioning?) and the implementation of a national plan of the kind that had been used in the Soviet Union. In 1928, when the first Five Year Plan commenced in Russia, Huxley had written 'To the Bolshevist idealist, Utopia is indistinguishable from a Ford factory.' There, it seems, was a seed for Brave New World.

Indeed, inspiration for the novel came from sources other than communism. World Controller Mustapha Mond is named after Sir Alfred Mond, Chairman of Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd. Huxley visited one of Sir Alfred's factories just before he began writing Brave New World and was much impressed by the 'ordered universe... in the midst of the larger world of planless incoherence.' And Mustapha Mond, a controlling, censoring totalitarian, is given a largely sympathetic rendering in his encounter with Bernard, Helmholtz and John, as he explains, with "good-humoured intelligence" that all the evils of the World State are for the greater good.

Indeed, the idea of continual happiness in a world where all problems can be solved with a pill, where no-one gets old, where death is not seen as a tragedy, where you can have sex whenever and with whoever you please, can seem at times beguiling. Even after all the pain that the civilised world puts

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