In Hindsight:
Brave New World Revisited

But liberty, as we all know, cannot flourish in a country that is permanently
on a war footing, or even a near war footing. Permanent crisis justifies permanent
control of everything and everybody by the agencies of the central government.
Aldous Huxley

We live in interesting times. In 1958, reflecting on "Brave New World" (written in 1931) in "Brave New World Revisited", Aldous Huxley offers some perspectives that bear renewed consideration today.

Mr. Huxley writes:

Under the Nazis enormous numbers of people were compelled to spend an enormous amount of time marching in serried ranks from point A to point B and back to again point A." He goes on to quote Hermann Rauschning: "This keeping of the whole population on the march seemed to be an enormous waste of time and energy. Only much later... was there revealed in it a subtle intention... Marching diverts men's thoughts. Marching kills thought. Marching makes an end of individuality. Marching is the indispensable magic stroke performed in order to accustom the people to a mechanical, quasi-ritualistic activity until it becomes second nature.

Fast forward to a future hypothetical society, with an unbridled governing elite possessing technology of which Hitler could only dream. Object: Empire building. Obstacle: A traditionally free thinking, self-willed people, unaccustomed to marching orders, and largely unsympathetic to hegemonic ambitions. Oblique approach to the problem: A shrewd substitute for marching, which people are encouraged to undertake of their own volition.

In these days of "no child shall be left behind", adults are encouraged by government officials--not to read, study, or engage in debate; but to exercise. The life of the mind is almost irrelevant to the purposes of government nannying. No, not irrelevant; the fact that your library or book purchasing records or other activities might be investigated could be a discouraging factor. If you choose to peruse, don't abuse the privilege; you might find yourself doing laps in a detention camp, or explaining your reading habits to uncongenial agents. If government wanted to be a good nanny, we'd get tax rebates for buying educational materials as well as paying 'sin taxes'. This isn't Mary Poppins with her spoonful of sugar; it's more like Mommie Dearest.

It's perturbing to have a bureaucratic administration currently so intent on our fitness and health. We have our marching orders; but it is in the name of public health and for the cause of our own fitness that we march, jog, or dance. This concept of public health has evolved into a presupposition that our bodies and lives are essentially community property. Not long ago, that idea would have been insulting and obscene. How quickly we moved from "accepting ourselves" to becoming overweight pariahs pumping out the public purse when the political climate changed. Once official sanction is given to harass a 'lifestyle choice', there are no shortage of standard-bearers ready to oblige, even to muscle the market into complicity. No doubt some smokers would willingly pay double fare for the freedom to smoke on long airline flights, if it were an option. Oh, that would be discrimination, wouldn't it?

Despite all the huff and puff about junk food, the house that is likely to blow down isn't food choice. It may cost more to make unapproved choices, but they will still be available. The big bad wolf will be delighted to rake in the profits from dietary malfeasance; eat all the french fries your budget will withstand. Just be prepared to jog them off again like a good citizen when the weight inspectors come calling to measure your person against the official body mass index. Then again, you may just have to make the appointment with an authorized physician yourself, or lose 'benefits' like your own social security dollars.

Describing Hitler's strategy for dispensing effective propaganda, Mr. Huxley says:

The demagogic propagandist must... be consistently dogmatic. All his statements are made without qualification. There are no grays in his picture of the world; everything is either diabolically black or celestially white. In Hitler's words, the propagandist should adopt 'a systematically one-sided attitude towards every problem that has to be dealt with.' He must never admit that he might be wrong or that people with a different point of view might be even partially right. Opponents should not be argued with; they should be attacked, shouted down, or of they become too much of a nuisance, liquidated.

Does any of this sound unnervingly contemporaneous or familiar? Please remember, the subject Aldous Huxley is discussing here is Hitler's methodology. The flags waving in this picture bore the Swastika. Any resemblance to other persons or institutions, living or dead, may or may not be coincidental, and the reader is presumed to be responsible for his or her own conclusions.

Huxley quotes Hermann Rauschning in a different vein:

Hitler... has a deep respect for the Catholic church and the Jesuit order; not because of their Christian doctrine, but because of the 'machinery' they have elaborated and controlled, their hierarchical system, their extremely clever tactics, their knowledge of human nature and their wise use of human weaknesses in ruling over believers.

Certainly the state has benefited from the expertise of the church over the centuries, and knows that in order to perfect its own 'machinery' it needs true believers. Toward that end, control over public education is a tremendous boon. An opportunity to instill devotion to the state and a hierarchical system into individuals from childhood could never be rivaled by an equivalent effort applied toward enlistment of adults for the cause.

In the chapter entitled "Education For Freedom", Huxley writes:

Big Government and Big Business already possess, or very soon will possess, all the techniques for mind-manipulation described in 'Brave New World', along with others of which I was too unimaginative to dream.... [T]hey will (unless prevented) make use of all the mind-manipulating techniques at their disposal and will not hesitate to reinforce these methods of non-rational persuasion by economic coercion and threats of physical violence. If this kind of tyranny is to be avoided, we must begin without delay to educate our children for freedom and self-government.

He ends the book with these words:

"Perhaps the forces that menace freedom are too strong to be resisted for very long. It is still our duty to do whatever we can to resist them."

Amen.

Menu