In 1949, Aldous Huxley, the writer of the dystopian novel Brave New World (1931), wrote a letter to George Orwell. Curiously, Huxley taught French to Orwell during his school days. In 1949, Orwell published a groundbreaking work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, which would eventually become the most celebrated work in the English language.
More importantly, it introduced its readers to various ways authoritarian tendencies flow through societies. Orwell had sent a copy of his book to Huxley. Despite his deteriorating eyesight, Huxley read Orwell’s book carefully and reflected on the haunting future envisioned in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
In his letter, Huxley praised Orwell for depicting the future accurately and discussed the role of ruling elites and their deep-rooted visions of control of entire human societies.
Aldous Huxley, George Orwell and their Dystopian Novels
In Brave New World, Huxley’s futuristic World State discusses how elites amuse the masses (who are environmentally engineering into an intelligence-based social hierarchy) into submission. Huxley’s dystopian novel envisions a future world where people are conditioned from birth to accept their social rules, and the drug “Soma” helps keep people docile and content.
In contrast, Orwell’s Oceania thinks of the masses as being in a loop, where everything is controlled—even thinking. Set in a dystopian future where a totalitarian regime led by the Party and its leader, Big Brother, control almost all aspects of people’s lives.
While Huxley and Orwell discuss similar themes, their approaches are starkly different. Huxley’s Brave New World thinks of ways in which dangers to individual freedom can be bypassed through pleasure and distraction.
George Orwell thinks of ways governments use information to control societies. These dystopian writings highlight the potential dangers of unchecked power and thought-control mechanisms. Moreover, both these works are brilliant, whose reflections are lived experiences of today.
Read Aldous Huxley’s full letter to George Orwell here:
21 October, 1949
Dear Mr. Orwell,
It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals — the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution — the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual’s psychology and physiology — are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf.
The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.
Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud’s inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.
Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war — in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
Thank you once again for the book.
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