Orwellian and Huxleyan Dystopias


Journalist Christopher Hitchens, who himself published several articles on Huxley and a book on Orwell, noted the difference between the two texts in the introduction to his 1999 article “Why Americans Are Not Taught History”:

We dwell in a present-tense culture that somehow, significantly, decided to employ the telling expression “You’re history” as a choice reprobation or insult, and thus elected to speak forgotten volumes about itself.

By that standard, the forbidding dystopia of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four already belongs, both as a text and as a date, with Urand Mycenae, while the hedonist nihilism of Huxley still beckons toward a painless, amusement-sodden, and stress-free consensus.

Orwell’s was a house of horrors. He seemed to strain credulity because he posited a regime that would go to any lengths to own and possess history, to rewrite and construct it, and to inculcate it by means of coercion. Whereas Huxley rightly foresaw that any such regime could break because it could not bend. In 1988, four years after 1984, the Soviet Union scrapped its official history curriculum and announced that a newly authorized version was somewhere in the works.

This was the precise moment when the regime conceded its own extinction. For true blissed-out and vacant servitude, though, you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught.

Some years before that, the social critic Neil Postman had contrasted the worlds of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death:

  • What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.
  • Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much information that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism.
  • Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.
  • Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.
  • In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure.
  • In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.
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7 thoughts on “Orwellian and Huxleyan Dystopias

  1. A fascinating comparison!

    Regarding Huxley’s fear that our desire will ruin us – maybe not – Neil Carter wrote an interesting piece regarding the movie, “Groundhog Day,,” in which the movie’s main character, Phil Conners (played by Bill Murray) wakes up to discover that he must relive the same day over and over, with the one difference being that he can choose how each day would go for him with the full knowledge that whatever he chose to do with his day, there would be no consequences – each morning he would wake up to a fresh start.

    In the beginning, he follows Huxley’s worst predictions and gives in to his most hedonistic desires, but soon learns that those, in themselves, are not enough for him, that if he were trapped in a single looping day, he needed more to experience fulfillment, and so begins a journey of self improvement and social involvement (and yes, he gets the girl!).

    According to Carter: “About a decade after the movie’s release, the Museum of Modern Art produced a retrospective movie series about ‘film and faith,’ and they had good reason to choose this movie to lead the series. After polling 35 leading critics of literature, religion, and film, they found that this one movie came up so many times that the critics were fighting over who would get to write about it in the catalog.

  2. Flooding the media with fake and trivial “news” is a form of depriving of information. E.g., after Russian insurgents downed MH17 Boeing in Ukraine, Russian media has dumped so much BS “versions” and “expert opinions”, some of them very obviously fake, that, after a while, it was hard to believe any version, however plausible. The truth is simply drowned in a flood of lies and becomes indistinguishable from the lies.

  3. Dear Kuba,

    Is there any way of getting in touch with you? Also, are you Polish?

    Sincerely,

    Maks

  4. Apologies for the late reply, but I have been caught up with university entry formalities and didn’t have the time to properly enter correspondence. That is now out of the way and I am writing this to say how much this blog inspired me and aided in study of extremely wide-ranging subjects. Given this, I want to enquire whether there is any way in which I could contribute to this unique project?

    I am aware that this is a vague question and a long shot, but seeing as I am about to enter university study in areas very much in line with the contents of this blog it seems natural to me to try and extend my intellectual pursuits into the online, public domain.

    Do tell me what you think.

    Sincerely,

    Maks

  5. Dear Maks,

    No worries.
    I am always looking for people to join Knowledge Guild as contributors. So you are very welcome to apply.
    I have sent you an official invitation. Looking forward to hearing from you!

    Kind regards,

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