A dystopian novel about an “ideal” society gone wrong
Dystopian books and movies are very common now, but that wasn’t the case when Aldous Huxley published Brave New World in 1932. The author imagines what a futuristic society could be like where science has taken a strange turn and humans are genetically modified and conditioned to fit into pre-determined roles in society. It is a profound book considering the time it was written, prior to WWII, with fascism, communism, and other authoritarian governments on the rise. This book pokes at those governments and also people with utopian beliefs about capitalism, consumption, and materialism.
I found the following G.K. Chesterton quote interesting. It is from his review of the book.
After the Age of Utopias came what we may call the American Age, lasting as long as the Boom. Men like Ford or Mond seemed to many to have solved the social riddle and made capitalism the common good. But it was not native to us; it went with a buoyant, not to say blatant optimism, which is not our negligent or negative optimism. Much more than Victorian righteousness, or even Victorian self-righteousness, that optimism has driven people into pessimism. For the Slump brought even more disillusionment than the War. A new bitterness, and a new bewilderment, ran through all social life, and was reflected in all literature and art. It was contemptuous, not only of the old Capitalism, but of the old Socialism. Brave New World is more of a revolution against Utopia than against Victoria.G.K. Chesterton, The Illustrated London News, 4 May 1935
Science fiction and fantasy genres can take a big gamble when trying to predict future technological advances. While some parts of the book aren’t possible based on what we know now about science, other parts are chilling at how accurate Huxley was in his predictions. He also had a clear grasp of how propaganda can be used to control the population. It’s the same basic blueprint that all dictators use.
Nature vs Nurture – while the science isn’t 100% accurate in this book, the author does do a good job of highlighting the different ways that our genetics and environment affect how we develop and interact in society.
Freedom vs Security – what is the most important thing in society? In the “Community, Identity, Stability” slogan of the futuristic world government, security and stability come at the cost of a loss of freedom. In a technical sense, people are still able to make choices, but most of their lives have been decided for them.
Hedonism – is true happiness found in the pursuit of the maximum amount of pleasure? Is the goal of life to be constantly stimulated in every way, without time to think, reflect, or re-evaluate what we’re doing or why we’re doing it? This book is at least partly a satirical take on the promise of utopia through materialism and capitalism.
I liked this book more than I thought I would. It’s an easy read. The main suggestion I have is that it’s best to read this book in a more lighthearted manner. It is poking fun at a few things that people at that time were claiming to be the next savior of humanity – socialism, capitalism, hedonism and even science. But it also rings true in our era as we are still grappling with these questions and issues.
On the negative side, there are some plot holes and lack of character development that may annoy some readers. My biggest complaint is the ending. I was disappointed that he chose to end the book the way he did.
Overall, I think this is an interesting book and definitely recommend it.
Find the book on Amazon here.