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Huxley to Orwell: contrasting dystopias

Huxley & Orwell

Huxley & Orwell

When George Orwell published his seminal work, Nineteen Eighty-Four, he asked his publishers to send a copy to Aldous Huxley, whose own dystopian masterpiece, Brave New World, had appeared 17 years earlier. Huxley’s subsequent letter to Orwell is a fascinating comparison of the two contrasting visions of “the ultimate revolution.”

Wrightwood. Cal.
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.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley


  1. Within the core plot lines, the consolidation of power divides humanity into masters and slaves – not unlike HG Wells in The Time Machine; predators and prey. This is ‘hidden’ from plain sight by controlled narratives of history, education, and governance. It is a diversionary play by which to manage or bear the life allotted – for stepping out of line will bring down as likely the hatred and invalidation of a mob of peers – as a result of manipulated opinions that may operate with hardly a little nudge here and there. Because we are in the main so powerless? Or because we in the main are entangled in suggestion by which we limit ourselves, undermine, ourselves, censor and mask our true presence, giving over to those who seem to do for us what we feel unable or unwilling and giving us the withheld position of criticizing and opposing when ‘leaders’ and ‘systems’ don’t provide what we in effect demand – largely to remain unconscious of our responsibilities as consciousness. The blame game is predicated on guilt and outsourcing as much as possible to anywhere and anyone else. Power-lust is guilt and fear driven – even in its supporting net-bot population.
    Ideas are the foundation of every definition, belief and thus of every action and response. But one cannot change an idea with a counter idea – for that only reinforces it. We have to recognize and OWN the ideas or definitions by which we live in order to be in the freedom to choose a different perspective where the old or current identity is found to be not representative of who you or indeed we feel and know ourself to be.
    An identity conformed by negatively conditioned ‘thinking’ operates denial of such a noticing – as a survival trait – and that has been a key role in power on Earth. Terror symbols and triggers regulate our ‘consciousness’. Even the ‘positive’ is generally framed in negative terms of ‘free from’, power that subdues evils and limitations, but all in the shadow of pain and death.
    The human conditioning is so deeply imprinted that challenging or questioning it is reserved for the deranged – for sanity is redefined by tacit agreement to be the adaptation to survive and prevail WITHIN the conditioning – not to abide in Reason regardless of the force of terror – or indeed of rage, shame or self-hatred.
    But I point to the ‘place’ no one wants to feel – but which is pervasive of our lives whether our ‘consciousness’ opens to notice and feel it or whether it is successfully repressed and projected away to ‘others’ who carry the past we don’t even recall though it recycles the same pattern regardless the form-changes.
    When psychological defences break down – there is a choice as to whether to give more power to externalized systems of control – so as to get back in role, or whether to wake up to wonder what is defending what – and against who. That is to be stirred to a curiosity and willingness to know that is not framed within the social or even human matrix – so much as a willingness to presence that is not fear-defined control. Now I know that when this rises for us we at first identify it with outer conditions which change, seem to betray us or are denied us by forces we cant control. And perhaps we give up on joy in being – there and then and believe love is weak, heretical or treacherous and at best a dream of a private wish that can never be – yet can never quite be utterly banished wither.
    There is every conditioning to ‘forget’ here and little to hold faith with what revealed itself true – regardless that our minds were then triggered into hate and fear – for though we mask it even to ourself – these ‘negative’ feelings move in us beneath the heavy overcoat of civilised masking.
    Finding ourself painted into a corner – at the end of the line – with no more wiggle room – at our wit’s end – so to speak – is the great opportunity amidst the inevitably generated crisis – because – whether we like it or not – we are meeting our ‘unconscious or denied feelings and the attempt to contain or control them is increasing DIS-order. …Shadow government and black ops – with ‘leaders’ and institutions preying on us or abandoning us – or finding themselves powerless to act amidst ever more complexity of paralysis and indebtedness. the whole thing is a mess – but yet we live this day. And we live this day. The dire consequences unfolding to awareness are disturbing. This disturbance can be used to align more deeply in self-honesty than we have ever allowed before – and when I say ‘we’ I mean each of us as an individual, for our own reasons – not a collectivist movement of organised assertion.
    If readers take me to mean resort to more thinking – they are missing my point. the denial of our feeling being is a dis-honesty that pictures out on our world as an elitism of disconnected self superior ‘mind’ over Life on Earth. It is a hateful and destructive power – and therefore not creative or serving and creative endeavour. It has to serve – not lead – as a natural expression of relationship uncovered in place of an ancient hatred.

    But yes – one can continue in the Great Game and play the role out. Is there a Great Awakening? Disregard opinion – and look and see… and feel. What other path leads on except deeper insanity in darkness with survival possibly worse than destruction. For if human becomes a monster – and many believe we already are a virus on the Earth undeserving of life – then mutate and toxify and bio-manipulate without check or borders and open scenarios of hateful suffering and misery unimagined – except of course by those avidly working such agenda in the pursuit of their prize.

  2. shaksvshav says

    The non-fiction bible for thought control is Edward Bernays’ ‘Propaganda’. The methods recommended have proven and are proving successful enough for now.
    ” The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”

    • Power is a short lived evaporation. Admittedly the time scale may seem slow – but the power over life is always the hollow dysfunctionality of an insane choice – and an insane world is no ‘victory’.
      For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Judge not – lest ye be judged. What you give out is what you get back. As you reap – so shall you sow.
      The reason we are generally a net-bot of hacked minds is simply an acquiescence of will. Or rather it is the conforming within a denial of blaming and guilting true willingness – so as to limit, cage, divide and conquer. But this is not victory – but death. Though for some these are one and the same.
      Manipulators do not see their own ‘back-doors’ such is the diversion and seduction of power and the promise of ‘protection’. Of course they can ‘get away with it’ – but their reward is the fruit of their choice – while mine is the fruit of
      what I accept as worthy, meaningful and true.
      Mind-control is the frequency of ‘possession’ and if your believe your need to control your experience, relationships or feeling being – then perhaps what possesses you is holding onto something you value that costs you a true awareness and appreciation of Life?
      I do agree that your quote points a direction – and that is to look into our consciousness and awaken from false foundations by which we are deceived. Because – whether it is fashionable to say so or not – the deceiver is in our midst – and I mean that personally – not merely politically. I say: use the outer reflection to awaken a true communication within. What is that? Try it and see. If I tried to substitute my though for your discovery, I would be joining the realm of deceit or substitution for truth.

  3. Long time since I have read either book, but there was me just thinking about the scene in 1984 where Winston thinks he is alone in the room and all of a sudden Big Brother appears in the television screen.

    Back then it was dismissed with a sort of “that is not possible”, and now here is me making sure i put the little camera back on the smart television after I have used it to “skype” and that is only the beginning of it!

    • The consciousness that fragments to operate world within world is a split mind. My dear friend J says ‘resist ye not evil’. People don’t want to hear this because without ‘fighting evil’, it would have to be owned – reintegrated to a greater perspective, and the war on terror would no longer keep the homeland under notional security. We’d have to discover other ways to live – or at least we have a tremendous incentive!

  4. It is interesting to read the Evgenij Zamjatin’s ‘We’, to which both Huxley and Orwell owe a great deal. In my view, ‘We’ expresses the projection of the corporatist logic of efficience better than either.

  5. mikael says

    Good one, and have you read the Trawles of Guliver in its Original version.
    To me its an master piece.

    Dont missunderstand this, because I always recomend one that I define as supreem art of cutting reality into piecess, and if you think you know objectivity, I think you are wrong.

    The All and everything.
    Sub title: Belzebubs tales to his grandson.
    One of the few good ones coming from an ubscure sect of dopeheads and morons, and peole giving the impression of knowing something, as A. Huxley and so on.
    They know nothing of any wurth anyway, but I recomend this one, and since I and Gordijeff both have read about fundamental islam and its sufism and Derwish dance.
    Spinning axes.


  6. Both had it right. Huxley nicely pegged the upcoming ‘it’s all about me’ MTV generation, whereas Orwell accurately penetrated the cloistered mentality one sees in the contemporary American religious right. Both are relevant.

  7. Orwell was satirising his own contemporary society by parodying Huxley, and also ridiculing the popular finger-pointing conceit of “totalitarianism” [which is defined as being something involving jackboots that happens in foreign parts]. Many of the things Orwell portrayed as physical coercion or surveillance were actually analogies for the controlling function of orthodox ideology. The implication of what Orwell was writing was that by making mind control a supposedly cautionary subject of future fantasy, Huxley was being very reassuring. Essentially, Huxley was manufacturing Soma and Orwell had inadvertently done the same by publishing Animal Farm. For all of his good point, Huxley was completely obtuse on this subject. Not to mention the fact that even in print he sounds like he has a stick up his arse.

  8. Huxley examines the Marquis de Sade at some length in his Ends and Means (1937). His verdict is that the Marquis is the most consistent maniac of all time. Neil Postman compared Huxley’s and Orwell’s dystopias in his Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985). Highly readable and lucid. Both these books are available online. A crude but effective graphical rendering of Postman’s comparison by Stuart McMillen is also available online.

  9. H. Toin says

    Brave New World Revisited, which Huxley published in 1958, is an expansion of this letter.
    In little more than a hundred pages, Huxley masterly fuses both Brave New World and 1984 and basically predicts the social-political world we are living in, driven by the fusion of mass psychology techniques and marketing.
    A must read (and weep)

  10. Jennifer Hor says

    Interesting that Huxley mentioned the Marquis de Sade who did indeed regard himself as a child of the Enlightenment and who at a certain level did advocate for personal and sexual freedom. He spent a lot of time in prison over his writing as well so he can be regarded as a political prisoner. The philosophy of transformation through psychology and physiology that Huxley refers has its continuation in Dr Ewen Cameron’s shock therapy experiments at McGill University in the 1960s under the CIA’s MK-ULTRA umbrella and even in ISIS, Ukraine and parts of eastern Europe (the Baltics especially – one former president of Latvia, Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, studied experimental psychology at McGill in the 1960s) today.

    • Jennifer Hor says

      I must hasten to add that I don’t support the Marquis’ ideas about personal freedom through the methods he advocated and I see him ultimately as a victim of his own desires and self-gratification. Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom”, based partly on one of the Marquis’ novels, expresses the man’s philosophy taken to its ultimate extreme in an examination of fascist culture and the fascist mind-set.

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  12. Seamus Padraig says

    Both writers were geniuses and I immensely enjoyed both ‘Brave New World’ and ‘1984’. I think the world as it stands today is like a strange amalgam of both dystopias. I think that the modern, western middle-class existence is more BNW–sexual license and doping up the kids–while for the rest of the world outside the gated-communities, it’s a bit more like 1984: drones, killer-cops and prisons. At any rate, that’s how it seems to me.

  13. Richard Harris says

    “On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic
    falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘OUR’ side.” – Orwell 1944.

    Or indeed, now done by “us”. Fascinating from Huxley, thanks for that.

    *I didn’t know Huxley taught Orwell at Eton….another timeless “fact”, “our” Eton.

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