Brave New World

By Aldous Huxley

Utopia, Dystopia and Anti-Utopia

The tradition of utopianism is one of the oldest forms of political and ideological writings. The term 'Utopia' (meaning, literally, "no-place") was invented by Thomas More in 1516, but the tradition can be traced back to Plato's Republic, and forwards through the writings of the likes of Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Henry Thoreau, and H. G. Wells. However, it was the Twentieth Century that saw the rise of the distinct genre of 'dystopian' writing. The word 'dystopia' was actually not coined until nearly twenty years after the publication of Brave New World, and there is perhaps more than just a semantic significance in this given that the novel is perhaps more anti-utopian than actually dystopian. That is to say that rather than present a world of unrelenting fear, degradation, gloom and hopelessness as for example Orwell does in Nineteen Eighty- Four, Huxley's World State is, for most of its inhabitants, a place of apparent permanent happiness, stability and scientific progress. The message in Brave New World is that not only are the methods by which these ends are achieved ultimate inhuman, but that all utopian ideals will come at a number of costs: the restriction of human liberty, the controlling of the arts, science and religion; and ultimately access to the truth. Indeed, five years after Brave New World, Huxley wrote that "The end cannot justify the means, for the simple and obvious reason that the means employed determine the nature of the ends produced."

In this respect, Brave New World is as much a satire on utopianism itself as it is an examination of the potential direction of society at the time of writing. Given that H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things to Come, which showed an optimistic vision of a world emerging from world war and economic chaos, was published in 1933, utopianism was yet to be entirely crushed under the cynicism of the age. Indeed in May 1931, Huxley was quoted as saying he was writing "a novel about the future - on the horror of the Wellsian Utopia and the revolt against it." In this he particularly had in mind Wells' Men Like Gods (1923) and its optimistic description of a Utopia populated by 'active, sanguine, inventive, receptive and good-tempered' people. It should be noted, however, that Wells was one of the progenitors of modern dystopian fiction with his novella The Time Machine (1895) whose vision and message was not altogether unlike that of Brave New World.

Like much of the utopianism of the Twentieth Century, Brave New World takes place in the future. For the Ancients, the Golden Age was a time before history. In its turn, the Renaissance harked back to the world of the Ancients and, as the rise of capitalism, science, and industry cast a shadow over the world, some utopian thinkers once again looked to a time before 'civilisation'. Examples include Jean-Jacques Rousseau and, later, Henry David Thoreau. In our time elements in the environmentalist movement share this belief. It is significant that Huxley raises opposition to the Rousseau-esque viewpoint with his description of the Savage Reservation. Although there is freedom amongst the savages, there is also pain, disease, brutality and prejudice.

Early Twentieth Century utopianism, unlike its predecessors, and inspired by the Nineteenth Century's love affair with the concept of progress and a better tomorrow, envisaged a Golden Age that was yet to arrive - that ever hopeful country of tomorrow. As previously mentioned, a key voice in this movement was H.G. Wells, who, though he drew dystopian as well as utopian visions of the future, was still preoccupied with the idea of positive social and scientific progress. But the First World War was, for most other authors and intellectuals, to deal a savage blow to such optimistic visions of the future, and though the 1920s were prosperous for some, it was not long before the world descended once again into instability. It was against this backdrop that new visions of dystopian futures arose.