“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.”
By Rob King
They were both critically acclaimed writers who were ahead of their time, creating imaginative visions of the future in their novels.
But an enlightening letter sent by Aldous Huxley to his fellow author George Orwell more than 60 years ago reveals that the two men had very different ideas of how the world would change.
Huxley’s 1949 letter – the latest addition to a website that collects fascinating missives from the past – praises Orwell for the novel 1984, which offers a terrifying portrayal of a future totalitarian society.
But the late California-based author – who had coincidentally taught Orwell more than three decades earlier – went on to focus on the differences between Orwell’s vision and that revealed in his own masterpiece.
His novel Brave New World, published 17 years before Orwell’s, had foreseen a society characterised by medicated contentment, a widely accepted, eugenics-supported caste system, and a government-enforced obsession with consumerism.
But Orwell’s novel presented a nightmarish vision and gave birth to the phrases ‘Big Brother’, ‘thought crime’ and ‘double think’, all now commonly used to describe increasing state control.
The book was later made into a film starring John Hurt, Richard Burton and Suzanna Hamilton.
In the letter Huxley began by echoing the positive reviews for 1984, telling Orwell ‘how fine and how profoundly important the book is’.
Going on to focus on the differences between their predictions, however, Huxley wrote: ‘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.’
The letter was written at Huxley’s California home in October 1949, a few months after the release of Orwell’s book.
It has been added to the website Letters of Note, which gathers and posts fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos.
The relationship between the two authors began in 1917, while Huxley was a tutor at Eton and Orwell was a pupil. Huxley taught French.
Huxley’s other students at Eton included the writer and scholar, Harold Acton.
ALDOUS HUXLEY’S LETTER IN FULL…
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.