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Aldous Huxley, Thomas Huxley’s “Brave New World” grandson, a greater prophet than C.S. Lewis?

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Aldous Huxley (1994-1963)

They both died on the same day as Jack Kennedy, 50th anniversary was Thursday.

At the The Guardian:

Huxley was a child of England’s intellectual aristocracy. His grandfather was Thomas Henry Huxley, the Victorian biologist who was the most effective evangelist for Darwin’s theory of evolution. (He was colloquially known as “Darwin’s Bulldog”.) His mother was Matthew Arnold’s niece. His brother, Julian and half-brother Andrew both became distinguished biologists. In the circumstances it’s not surprising that Aldous turned out to be a writer who ranged far beyond the usual preoccupations of literary folk – into history, philosophy, science, politics, mysticism and psychic exploration. His biographer wrote: “He offered as his personal motto the legend hung around the neck of a ragged scarecrow of a man in a painting by Goya: Aún aprendo. I am still learning.” He was, in that sense, a modern Voltaire.

It is set in the London of the distant future – AD 2540 – and describes a fictional society inspired by two things: Huxley’s imaginative extrapolation of scientific and social trends; and his first visit to the US, in which he was struck by how a population could apparently be rendered docile by advertising and retail therapy. As an intellectual who was fascinated by science, he guessed (correctly, as it turned out) that scientific advances would eventually give humans powers that had hitherto been regarded as the exclusive preserve of the gods. And his encounters with industrialists like Alfred Mond led him to think that societies would eventually be run on lines inspired by the managerial rationalism of mass production (“Fordism”) – which is why the year 2540 AD in the novel is “the Year of Our Ford 632”.


See also: Short film debuts on C.S. Lewis, design and Darwinism on 50th anniversary of his (and yes, Kennedy’s) death

Huxley's spiritual master-piece, imo, is the Perennial Philosophy. I know it's not perfect, but it evokes the kind of spirit of asceticism, by no means just physical, that inspires the young idealist, disaffected by the accretion of 'the traditions of men' (not all bad) of the Christian churches, but less familiar with the lives of the saints. He was obviously subject to certain limitations arising from the lacuna in his personal beliefs in relation to the centrality of Christ, but that said, it is still a treasure trove. Axel
Laszlo, I think Brave New World has aged nicely. His ideas of sexual promiscuity are spot on. The idea of procreation replaced with hatcheries is about half-way there. Witness the big scandal in Seoul about human cloning experiments a few years ago. There wouldn't be a scandal if human cloning wasn't so very prestigious. And "soma" was the name the Hindu Vedas gave to their magical drink--what the Greeks called Ambrosia. The 60's and 70's were so full of drugs that were promising "soma", you might think it was dated. But at the moment, I'm in a long-running argument with some close kin who think that old people need to be doped up on Prozac against their wishes to make them easy to handle. So the "soma" theme hasn't gone away either. But regarding CS Lewis, the right book to contrast to "Brave New World" is "That Hideous Strength". When my wife read it, a few years ago, she thought it was prophetic of what she saw in the academic world. If BNW is written from the persepective of the "underinformed" voter, then THS is written from the perspective of the insider intelligentsia. I think they are both right. And they are equally chilling. Robert Sheldon
Huxley's "Brave New World" has not aged well. It seems as antique as an old upright telephone. All it's concerns from the pervasive use of a soothing drug called "soma" to its mockery of industrial society smack strongly of 1930s British liberalism which, I suppose, should come as no surprise. The hero's redemption is a return to the pure and unsullied society of New Mexican Indian tribes (Huxley was a famous guest in Taos as a guest of Mabel Dodge Lujan). This tired theme that would have felt comfortable to the 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Laszlo

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