Aldous Huxley’s dystopic 1932 novel Brave New World envisions a future where a ruling élite suppress the freedoms of the masses by replacing traditional external constraints like imprisonment, torture, and murder, with internal human compulsions.
Through the use of biological engineering, Pavlovian conditioning, unconditional polyamorous sex, and handfuls of happy pills, the lower classes are contented, and even made to desire their blissful enslavement.
Although Huxley’s tale was fictitious, he meant it, in part at least, as a warning to the world of what his high-society contemporaries (like his brother Julian Huxley, first director of UNESCO – the UN’s propaganda arm) had in store for the rest of us, and he wrote about and discussed these future plans at length in the years after the book’s publication.
In the Forward to the 1946 edition of Brave New World, Huxley tells us that the coming scientific revolutions will result in ‘a series of economic and social changes unprecedented in rapidity and completeness.’ He continues,
These far from painless operations will be directed by highly centralized totalitarian governments. Inevitably so; for the immediate future is likely to resemble the immediate past, and in the immediate past rapid technological changes, taking place in a mass-producing economy and among a population predominantly propertyless, have always tended to produce economic and social confusion. To deal with confusion, power has been centralized and government control increased. It is probable that all the world’s governments will be more or less completely totalitarian even before the harnessing of atomic energy; that they will be totalitarian during and after the harnessing seems almost certain. Only a large-scale popular movement towards decentralization and selfhelp can arrest the present tendency towards statism. At present there is no sign that such a movement will take place.
There is, of course, no reason why the new totalitarianisms should resemble the old…. A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and school-teachers.
Since that time, our political system has seen few fundamental changes. Most would agree that these words ring even more true today than when they were written in 1946. In many ways that are all too obvious, Huxley’s future is already here.
Huxley again addressed this prospective future almost twenty years later (in 1962) in an enlightening, in-depth lecture called The Ultimate Revolution, presented here in its entirety.