Over the years I’ve seen countless book lists and there are two books on “must read lists” that speak to the modern world insightfully, but in differing manners. As dystopian works, people have tended to see them both as “prophetic” and yet, of the two, most think that the one literary vision was closer to reality than the other.
The two works are George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Just prior to the year 1984 Orwell’s book became a best seller even though it was originally published in 1949. However, of the two works the case could be made that Huxley’s vision was closer to getting it right and it has remained increasingly contemporary even though it was originally published in 1932.
Orwell’s nightmares do not seem to have come true. People who have not read both works or either work mistakenly think that they both “predicted” the same future. Orwell described a world where humans would be overtaken by externally imposed threats. In Huxley’s forecasting there is, no Big Brother who reaches into our everyday lives. Huxley imagined that the common person will simply surrender and will actually come to love what oppresses them. They would come to “worship” the everyday technologies that eclipse our ability to think and our will to really live.
Orwell wrote of a time of terrible book banning. Huxley was much more accurate when he described a world when book banning was unnecessary because people just stopped reading. Think about how few people actually go to Barnes and Noble to buy books and how few people even on college campuses who don’t read the university newspaper or their textbooks. One hopes they can at least read.
Most importantly Orwell was genuinely afraid that the truth would be hidden from us while Huxley seemed to hit the nail on the head that truth would be lost in the midst of sights and sounds and dismissed as unimportant.
Huxley was not too worried about some grand tyranny overtaking humanity but (as Pascal before him) was more aware of our insatiable appetite for the next distraction that would keep us from what really matters. So, may I urge you to open your eyes and see that our world is becoming less and less humane and asking you to join the efforts to reclaim the lost humanity. Read a book, have a meaningful conversation, think deeply and consistently about what really matters.
Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.