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Aldous Huxley: The Political Thought of a Man of Letters

Aldous Huxley: The Political Thought Of A Man Of Letters

Behind the renowned artistic and literary production of Aldous Huxley[i] is a political thinking that proves decisive for a full analysis of the entire intellectual career of one of the most important figures of twentieth-century English literature.

After his encounter with Vilfredo Pareto’s Trattato di Sociologia Generale, his early interest in human nature, his search for a true moral foundation, soon becomes a political interest characterized from then onwards by an attention to the psychological factor. Huxley is critical of the mass society that suffocates human nature, and of any form of totalitarianism that, thanks to scientific and technological development, endeavours to modify it in order to impose upon it a happiness that does not belong to it. His thinking, however, focuses on the search for a political idea that might favour improved individual and social conditions. He will find it in a pacifist and ecological communitarianism, to which he commits himself personally and, for the fulfilment of which, Pareto’s indispensable lesson will convince him of the idea of a democratic elite, a sophocracy of scholars from differing backgrounds leading mankind.

This is the political thinking of a careful observer of the twentieth century, whose focus on the scientific factor opens up innumerable sources (ranging from biology to chemistry, from psychology to sociology and to physiology), and, at the same time, increases the risk of overstretching the analysis. It is a political thinking founded on specific philosophical bases, albeit not always solid, on the whole perhaps discontinuous, but never incoherent, especially if viewed in the light of the search for a gap in the web spun by the great ideologies, in which – and in this he is representative of the intellectuals of his time – Huxley remains fundamentally entangled.

In the light of the developments in applied science, his re-analysis of the political theories that inspired him – a map of which this introduction will attempt to draw up, in order of theme and not necessarily chronologically, in order to outline the principal sources of Huxley’s political thinking – makes his reflections interesting, original and tremendously up-to-date. Huxley emerges not as a literary figure, but as a political thinker who, in exploiting his indubitable literary talent, chooses literature to express his political thinking. A political thinking which this work will attempt to analyze, again according to theme, and to underline its contribution to contemporary political philosophy and to history of political thought – especially, but not only, with Brave New World, his most successful political manifesto –, with its reflections upon the great themes of the last century, of our present, and especially of our future.

In the post-Victorian Britain of the years between 1908 and 1920[ii], there were three principal factors which, each in a different way, influenced Aldous Huxley’s cultural development, and effectively directed his entire political thinking: the first was the family environment; the second and third were his involvement with the Fabian Society and with the circle of intellectuals at Garsington Manor.

Aldous’ maternal grandfather was the poet, Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), while his paternal grandfather was the positivist, Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895). Both belonged to that upper middleclass which the Industrial Revolution had raised to the status of British intellectual aristocracy. They were two champions of Victorian morality, with its moral duty to help the poorer classes by encouraging the spread of culture within society: Arnold believed in widespread humanistic education, while T.H. Huxley was in favor of widespread scientific education[iii]. Their political ideas coincided with an elitism in which only an aristocracy, “enlightened and of wise men” for the former, “technocratic and scientific” for the latter, would be able to solve the problems of the society of their time[iv].

In 1911, Huxley chose a course of studies that “was increasingly leading him in the direction of science”[v]. He appears to have been following in the footsteps of his paternal rather than his maternal grandfather. Also because this was the period of his first contacts with the Fabian Society, notoriously hostile towards the positions of the post-Carlyle conservative literati – and Arnold was certainly one of them – and which at the same time proclaimed, in line with T.H. Huxley’s positivism, the necessity to detach itself from the dialectical conception of history of Marxist doctrine[vi].

At Garsington Manor, the home of Philip Morrell and Lady Ottoline, Huxley frequented the future protagonists of the political, economic and literary worlds of twentieth-century Britain and Europe. He encountered the alternative modernism of the Bloomsbury Group and, more importantly for his political development, the elitism and realism of Keynes, as well as Russell’s criticism of ideologies. In general, he came into contact with a climate that was hostile to the blind faith in progress so characteristic of the Victorian age: science and its Darwinist law of the survival of the fittest, raised to the status of a moral value, which had led to the application of the way of the laboratory to the study of the human being[vii], had failed. Such failure, however, proved liberating: the lack of faith in the ability of science to provide moral values was accompanied by the conviction that only a careful search for the true foundation of human nature could provide them, and fill the consequent temporary but inevitable moral vacuum.

This was the air of reaction to the First World War that Huxley breathed at Garsington and of which he so perfectly incarnated the spirit[viii]. During the Twenties, his friendship with D.H. Lawrence intensified[ix], which is to be read as the result of Huxley’s growing fascination with the conclusions of the writer’s moral, and effectively psychological, search: the discovery of the decisive role of irrationality, undoubtedly inspired by Nietzsche, at the base of human action, at the very time in which Freud was scientifically formulating the concept of the unconscious mind. And in Pareto’s individual and social psychology[x], Huxley found objective confirmation through the “reality principle[xi].

The influence that this psychological factor had on Huxley’s political thinking is evident in his criticism of mass society and Fordism. Mass society, in fact, takes advantage of the moral vacuum, sarcastically depicted by Huxley in his early novels – especially Chrome Yellow, Antic Hay, Those Barren Leaves, Point Counter Point, Brief Candles –, and substitutes Victorian moral values with “the ethic of the machine”[xii].

His principal source was La morale de la machine, by the French writer Alphonse Séché[xiii], but he was, no doubt, influenced by that moral of science, heatedly debated at Garsington and of which, together with Russell, Huxley was to be the strongest critic in a Britain, where it was no coincidence that the Thirties opened with The Scientific Outlook and Brave New World. Spengler, who denounced the culture of technology for technology’s sake, also inspired Huxley’s criticism of the culture of science for science’s sake, propagated in Britain by his paternal grandfather, while Rousseau became the principal sources for his criticism of another faith implicit in the ethic of technology (and of the machine): the faith in civilization and progress[xiv]. A further source for his criticism of mass society is to be found in the contrast made by Guglielmo Ferrero, between qualitative civilization and quantitative civilization, in which the Italian historian identified a clash between the ethical and the economic spheres[xv]. Even so, in order to argue his ethic of the machine, Huxley particularly extended his sources on human nature with the studies of Pareto, Rougier, Sorel, Wallas, Lévy-Bruhl, R.A. Fisher, and above all, Jung[xvi].

In order to produce this immoral moral, then, capitalism, of which Huxley underlines the “overproduction”, whereas Keynes talks of “under-consumption”[xvii], conditions the mind and behavior of the individual, through working practices. This leads Huxley to speak explicitly of Fordism[xviii]. He dedicates much attention to conditioning through the control of leisure time and the “amusement industry”[xix], including sexual prohibition and rationalization, for which the role of advertising is fundamental. His analysis of such aspects becomes much more precise following his trip to America in 1925-26, narrated in Jesting Pilate, where the opinions read previously in The American Credo by Mencken and Nathan find confirmation[xx].

Parallel to his psychological research into human nature, Huxley intensifies his attention to scientific development. The reason lies in the fact that scientific progress is focusing on the psychological background of human nature: applied science (initially, Huxley meant applied psychology) can condition this background at the root, thus determining the individual’s thoughts and behavior. The human “affective compartment full of emotions”, described by Freud, becomes Huxley’s principle source together with Jung’s “extraverted attitude” and Jules de Gaultier’s “Bovarysme”[xxi]. Huxley directs his attention towards mass psychology, in that it conditions individual psychology[xxii]. He is definitely influenced by the French school of Le Bon and Tarde, if only for the fact that Freud was its best disciple[xxiii].

The totalitarian leaders and the élites in control of the (pseudo)democracies are (or are sustained by) post-Freudian experts in the field of applied psychology. They understand mass psychology, the desire to worship, to belong, and to transcend that is present in human nature, and they exploit it to their own advantage in the personality cult, and the cult of the nation, which they wish to extend through war knowing that hatred pays “enormous psychological dividends”[xxiv]. In short, we are dealing with scientific Machiavellis, where by scientific, Huxley means everything that acts on the individual’s mind: here, Huxley’s sources are the work of the Propaganda Ministries in every European country, whether totalitarian or (pseudo)democratic[xxv].

Huxley identifies totalitarianism with the conditioning of human nature through applied psychology. But scientific persuasion, among the applied sciences, may not be limited to psychology alone, but could be extended to biology and chemistry: Pavlov’s studies into the conditioned reflex become then his principal source[xxvi]. In short, the post-Pavlov scientific Machiavellis could condition the individual at the roots, genetically and biologically, through brainwashing, subliminal projections and hypnopaedia, fulfilling the dream of every leader: a benevolent totalitarianism which, by guaranteeing the (conditioned) masses (conditioned) happiness, would become infallible. In Brave New World, all this is the nightmare come true of perfect totalitarianism, and the manifesto of political realism carried to the utmost consequences in the century of applied science – consequences that, thirty years later in his Brave New World Revisited, Huxley will show to be in no way the result of guesswork.

Behind the criticism of mass society, Fordism and totalitarianism, it is Vilfredo Pareto’s undisputed lesson that dominates: it is undoubtedly the principal source of Huxley’s political thinking. Firstly, in the Trattato di Sociologia Generale[xxvii], Huxley finds confirmation of Lawrence’s theses on the importance of instincts and feelings at the base of human action, making Pareto’s Machiavellian conclusions on the nature of this base his own: it is made up of egoism, “hatred, vanity”[xxviii]. In Pareto’s criticism of historical materialism, Huxley then discovers the missing link between his cultural distance from Marxism, the anti-Marxism of which the principal exponent at Garsington had been Keynes[xxix], and the Fabian criticism of Marxist dialectics. And he finds it in the psychological factor, deriving from the Italian sociologist’s lesson on the necessity to broaden the factors determining social phenomena from uniqueness (economic factor) to multiplicity[xxx]. Furthermore, in Pareto’s criticism of ideologies, whether they be revolutionary, socialist, democratic or progressive religions[xxxi], Huxley discovers a more complete articulation, since it is not without psychological justification, than the criticism of ideals contained in Political Ideals of his friend, Russell[xxxii].

Pareto’s elitist theory, again in the psychologically complete formulation of a difference between “instinct for combinations” and “persistence of aggregates”[xxxiii], constitutes Huxley’s principal source for a criticism of democracy, which is not without a realistic and disenchanted analysis of its unfulfilled promises, for which James Mill is his reference[xxxiv]. It is a criticism that takes into account Sorel and Mosca, and Michels’ Political Parties[xxxv]: Huxley’s source is basically what James Burnham has defined as the Machiavellian school.

Pareto’s same elitist lesson, in which Huxley certainly finds the elitism of his grandfathers, and of  Keynes that he had breathed both in the home and at Garsington, also leads Huxley, to identify the elite in power, which he describes, in unmistakable Veblenian terms, as being made up of industrialist financiers[xxxvi]; but the cold reaction reserved for Burnham’s The Managerial Revolution[xxxvii], demonstrates how much of his attention is focused not so much on who constitutes the elite, but rather on how that elite co-opts men of applied science – even after his analysis, in the early Fifties, of another pillar of elitism, The Power Elite by Charles Wright Mills[xxxviii]. They are the true protagonists of the imperfect totalitarianism of the Thirties, and potentially – and even probably, according to the realist school which maintains that the only ethical commandment of those in power is to preserve and reinforce their power –, of the perfect totalitarianism of the future.

The journey beyond the Mexique Bay (1932-34) that follows the publication of Brave New World represents a definite watershed in Huxley’s political thinking. After a careful analysis of the causes of war, among which psychological causes inevitably occupy an important position[xxxix], he champions an ethical pacifism in which “the individual work for reform”[xl] – especially, given the previous considerations, among the men of applied science[xli] – becomes the sole instrument in breaking the depressing reality principle constituted by the spiraling violence caused by the egoism, hatred and vanity present in human nature: Gandhi becomes Huxley’s principal source in his reflection upon the importance of the means in achieving the end (of international peace)[xlii]. Even so, the influence of Russell’s Which Way to Peace? is evident, especially in What are you going to do about it? and in An Encyclopaedia of Pacifism.

Then, the lesson of Spengler, Sorokin and Toynbee teaches Huxley the importance of religious sentiment in any civilization[xliii]. He thus finds the sense of religion necessary for peace in an ultimate impersonal reality, a Unitive Godhead[xliv] for all human beings, a unique foundation that “transcends and yet is the most inward ground of our being”[xlv]. Behind this Perennial Philosophy which unites rather than divides, makes no claim to exclusivity, and which deprives of meaning war against the other, because the other is oneself, there is above all oriental mysticism. In gaining a complete knowledge and understanding of this, the role of Krishnamurti, the Indian philosopher, becomes increasingly decisive[xlvi].

Finally, Huxley studies a democracy made for the individual that does not impose an individual made for democracy. He favors a form of communitarianism in which power is devolved to autonomous communities formed by independent men and women cooperating freely, an ecological communitarianism that pays attention to the planet’s resources by applying technology to the individual and not the individual to technology. In the Thirties his sources are mainly A chacun sa chance, by the French trade unionist Hyacinthe Dubreuil[xlvii], and Charles Fourier[xlviii], although the more essentially political influences of Veblen, Jefferson and Kropotkin will later become decisive[xlix].

In comparing this Huxley with the Huxley of Brave New World there is an evident element of discontinuity. Even so, he emphasizes the coherence of the evolution of his political thinking[l]. Pacifism and cooperation between individuals, which form the basis of communitarianism, also in fact find confirmation in the reality principle: Huxley’s sources become the examples from history of non-violence, non-collaboration and boycott, as well as autonomous cooperative communities[li]. His conclusions are no longer utterly “depressing”: even “love”, in its sense of charity, solidarity and cooperation, is one of the instincts and feelings that make up the basis of human action. In short, it is Pareto’s lesson that, paradoxically, leads Huxley to conclude that “the world described by Machiavelli, and in our own day by Pareto, is not the only possible world”[lii].

It is once more the lesson learnt from Pareto that, again paradoxically (since it is too Utopian), convinces Huxley that communitarianism can only be achieved by an “aristocracy of intellect”[liii] made up of experts from the various fields of knowledge whose objective is the only proper study: man and his nature. Only the humanist elite, which understands the nature and the needs of the individual, can direct scientistic and democratic planning in which “the material advantages of progressive technology can be combined not only with security, but also with freedom”[liv] and with human potentialities[lv] – so that the progress “of a more humanly satisfying life”[lvi] corresponds with material progress. Huxley’s attention to the encounter between humanistic and scientific cultures is, of course, rooted in the distant family debate on the widespread humanistic education promoted by Matthew Arnold, and the widespread scientific education of T.H. Huxley[lvii]; but above all, it is essentially part of his purely pedagogical interest in “education for freedom”[lviii] – influenced specifically by his studies of Montessori, Dewey and Skinner[lix].

Never against science, but always attentive to applied science; never against applied science, but always attentive to how a certain elite applies it; never convinced of a solution that leaves to one side real scientific and technological development in favor of a return to primitivism[lx], Huxley’s alternative to totalitarianism is, in the final analysis, caught up in the web spun by the two great ideologies, in his continual search, with its roots in Proudhon’s political thinking, for “the advantages of Liberalism at the same time as the advantages of Socialism”[lxi].

Besides the important role assigned in his analysis to the dangerous combination of the psychological factor and the scientific factor, in a framework with the contours of political realism – in its inextricable union with elitism with which it makes its entrance into the political theory of the twentieth century –, the most original feature of Huxley’s political thinking is the means chosen to express it: the novel, by which he exploits his indubitable talent as a writer. The fame of Huxley the author, and the little fortune of Huxley the political thinker are a first but telling indication of the advantages and disadvantages of the intellectual’s choice of the novel as a means of expressing his ideas. Indeed, the novel, in comparison with the essay or the treatise, ensures the message greater access to the public, both on the qualitative and on the quantitative levels.

However, the price to pay for the fictionalized translation of a political analysis is its loss of depth behind the mask of fiction. Behind Huxley’s choice to pay this price lies unquestionably his sense of duty, inherited from that Victorian morality of which his grandfathers were champions, towards the greatest possible spread of culture as the only means of improving the individual and social conditions. In any case, this price is considerably reduced thanks to his ingenious intuition concerning the impact of the genre chosen – the dystopian novel – on the political thinking of the twentieth century. In fact, Huxley appears to understand how, if the aim of political realism is “to educate individuals indirectly for the heuristics of fear”[lxii], anti-Utopia may represent its most complete manifesto. This aims to educate directly for the heuristics of fear, using fiction to unveil in the present the real and possible threats to society in the future. In short, from his Victorian heritage and his intuition, Huxley seems to realize how anti-Utopia incarnates that “possible reality[lxiii] which, from Marx onwards, renders the Utopian genre a realistic paradigm for contemporary political philosophy, and at the same time, the purely twentieth-century passage from Utopia to anti-Utopia via the end of Utopia[lxiv].

Furthermore, the fact that Huxley does identify this passage in applied science gives the novel an originality that remains unique even in the light of the subsequent anti-Utopias, and effectively makes it the most current in the contemporary political debate. From Brave New World to Island, via Ape and Essence, Huxley’s anti-Utopias are nothing other than the mirror of the development of his political thinking, and in actual fact, they mark the key turning points in that development, both in content and in form, even distorting the literary genre.

Herbert George Wells’ Men like Gods is the polemical source for Brave New World[lxv], which represents the most radical form of criticism of Utopia in the terms of unconditional faith in scientific and technological progress. In general, Brave New World is a representation of the reflection on science that was of intense interest to British intellectual circles of the time[lxvi]: the novel intercepts and expresses the “panic”[lxvii] commonly facing many of Europe’s intellectuals, who endeavored to close ranks in a form of conservative humanism in the face of the latent inability “to understand the instances and prospects of the new developments in history”[lxviii] – constituted by mass society, Fordism and the failure of the faith in scientific and technological development. In particular, in Brave New World practically all the sources are present, many of them symbolized by the onomastics used within the text[lxix], which characterize Huxley’s political thought up to 1932. And indeed Huxley’s masterpiece, in the final analysis, represents the paradigm of political realism taken to its extreme consequences in the century of scientific and technological progress seen in terms of contact between the psychological and the scientific factors.

Ape and Essence, on the other hand, is the same paradigm of that progress seen, however, in terms of the atomic age. It contains a slight message of hope[lxx], which distorts the canons of traditional anti-Utopia, in exactly the same way that pacifism distorts the canons of traditional realism. The sources of this hope are what provoke Huxley’s pacifist commitment after 1932, above all the idea of Gandhi: Ape and Essence opens on the very day of his assassination[lxxi].

Finally, in Island, considered Huxley’s testament, scientific and technological progress no longer condition and direct the individual and society, as in Brave New World, towards Community Identity Stability, but towards Attention to Attention.[lxxii] The sources are the same as those of the pacifist and ecological communitarianism under the leadership of a humanistic-scientistic elite, the arrival point of Huxley’s political thinking. Island is actually a Utopia, in the sense of a real possibility, which in the end succumbs to the lesson in realpolitik, the coherent container of Huxley’s political thinking between originality and discontinuity.

In philosophical terms, Brave New World represents the most radical opposition to the hope principle in the terms of the desperation principle resulting from the lesson of the reality principle. Ape and Essence, and Island take up the call of Brave New World for the responsibility principle[lxxiii]. This call does not translate into the abandonment of the desperation principle in favor of the hope principle, but simply becomes a cautious (real) possibility principle between dystopian pessimism and Utopian optimism: the “cancer in Utopia”[lxxiv] represents the necessity of the lesson in realpolitik so that Utopia can rise again after the anti-Utopia in the terms of a “reasonable Utopia”[lxxv].



[i] For a biography of Aldous Leonard Huxley (Godalming, July 26, 1894 – Hollywood, November 22, 1963), who occupies a significant place in the history of twentieth-century literature, see particularly Sybille Bedford, Aldous Huxley. A Memorial Volume (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1973), but also Julian Huxley, Aldous Huxley 1894-1963. A Memorial Volume (London: Chatto & Windus, 1965) and, covering the years from 1955 to 1963, Laura Huxley, This Timeless Moment. A Personal view of Aldous Huxley (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1968). The two major intellectual biographies of Huxley the writer are Dana Sawyer, Aldous Huxley – A Biography (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2002) and Nicholas Murray, Aldous Huxley. An English Intellectual (London: Little Brown, 2002).

[ii] 1908 was the year that Huxley entered Eaton (see Sawyer, Aldous Huxley – A Biography, 30); 1920 was the year in which he began to produce essays (see Aldous Huxley, Complete Essays, ed. Robert S. Baker and James Sexton, vol. I-VI [Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000-2002]).

[iii] See Sawyer, Aldous Huxley – A Biography, 28-30.

[iv] Vittorio Gabrieli, introduction to Cultura e Anarchia [Culture and Anarchy], by Matthew Arnold (Torino: Einaudi, 1946), XXIX; Antonello La Vergata, introduction to Evoluzione ed Etica [Evolution and Ethics], by Thomas Henry Huxley (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 1995), LI.

[v] Sawyer, Aldous Huxley – A Biography, 32.

[vi] The positivist philosophy of history belonged to the Fabian culture from its earliest days (see, for example, Sidney Webb, “The Historic Basis of Socialism,” in Fabian Essays of Socialism, ed. George Bernard Shaw, [London: Fabian Society, 1889], 35; G. Bernard Shaw, “The Economic Basis of Socialism”, in G. Bernard Shaw, ed., Fabian Essays of Socialism, 32).

[vii] That is to say, to early sociology that already with Comte had claimed the existence of laws of development of the human race, scientifically defined and rationally applied to social and cultural progress.

[viii] As well as Sawyer, Aldous Huxley – A Biography, 36-50, see also Jake Poller, “Aldous Huxley, Garsington and the Great War,” Aldous Huxley Annual 6 (2006): 63-76.

[ix] So much so that Frieda, Lawrence’s wife, wanted Aldous to edit the first edition of her husband’s letters after his death: see The Letters of D.H. Lawrence, ed. Aldous Huxley (New York: Viking Press, 1932).

[x] The reference is to Vilfredo Pareto, Trattato di Sociologia Generale [The Mind and Society] (Firenze: Barbera, 1916). For Pareto’s sociology seen as social psychology, see Norberto Bobbio, introduction to Trattato di Sociologia Generale, by Vilfredo Pareto (Milano: Edizioni di Comunità, 1981), XVIII.

[xi] Pier Paolo Portinaro, Il realismo politico (Bari: Laterza, 1999), 13. The reference is to the “prevalence of the non-logical actions over logical actions”, which led Pareto to state the “intrinsic irrationality of history” (Bobbio, introduction, XIX, XXXIII).

[xii] Aldous Huxley, “Machinery, Psychology, and Politics,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 219.

[xiii] See Huxley, “Machinery, Psychology, and Politics,” 218-221 and Aldous Huxley, “This Community Business,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 221-225.

[xiv] See Aldous Huxley, “Whither Are We Civilizing?,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, II, 104, 105-106, 107.

[xv] See Aldous Huxley, “The New Salvation,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 211.

[xvi] See Aldous Huxley, Proper Studies (London: Chatto & Windus, 1927), 10; Aldous Huxley, “Are We Growing Stupider?,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 323; Aldous Huxley, “Personality and the Discontinuity of the Mind,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, II, 266, 270. For studies on Jung in general, see Aldous Huxley, “Varieties of Intelligence,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, II, 170.

[xvii] See Aldous Huxley, “The Victory of Art over Humanity,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 283-4.

[xviii] Often Huxley’s sources are the words of Ford himself: see, for example, Huxley, “The Victory of Art over Humanity,” 282.

[xix] Aldous Huxley, “The Problem of Leisure,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 339.

[xx] See David Bradshaw, “Chroniclers of Folly: Huxley and H.L. Mencken 1920-26,” in Aldous Huxley, Between the Wars, ed. David Bradshaw (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1994), 5.

[xxi] Aldous Huxley, “Education,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, II, 195; Aldous Huxley, “Varieties of Intelligence,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, II, 187; Aldous Huxley, “Pascal,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, II, 389.

[xxii] “There is intoxication to be found in a crowd” (Aldous Huxley, “Democratic Art,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, I, 361).

[xxiii] The French school had highlighted the fact that “mass psychology is highly influential in politics, philosophy and even literature” (Serge Moscovici, The Age of the Crowd [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985], 8. For the influence, according to Huxley, of mass psychology in literature see particularly his thoughts on “propagandist literature” (Aldous Huxley, “Writers and Readers,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, IV, 6 and in general 6-29). For Freud as “the best disciple of Le Bon and Tarde” see again Moscovici, The Age of the Crowd, 219: the reference is to S. Freud, Mass Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (London: Hogart Press, 1922).

[xxiv] Aldous Huxley, Beyond the Mexique Bay (London: Chatto & Windus, 1934), in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 492.

[xxv] See Aldous Huxley, “Ballyhoo for Nations,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 426-438; Aldous Huxley, “Propaganda in a Democratic Society” and “Propaganda Under a Dictatorship”, in Aldous Huxley, Brave New World Revisited (London: Chatto & Windus, 1958), in Huxley, Complete Essays, VI, 239-249.

[xxvi] See particularly Aldous Huxley, “Science and Civilization,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 151. Huxley’s sources on applied science are countless: in order to avoid the risk of overstretching the analysis, it may be said that Pavlov definitely constitutes the most representative and that all the others are subordinated to him.

[xxvii] Huxley only quotes the Trattato, but it is highly likely that he read Les systèmes socialistes (1901-1902), possibly after reading the Trattato, also because it was issued in French edition, a language he knew very well, thus avoiding the difficulties encountered in his reading of the Trattato (see Aldous Huxley, “To Robert Nichols,” in Grover Smith, ed., Letters of Aldous Huxley [New York/Evanston: Harper & Row, 1969], 276).

[xxviii] See Huxley, Beyond the Mexique Bay, 492.

[xxix] In the Thirties, Keynes spoke of the communist religion as a doctrine “based only on the poor knowledge of Ricardo, who in time, would do justice to all Marxists and in reality all other economists, and on that day there would be no more economic tensions” (Giorgio Lunghini, introduction to La fine del laissez-faire [The End of Laissez-Faire], by John Maynard Keynes [Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 1991], 9)

[xxx] See Aldous Huxley, “Pareto’s Museum of Human Stupidity,” review of The Mind and Society, by Vilfredo Pareto, New York Herald Tribune: Lively Arts and Book Review, June 9, 1935, 1-2, in Aldous Huxley Society III (2003): 24-32.

[xxxi] See Aldous Huxley, “A Note on Ideals,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, II, 274-275.

[xxxii] See Bertrand Russell, Political Ideals (London: Unwin Books, 1963), 5.

[xxxiii] Aldous Huxley, “Pareto and Society,” Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 387.

[xxxiv] See particularly Aldous Huxley, “The Education of an Amphibian,” in Aldous Huxley Adonis and the Alphabet (London: Chatto & Windus, 1956), in Huxley, Complete Essays, V, 191-208.

[xxxv] See Aldous Huxley, “Measurable and Unmeasurable,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, II, 150; Aldous Huxley, Ends and Means (Chatto & Windus, London 1937), 28. “It is time to look at Huxley as someone who has read Michels” (W.J. Stankiewicz, “Aldous Huxley Our Contemporary [A Political Theorist’s View],” Aldous Huxley Annual I (2001): 34.

[xxxvi] Huxley’s source here is definitely the Veblen of The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899), for which see particularly Aldous Huxley, Science, Liberty, and Peace (London: Chatto & Windus, 1946), in Huxley, Complete Essays, V, 259-60, 279; but probably also The engineers and the price system (1921). It is likely that Huxley began to read Veblen thanks to Mencken: H.L. Mencken, “Professor Veblen,” in H.L. Mencken, Prejudices: First Series (New York: Knopf, 1919), for which see D. Bradshaw, “Chroniclers of Folly: Huxley and H.L. Mencken 1920-26”, 8.

[xxxvii] See Aldous Huxley, “To Julian Huxley,” in Smith, Letters of Aldous Huxley, 471-472.

[xxxviii] See particularly Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, 232.

[xxxix] See Aldous Huxley, “Causes of War,” in The Causes of War, ed. H.J. Stenning (New York: The Telegraph Press, 1935), 47-58.

[xl] Huxley, Ends and Means, 126.

[xli] See the attention Huxley dedicates to the “three kinds of action against war” that “as individuals or in organized groups, scientific workers can take” (Huxley, Science, Liberty and Peace, 275-86).

[xlii] Huxley, Ends and Means, 146-7.

[xliii] See Aldous Huxley, “Hyperion to a Satyr,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, V, 330-331.

[xliv] See Aldous Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012), 29.

[xlv] Aldous Huxley, Themes and Variations (London: Chatto & Windus, 1950), in Huxley, Complete Essays, V, 71.

[xlvi] See Huxley, “The Education of an Amphibian,” 193.

[xlvii] See Huxley, Ends and Means, 74 et seq.

[xlviii] See Huxley, Ends and Means, 122-123.

[xlix] For Veblen see Huxley, Science, Liberty, and Peace, 259-279; for Jefferson see in particular A. Huxley, “Stars and the Man,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, V, 28; for Kropotkin see. Aldous Huxley, foreword to Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley (London: Chatto & Windus, 1946), x.

[l] See Aldous Huxley, “Pacifism and Philosophy,” in Gerald Hibbert, ed., The New Pacifism (London: Allenson, 1936), 23-40.

[li] See Huxley, An Encyclopaedia of Pacifism (London: Chatto & Windus, 1937), 16-18.

[lii] Huxley, “Pacifism and Philosophy,” 31.

[liii] Aldous Huxley, “The Outlook for American Culture,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 192.

[liv] Huxley, Science, Liberty, and Peace, 261; see also Aldous Huxley, “A Horrible Dilemma,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, IV, 123.

[lv] See particularly Aldous Huxley, “Human Potentialities,” in The Humanist Frame, ed. Julien Huxley (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1961), 417-432; Aldous Huxley, “A Consideration of Human Potentialities,” in Human Potentialities, A Series of Talks on “The Human Situation” Recorded Live from the Lecture Hall, Vol. I, produced by Laura Archera Huxley, New York, Gifard Associates; Aldous Huxley, “Latent Human Potentialities,” in Aldous Huxley, The Human Situation, ed. Piero Ferrucci (New York: Harper and Row, 1977), 236-253. For an overall study of human potentialities according to Huxley, see particularly Bernfried Nugel, “Aldous Huxley’s Concept of Human Potentialities,” in Literatur und Lebenskunst – Literature and the Art of Living, ed. E. Oppermann (Kassel: Kassell University Press, 2006), 146-156.

[lvi] Huxley, Science, Liberty, and Peace, 263.

[lvii] See, in general, Aldous Huxley, Literature and Science (London: Chatto & Windus, 1963).

[lviii] Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, 279.

[lix] See Huxley, Ends and Means, 181-182, 185, 201-202; Huxley, “The Education of an Amphibian,” 177 et seq.; Huxley, Brave New World Revisited, 264 et seq..

[lx] “No, back to Nature is not practical politics. The only cure for science is more science, not less. We are suffering from the effects of a little science badly applied. The remedy is a lot of science, well applied” (Huxley, “Science and Civilization,” 149).

[lxi] Aldous Huxley, “The Problems of Property,” in Huxley, Complete Essays, III, 348.

[lxii] Pier Paolo Portinaro, introduction to Il principio responsabilità [The Imperative of Responsibility] (Einaudi: Torino, 2002), XXIV.

[lxiii] Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984), 262.

[lxiv] For the concept of the end of Utopia, see Herbert Marcuse, “The End of Utopia,” in Five Lectures, by Herbert Marcuse (Boston: Beacon Press, 1970), 62-82.

[lxv] See Aldous Huxley, “A Second Visit to a Future World,” in Aldous Huxley Annual 12/13 (2012/2013): 23. For Wells’ influence on Huxley see in particular David Bradshaw, “Open Conspirators: Huxley and Wells 1927-1935,” in Huxley, Between the Wars, 31-43. It should be noticed how, according to Russell, it was his The Scientific Outlook that was also, even above all and in all too evident a manner, the source for Brave New World. Russell “was tempted to sue Huxley for plagiarism” (Philip Ironside, The Social and Political Thought of Bertrand Russell [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], 191). Regarding the unpleasant episode, about which Huxley appears to make no comment, it should be underlined how it is one thing to maintain that The Scientific Outlook “provided the groundwork for Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World”: it “is well established” (Ironside, The Social and Political Thought of Bertrand Russell, 177; as an aside, it is well established by Russell himself: see Bertrand Russell, The Scientific Outlook (London: Routledge, 2009), 3). It is another thing, however, to state that “so much of Brave New World resembles The Scientific Outlook that one wonders at times if Huxley put any original ideas into his book” (Philip Thody, Aldous Huxley: a Biographical Introduction (New York: Scribner’s, 1973), 50-51), although Russell himself also thought this, and he complained with his publisher, Unwin, saying that Brave New World “was merely an expansion of the two penultimate chapters of The Scientific Outlook […] The only thing he has added is the Bokanovsky twins [. . . ] Otherwise the parallelism applies in great detail, e.g. the prohibition of Shakespeare and the intoxicant producing no headache” (quoted in Ronald W. Clark, The Life of Bertrand Russell [London: Jonathan Cape, 1975], 454). Only at the last minute, and after very careful consideration, Russell decided not to sue Huxley for plagiarism.

[lxvi] The years between 1926 and 1931 were to see the publication of Alfred N. Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World (1926), Bertrand Russell’s The Scientific Outlook (1931), The Science of Life by Wells and Julian Huxley (1930). The latter was Aldous’ brother, a biologist of international renown; Aldous saw in this book, as well as in the utopia Men like Gods, the manifesto of a latent return to positivism, and in particular, to socialdarwinism, which had been dealt a fatal blow by the First World War.

[lxvii] Theodor W. Adorno, “Aldous Huxley and Utopia,” in Prisms, by Theodor W. Adorno (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), 95.

[lxviii] Romolo Runcini, “Aldous Huxley,” in V. Amoruso, F. Binni (a cura di), I contemporanei. Letteratura inglese, ed. Vito Amoruso and Francesco Binni (Roma: Lucarini, 1977), I, 652. The years immediately before Brave New World, saw the publication of Yevgeny I. Zamyatin’s We: a novel (1922), Nikolai A. Berdayev’s The Meaning of History (1923), Albert Schweitzer’s The Decay and Restoration of Civilization (1923), Hermann Keyserling’s America Set Free (1929), Julien Benda’s The Betrayal of the Intellectuals (1927), José Ortega y Gasset’s The Revolt of the Masses (1930) and David Herbert Lawrence’s Apocalypse (1931).

[lxix] See particularly Jerome Meckier, “Onomastic Satire: Names and Naming in Brave New World,” in Aldous Huxley Annual 3 (2003): 155-203.

[lxx] “Whatever Belial may have done with the rest of the world, you and I can always work with the Order of Things”. Aldous Huxley, Ape and Essence (London: Vintage, 2005), 201.

[lxxi] Huxley, Ape and Essence, 26.

[lxxii] That is “attention to attention” (A. Huxley, Island [Los Angeles: California Books, 2014], 32.

[lxxiii] For the principles the reference is to Bloch, The Principle of Hope; Pier Paolo Portinaro, Il principio disperazione (Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2003); Hans Jonas, The Imperative of Responsibility (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985).

[lxxiv] Jerome Meckier, “Cancer in Utopia: Positive and Negative Elements in Huxley’s Island,” in Aldous Huxley: Modernist Satirical Novelist of Ideas, by Jerome Meckier (Muenster: Lit, 2006), 293.

[lxxv] Salvatore Veca, La bellezza e gli oppressi. Dieci lezioni sull’idea di giustizia (Milano: Feltrinelli, 2002), 118.


This excerpt is from Aldous Huxley: The Political Thought of a Man of Letters (Lexington Books, 2017). Our review of the book is available here.

Alessandro MauriniAlessandro Maurini

Alessandro Maurini

Alessandro Maurini is in the Department of Law at Turin University, Italy. He is author of Aldous Huxley: The Political Thought of a Man of Letters (Lexington Books, 2017).

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