Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

Chapter 16

Summary Chapter 16

Feelings, passions, commitments, and relationships. Citizens of the World State have no fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, children, or lovers, because such relationships produce emotional (and therefore social) instability, strife, and unhappiness. While it is easy to think of ways that relationships make people unhappy, it may be difficult for the reader to understand why Mond thinks these relationships fundamentally create instability, when common sense and tradition dictate exactly the opposite, that the family is one of the stabilizing institutions of our society. One answer may be found in Chapter 3, in Mond’s lecture to the students. Here he argues that the most dangerous part of passionate commitments to other individuals is the strength of the feeling involved. Moreover, he maintains that all feelings and passions arise from arrested impulses, such as the longing one experiences when one can’t immediately have the lover that one wants. This is probably the basis for his idea that the consumer’s need for immediate gratification is at odds with long-term human commitments.

Equality. Mond is quite forthright about the fact that social stability depends upon inequality. Most of society is going to have to perform uninteresting tasks most of the time. This feature of World State society is by no means peculiar to the World State. In fact, it is probably true of every society that has ever existed. It might even be possible to argue that our own society has as much inequality as the World State, and that Mond is just more honest about it, refusing to pay lip service to the ideal that all humans are created equal. However, the complete abandonment of the ideal of equality leads to horrifying results. The majority of human embryos in the World State are altered so that their potential for excellence or growth is stunted. When the comparison is made between the novel’s world and our own, we are left with troubling questions rather than distinct conclusions. Given that economic and social stability depends upon an unequal distribution of labor, does this create destructive contradictions with our democratic ideal that individuals are equal? (This theme is clearly indebted to the writing of Karl Marx, whose ideas are part of the intellectual background of this novel. It is no accident, for instance, that the dissident Bernard’s last name is Marx.)

Truth. Mond says that science has to be suppressed because a society that is predicated on the search for happiness cannot also be committed to truth. He may mean that science, and the search for truth more generally, has an irresistible tendency to overthrow old, established ways of looking at things. Authority and conventional wisdom both contribute to the stability of society, and in the search for truth both of these are liable to come under interrogation.

Art. Art is not a consumer product, and great art draws its subject matter from feelings, passions, commitments, and relationships, which are discussed above.

One final category of experiences that are sacrificed in the world state might simply be labeled “problems.” Huxley might argue that we value problems (old age, death, doubt, even suffering), because we value the responses that they produce in human beings. These Mond dismisses as the “overcompensation for misery.”

One criticism that the reader might be inclined to level at Mond’s entire line of argumentation is that it is self-serving. Mond is at the very top of the ruling class and enjoys exemption from the laws that he makes. One could easily dismiss everything he says on the basis that his real interest is the stability of his own position, and not the stability and happiness of his society as a whole. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to simply dismiss his argument out of hand, because it does possess considerable power and subtlety, challenging the reader to dispute it on its own terms.