Orwell and Huxley: pupil and teacher challenged each other. Today we know who won

Orwell and Huxley perhaps wrote the two greatest dystopian novels in history. They were pupils and teachers, but which of them has better predicted the future we live in today?

Gianluca Riccio

In 1949, George Orwell received a strange letter from his former French teacher in high school.

Orwell had recently published a really promising book: it was called “1984” and it had received fabulous reviews. Everywhere in the world! Yet, that letter gave him particular pleasure: yes, because his French teacher (in Eaton) was called Aldous Huxley.

That Aldous Huxley who years earlier (in 1931) had written “Brave New World”, another great dystopian novel of the 1984th century. And if you ask around what the two greatest dystopian novels ever written are, many will tell you these: Orwell and Huxley. Student and teacher. XNUMX and Brave New World.

orwell, 1984
Orwell and 'Big Brother' described in his 1984

A letter that becomes a challenge

Huxley began the letter by praising former student Orwell's book. He wrote to him that it was “profoundly important”. Among the admiring and interesting observations are also things like “the philosophy of the dominant minority in 1984 is sadism taken to its logical conclusion by denying sex.”

After a while, however, Huxley, partly good-naturedly and partly not, changed gear and also began to criticize Orwell's book. One passage reads: “I have doubts that the boot-in-the-face policy can go on indefinitely. My belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways to govern and satisfy its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those I have described in Brave New World".

In summary? Huxley praised 1984, but said his dystopia, his version of the future was the most likely.

Orwell vs. Huxley: Who Was Right?

huxley, brave new world
Brave New World – credits: Peacock

For those who have not read these two books (be ashamed or make up for it now), a tiny synopsis that spoils you nothing, even if 91 years and 73 years later I could also afford it.

In Aldous Huxley's dystopian World State, the ruling elite keeps the masses docile with a narcotic called Soma and a constant orgy of casual, affectionless sex. In Orwell's dystopia in 1984, instead, the population is kept at bay with fear through constant warfare and a hyper-efficient surveillance state. They seem to be two opposite dystopias, right? In reality, Orwell's world and Huxley's are simply two different forms of oppression.

And it annoys me to say it, also because I don't know which one is actually preferable, but today Orwell's vision certainly won, including drones.

aaaand the winner is.

Huxley was wrong, though not entirely, in foreseeing that the masses would be treated like flocks of children. We hope that he is still wrong, because at the end of his letter dated 21 October 1949, we read a prediction that today sounds even more sinister.

Within the next generation I believe the rulers of the world will discover that infantile conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more effective as tools of government than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be satisfied just as completely by telling people to love their servitude as whipping and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of 1984 is destined to transform into the nightmare of a world that looks more like the one I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be driven by a felt need for greater efficiency. In the meantime, of course, there could be large-scale biological and atomic warfare, in which case we will have nightmares of a different kind that are difficult to imagine.

Thanks again for the book. Sincerely, Aldous Huxley.

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Alberto Robiati and Gianluca Riccio guide readers through scenarios of the future: the opportunities, risks and possibilities we have to create a possible tomorrow.