– Perennial Library, New York, 1965
Read from august 18th to 30th 2015
Quis custodiet custodes?
Mankind has always dreamed of the perfect society, just as it has always feared the oppressive one. From this dream has been born the fantasy of Utopia and from this fear the nightmare of Dystopia.
But is Utopia truly the antithesis of Dystopia, and is it really an egalitarian society possible? From Thomas More to Karl Marx and H. G. Wells and many others, this perfect society generally abides by some rigid, unimaginative and sometimes implausible rules, the main one being the austerity caused by the absence of personal property. But, as it has already been seen in all Communist countries, this invests the State with an incredible power over the individual, denying the latter its importance whilst overstressing the importance of the community. And because there is nobody left to sanction its actions (that is, nobody to answer the question which is the title of this review), the State is prone to become, sooner or later, a dictatorship of the enforced good, a hell paved with good intentions, like in that old joke in which a young man eagerly helps an old woman get on a tram she didn’t want to climb. How easily Thomas More’s Utopia becomes George Orwell’s 1984.
The other way around is the decadence caused by overindulgence. The hunt for happiness at any cost leads to another type of totalitarian society: the New Brave World’s one, in which the mankind is programmed to listen to its instincts and not to its reason. Apparently so different, the two societies are in fact very similar:
In 1984 the lust for power is satisfied by inflicting pain; in Brave New World by inflicting a hardly less humiliating pleasure.
Inclined to think the future will belong to the second, much more persuasive in his opinion than the first, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New world Revisited tries to find a way to escape its Siren song. Using the same premise as Freud in Civilization and Its Discontents, that the man is in search of happiness at all costs, the author denounces the major perils of our civilization, either of biological, social or psychological nature.
A first danger is the over-population that menace to consummate the resources, undermining the well-being of the individuals and therefore the social stability. He grimly foresees (in 1958!) a future where all over-populated and underdeveloped countries will be communist. His prophecy was partially true and even though communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, it continues to flourish elsewhere. Moreover, another form of totalitarianism, the Islamic terrorist State menaces to take over.
Another danger results from the fight of the humankind with the natural selection: the medical discoveries reduce the mortality rate and overcrowd the Earth with flawed individuals: in his opinion, the decline of average healthiness may lead to a decline of average intelligence and this ethical dilemma is not easy to solve.
The technology is another good thing that turned bad in our civilization, for the technological progress leads to the concentration and centralization of the economic power. Although organization is important, over-organization transforms people into automats, suffocating the creative spirit and robbing them of freedom.
Then there is the power of the mind control, from propaganda to chemical and subconscious persuasion that brainwash people into believing everything. In a democratic society the force of the propaganda consists mainly in a combination of Dr. Jekyll (a propagandist of the truth and reason) with Mr Hyde (an analyst of human weaknesses and failings), so that the nowadays politicians appeal to the ignorance and irrationality of the elector. The same is true for dictatorship, which successfully uses “herd-poisoning” – the intoxication by the crowd:
Mindlessness and moral idiocy are not characteristically human attributes; they are symptoms of herd-poisoning.
But as the human being, as Huxley justly observes, is not fundamentally a gregarious being, society is, or should be, not an organism (like a hive or a termitary) but an organization. An organization where three values should be always respected: the value of individual freedom, the value of charity and compassion and the value of intelligence.
This is why the final chapter, What can be done?, is a pleading for creating a society as a form of “self-governing, voluntarily co-operating groups, capable of functioning outside the bureaucratic systems of Big Business and Big Government.” This is the only way for the individual to assert his freedom. And even though mankind sees less and less the intricate relation between humanity and freedom, maybe all is not lost:
The cry of “Give me television and hamburgers, but don’t bother me with the responsibilities of liberty”, may give place, under altered circumstances, to the cry of “Give me liberty or give me death.”