George Orwell's letter from his former French teacher, Aldous Huxley, about Nineteen Eighty-Four

Shortly after George Orwell published Nineteen Eighty-Four in 1949, he received a letter from his onetime high school French teacher, Aldous Huxley, who had published Brave New Work 17 years earlier. Here are Huxley's comments, via Letters of Note:

Wrightwood. Cal.
21 October, 1949

Dear Mr. Orwell,

It was very kind of you to tell your publishers to send me a copy of your book. It arrived as I was in the midst of a piece of work that required much reading and consulting of references; and since poor sight makes it necessary for me to ration my reading, I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is. May I speak instead of the thing with which the book deals --- the ultimate revolution? The first hints of a philosophy of the ultimate revolution --- the revolution which lies beyond politics and economics, and which aims at total subversion of the individual's psychology and physiology --- are to be found in the Marquis de Sade, who regarded himself as the continuator, the consummator, of Robespierre and Babeuf. The philosophy of the ruling minority in Nineteen Eighty-Four is a sadism which has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World. I have had occasion recently to look into the history of animal magnetism and hypnotism, and have been greatly struck by the way in which, for a hundred and fifty years, the world has refused to take serious cognizance of the discoveries of Mesmer, Braid, Esdaile, and the rest.

Partly because of the prevailing materialism and partly because of prevailing respectability, nineteenth-century philosophers and men of science were not willing to investigate the odder facts of psychology for practical men, such as politicians, soldiers and policemen, to apply in the field of government. Thanks to the voluntary ignorance of our fathers, the advent of the ultimate revolution was delayed for five or six generations. Another lucky accident was Freud's inability to hypnotize successfully and his consequent disparagement of hypnotism. This delayed the general application of hypnotism to psychiatry for at least forty years. But now psycho-analysis is being combined with hypnosis; and hypnosis has been made easy and indefinitely extensible through the use of barbiturates, which induce a hypnoid and suggestible state in even the most recalcitrant subjects.

Within the next generation I believe that the world's rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. In other words, I feel that the nightmare of Nineteen Eighty-Four is destined to modulate into the nightmare of a world having more resemblance to that which I imagined in Brave New World. The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large-scale biological and atomic war --- in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.

Thank you once again for the book.

Yours sincerely,

Aldous Huxley


Notable Replies

  1. Jorpho says:

    Up until now, I assumed Nineteen Eighty-Four preceded Brave New World – for I thought Nineteen Eighty-Four is what you might wind up with if you took all the sex, drugs, and genetics out of Brave New World.

    Methinks his ideas might be rather more on the nose if one sees marketing and showmanship as an extension of what Huxley saw as "hypnotism" and "animal magnetism".

  2. Huxley's TLDR on the book: Suck it Orwell, read my book.

  3. atl says:

    "you wrote a book that's like mine, but better -- but I have quibble, so let's talk about that."

  4. Two thoughts:

    Aldus certainly knows how to fill up a page.

    Aldus completely missed the point of 1984. it's not really a prediction of the future, it is a demonstration of tactics governments have used and continue to use to manipulate their populations.

  5. Basically 1984, much like Orwell's previous "Animal Farm", is a critique of Stalinism, with obvious analogies -- Big Brother is Stalin, Goldstein is Trotsky (real name Bronstein), Rutherford, etc are the Old Bolsheviks that Stalin was in the process of purging, etc. "Brave New World" is more of a critique of the West -- that we allowed ourselves to be easily distracted by entertainment and material goods that we fall into tyranny that way.

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