Dystopia is Now!Jef Costello
Whatever happened to the Age of Anxiety? In the post-war years, intellectuals left and right were constantly telling us — left and right — that we were living in an age of breakdown and decay. The pre-war gee-whiz futurists (who’d taken a few too many trips to the World’s Fair) had told us that in just a few years we’d be commuting to work in flying cars. The Cassandras didn’t really doubt that, but they foresaw that the people flying those cars would have no souls. We’d be men at the End of History, they told us; Last Men devoted only to the pursuit of pleasure — and quite possibly under the thumb of some totalitarian Nanny State that wanted to keep us that way. Where the futurists had seen utopia, the anti-futurists saw only dystopia. And they wrote novels, lots of them, and made films — and even one television show (The Prisoner).
But those days are over now. The market for dystopias has diminished considerably. The sense that something is very, very wrong, and getting worse – (something felt forty, fifty years ago even by ordinary people) has been replaced with a kind of bland, flat affect complacency. Why? Is it because the anxiety went away? Is it because things got better? Of course not. It’s because all those dire predictions came true. (Well, most of them anyway).
Dystopia is now, my friends! The future is where we are going to spend the rest of our lives. The Cassandras were right, after all. I am aware that you probably already think this. Why else would you be reading this website? But I’ll bet there’s a tiny part of you that resists what I’m saying — a tiny part that wants to say “Well, it’s not quite as bad as what they predicated. Not yet, anyway. We’ve got a few years to go before . . . uh . . . Maybe not in my lifetime . . .”
Here is the reason you think this: you believe that if it all really had come true and we really were living in dystopia, voices would be raised proclaiming this. The “intellectuals” who saw it coming decades ago would be shouting about it. If the worlds of Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Fahrenheit 451, and Atlas Shrugged really had converged and been made flesh, everyone would know it and the horror and indignation would bring it all tumbling down!
Well, I hate to disappoint you. Unfortunately, there’s this little thing called “human nature” that makes your expectations a tad unrealistic. When I was very young I discovered that there are two kinds of people. You see, I used to (and still do) spend a lot of time decrying “the way people are,” or “how people are today.” If I was talking to someone simpatico they would grin and nod in recognition of the truth I was uttering. Those are the people who (like me) didn’t think that “people” referred to them. But to my utterly naïve horror I discovered that plenty of people took umbrage at my disparaging remarks about “people.” They thought that “people” meant them. And, as it turns out, they were right. They were self-selecting sheep. In fact, this turned out to be my way of telling whether or not I was dealing with somebody “in the Matrix.”
Shockingly, people in the Matrix take a lot of pride in being in the Matrix. They don’t like negative remarks about “how things are today,” “today’s society,” or “America.” They are fully invested in “how things are”; fully identified with it. And they actually do (trust me on this) believe that how things are now is better than they’ve ever been. (Who do you think writes Mad Men?)
And that’s why nobody cares that they’re living in the Village. That’s why nobody cares that dystopia is now. Most of those old guys warning about the “age of anxiety” are dead. Their children and grandchildren were born and raised in dystopia, and it’s all that they know.
In the following remarks I will revisit some classic dystopian novels, and invite you to consider that we are now living in them.
1. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
This is, hands down, the best dystopian novel of all. It is set in a future age, after a great cataclysmic war between East and West, when Communism and assembly-line capitalism have fused into one holistic system. Characters are named “Marx” and “Lenina,” but they all revere “Our Ford.” Here we have Huxley anticipating Heidegger’s famous thesis of the “metaphysical identity” of capitalism and communism: both, in fact, are utterly materialistic; both have a “leveling effect.”
When people discuss Brave New World, they tend to emphasize the “technological” aspects to the story: human beings hatched in test tubes, pre-sorted into “castes”; soma, Huxley’s answer to Zoloft and ecstasy all rolled into one; brainwashing people in their sleep through “hypnopedia”; visits to “the feelies” instead of the movies, where you “feel” everything happening on the screen, etc.
These things get emphasized for two reasons. First, some of them enable us to distance ourselves from the novel. I mean, after all, we can’t hatch people in test tubes (yet). We are not biologically designed to fit caste roles (yet). We don’t have “feelies” (virtual reality isn’t quite there – yet). So, we’re not living in Brave New World. Right? On the other hand, since we really have almost developed these things (and since we really do have soma), these facets of the novel can also allow us to admire Huxley’s prescience, and marvel a tad at how far we’ve come. The fantasies of yesteryear made reality! (Some sick souls feel rather proud of themselves when they read Brave New World.) But these responses are both defense mechanisms; strategies to evade the ways in which the novel really comes close to home. Without further ado, here they are:
The suppression of thumos: Thumos is “spiritedness.” According to Plato (in The Republic) it’s that aspect of us that responds to a challenge against our values. Thumos is what makes us want to beat up those TSA screeners who pat us down and put us through that machine that allows them to view our naughty bits. It’s an affront to our dignity, and makes us want to fight. Anyone who does not feel affronted in this situation is not really a human being. This is because it is really thumos that makes us human; that separates us from the beasts. (It’s not just that we’re smarter than them; our possession of thumos makes us different in kind from other animals.) Thumos is the thing in us that responds to ideals: it motivates us to fight for principles, and to strive to be more than we are. In Brave New World, all expressions of thumos have been ruthlessly suppressed. The world has been completely pacified. Healthy male expressions of spiritedness are considered pathological (boy, was Huxley a prophet!). (For more information on thumos read Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man – a much-misunderstood book, chiefly because most readers never get to its fifth and final part.)
Denigration of “transcendence.” “Transcendence” is my convenient term for what many would call the “religious impulse” in us. This part of the soul is a close cousin to thumos, as my readers will no doubt realize. In Brave New World, the desire for transcendence is considered pathological and addressed through the application of heavy doses of soma. Anyone feeling a bit religious simply pops a few pills and goes on a “trip.” (Sort of like the “trips” Huxley himself took – only without the Vedanta that allowed him to contextualize and interpret them.) In the novel, a white boy named John is rescued from one of the “Savage Reservations,” where the primitives are kept, and brought to “civilization.” His values and virtues are Traditional and he is horrified by the modern world. In one particularly memorable scene, he is placed in a classroom with other young people where they watch a film about penitents crawling on their knees to church and flagellating themselves. To John’s horror, the other kids all begin laughing hysterically. Religion is for losers, you see. How could anyone’s concerns rise above shopping? Which brings me to . . .
Consumerism. The citizens of Brave New World are inundated with consumer goods and encouraged to acquire as many as possible. Hypnopedia teaches them various slogans that are supposed to guide them through life, amongst which is “ending is better than mending.” In other words, if something breaks or tears, don’t fix it – just go out and buy a new one! (Sound familiar?) Happiness and contentment are linked to acquisition, and to . . .
Distractions: Drugs, Sex, Sports, Media. These people’s lives are so empty they have to be constantly distracted lest they actually reflect on this fact and become blue. Soma comes in very handy here. So does sex. Brave New World was a controversial book in its time, and was actually banned in some countries, because of its treatment of sex. In Huxley’s world of the future, promiscuity is encouraged. And it begins very early in life — very early (this was probably what shocked readers the most). Between orgasms, citizens are also encouraged to avail themselves of any number of popular sports, whether as participants or as spectators. (Huxley tantalizes us with references to such mysterious activities as “obstacle golf,” which he never really describes.) Evenings (prior to copulation) can be spent going to the aforementioned “feelies.”
The desacralization of sex and the denigration of the family. As implied by the above, in Brave New World sex is stripped of any sense of sacredness (and transcendence) and treated as meaningless recreation. Feelings of love and the desire for monogamy are considered perversions. Families have been abolished and words such as “mother” are considered obscene. Now, before you optimists point out that we haven’t “abolished” the family, consider what the vector is of all the left-wing attacks on it (it takes a village, comrades). And consider the fact that in the West the family has all but abolished itself. Marriage is now consciously seen by many as a temporary arrangement (even as a convenient merging of bank accounts), and so few couples are having children that, as Pat Buchanan will tell you, we are ceasing to exist. Why? Because children require too much sacrifice; too much time spent away from careering, boinking, tripping, and playing obstacle golf.
The cult of youth. Apparently, much of the inspiration for Brave New World came from a trip Huxley took to the United States, where aging is essentially regarded as a disease. In Brave New World, everyone is kept artificially young – pumped full of hormones and nipped and tucked periodically. When they reach about 60 their systems just can’t take it anymore and they collapse and die. Whereas John is treated as a celebrity, his mother is hidden from public view simply because she has grown old on the savage reservation, without the benefit of the artificial interventions the “moderns” undergo. Having never seen a naturally old person before, the citizens of Brave New World regard her with horror. But I’m guessing she probably didn’t look any worse than Brigitte Bardot does today. (Miss Bardot has never had plastic surgery).
The novel’s climax is a marvelous dialogue between John and the “World Controller.” The latter defends the world he has helped create, by arguing that it is free of war, competition, and disease. John argues that as bad as these things often are, they also bring out the best in people. Virtue and greatness are only produced through struggle.
As a piece of writing, Brave New World is not that impressive. But as a prophecy of things to come, it is utterly uncanny – and disturbingly on target. So much so that it had to be, in effect, suppressed by over-praising our next novel . . .
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1948)
This is the most famous of all dystopian novels, and also the one that is least prescient. Like Brave New World, its literary qualities are not very impressive. It is chiefly remembered for its horrifying and bizarrely over-the-top portrayal of a future totalitarian society.
As just about everyone knows, in Nineteen Eighty-Four every aspect of society is controlled by “Big Brother” and his minions. All homes feature “telescreens” which cannot be shut off, and which contain cameras that observe one’s every move. The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Love with terror, etc. Orwell includes slogans meant to parody Hegelian-Marxist dialectics: “war is peace,” “freedom is slavery,” ignorance is strength.” The language has been deliberately debased by “Newspeak,” dumbed-down and made politically correct. Those who commit “thoughtcrime” are taken to Room 101, where, in the end, they wind up loving Big Brother. And whatever you do, don’t do it to Julia, because the Women’s Anti-Sex League may get you. In short, things are double-plus bad. And downright Orwellian.
Let’s start with what Orwell got right. Yes, Newspeak reminds me of political correctness. (And Orwell’s analysis of how controlling language is a means to control thought is wonderfully insightful.) Then there is “doublethink,” which Orwell describes in the following way:
To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget, whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself — that was the ultimate subtlety; consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed.
This, of course, reminds me of the state of mind most people are in today when it comes to such matters as race, “diversity,” and sex differences.
The Women’s Anti-Sex League reminds me – you guessed it – of feminism. Then there is “thoughtcrime,” which is now a reality in Europe and Canada, and will soon be coming to America. (Speaking of Brigitte Bardot, did you know that she has been convicted five times of “inciting racial hatred,” simply for objecting to the Islamic invasion of France?) And yes, when I get searched at the airport, when I see all those security cameras on the streets, when I think of the Patriot Act and of “indefinite detention,” I do think of Orwell.
But, for my money, Orwell was more wrong than right. Oceania was more or less a parody of Stalin’s U.S.S.R. (Come to think of it, North Korea is sort of a parody of Stalin’s U.S.S.R., isn’t it? It’s as if Kim Il-Sung read Nineteen Eight-Four and thought “You know, this could work . . .”) But Orwell would never have believed it if you’d told him that the U.S.S.R. would be history a mere four decades or so after his book was published. Soft totalitarianism, not hard, was the wave of the future. Rapacious, unbridled capitalism was the future, not central planning. Mindless self-indulgence and phony “individualism” were our destiny, not party discipline and self-sacrifice. The future, it turned out, was dressed in Prada, not Carhartt. And this is really why Brave New World is so superior to Nineteen Eighty-Four. We are controlled primarily through our vices, not through terror.
The best description I have encountered of the differences between the two novels comes from Neil Postman’s book Amusing Ourselves to Death:
What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egotism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.
And here is Christopher Hitchens (in his essay “Why Americans are not Taught History”) on the differences between the two novels:
We dwell in a present-tense culture that somehow, significantly, decided to employ the telling expression “You’re history” as a choice reprobation or insult, and thus elected to speak forgotten volumes about itself. By that standard, the forbidding dystopia of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four already belongs, both as a text and as a date, with Ur and Mycenae, while the hedonist nihilism of Huxley still beckons toward a painless, amusement-sodden, and stress-free consensus. Orwell’s was a house of horrors. He seemed to strain credulity because he posited a regime that would go to any lengths to own and possess history, to rewrite and construct it, and to inculcate it by means of coercion. Whereas Huxley . . . rightly foresaw that any such regime could break but could not bend. In 1988, four years after 1984, the Soviet Union scrapped its official history curriculum and announced that a newly authorized version was somewhere in the works. This was the precise moment when the regime conceded its own extinction. For true blissed-out and vacant servitude, though, you need an otherwise sophisticated society where no serious history is taught.
I believe this just about says it all.
3. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (1953)
This one is much simpler. A future society in which books have been banned. Now that all the houses are fireproof, firemen go around ferreting out contraband books from backward “book people” and burning them. So, what do the majority of the people do with themselves if they aren’t allowed to read? Why, exactly what they do today. They watch television. A lot of television.
I read Fahrenheit 451 after seeing the film version by Francois Truffaut. I have to admit that after seeing the film I was a bit disappointed by the book. (This would be regarded as heresy by Bradbury fans, who all see the film as far inferior.) I only dimly recall the book, as the film manages to be more immediately relevant to current pathologies than the book does (perhaps because the film was made fourteen years later, in 1967).
I vividly remember the scene in the film in which Linda, Montag the fireman’s wife, asks for a second “wallscreen” (obviously an Orwell influence). “They say that when you get your second wallscreen it’s like having your family grow out around you,” she gushes. Then there’s the scene where a neighbor explains to Montag why his new friend Clarisse (actually, one of the “book people”) is so different. “Look there,” the neighbor says, pointing to the television antenna on top of one of the houses. “And there . . . and there,” she says, pointing out other antennae. Then she indicates Clarisse’s house, where there is no antenna (she and her uncle don’t watch TV). “But look there . . . there’s . . . nothing,” says the neighbor, with a blank, bovine quality.
Equally memorable was a scene on board a monorail (accompanied by haunting music from Bernard Herrmann). Montag watches as the passengers touch themselves gently, as if exploring their own sensations for the very first time, while staring off into space with a kind of melancholy absence in their eyes. Truffaut goes Bradbury one better, by portraying this future as one in which people are numb; insensitive not just to emotions but even to physical sensations. In an even more striking scene, Montag reduces one of Linda’s friends to tears, simply by reading aloud an emotionally powerful passage from David Copperfield. The response from her concerned friends? “Novels are sick. All those idiotic words. Evil words that hurt people. Why disturb people with that sort of filth? Poor Doris.”
What Bradbury didn’t forsee was a future where there would be no need for the government to ban books, because people would just voluntarily stop reading them. Again, Huxley was more prescient. Lightly paraphrasing Neil Postman (from the earlier quotation), “What Bradbury feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.” Still, you’ve got to hand it to Bradbury. Although books still exist and nobody (at least not in America) is banning them, otherwise the world of today is pretty much the world of Fahrenheit 451.
No one reads books anymore. Many of our college graduates can barely read, even if they wanted to. Everywhere bookstores are closing up. Explore the few that still exist and you’ll see that the garbage they sell hardly passes as literature. (Today’s bestsellers are so badly written it’s astonishing.) It’s always been the case in America that most people didn’t read a lot, and only read good books when forced to. But it used to be that people felt just a little bit ashamed of that. Things are very different today. A kind of militant proletarian philistinism reigns. The booboisie now openly flaunt their ignorance and vulgarity as if these were virtues. It used to be that average Americans paid lip service to the importance of high culture, but secretly thought it a waste of time. Now they openly proclaim this, and regard those with cultivated tastes as a rather curious species of useless loser.
Nobody needs to ban books. We’ve made ourselves too stupid to deserve them.
4. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957)
Atlas Shrugged changed my life.
You’ve heard that before, right? But it’s true. I read this novel when I was twenty years old, and it was a revelation to me. I’ve since moved far away from Rand’s philosophy, but there’s a part of me that still loves and admires this book, and its author. And now I’ll commit an even worse heresy than saying I liked the film of Fahrenheit 451 more than the book: I think that, purely as a piece of prose fiction, Atlas Shrugged is the best of the four novels I’m considering here. I don’t mean that it’s more prescient or philosophically richer. I just mean that it’s a better piece of writing. True, it’s not as good a book as The Fountainhead, and it’s deformed by excesses of all kinds (including a speech by one character that lasts for . . . gulp . . . sixty pages). Nevertheless, Rand could be a truly great writer, when she wasn’t surrounded by sycophants who burbled affirmatively over every phrase she jotted (even when it was something like “hamburger sandwich” or “Brothers, you asked for it!”).
Atlas Shrugged depicts an America in the not-so-distant future. Collectivism has run rampant, and government regulation is driving the economy into the ground. The recent godawful film version of the first third of the novel (do yourself a big favor and don’t see it) emphasizes this issue of government regulation at the expense of Rand’s other, more important messages. (Rand was not simply a female Milton Friedman.) Rand’s analysis of the roots of socialism is fundamentally Nietzschean, though she would not admit this. It is “hatred of the good for being the good” that drives people in the world of Atlas Shrugged to redistribute wealth, nationalize industries, and subsidize lavish homes for subnormal children. And at the root of this slave morality (which Rand somewhat superficially dubs “altruism”) is a kind of primal, life-denying irrationalism. Rand’s solution? A morality of reason, where recognition that A is A, that facts are facts, is the primary commandment. This morality is preached by Rand’s prophet, John Galt, who is the leader of a secret band of producers and innovators who have “gone on strike,” refusing to let the world’s parasites feed off of them.
Despite all her errors (too many to mention here) there’s actually a great deal of truth in Rand’s analysis of what’s wrong with the world. Simply put, Rand was right because Nietzsche was right. And yes, we are living in the world of Atlas Shrugged. But the real key to seeing why this novel is relevant to today lies in a single concept that is never explored in Atlas Shrugged or in any of the other novels discussed here: race.
Virtually everything Rand warned about in Atlas Shrugged has come to pass, but it’s even worse than she thought it was going to be. For our purveyors of slave morality are not just out to pillage the productive people, they’re out to destroy the entire white race and western culture as such. Rand was an opponent of “racism,” which she attacked in an essay as “barnyard collectivism.” Like the leftists, she apparently saw human beings as interchangeable units, each with infinite potential. Yes, she was a great elitist – but she believed that people became moochers and looters and parasites because they had “bad premises,” and had made bad choices. Whatever character flaws they might have were changeable, she thought. Rand was adamantly opposed to any form of biological determinism.
Miss Rand (born Alyssa Rosenbaum) failed to see that all the qualities she admired in the productive “men of the mind” – their Apollonian reason, their spirit of adventure, their benevolent sense of life, their chiseled Gary Cooperish features – were all qualities chiefly of white Europeans. There simply are no black or Chinese or Hispanic John Galts. The real way to “stop the motor of the world” is to dispossess all the white people, and this is exactly what the real-life Ellsworth Tooheys and Bertram Scudders are up to today.
Atlas Shrugged, Brave New World, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Fahrenheit 451 all depict white, racially homogeneous societies. Non-whites simply do not figure at all. Okay, yes, there might be a reference somewhere in Atlas Shrugged to a “Negro porter,” and perhaps something similar in the other books. But none of the characters in these novels is non-white, and non-whites are so far in the background they may as well not exist for these authors. Huxley thought that if we wanted epsilon semi-morons to do our dirty work the government would have to hatch them in test tubes. Obviously, he had just never visited Detroit or Atlanta. Epsilon semi-morons are reproducing themselves every day, and at a rate that far outstrips that of the alphas.
These authors foresaw much of today’s dystopian world: its spiritual and moral emptiness, its culture of consumerism, its flat-souled Last Manishness, its debasement of language, its doublethink, its illiteracy, and its bovine tolerance of authoritarian indignities. But they did not foresee the most serious and catastrophic of today’s problems: the eminent destruction of whites, and western culture.
None of them thought to deal with race at all. Why is this? Probably for the simple reason that it never occurred to any of them that whites might take slave morality so far as to actually will their own destruction. As always, the truth is stranger than fiction.
The dystopian novel most relevant to our situation is also – surprise! – the one that practically no one has heard of: Jean Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints. But that is a subject (perhaps) for another essay . . .
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Though he had still the old school totalitarianism in mind, I think Orwell provided with stunning accuracy many important keys to what is going on now today.
An excellent article, thank you. I wonder if you are familiar with Ira Levin’s This Perfect Day, and if so if you would care to comment on it. To my mind it is superior to the other novels (except for Atlas, of course), dealing as it does, for instance, with omnipresent state-controlled computers and the all-pervasive enforced ethos of “love” and “brotherhood.” In Levin’s dystopia the worst obscenity is “Fight you, you brother-fighter!”
I am an admirer of Levin’s other work, but have not heard of this novel. Thank you for bringing it to my attention, and for your kind words.
Read that as a teenager, when the Book of the Month Club offered it. Certainly much better than his more ‘famous’ books; perhaps more famous because made into movies?
“Christ Marx Wood and Wei
Led us to this perfect day…”
Would I be right to presume you were attracted here by Jef Costello’s review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged? I must say that while I don’t accept libertarianism as a system, I think your revisionist historical writings (notably those on Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt) are very good.
This is an extremely interesting essay. I have long thought that the reason why dystopian classics were not as widely read or discussed as they used to be is precisely because they all came true, more or less, and you’ve articulated that well. There are other books you could have added as well, such as Eugene Zamiatin’s “We” (which both Huxley and Orwell were influenced by) or Jack London’s “The Iron Heel.”
As for “Brave New World,” I can’t comment on it very well as I read it 20 years ago and my memory of it is quite hazy now. I’ve often wondered why no film version of it has been made, apart from a couple of corny TV movie adaptations that nobody has seen (one starring Keir Dullea and one Leonard Nimoy, oddly enough). Lucas’ early film “THX 1138” resembles it in many respects, at least in the first half. And many other films have been influenced by it, including the ’70s classics “Silent Running,” “Logan’s Run” and “Soylent Green.” (The 1970s seems to have been the last decade when people in a position to make Hollywood films were capable of recognizing dystopia when they saw it. The wonderful monologue delivered by the CEO Mr. Jensen in the 1976 film “Network,” in which he prophecies that multinational corporations are moving toward converting the world into a gigantic corporation “in which every man shall own a share of stock, all doubts tranquilized, all boredom amused,” seems very prescient today. As does the rest of the film.)
As for “1984,” I think you’re doing it a disservice. As Anthony Burgess discusses in his brilliant critical work, “1985,” “1984” is actually a satire, although it’s difficult to know this unless one had been living in the UK during the immediate postwar era. Burgess describes how Orwell had originally wanted to title the book 1948 (which was the time in which he wrote it), and how many details were borrowed from the time, such as the ubiquitous images of Big Brother everywhere, which Burgess explains was nearly identical to government propaganda posters which appeared everywhere in London during the war. Still, I do think the book has much to say to those of us who didn’t experience the 1940s. While it is true that Orwell was thinking of National Socialism and Stalinism when he wrote it, he goes far beyond mere social commentary. I will admit, in my warped imagination, I have fantasized about what the ultimate totalitarian state would be like, and I think Orwell took this idea about as far as it could possibly go. Oceania operates under a type of politics that could only be dreamed up by iron-hearted philosophers, as the actualization of the metaphysics of the regime in reality, to the point of altering reality, is considered more important than any specific political or humanitarian goal. It’s the absolute ideal form of totalitarianism. Recall the passage during Winston’s torture, when O’Brien mocks the Nazis and Stalinists for not having realized that absolute power is an end in itself, and not a means to an end. In a sense, this is what all regimes do – us power to recreate reality and human identity – although Orwell takes it to its furthest possible extreme to illustrate his point. Along the way, he also makes a lot of cogent observations about how language is used in the service of power, and even about the troublesome relationship between words and reality – something that would become a favorite talking point of linguists and philosophers in later decades, with the coming of semiotics and postmodernism. “1984” could also be viewed as a darkly religious text, in my view, since the unseen Big Brother could be interpreted as God, while Winston is the disciple gone astray who fails to love him, and thus has to be brutally cured of his sinful thoughts and desires before he can properly see the endless love which Big Brother showers upon him – which isn’t all that different from the Inquisition, or from the master narrative of most religions, especially the Abrahamic ones. So I think to only see it as Orwell’s attempt to guess the future is to underestimate it.
I also have to mention that the British film adaptation of “1984” that was actually made in 1984, with John Hurt and Richard Burton, is one of the greatest novel-to-film adaptations ever made. All of the power of the book is there (even if some of the ideas had to be sacrificed).
Likewise, I can’t agree with your characterization of the film of “Fahrenheit 451” as being better than the book. I think the film is extremely good, and I’ve seen it several times, but the book goes much further, and I think does a better job of depicting our times. The type of television programs that are described (clowns being murdered and such), the fact that people vote for Presidents based solely on looks, and America’s interventions all over the world that are barely even noticed by those at home – all of this is in the book, and not the film.
I think your last paragraph of the section on F451 perfectly captures the reality of America today, however.
As for Ayn Rand, I’ve never read the book. I’m sorry, but the Objectivists I knew when I was at school gave me a permanent mental block against anything associated with her.
Very interesting comments, John. Thank you.
I agree that the Radford adaptation is excellent. It’s one of a handful of very faithful cinematic adaptations of novels that I admire very much — alongside Women in Love, Rosemary’s Baby, and Fight Club.
@ “I have long thought that the reason why dystopian classics were not as widely read or discussed as they used to be is precisely because they all came true, more or less”
Not exactly. I believe it was in Jeffrey Meyers’ biography on Orwell where I read the fascinating anecdote that, right after 1984 was published (IIRC Orwell didn’t intend to title it 1948 but The Last Man), Huxley wrote Orwell telling that he didn’t believe that hard totalitarianisms would be the way in the future, “with a boot on the face”, but a soft totalitarian system such as the one depicted in Brave New World.
Huxley was right. And it’s pathetic that, in a recent thread at Mangan’s, instead of rebelling against the soma drug (the fictional drug in Brave New World synthesized with purposes of social control), commenters discuss how the amphetamine Adderall—a licit drug in the real world—helps them with tedious tasks by making fun out work.
About 7 million children are being drugged with licit drugs in NorthAm alone, especially the most independent white males, in order to control them at school.
Is this not proof that the soma that Huxley warned us about has become reality?
I’ve met Dr Fred Baughman in person, probably the most visibly outspoken critic of labeling children with non-existent disorders/diseases expressly to SELL THE SOMA DRUG (methylphenidate). And when I was an anti-shrink activist Peter Breggin’s wife sent me a book authored by her husband (a psychiatrist who has spoken in the Congress about the dangers of the new soma). I also have written extensively on this gigantic scientific fraud in Spanish.
Greg, if sometime in the future you need a piece about this unbelievable scandal I’d be happy to contribute. What Dr. Breggin has observed over and over in his clinical experience in the US is that precisely the brightest male kids are the ones who get medicated by the System.
Chechar, I would welcome an article on this.
Also, Kudos to Greg (if that’s who it was) for picking one of the best stills from “Metropolis” to illustrate this article!
Actually, I picked that.
Aye, that still grabbed my attention.
We really do need someone to write about unser Lang…
I’ve got an essay on Metropolis and Die Nibelungen, but it was a rather rushed piece, salvageable mind you; but does need a reworking nonetheless.
Also, brilliant piece.
I also have to say, while reading Jef’s characterization of present-day America, I couldn’t help but think of that quote which is variously attributed to two great metaphysicians, Gerald Ford or Dwight Eisenhower: “Things are more like they are now than they have ever been.”
One last observation: “booboisie” deserves to enter our lexicon.
I borrowed that from Mencken, actually.
Always steal from the best.
What makes Brave New World so important to me is the carefully imbeded indicators of Jewishness at high levels. Not only is Mustafa Mond described as having all of the facial features characteristic of Jews, but both first and last name are derived from a crypto-Jew and a known Jew respectively. By using the names Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Rothschild Huxley manages to document the important figures of the epoch who happen to be overwhelmingly Jewish.
A brilliant essay. It has been 20 years since I read Atlas. I’ve always believed that Rand is under appreciated on the White right. Granted, she was a Jew who promoted materialism and hyper-individualism and who denounced racism and collectivism, but those ideas only represent one current in her work. There are other themes and currents in Rand’s work, as you point out, such as her emphasis on those who hate the good because they’re good, the strong because they’re strong, and the beautiful because they’re beautiful. If you read Atlas or anything else Rand wrote and substitute White in the places she talks about producers, achievers, builders, etc. and substitute Jews and non-Whites where she talks about the envious moochers, parasites and destroyers, Rand’s analysis holds up pretty well.
Our own dystopia is a hybrid. It definitely has all the features Huxley describes, but it has many features suggested by Orwell and Rand too. In our own dystopia, you might say the first and primary method of social control is modeled on Huxley (drugs, sex and distraction). The second level is modeled on Rand (wealth redistribution from White producers to non-White moochers upheld as a moral ideal and facilitated by the State). And the third level is modeled on the thought control and hard totalitarianism of Orwell. If you free yourself from the first and second levels and try convince others to do the same, or if you just slip up and commit major thoughtcrime in public, you will get a visit from the thought police and increasingly the literal police (Emma West).
L. P. Hartley’s Facial Justice (1960) sounds like a dystopian novel worth examining. While I haven’t read it myself, the section on it in Helmut Schoeck’s Envy (1969) indicates that it incisively addresses the role of envy in egalitarian societies.
“sycophants who burbled affirmatively over every phrase she jotted (even when it was something like “hamburger sandwich” or “Brothers, you asked for it!”).”
Oddly enough, one of the favorite catchphrases from Mystery Science Theater was
“Oh, what I wouldn’t give for a charbroiled hamburger sandwich and some french-fried potatoes!”
More oddly still, the scene that inspired it [from “I Accuse My Parents,” where, like “play it again, Sam” it doesn’t literally occur] looks EXACTLY like the John Galt diner scenes from the AS1 movie:
I think Rand used the phrase “hamburger sandwich” (which, yes, actually does occur in Atlas Shrugged) because she didn’t want to date the novel. Ironically, of course, the central role of train travel is the most dated thing about it ….
I would have thought that train travel in Atlas Shrugged could be used better as an example of foresight of the impending Dystopia rather than as a dated means of transport. See
But a great essay as usual Jef and I look forward to your thoughts on Camp of the Saints.
I don’t know Sandy. Maybe someday we can develop a wood or coal-burning, steam-powered airliner. What will those white people think of next?
I think we crossed wires Greg for the article tells how California’s high speed train system first proposed at $35.7 billion on November 2008 had
ballooned to $98.5 billion by November 2011. The first 130-mile segment of civil works and track between Bakersfield and Fresno in the Central Valley would lack electrification as well as high-speed train control and communication systems. So it can’t be used as testing ground for high-speed trains. At the most, it might be used by regular diesel trains. By the way, today’s modern trains that run between Glasgow and Edinburgh take two minutes longer that the steam trains that ran at the time of the First World War.
Speaking of crossed wires my credit card problem has been solved so if you could get Mike to email me I can get back on track . At this end I can either contribute the bronze$20 a month or the silver $50/month. As I fall in between I’ll need Mike’s help to tweak it. Needless to say, I was delighted to read that you too were having computer problems! I don’t feel so bad now.
Let’s not forget to mention Alex Kurtagic’s recent effort “Mister”, which is a great and fun read.
I think it is quite overlooked in the history of literature that most dystopias tend to have a tendency to the Right – as the Left has occupied the notion of “progress”.
When watching “Fahrenheit 451” I felt it stRiki-Eiking that the firemen somewhat looked like British fascists, yet the dictatorship is indeed a rather “politically correct” one, were everbody is forced to be nice and liberal. Another ironic touch: in one scene you see also “Mein Kampf” going up into flames.
Jean Raspail in his 2011 foreword to “Camp of Saints” coined a clever update of Orwell: he said that today everybody (who is White/European) has to bow down to the “Big Other” (the alien, immigrant, “diverse”, minority etc) and sacrifice all self-interest to him.
Yeah, when are they going to make a movie version of Camp of the Saints? 12th of never.
Great article. I was at the gym yesterday, on the elliptical for two hours watching Toddlers and Tiaras and Hoarders, and in the middle of it remembered this article. The shame.
I think you make a great point in that the dystopian novel/movie is no longer desirable to the masses because a dystopian world is merely describing our present, not warning us about the future. And who wants to be told they live in such shitty times? If I’ve learned anything from all my media watching is that people hate reality and try to elude is as frequently as possible.
In that case, I wonder how Hunger Games will fare in theaters. Also please note in the previous how everyone is white- one can only assume they will try to tie this into a “Nazi future” narrative instead of a general dystopian tale.
Simply great work!
Ralph Raico: It’s nice to see your name here. As a German-American, and a newcomer to these circles in 1998, ignorant of many things, your “Nazifying the Germans” was one of the first articles that I distributed to many places, and that began my education.
A year later, I was on the Germanica list when a member enthusiastically posted the Joseph Stromberg review of Die Partei der Freiheit, which I still have in English.
Today, by coincidence or possibly by a reader of Counter-Currents, this link was posted to a list that I’m on: http://mises.org/books/great_wars_great_leaders_raico.pdf
and I see that many of the articles already well-known (re Churchill, FDR, etc.) are included. I don’t know when the book was published, but it’s good to see that the articles can be had (and given) in book form.
I neglected to mention how much I appreciated Dystopia Is Now!, with its insightful comparisons of old favorites. I read all of the books mentioned during my college years, long enough ago that the ideas and scenarios presented in Brave New World and 1984 were so novel as to be truly mind-expanding, thrilling. Aldous Huxley’s writings made the greatest impact on me at the time; I went on to read almost every other book he wrote, though much of it had little application to the real world, very heady compared to Orwell, whose themes were easily understood and can be seen and heard all around us today. Animal Farm has never gotten nearly the attention that 1984 has, but it, too, is a perfect gem, and just as horrifying.
There’s an interesting Huxley interview here:
There are several new books depicting a dystopian or post apocalyptic type world but these books are actually targeting preteen children and young adults.
“The Hunger Games, a trilogy that will soon have the first book made into a motion picture coming out in March. By Suzanne Collins
post-apocalyptic world in the country of Panem where the countries of North America once existed. This is where the government, working in a central city called the Capitol, holds power. In the book, the Hunger Games are an annual televised event where the Capitol chooses one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of 12 districts for a massive televised battle in which only one person can survive.”
Never Let Me Go which was made into a movie and released in 2010, based on a novel by Kazuo Ishiguro:
“Never Let Me Go is set in an alternate history and centers on Kathy, Ruth and Tommy who are portrayed by Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield, respectively. The three, who become entangled in a love triangle, are scientific specimens created in a laboratory to provide their organs to severely ill patients.”
And for the younger kids : The Giver by Lois Lowrey:
“The Giver is a dystopian children’s novel by Lois Lowry. It is set in a society which is at first presented as a utopian society and gradually appears more and more dystopic. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness”, a plan which has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of “Receiver of Memory,” the person who stores all the memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. When Jonas meets the previous receiver—the “Giver”—he is confused in many ways. The Giver is also able to break some rules, such as turning off the speaker and lying to people of the community. As Jonas receives the memories from the Giver, he discovers the power of knowledge. The people in his community are happy because they don’t know of a better life, but the knowledge of what they are missing out on could create chaos. He faces a dilemma: Should he stay with the community, his family living a shallow life without love, color, choices, and knowledge, or should he run away to where he can live a full life?”
None of these books have gratuitous sex or more than minor descriptions of sexual situations. The main characters are all assumed to be white, though I am sure when the movie comes out they will have a few token other races to mask that fact.
If any of you have teenagers they should read these books, but all can certainly be enjoyed by an adult.
Thank you, April. The Giver actually sounds pretty interesting.
I would also like to suggest Anthem as a form of the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged LIGHT, I had my girls read it along with The Giver back in the 7th grade and compare and contrast the two novels.
Anthem is a dystopian fiction novella by Ayn Rand, written in 1937 and first published in 1938 in England. It takes place at some unspecified future date when mankind has entered another dark age characterized by irrationality, collectivism, and socialistic thinking and economics. Technological advancement is now carefully planned (when it is allowed to occur at all) and the concept of individuality has been eliminated (for example, the use of the word “I” or “Ego” is punishable by death).
Before I discovered white nationalism I must confess to being a libertarian. I just loved Atlas Shrugged! In view of my new insights I consigned Atlas to the lowest book shelf.
Thank you for giving me a reason for re-appreciating the work! Just understanding that the producers are whites is enough: implicit whiteness is omnipresent in their world.
By the way, I do not think that “Atlas” really preaches materialism. The descriptions of the producers at work have an almost mystical ring to them, work to them seems a kind of serious play, there is a happiness in creating. The money is only important as a recognition for the work. It is a just reward. Not like the Jewish Wall Street looters…
Rand’s uncensored views were published (perhaps in error) by “Leonard Piekoff” in Journals of Ayn Rand. (1946, age 41)
Rand on race Journals of Ayn Rand
“Men’s intellectual achievements have always been so unequal that to the thinkers the majority of their brothers have always seemed subhuman. And some men may still be, for all the evidence of rationality, or lack of it, that they give. We may still be in evolution, as a species, and living side by side with some “missing links.”
We do not know to what extent the majority of men are now rational. (They are certainly far from the perfect rational being, and all the teachings they absorb push them still further back to the pre-human stage.) But we do know that mankind as a whole and each man as an individual has a chance to survive and succeed only to the degree of their general and individual intelligence. That is all a rational man can deal with, count on, or be concerned with. Let him, without wondering about actual numbers, or percentages of intelligence in others, act on the basis of “addressing himself to intelligence”- and he will win. And he will find that he does not have to fear stupidity. (Most men now are rational beings, even if not too smart; they are not pre-humans incapable of rational thinking; they can be dealt with only on the basis of free, rational consent.)
If it’s asked about those who are still pre-human, or near enough to it, and incapable of of rationality to guide their lives? What if such do exist among us? The answer is: nothing. Their way of living is not ours; in fact, they have no way of living, no method or means of survival- except through imitating us, who have acquired the human method and means. Leave us to our way of living- man’s way- freedom, individual independence- and we’ll carry them along by providing an example and a world of safety and comfort such as they can never quite grasp, yet alone achieve.
We do this- but even if we didn’t, so what? If those creatures incapable of rational existence are sub-human, are we to sacrifice ourselves or be sacrificed to them? Are we to descend to their level? Are we to make them the goal of our existence, and service to them our only purpose? If these pre-humans are incapable of rational thinking and of independence, and therefore they need an enslaved, controlled, regimented, “protective” society in order to survive- we cannot survive in such a society. By definition, we are then two different species. Their requirements are opposite to ours. They’ll perish without us, anyway. But we will not be sacrificed to them. We will live in freedom- whether or not others can or will live that way.
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