Brave New World: More Than a Dystopian Vision

Brave New World audiobook cover


I read Brave New World a couple of times, many years ago, but thought it was worth returning to it. I listened to the audio version on Audible, narrated by Michael York. What I came away with was a reminder that Aldous Huxley was doing more than simply warning us about a materialistic, techno-worshipping dystopia. He was also invoking a theme familiar to his work, both fiction and nonfiction: that all extremes are flawed and we need balance.

Along with 1984, Brave New World is frequently cited as the most prophetic dystopian novel of all time. One of the key difference between 1984 and Brave New World is that the former is grim from start to finish while the latter is a satire (though a dark one). From the characters’ names to the farcical interactions, it conveys a very serious message in an often lighthearted style.

Whereas Orwell’s novel conveys the brutality of a totalitarian regime, Huxley reveals the dangers of relying on science and technology to solve all our problems. He also exposes the perils of unadulterated hedonism.

Brave New World has many layers. The problem with a book that’s so often quoted and referenced is that it becomes such a symbol or meme that it’s easy to overlook many of its finer points.

What Did Brave New World “Predict?”

Without question, it’s remarkable that a novel from 1931 predicted a number of things that only became common many decades later. Most notably, the following.

Cloning/Test Tube Babies

Most incredible perhaps is the description of a society where humans are cloned and childbirth is considered archaic and even obscene. Of course, we haven’t reached the latter position so far. But the first “test tube baby” was 1978, 40 years after the novel was published.


Brave New World actually mentions television. While TV was invented in 1927, it wasn’t a part of everyday life until the 1950s.


The citizens of the utopian/dystopian Brave New World are constantly on soma, a feel-good drug that can be compared to modern drugs such as valium and prozac. Some have argued that mass entertainment and social media are the modern equivalent of soma.


There are no nations in Brave New World, only a world government that presides over regions such as Western Europe.

What Seems Dated?

Not everything in Brave New World came true. Probably the part of Brave New World that feels the most dated is the way Ford is basically the new God. Ford, of course, was the leading car manufacturer in the early days of the automobile. If the book were written today, people most likely be bowing down to an advanced AI system rather than a car company.

A World of Hedonism and Escapism

Abstract futuristic scene

More than any specific inventions referred to in Brave New World, what really stands out is the mood and mentality of the citizens. People are always supposed to feel happy. No one is ever alone. Of course, today people are often alone physically but always connected by their electronic devices.

Civilization vs Primitivism

I’m not going to recount the entire plot of Brave New World here, but it deals with a semi-comical confrontation between “civilized” people and “savages.”  The initial protagonist is Bernard Marx ((the characters are named after dictators and socialist and fascist historical figures), one of the few who resists the constant pressure to conform. In a world where open relationships and casual sex have replaced monogamy, he is infatuated with Lenina, an attractive and popular woman who likes Bernard but not inclined to defy convention.

Bernard invites Lenina to visit a reservation in New Mexico, where they meet John,  referred to as “the Savage,” whose mother (“mother” is an obscenity in this world, as normal people are created in a laboratory) was born in the new world but got lost during a trip. When Bernard realizes that John’s father is a high-ranking official who is his  boss and nemesis, he hatches a scheme to  bring John back to civilization in order to discredit his enemy.

What’s interesting is that neither Bernard nor John are close to being flawless heroes. Bernard, who seems intellectually curious and independent at first, turns out to be self-serving and cowardly. John, whose values are a strange mixture of Shakespeare, Christianity, and Native American customs, does not come across as ideal either. For example, he has feelings for Lenina, but reacts violently when she attempts to seduce him. He then reveals a masochistic streak as he retreats to a monk like existence and whips himself to purge himself of lust. The novel ends on a bleak note as John commits suicide. His brand of asceticism is just as absurd as the hedonism of the “civilized” world.

A key point is that Huxley is not making a simplistic call to return to a primitive or traditional way of life.

Brave New World Revisited

Huxley wrote Brave New World Revisited in 1958, an essay looking back on his novel and noting how many of its predictions had already come to pass. By the late 50s, television, the advertising industry, and advances in pharmacology and persuasion were quite a bit further along than they were two decades earlier. On other hand, Huxley, who died in 1963, never lived to see anything approaching the contemporary world of widespread prescribing of drugs such as Prozac, Ritalin, Zoloft, Adderall, and countless others.

The Real Message of Brave New World

Balanced pile of stones


The main lesson I got from my latest dive into Brave New World is that living a free and conscious life requires balance. It’s not a question of reverting back to old belief systems such as dogmatic religion or a primitive way of life. Huxley is not merely warning us not to slavishly embrace progress and technology. He is suggesting that there’s a more sane middle path between primitivism and futurism. For clues on what this might entail, you have to read some of his other works.

Island is a good place to start. This novel is set in a truly utopian society, albeit one that ultimately succumbs to the evils of the surrounding world. Island contains elements of both the “civilized” and “savage” societies depicted in Brave New World. For example, the people in Island are not numbed by soma, but they do partake in psychedelic mushrooms to open their awareness.

You can also read The Doors of Perception for more about Huxley’s ideas on altered states of consciousness. In The Perennial Philosophy, he explores the idea that all religions share certain universal characteristics, themes also covered by Jung, Joseph Campbell, and Huston Smith.

I also recommend checking out some of Huxley’s lesser-known novels. In particular, Point, Counterpoint (1928) really gets across his intellectual complexity, as it deals with the collision of various conflicting ideologies and viewpoints. This novel reminds me a little of Dostoyevsky in this regard, though the styles of the two are markedly different.

Brave New World deserves to be read and quoted for its predictions and warnings. However, it should also be appreciated for its wider implications, that we should be aiming for awareness, personal evolution, and a balance between the material and spiritual.