The Tyranny of Pleasure or Pain? (Orwell Vs. Huxley)

“We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and the prophecy didn’t, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell’s dark vision, there was another – slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

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 would want 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 egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth 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, Huxley added, people are controlled inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure, In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.

This book is about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right.”

In a culture that is so easily offendable – refusing to see the appeal of literature beyond the pixelations at their fingertips, and ready to passionately give themselves over to petty causes and afflictions – it would seem that Neil Postman was right.

Personally, I believe the future – unchecked and unconverted – would find both of these men to be correct. Statists always have a secret contempt for the one they are an advocate of, but this would come to bear fully in a future where people trade their freedoms for security. NSA anyone?

It is a passage such as this one which challenges me to think less about politics (or the fetishization of the colors red and blue) and more on the subject of the Kingdom. Jesus does not first reach out to people’s intellect. He begins by appealing to people’s desires and what they desire most: the Kingdom.

When we read the Beatitudes, we think that these are a list of traits that Jesus is telling people they must be. This is incorrect in my view. While we should be righteous and merciful, Jesus is not telling people what to be. He is telling them what their desires are, and that He has good news: the Kingdom of God is near to them! This is the only way to combat the twin totalitarian visions of Orwell and Huxley.

What are your thoughts? Are you sold on the vision of either, or is there another vision of the future you envision when people turn away from moral impulses and into themselves?





  1. Love this Jon…interesting views for sure. And I’d agree…I think Huxley and Orwell were both right, if we continue down the same path.

    But the Kingdom! Man oh man, do Christians forget about the Kingdom.

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