Aldous Leonard Huxley was considered by the end of his life to have been one of the most significant thinkers of his generation. It is impossible to discuss his life without contemplating his magnum opus, 'Brave New World', which depicted an intensely micro-managed society with zero social mobility, in which traditional roles such as family had been completely taken over by an über dominant state, and the population drugged into a state of total compliance.
Huxley was in a perhaps unique position to write about the elite domination and manufacture of society. Not merely did he stem from one of the most prominent aristocratic families in the history of Great Britain - famous for their close ties with the likes of the Galtons, Darwins and Wedgwoods - but his life also spanned two centuries. Huxley was thus able to observe and document the changes in the nature of society during the era of industrialisation and technological breakthroughs with particular insight.
Much as Huxley's contemporary and pupil at Eton, George Orwell, had bemoaned the "the frightful debauchery of taste" with which he associated tinned food, Huxley saw many of the facets of industrial 'progress' as being nothing of the sort, at least with regard to the average human-being. Huxley saw that men's place - for it was an entirely male workforce which staffed such industrial units at this time - within the industrial production system was going to be little more than cattle-like, and famously stated that "technological progress has merely provided us with more efficient means for going backwards."
It was the concern which Huxley felt about the possible future of the human race, in common with Orwell's motivation for writing '1984', that was foremost in the writing and publication of 'Brave New World'. Published in 1932, Huxley's most famous and masterful novel is unquestionably a product of the new industrialised society, in which consumer products were being mass produced for the first time in human history. It was such a transformation in industrial production which lead Paul Mazur, a leading Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers in the 1930s, to state: "We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. Man's desires must overshadow his needs."
'Brave New World' depicted a civilisation which entirely reflected this desire of Wall Street, in which society was completely dominated by trivia and sex. It is not entirely surprising then that assessments of Huxley's tome and the other predominant dystopian vision of the period, Orwell's '1984', conclude that Huxley's vision was more accurate, even if Orwell's work is the more profoundly realised.
The power of genetic engineering, the relentless search for casual sexual encounters, the pursuit of emotional stability and ecstasy alike through pharmaceutical drugs, and particularly the overwhelming cultural power of mindless diversions and distractions, are themes of Huxley's work that are all too familiar in the society within which we reside today. The transition from a needs to a desires culture which both Mazur and Huxley envisaged is complete, and has become so cemented as the predominant cultural paradigm that it's hard imagine how it can ever be reversed. 'Brave New World' itself depicted such a culture in which true rebellion was impossible, and in fact not even coveted by the populace.
This had also been predicted by Huxley shortly before his passing. In a speech made at Berkeley University entitled 'The Ultimate Revolution', Huxley made a macabre prediction regarding the future measures social engineers might wish to adopt in order to keep populations docile. "We are in the process of developing a whole series of techniques which will enable the controlling oligarchy - who have always existed and presumably will always exist - to get people to love their servitude. This is, it seems to me, the ultimate in malevolent revolutions."
Huxley contributed more to English literature than simply 'Brave New World', but his legacy will be intrinsically connected to this cautionary tale for centuries after his passing. Human-beings aren't yet born in hatcheries, and the state doesn't directly drug the population to achieve submission to authority. But fifty years after Huxley's death it is hard to dismiss the notion that its author's vision of the future was all too accurate.