BOOK REVIEW / Signposts to the brave new world: The hidden Huxley: Contempt and Compassion for the Masses - David Bradshaw: Faber, pounds 17.50

AS THE historian Eric Hobsbawm likes to point out, the capitalist system had a sticky time of things in the first half of the 20th century. Faced with two world wars, a global slump, an apparently successful anti-capitalist revolution and the rise of anti-democratic dictatorships at the continent's very core, it is hardly surprising that thoughtful European intellectuals were attracted to alternatives that now seem embarrassing or unthinkable.

One such was Aldous Huxley, whom David Bradshaw seeks to rescue from his own self- image as an 'amused, Pyrrhonic aesthete' (this description appeared in Huxley's foreword to Brave New World, and served to keep that novel firmly within the English tradition of sceptical dystopia). Bradshaw argues that in fact Huxley was an engaged political thinker, whose interwar writings chart a progression from aristocratic distaste for mass society, via a 1930 trip to the unemployment wasteland of the north of England, to a 'more humanitarian, even 'socialist' philosphy, and a heartfelt concern for ordinary men and women'.

The progression is easy to satirise, partly because it was not untypical (as Brave New World precedes Nineteen Eighty-Four by 16 years, so Huxley's Damascan road to County Durham predates Orwell's to Wigan Pier by seven), and partly because of the alarm bells which predictably ring. Not surprisingly for the times, there are tinges of anti-Semitism as well as a robust advocacy of selective eugenics: even after the pit-stop tour, Huxley writes of the need to protect the cultured elite from the 99.5 per cent of the population that is irredeemably 'stupid and philistine'.

But the overall impression is of a man trying seriously to think his way through questions that we now see as muddily intractible towards solutions that many now (and for that reason) regard as laughably discredited. Thus Huxley never doubts the importance of state intervention; and he is also caught up in the general awe of industrial processes - generally plodding, the prose takes flight when he describes his impression of synthesising ammonia in the ICI factory at Billingham.

What appears to change is not so much Huxley's opinions as his sources. He begins by reading H L Mencken and Vilfredo Pareto, and applies their bilious elitism to the perceived emergence of mass society in the 1920s; later, he grows used to observing the real world, and relating it - if sometimes archly and sentimentally - to the great issues of his time. Thus the first essay berates the current condition of family life on evidence as apparently flimsy as that employed for similar purposes today ('our dread of being tyrannously unfair to our children,' Huxley writes in 1930, 'has rationalised itself in the curious educational doctrine . . . that the whole purpose of education is to guarantee to every child the possibility of complete 'self-expression' '). Later still, Huxley visits training camps for the unemployed in the New Forest, and sees in them a possible model for 'a kind of university of common life' where men and women might 'study and experiment with the art of living in all its aspects'. All of which might seem risibly romantic - and indeed Utopian - until he moves on to describe experiments in cooperative working which have uncanny echoes in the most up-to-date thinking about flattened structures and team management.

As a book, Bradshaw's anthology is not entirely satisfactory. The introduction does not distinguish in its quotations between pieces which appear in the text and those that don't (tantalisingly, there is reference to Huxley's report of a Blackshirt rally which is not reprinted). The first two chapters are descriptive of Huxley's intellectual relationship with H L Mencken and H G Wells; the rest consists of reprints of articles and talks which might be helped by similar contextualisation.

In fact, such a contextualisation is amply provided by David Bradshaw in his excellent introduction to Flamingo's centenary edition of Brave New World (pounds 5.99). In it, he reminds us that the postwar (and by then Californian) Huxley continued to keep his finger on the pulse of very different times. Symbolically, the great anti-charismatic died on 22 November 1963, never learning of the other death that occurred in Dallas that same afternoon. It is perhaps more significant that a man whose interwar writings place him within the English tradition of cynical iconoclasm ended up (via his hallucinogenic writings in The Doors of Perception and elsewhere) providing names for rock bands and appearing on the cover of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?