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Dr. Larry Arnn Concludes His Totalitarian Study of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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HH: It is the last radio hour of the week on a day of incredible importance, Game three of the World Series tonight in Chicago. Josh Tomlin, the little cowboy, will take the mound. I am joined by Dr. Larry Arnn, who in addition to being the president of Hillsdale College, my interlocutor on these, the Hillsdale Dialogues, and you can find out everything about Hillsdale College at www.hillsdale.edu, and everything about the Hillsdale Dialogues, which are four years now in their breadth and depth at www.hughforhillsdale.com. Binge listen your way through Western Civilization. Dr. Arnn is not only those things, and the leader of a great seminar on totalitarianism, he is a baseball man and as previously revealed, he is an Indians fan. And I believe that you have been enjoying my David Axelrod bipartisan baseball balm moments. It’s a good thing that we have sport, isn’t it, that we can agree on? Didn’t the Greeks lay down their endless wars at least for a period of time in the ancient days to partake in sport, Dr. Arnn?

LA: Yeah, during the original Olympic games, people were at war, a death grip with each other, would stop and go to the games. And they were a proxy for the wars. Sport is a proxy both for war and politics. Baseball is the most perfect proxy for American politics, by the way. It’s just a wonderful thing.

HH: Expand on that for just a moment. Expand on that.

LA: Well, so most sports are attacking a point. It’s like war, right? Football and basketball and soccer, and they’re wonderful things, right? Baseball is not like that. Baseball moves in circles. A circle is the perfect shape. Baseball touches infinity, because there’s no standard size for the ultimate length of a field. It’s infinite as to space. And it’s also infinite as to time. There’s no clock. They’re thinking about introducing some minor clocks, and I’m not at all sure I’m for that.

HH: I’m against it.

LA: So baseball is something to tend to while you’re doing something else.

HH: Yeah, I’m against it. I am fully against it, even though I had to suffer through Mike Hargrove as the manager of the Indians, the human rain delay, as he was called by Tom Hanks the other night.

LA: (laughing)

HH: And as a batter, he would infinitely adjust in the batter’s box. So I got through that. Nevertheless, you mentioned to me that George Washington, I did not know this. George Washington played a form of baseball.

LA: There’s a biography, a big, fat one, of George Washington by a man named Harrison Clark called All Cloudless Glory. It’s three volumes long. And he mentions in there that George Washington played rounders, which is the precursor to baseball. And just think of the importance, first of all, baseball, it’s almost pure that everybody acts individually. Each, the pitcher throws, then the hitter hits, then the fielder fields, right, and the runner runs, right? So it looks like individual performances, but we know, we who really understand or love baseball enough to pay attention to it, we know that teams are what wins baseball games. So that makes it just like American politics.

HH: It does. It does, and that would make the Indians Lincoln.

LA: (laughing) It might be. It might be.

HH: I think so. And the Cubs, I can only say, Millard Fillmore? I mean, do we say James Buchanan? Who are they, trying to wreck the Indians’ dream and destroy the union of perfect synchronicity in Cleveland in 2016, because you know, if, and this is not partisan. I’m just making, you’re the nonpartisan head of Hillsdale College. But if Donald Trump were to win, the Cavaliers will have won before his nomination, which occurred in Cleveland, and then the Indians will have won after his nomination. And I assume the inaugural will be moved to the lakefront.

LA: (laughing) That would be his great, well, it wouldn’t be, but it would be almost as great an act as Reagan moving it around to the other side of the White House so he could take in his very great first inaugural a tour with us of the monuments and of Arlington Cemetery.

HH: It was a great speech. Oh, it was a great speech.

LA: Very great man.

HH: Now let me turn to Brave New World, because people are mad at me last week. I took a week off, because I was in Vegas for the debates, and I explained to them occasionally, Dr. Arnn has to do something or I have to do something, and we can’t do the Hillsdale Dialogue. And they will have nothing of it. I am flogged on the internet for not having Dr. Arnn. And I am flogged relentlessly for not having Dr. Arnn. So would you, for the new listeners, we just picked up Charleston and a couple of other places, tell them about the totalitarianism seminar you are leading. And we are in the third book of that series, Brave New World. We began with 1984, and then we went to Darkness At Noon. And it’s fascinated a lot of people. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is now our book. But tell them about the seminar overall.

LA: Well, something happened in the 20th Century that is amazing and wonderful and fearsome, and that is a new kind of tyranny emerged. And the word, totalitarianism, was invented to describe it. And it differs from the old tyranny. And tyranny is an old word that just means the rule of one person in his own interest instead of the public interest. It’s a very vile and terrible thing in the classical world, and it is destructive of human excellence. In fact, it perpetuates itself by that. Totalitarianism differs from it in two respects. One is it’s much more comprehensive and intense, and it uses the tools of modern science to do that. It means that every conversation can be heard. It means that children are conscripted as spies against their parents. And the upbringing of the children is essentially overtaken, taken away from the parents. It means that there’s no privacy. There’s no place to be alone. It means that in 1984, for example, the worsts crimes are thought crimes. And the look on your face, and your body language, is observed and parsed out. And to be arrested is to be guilty. So there’s that. Modern science makes that possible. And then also, you have to see a big thing, and that is ancient societies were not rich enough to take 15 or 20 or 30% of the population and conscript them as professionals observing and restricting the others. You’ve got to have modern science to produce enough wealth to make that happen. The second respect is it, if you can imagine it, even worse, because ancient tyranny had to pretend to be just. It had to pretend to be for the people. Tyranny, Aristotle writes, grows from democracy, or from the many. Oligarchy grows from the few, from the aristocrats. And they have to make a claim, right? Well, the new principles which pervade the academic world today, these new principles say that there isn’t anything right or wrong outside our making it so. And so what these totalitarian societies do is they announce a whole new kind of society with the explicit purpose of reforming and remaking human nature. It is an engineering project to work upon the people. And its justification is itself.

HH: And novelists, and novelists have been trying to anticipate its contours, or at least its great dilemmas, and that brought us to 1984, then Darkness At Noon. Darkness At Noon a look backwards at the birth of totalitarianism, where 1984 a look forwards, as was Brave New World, which was actually written before either of them. And we pick up there, and last week, we talked about the hatching of babies and the moving of science. It really is chilling, actually, to step back and look at how science now pervades everything. I sent you a blog post earlier about sabermetrics, the science invasion of baseball. And the author writes about how that’s actually moved into every single thing that we do, science claiming to be able to predict even as it can’t. It’s now everywhere and always about us with experts telling us they know what to do.

LA: That’s right, and they, you know, that’s, the greatest practitioners of sabermetrics in baseball know better than that. They know that it, in the end, matters what people do, and the character counts, and all that stuff. And they, they’re trying, Bill James, who I think is a very wise man, but invented a lot of this. He understood that there were things here that couldn’t be quantified. And so it couldn’t be reduced. The human element could be predicted better if you use sabermetrics, but in the end, it’s inside the person who does it. And you know, baseball is a great achievement, like learning is a great achievement. You’ve got to really want to, and you’ve got to be very talented. And the talent can kind of be measured, and the want to, a little bit. But those vary. So anyway, the thing is, like Indians, right, and the Cubs, they’re both on a holy campaign right now, crusade. And they’re playing extremely well. It’s just delightful to watch.

HH: But it would be more delightful if it was over in three more games. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn. I’m not going to go soaring into flights of fancy. I just want three more W’s, America. And I’m sorry, Cubs fans. That’s just the way it is.

— – – – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, this is our short segment. And so about Brave New World, I wanted to raise something very specific, which is its dependence upon Shakespeare. John the Savage often quoting from Caliban conversation in the Tempest, he quotes Miranda saying oh, wonder how many goodly creatures there are, how beauteous mankind is, oh, brave new world, that has such people in it. Huxley stole the oh, brave new world, and in an ironic twist, she was waxing about the good, not about Caliban. And I had to go back and reread the Tempest stuff and listen to our dialogue to get ready for this. And I’m fascinated that the brave new world is so dependent upon the Shakespeare within it.

LA: Well, there are a few books, several, most, Shakespeare most prominent, that constitute the alternative to the brave new world and to the other kind of society they show in there, which is a savage reservation where people live, you know, in huts with dirt floors and don’t have running water and all that. Those are the two kinds of society that are presented. But there’s a third hinted at, and it actually lives in the safe of the world controller, Mustapha Mond. And he is an interesting man. He’s an educated man. In some sense, he’s an unhappy man. But he keeps those great books like Shakespeare in his safe locked up, although he’s sometimes indiscreet and mentions this fact. And he himself, there are two people who quote Shakespeare in this book, and one of them is the Savage, and the other is Mustapha Mond.

HH: Mond, yeah.

LA: now the Savage, who is, it turns out that his mother was a citizen of Brave New World, a Beta plus, a very strict cast system. Her name is Linda. And she goes on a trip to the reservation like a tourist trip. It’s hard to get to go if you get to go, and she got to go. And she’s lost in a rock slide there, and she’s cut off. And then in a second important accident, it’s discovered that she’s pregnant. That’s the worst abomination. It’s pornography and smut in Brave New World is any talk of family, babies, having babies by the natural means, fatherhood, but above all, motherhood. That’s the most pornographic thing to say.

HH: Yeah.

LA: People are embarrassed when it’s mentioned. So she has a baby coming, and that’s because she failed in her contraception regimen. And that’s a grave ill. And so she was ashamed to go back to the Brave New World. She could have just identified herself to the warden of this reservation. And she’s ashamed. So she has the baby. And now this baby is raised. And the Savage, he’s called, John. He’s raised sort of in both worlds. He grows up in this tribal society, but he has this mother who teaches him things about Brave New World. And then here comes a third accident. It turns out there were some old books in this hut where he grew up. We don’t know how they got there. There weren’t many, but they turned out to be really good ones.

HH: Important ones, yeah.

LA: And Shakespeare is among them. And so he’s the only person alive, except Mustapha Mond, whom we meet, who grows up reading Shakespeare. And so he is a member of two of the, of two societies that are presented there. He’s a member of the Savage tribe. He takes a code of honor from them that is adapted by Shakespeare, and he’s a member of that world that lives in the safe in Mustapha Mond’s office. And he is not a member, he’s never fully, Savage is also a man without a home. He’s never at home in the reservation, because he’s an outsider. He’s treated like that. And he’s never at home in Brave New World, because it offends both his sense of honor and his sense of civilization, which includes reverence for women and unwillingness to have sex with them out of wedlock, which is a prime violation of the code of Brave New World.

HH: It includes a natural law sort of conscience. It’s fascinating. Don’t go anywhere, America. Dr. Arnn will be back on the Hillsdale Dialogue.

— – — – –

HH: Our last few minutes talking about Brave New World. It’s a novel. I don’t want to give away the end. I want people to work for themselves to get to the end if they want to. But Dr. Arnn, which book do we turn to next in your seminar?

LA: Well, we’re going to read That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis, another of these four totalitarian novels.

HH: It is such a good book. Wow.

LA: Every time I’m, we’re all whipped by storms in my class. The class is fantastic, and from my point of view, at least. And we always think the book that we’re reading right now is the best of them all. And so we’re, right now, I’m of the conviction that C.S. Lewis’ book is the greatest book.

HH: I think it is. It is very good, although Darkness At Noon has provoked many, many people who had never, our conversations, who had never heard of it, picked it up or remembered it, to go and do so. I don’t know that they’ll do so about Brave New World or 1984, because they’re more familiar. But they ought to go read That Hideous Strength before we begin next week. Let’s finish with John the Savage in the land of Soma and sex. And there was something, in a Catholic high school, it was hard to come by Brave New World. There was so much about sex, but not the sex that human beings naturally know, but the licentiousness, orgy, Soma-driven frenzies that the nuns were just frankly uncomfortable with that book. And they were uncomfortable with what Brave New World was all about, as John is with London of 600 years in the future, AF, after Ford. But at the end of it, what do we want to tell people about the lessons that Huxley has between the wars about what he sees coming?

LA: Well, we know, I’m pretty confident from these sources that Huxley believed that the brave new world was coming, and that it would be sturdy and unassailable as it appears in the book.

HH: Wow.

LA: It is much more, it’s a society much more safe in its stability and comfortable than the societies in either of these three novels. All of those three are under terrible stress. And they use power to overcome that stress, but the friction is constant. In Brave New World, the action of it is all around an experiment that the world controller, Mustapha Mond, introduces to see what will happen. He’s very sure that the society will be sturdy, and it is. Huxley wrote to Orwell. He thought that his prediction, Orwell who wrote 1984, was more likely, much more likely to result that pleasure would be a superior mechanism to corrupt people than pain. And in his preface written 20 years later to Brave New World, where he criticizes the book and says how he would write it again if he wrote it again, he also says that he thinks that this is where we’re going, that is that in a world where science can take care of everything for us, we can have whatever we want, we will lose our humanity. And our humanity is what? It’s dealing with a universe in which we have knowledge of the universe that is divine in its operation, and yet in which we have mortal bodies that have pain and face death. And in Brave New World, they attempt to overcome all of the bad things by pleasure, and they do successfully from the point of view of the novel. And that means that nobody has anything serious to do. The way they deal with, they can’t banish the stresses of life. These are still actually human beings, even if they are designed, manufactured, conditioned and constantly reminded of how they’re to live. That’s all true. But they also have to have a drug they can take called Soma, like body, and from a word that means body. And they, this drug is non-addictive, and you can take all of it you want. And they take it all the time, which is a proof that just the conditioning and the manufacturing and all of that is not enough, because like one thing that happens to show the uneasiness underneath all this is that people are constantly jealous. They’re not supposed to be jealous. You’re supposed to have sex with anybody you want. But if you’re taller and better looking and more athletic and more influential in your job, you get more girls and you get more boys. And the ones who don’t, who get fewer, resent that. Also, there are suggestions that it’s a bureaucracy in just the sense that C.S. Lewis describes so beautifully in the Screwtape Letters and in That Hideous Strength. That is to say really, behind the scenes, everybody’s out to get everybody else.

HH: Yup.

LA: It’s a radical pecking order thing going on all the time. And a lot of the figures in it have political names. And three of them have communist names – Marx, Trotsky and Lenin, and Lenina. And one guy’s a very flawed guy, Bernie Marx, and he loves the society at a moment when he becomes a celebrity and an important man.

HH: Yup.

LA: And he’s proved to be a coward, however, and he hates the society when he’s slighted, right? And that means they haven’t made this world perfect. They’ve just made it stable. And the constant introduction of pleasure is the means. And this Soma, it means that it’s daily, and on the instant, whenever you want it. One of their, they think and talk in slogans. They askew big ideas. One of the first points made in the book is he’s giving a tour of the hatchery where the book opens, the director of the hatchery, an important man. And remember, an important man can walk up to a girl and touch her on the fanny, and she will come with him that evening, right, whereas an unimportant man has got to put together some treat like a trip or something, you know, a good meal or something.

HH: And incentive. An incentive. It’s not…

LA: Yeah, that’s right. Some incentive.

HH: Not command and control, yeah.

LA: And they, and he says I’m going to give you all the details here, but of course, and we’re going to give you a general view here. But of course, later, after today, you’re just going to have this detailed job, and you just need to know that. And that, and everybody is taught not to think. And they have slogans they remember to remind them of that. And one of the slogans is if anybody’s upset, everybody around them, including the Alpha plusses, who have been conditioned through hypnopedia, that is lessons conveyed when they’re asleep from the earliest days. A gram is, a gram of Soma is better than a damn. And so if somebody’s upset, they take a gram of Soma, and then they’re not upset anymore.

HH: A gram, yeah. I want to end, because it’s the bridge to next week and That Hideous Strength, which people have got to download and start reading. You will thank us for it. There is a great deal of religious faith attempting to break out, and penance, sometimes in the classic understanding of penance, self-flagellation from the desert fathers and every, and in fact, we see it now in Islam on the annual pilgrimages to the various shrines in Iraq that we’ve grown accustomed to that. There’s a lot of religion trying to break through in Brave New World unsuccessfully, Larry. They’ve gotten rid of it.

LA: That’s right. And if you, there are religious services which feature taking a lot of Soma and doing a lot of chants. And it, and then he’s coming, our Ford, Henry Ford, is sort of God, and because he invents mass production? But it also ends with chants about orgies. And you know, readers should ask themselves, I suggest that you pay attention to two things as you finish the book. One is pay attention to Mustapha Mond. What does he say? What is his account of things, because he is the great judge, critic and authority in the book, and he explains everything. And the second is the Savage. The Savage is the symbol of honor and civilization. And just ask yourself this specific question. What are the two things to people that he professes the deepest love for in the novel? And what does he do to them? And then you’ll understand why the book is a tragedy.

HH: Well put. As always, well put. On to C.S. Lewis and That Hideous Strength, the third of three books in a trilogy called the Space Trilogy. It can be read independent of the other two. You can and should, I would recommend doing so if you have the time, get the first two done, Out Of The Silent Planet and Perelandra. But read That Hideous Strength. You will love the conversation next week. Dr. Larry Arnn, as always, go Tribe. Thank you for joining me, and we’ll talk again next week.

End of interview.

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