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Dr. Larry Arnn Continues His Totalitarianism Series in Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

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HH: I am so glad to welcome Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College. It’s the last radio hour of the week. I have been broadcasting this morning from the Kirby Center in Washington, D.C., the other citadel of reason inside the Beltway is the Kirby Center. There are many. There are many, but one is my studio, the other is the Kirby Center studio. So glad to be at the Kirby Center today for a Talkers conference. And I’m joined by Dr. Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College. All things Hillsdale at All of the Hillsdale Dialogues, of which this is one, collected at Dr. Arnn, good morning, the Kirby Center, beautiful as always.

LA: Are they working there today, Hugh?

HH: Well, they’re beginning to filter in. It is 8:00, and so of course your wonderful staff has been here since 5:30 in the morning, and they’re hosting the Talkers conference today. So I want to report that yes, indeed, they’re onsite and working very hard in the beautiful studio that you have created that now the Federalists use. Everyone uses this studio, Dr. Arnn.

LA: Yeah, oh yeah. Yeah, it’s very nice, and I’ve even used it myself a couple times, but yeah, I’m glad you like it, and I think you laud the fact that there’s a bathroom en suite in the studio.

HH: And a shower.

LA: And a shower, yeah.

HH: So it is absolutely, there is no shower in the citadel of reason at the Hewitt home studios, but I nevertheless, I appreciate that. I’ve got to ask you, though, the Hillsdale Dialogue this week will be using different bump music. We’re going to use Bob Dylan bumps since he’s a Nobel Laureate now. Now that news has settled in over the night. What do you make of that declaration that Bob Dylan is a Nobel Laureate for literature?

LA: (laughing) Well, you know, there’s something about that guy that’s interesting, and he’s certainly been long-lived, and hasn’t he become a Christian? Didn’t I read that some years back?

HH: He did. He was received into the Church in California many, many years ago, and tutored by a friend of mine in basic Scripture. He is less outspoken about it now than he was when he converted originally, but Hard Rain, I believe, his album is all Christian songs, Gotta Serve Someone being one of them. But nevertheless, I think it’s interesting that the Nobel committee decided that lyrics of songs could be literature. Do you agree with that?

LA: Well, sure, I agree with it. You know, I mean, Handel wrote hymns, and Bach wrote hymns. And they didn’t do the lyrics so much, but yeah, you know, yeah, of course. In principle, that is so. And you know, modern music where the songs are three minutes long and they don’t frequently rise to poetry, and they often descend into foulness. So the genre is suspect when you think of them as abiding things. But it is true, on the other hand. You know, you and I are both old men now, and I’m older than you, I guess. And we do remember the songs from our youth, and we listen to them sometimes still. And you know, there’s all these 65 year old, 70 year old rockers who go out and make several million dollars every few years doing another tour.

HH: The Rolling Stones are releasing a new album, which is a salute to longevity if nothing else. So…

LA: Yeah.

HH: I applaud them. But Dylan also broke out of the three minute genre with a Rolling Stone, later with Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts and many others. So he is a balladeer in many respects as well as a rock and pop star.

LA: Yeah, I think there’s something appropriate about it. In this book that we’re going to start reading today, all songs are enforced to be trivial and light, and to appeal only to the most immediate emotions. And so, that’s a big thing. There’s a functionary called the Arts Community Songster, who takes the place of Cardinal Newman in the book, who was a cardinal, right?

HH: (laughing)

LA: And so Bob Dylan is certainly way better than that.

HH: Yeah, he is way better than that. We’re talking about Brave New World, the Aldous Huxley book that I believe came out in 1935…

LA: ’31.

HH: Am I, 1931? And so would you set the scene for 1931? There’s a lot I want to lay the groundwork for. We’re going backwards in time from 1984 and Darkness At Noon to Aldous Huxley. And I asked you last week why the arc you chose for your seminar on totalitarianism with the students. Why again, for those who are joining us midstream in this series of books for the Hillsdale Dialogues, why did you order them in that direction?

LA: Well, because they, first of all, you start with a particular, and you go to the more general. 1984 is about, chiefly about one man who is the victim of a, he lives under this new kind of political regime, the totalitarian regime, which aims to control everything in the name of nothing. It’s not just that the tyranny is much more thorough and far reaching than anything known in the ancient world, but also it is a direct rebellion against the idea of any nature or standard outside the human will. Ancient tyranny is understood to be a violation of that nature or principle outside the human will. But the idea that it is repudiated by the regime on theoretical grounds, that’s what’s new…

HH: It is…

LA: So…

HH: The book is set in…

LA: You start with a guy who, go ahead.

HH: The book is set in A.D. 2540, 2540, or 632 after Ford. Would you want to explain that dating?

LA: After Ford. Well, Henry Ford is sort of the founder now, almost like God. He is actually worshipped. And there are enforced religious services where 12 people, significant of the number of the apostles, meet and become one. And they take this drug, Soma, that’s everywhere in the society. We’ll talk about that. And they hear a lot of very exciting music, and they, and the saxophone has become the saxophone, somehow. I don’t know quite what it does. But it has, the music is very penetrating, and then scents or aromas or smells are pumped all over the place – in your home, everywhere. You get lots of sensation from all the senses, touching and feeling and hearing and smelling and all of that, and seeing. And those are stimulated all the time. And in this religious service very intensely, and you begin to dance. And he’s coming. You hear the feet of Ford coming. And then they break into a dance with a kind of simple, but also lewd poem in the middle of it. They all chant Orgy Porgy, and it’s all about sex. And this is a great unifier in this society. And attendance at these things is mandatory. And so yeah, there’s, that’s Ford. And Ford, this is explained in the novel. There’s a wise man in the novel. He’s actually kind of a good man. He certainly has an excellent sense of humor, and he’s not cruel. And he’s one of the ten absolute rulers in the world. But he explains all that. He explains that when you move from craftsmanship to mass production, which is what Henry Ford advanced the most, then you have moved away from some kind of struggle toward excellence, and toward mass happiness. And the principle of this society is that, mass happiness. And happiness means something very immediate. It means having all your desires satisfied all the time.

HH: An impossibility in the real world, but not in the world of fiction. Let’s back up and talk a little bit about Aldous Leonard Huxley, born in 1894. He died on the same day as John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and that C.S. Lewis slipped the coils of mortal life. And so those three men departed the Earth on the same day. Those two, the latter two, Lewis and Huxley, did not receive their due when they departed, because of course, of the trauma of the Kennedy assassination. It’s been much remarked upon. There’s in fact a famous book about the three of them having a dialogue in Heaven about their lives on Earth. But Huxley was not a believer.

LA: Well, he was a believer in something, probably, because he adopted Eastern religion. And how, it’s not known to me how much he was orthodox about that, but he did sample a lot of that and was very interested in that, and to the end of his life.

HH: When we come back from our first break, Dr. Arnn and I will continue the Hillsdale Dialogue. It’s the first week we are spending on Brave New World, which won many accolades, although, as we will mention when we come back, Huxley never won the Nobel Prize in literature, as did Bob Dylan yesterday.

— – – — –

HH: Larry Arnn, this is our short segment. So I’d like you, if you could, Huxley graduated from Balliol College. I hope I’m pronouncing that correctly, at Oxford.

LA: Balliol.

HH: Balliol…with a first in English literature in the early 30’s. Would you explain what Balliol is, what a first in English literature means, and what England was like in 1931?

LA: Well, in the 13th Century was founded one of the first universities in the world, Oxford University. And the university was founded first, and then shortly thereafter, they founded the colleges, because the townspeople and the college people were fighting, and the townspeople killed a bunch of college people. The colleges were built at forts. And they looked like forts, and that’s because that’s what they are. And one of the more modern ones, and that means 400 years old, I think, Balliol College, has specialized in students from the Empire. And so it was, and it was some kind of training for the Empire. And Huxley came from a very good academic family, and he entered Balliol College. There are four degrees you can get in Oxford, undergraduate degrees. A fourth is failure. You don’t get your degree. But a third is poor, and a second is typical, and a first is rare. And there’s, they don’t do that anymore this way, but they used to have what they call viva voce, voce like voice. If you were on the margin of one of them, then you had to take an oral examination. And in Oxford, all of your, you get a first, second or fourth, third of fourth because of examinations down in a big, pretty building down at the edge of town called the Examination Schools. And the examinations are set and graded blindly by the professors, and they take two weeks. And so at the end, you go through this terrible thing of sitting for exams for two weeks, and your degree, and its rank, depend entirely on those exams. Well, if you’re on the margin, you get an oral examination in addition to those written examinations. And if you don’t have, if you get a first without having to take that, that’s called a formal first. That means you really hit a slam dunk. Martin Gilbert got such a thing at Magdalen College. And I think that Huxley did, too. He was a brilliant man, from a brilliant, academic family.

HH: I’ve got to say, there’s a nursery rhyme. I do not love thee, Doctor Fell, Why it is I cannot tell. I do not love thee, Doctor Fell. I don’t think I love the Oxford system.

LA: Well, it was, I used to hear a story long time ago from a friend of mine named Harold Johnson, who studied at Pomona College and then University College, Oxford. And he was in both places when I was in both places. And he told me a great story, and that is that there used to be a jeweler on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, and he had a plaque up above his cash register so everybody could see it, and it said that he had an Oxford degree, and he graduated with third highest honors. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) All right, well, we’re out of time. We’ll come back and we’ll talk about England in, I gather if he was born in ’94, he probably graduated from the college in the 20s when he wrote Brave New World in ’31. We’ll talk about what it means to come alive and come of age in post-war Great Britain after the Great War, because it’s not a normal time. You may have seen it depicted on Downton Abbey. Dr. Arnn will inform us a little bit more about what that means when we come back.

— – — —

HH: Dr. Arnn, when we went to break, I was asking you about England after 1918. The War had taken such an incredible toll on Great Britain. People have seen Downton Abbey and other movies of the era understand exhaustion is the word typically associated with it. And I think of Drew Faust Gilpin’s book on the Civil War, The Republic Of Sorrow. This would be the empire of sorry, right? After 1918, much was spent and much had been lost.

LA: Yeah, you could say that three big things had happened that had to do with the social power of modern science. Modern science was a big fact in the 19th Century – the steam engine, the cotton gin, the telegraph, lots of innovation. But World War I was a tremendous revelation of the social power of modern science. You know, Britain lost, you know, 950,000 people in World War I.

HH: Wow.

LA: And Britain is, you know, about a third the size of the United States. We lost 650,000 in the Civil War. Think how much worse that is, right? It means every family. It means, you know, my wife’s family, right? They lost people, or people who suffered grievously in the War. So that’s one thing, and that changes the world, right? Britain’s wars since the Napoleonic wars, and that’s, you know, more than a hundred years earlier, had been relatively simple affairs. And they had won them almost uniformly, and they had lived in peace, relatively peace, for a long time. And now this, right? And Britain’s power was reduced by it. And the second thing that happened that emerged from World War I was the Soviet Union, the first great totalitarian state. And you know, this Huxley is a contemporary of Arthur Koestler and George Orwell. And they write, or they are writing about that. Their big books come out about the same time, a little later than Brave New World. But people now know that there is an effort underway to reduce a whole society by force of people to the dictates of scientific theory. And then the third thing is in Britain, socialism had come into the British Parliament in 1900, the same year that Winston Churchill did. And what is that, except an explicit attempt to apply a theory to reengineer the society? And so those things are going on, and people are thinking about that. And genetics is being thought about for the first time. And so there’s a play called universal robots about how you could breed people using genetics to make them however you want. And 1984, and Churchill’s essay, which we are also reading in my class, 50 Years Hence, which was written in 1931, but we know that Churchill, by the way, didn’t read Brave New World until the 50’s, because he wrote his wife that he had read it for the first time. So those things are going around, right? People are thinking about it. And then you have to add in the Great Depression, which had commence in ’29 and would continue, not as harshly for as long in Britain as in America, but still very serious in the year 1931. The government broke over the Great Depression, and a coalition government was established, the National Government, they called themselves. And the socialists were thrown out. They had not won a majority in ’29, but they had, through a coalition process, gotten to form a government. So there’s a lot of unsettlement and a lot of change around the idea of science. And all of these books that we’re talking about are imaginings what would the society look like if it was governed by the theories and the methods and the tools of modern science?

Now we have touched on Orwell’s ability in his world for Big Brother to watch you at all times unless you have a niche in your room where you can hide from the omnipresent screen. In Brave New World, we have embryonic technology, the ability to manipulate who is being born when and with what factors, the Alpha, Beta, etc. And both of those, they’re prophets. Both of them are prophets. We have not reached the particular they predicted, but I’m looking at a computer screen here in the Kirby Center which has a little dot at the top, which many people mask for fear that they can follow you. And of course, we live with embryonic advances or declines as the case may be every day.

LA: That’s right. And what does it mean when, you know, because now where we are is that not only can computers watch you, cameras watch you an awful lot, you know, in public places for sure, but increasingly, if you’re hacked, in private places. It’s also true that the technology to analyze what’s observed and automated using computers is very advanced. And so you don’t have to have just somebody sitting there watching you. You can have computers filter what you say and call attention to somebody anything that’s interesting. And you know, we’re seeing in the presidential campaign that old videos have a way of rising again. And there are a lot of them.

HH: And new emails, and new emails. Emails sent last week show up on the campaign feed.

LA: That’s right, and they’re, and so they’re, you know, you just get, in other words, you’re living in a society where you are observed. And these societies, see, in Brave New World, people should understand that Brave New World opens, there are two worlds that are extensively displayed in Brave New World, and one is the world state as it appears in London, and the other is the savage lands. That’s land that has not been deemed worthy of civilization. And so the people are allowed to live in the condition that they were in, and there’s a very formidable electric fence that kills anything it touches between that and the outside world. And very few people are allowed to go visit these savage lands. And no one can get out. And so in both of these two things, at the beginning of the book, Huxley adopts the same literary device to describe both lands so he can do it efficiently. This is not a hard book to read, and it’s a fun book to read. But the new world is described, the brave new world, is described by, opening by a tour given to some students of the factory where they hatch people. They manufacture people. And they do it along an assembly line that takes more than half a year. And at the beginning, they’re just little, you know, ovaries, or eggs. And they’re inseminated, and they’re bathed in various animal products. And they’re cooked for this, more than six months. And along the way, they’re differentiated by how much oxygen the embryos are given so they can develop, lack of oxygen stunts their development, and by whether certain chemicals, especially alcohol, might be inserted along the way. And they are bred, manufactured into five ranks – Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon. And actually, is that four? And they, their growth is, if you’re at the bottom at the moron level, you’re being bred for physical labor, and you are ugly, and you’re short. And all the way up to the Alphas, and there’s even Alpha plus and Alpha double plus. And they are made to think. And they tend to be taller and better looking. And so the society is sharply differentiated. And along the way, there are sub-specialists that they’re trained for. For example, if you’re destined to be a repair worker on something in space, which some are, then your decanter, your jar in which you grow up, which you remember to be your mother, and are reminded of various stages of your manufacture in the religious ceremonies that come up, in your decanter, you are often turned upside down and spun around in different ways so that you are comfortable at various physical attitudes. And all of that is planned. It’s like the Soviet five year plan on steroids.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And they want to, and so that’s how they make people. And you’re given a tour of this, but it’s very important with a specific claim to the students that I’m going to give you a general overview of all of this, but of course, after today, it won’t be important for you to know that. And you won’t really ever in your life think about general things. You’ll only think for the rest of your life about specific things. And such doctrines as that are introduced to the young, including on this assembly line, through things that are whispered to them in the night – hypnopedic education.

HH: Hypnopedic education. They do not practice that at Hillsdale College, but we do it on the radio every day. So stay right with us. I’ll be right back. Last segment of this week’s Hillsdale Dialogue as we launch into Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

— – – – — –

HH: To the two Esses, Dr. Arnn, president of Hillsdale College, Soma and Shakespeare. It’s interesting that Soma is now a drug. It is a muscle relaxer that is actually widely available and often prescribe for very painful injuries, because it disconnects the brain from the pain. Soma is in Brave New World. And Shakespeare, not surprising for a first in English literature from Oxford, Huxley having earned that. Shakespeare matters a lot. Why are these two esses so important to this book?

LA: Well, Soma, which I guess comes from the Latin word for body, is a, they’ve invented the perfect drug. And it doesn’t have after effects. It brightens your mood if you take a little, and it lasts a certain amount of time. If you take a lot, it puts you on what they say is a lunar vacation. You go away for a few days. But then it’s not habit forming, either. I mean, it’s not addictive. It may be, the whole society is addicted to it in one sense, but in another sense, it’s not like heroin, right? You don’t need more and more and get less and less pleasure from it. It always works. And a gram is better than a damn, a gram of Soma. And so if you feel like saying damn, then you take a gram of Soma. And so that’s one world. And it means that the whole of life, by the way, is set up to produce a life for everybody to the maximum extent possible so that they get what they want as soon as they want it, including, especially, sex, which plays a big part in this novel. It’s not that there are descriptions of sex scenes. It’s not pornographic. But there are just references to, you just get to have sex with about anybody you want to.

HH: As often as you want to, yeah.

LA: As often as you want to. And that’s, and everybody belongs to everybody else, is one of the slogans of the regime, and that’s repeated. And one of the characters in the regime writes these slogans that are in the hypnopedic education. And that’s repeated to you thousands of times in your sleep while you’re growing up. So that’s sex, and the point is it describes a life in which you live to the end of your life, and through your life, without leisure, by the way. Solitude is agitated against. In 1984, the telex screen is always observing everything about you, and you really never have any solitude. In Brave New World, also, you don’t have any solitude. The day goes like this. You get up, you have a really great bathroom. They’re very, cleanliness is next to Fordliness. Ford takes the place of God wherever we think of God. Henry Ford, for goodness sake. And they have really great bathrooms, and there’s lots of descriptions of the vacuum things that clean you, and the blowers that blow talc and scent on you, and it all sounds really cool, and very sterile. They don’t like anything that smells bad or looks dirty, and there isn’t anything like that. It’s a brave new world. But then you go to work, and you do a specific job all of your life. It isn’t very hard, the job, and lots and lots of jobs are repetitive. And the thinking jobs are only the few at the top for the Alphas. Then, after work, you go play games. And the games involve going, if you’re upper cast, involve flying in a helicopter. Lots of helicopters in Brave New World. And you have to go, really, and people whisper about you and talk bad about you, and you might get demoted at work if you don’t go. It’s antisocial not to go, and these games are, we don’t know what they are, but it’s like escalator squash and something elevated Bumble Puppy. And they use elaborate machinery, which can wear out and then has to be replaced. And that keeps the economy productive. Consumption is a big thing. You’ve got to consume lots. After that, if you’re upper cast, you go to dinner and a dance. The religious services are held in a great modern block building with thousands of cubicles for 12 people at a time. Westminster Abbey is a dance hall. And they have the big dance in Westminster Abbey. And then after the dance, and so now it’s late, right? You’ve had a long day. Then you go home and have sex with somebody.

HH: And when we come back, next week…

LA: Not anybody for long, by the way.

HH: And not for very long. When we come back next week, how Shakespeare breaks into this world, this brave new world.

LA: Oh.

HH: We’ll talk about John next week as we continue on Brave New World. I want to thank Dr. Arnn and everyone at the Kirby Center and this wonderful studio audience. Thank you so much. And I will be back next week., America, for all of these. Dr. Arnn, thank you, and thanks to everyone.

End of interview.


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