Beauty, Liberty, and a Brave New World

Towards the end of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the protagonist, John (“the Savage”), is introduced to Mustapha Mond, the “Resident World Controller for Western Europe.” Mond presides over one of the ten zones of the World State, which allows him to make the laws, but also, as he says, to break them. Mond shows John some of the illicit “pornographic old books” that he owns and has hidden in his safe: The Holy Bible, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis, and The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James. Mond shares with John his deep knowledge of things of a time gone-by such as art, science, and God. John is astounded with Mond after Mond cuts him off to finish a quote from Othello. Of course, Othello is better than “those feelies,” Mond says, agreeing with John. The World State does not prohibit Shakespeare because his work is good but because it’s beautiful.

Beauty is attractive, Mond openly admits. Beauty is attractive because it opens a window to truth. Beauty speaks about the truth that resides in the world and in human nature. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, for example, shows the truth of the human experience as it spans jealousy and revenge, and happiness and love. In a brave new world, people are not permitted to experience beauty because they are not allowed to know truth.

Thanks to operant conditioning, economic leveraging, and chemical modifications, the World State can ensure that everyone feels happy and loved. Happiness, joy, and love are easily manufactured and acquired – it’s like taking a pill (or soma). In a brave new world, there’s no deep-seated need to understand the meaning of joy. There’s no desire to create a piece of music to express a love that every heart yearns and relates to. There’s no mystery behind love or a yearning for love’s face. There’s nothing to understand. You take soma, and you feel at peace. Peace, love, and happiness come from soma, which is made by the World State. There’s no mystery to it. All answers reside in the World State. The yearning of one’s heart has nothing to do with love – it all has to do with the World State.

Mond confesses that beauty makes it impossible to eradicate social troubles. How can the World State convince people that all is well when beautiful dramas are tearing at heartstrings and speaking to people on a personal level? In a brave new world, there cannot be a personal level. Beauty has no place in the World State because the World State’s goal is the eradication of social instability. The World State made a choice, and it chose stability over beauty. The eradication of social instability is the reason why the heart cannot be allowed to yearn. If the heart yearns for something, then that means that it lacks something. But with soma, the World State can anesthetize the heart. The World State cannot satisfy the heart – that would be impossible, only the Source of one’s heart can satisfy the heart – but it can sedate the heart enough to silence its yearning.

You can’t make a beautiful tragedy, like Othello, without instability. Love, for example, requires sacrifice. When you love someone, you give of yourself for the sake of the other. You lack for your loved ones gain. However, in a brave new world, there’s no such thing as lack. There is no concept of the pain one might feel from unrequited love. There are no Romeos and Juliets. There is no concept of “I” helping “You,” because “the State” helps “Us.” I don’t have to worry about you. The State will worry about you. I can focus on myself.

Mond explains the matter bluntly,

People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can’t get. They’re well off; they’re safe; they’re never ill; they’re not afraid of death; they’re blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they’re plagued with no mothers or fathers; they’ve got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they’re so conditioned that they practically can’t help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there’s soma. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage. Liberty!

John and Mond’s conversation about beauty leads to liberty. The ability to choose and to execute that choice is foundational to everything that allows for beauty: love, sacrifice, joy, revenge, desire, truth, etc. Generally, something beautiful is more attractive and desirable than something less beautiful. A free person will choose a beautiful thing over the less beautiful thing because there is something inexplicable about the thing that is beautiful. The beauty of a thing speaks directly to one’s heart. Beauty speaks to an individual on a personal level, and the individual must then choose how to respond to beauty’s voice.

For example, each year, thousands of people make exhausting and painful hikes up high mountains all over the world for the sake of a few minutes to look out onto a beautiful horizon. Why do they do it? Why do people put in so much time and effort? Sure, some people do it for the exercise or for the adventure. However, some hikers climb for a sight that can only be seen from on top of a mountain. There’s simply nothing rational behind it. There’s no economic benefit or power to be gained from climbing a mountain. The opportunity cost of the trek does not rationally outweigh the reward of a few minutes for a view. However, it’s more than a view. It’s a beautiful view, and beauty cannot be quantified. Beauty makes the time and pain – the yearning and the lack – all worth it. No central planner (or Resident World Controller) can justify beauty because on a collective level beauty is irrational. Though, on an individual level beauty is invaluable.