Competing Conceptions of the State in Brave New World

Aldous Huxley in Brave New World presents two diametrically opposed philosophical conceptions of the state in the form of Mustapha Mond and John the Savage.  Mustapha Mond considers a vibrant economy to be the fundamental pillar of a successful state, he considers social stability to be the fundamental pillar of a vibrant economy, and he considers a peculiar notion of happiness to be the fundamental pillar of social stability.  The philosophical conception that Mond advocates in his debate with John is therefore premised on political institutions and policies that he believes advance these fundamental pillars of a healthy state.  Positive influences are to be wholeheartedly embraced and negative influences are to be completely eliminated or, as in the case of exiling nonconformist individuals such as Bernard, removed in order to preserve social stability.  John the Savage, deeply influenced by his experience as a human product of the reservations and by the ideas and passions transmitted through Shakespeare, finds Monds conception of the state to be contrary to  human nature and to human dignity.  Although his argument is quite nuanced, Johns main conception of the state is premised on the individual rather than a collective economy, on a conviction that human existence should be more dignified and inquisitive, and that nonconformity is a natural state of human existence rather than an evil influence to be cured or eliminated in the name of social stability.  A careful examination of the arguments proffered by Mond and John indicates that each philosophical conception of the ideal state possesses certain benefits and certain costs.  It is how these two characters measure these costs and benefits that Huxley employs in order to structure the novels fundamental philosophical themes.  

Mustapha Monds World View and Ideal Conception of the State
As an initial matter, Monds world view is clearly structured around his belief that a healthy economy is the pinnacal of human existence.  A healthy economy he defines as constant production and constant consumerism by the inhabitants of his ideal state.  This constant economic activity is not to be interrupted and Mond goes so far as to argue that people should forget about fixing things that are broken because it is better to replace the broken things.  It is better, in his view, because a robust economy needs a constant demand for goods and services and fixing things or attaching sentimental value to old things inhibits a robust economy.  Nothing in the text suggests that Mond has been unable to achieve this type of robust economy in the territory under his authority, a point that John never contests though he certainly sees a higher purpose for human existence, and the real debates involve Monds views regarding social stability.

Social stability, in Monds world view, is an essential facet of a robust economy.  This type of stability demands that people are peaceful, that they are singular in purpose, and that neither individualistic impulses nor competitive urges are allowed to negatively impact social stability.  In terms of the debate between Mond and John in Chapter 16, for example, Monds belief in the need for an extraordinarily pure type of social stability arises with reference to William Shakespeare.  Mond is completely convinced that works like those produced by Shakespeare should be banned.  Art and beauty are irrelevant to a healthy consumer society and they function as infectious agents that can negatively influence or contaminate the people.  Reinforcing how he views the health of the economy as the ultimate goal of an ideal state, Mond argues that such things as artistic creations and beautiful things are harmful because we dont want people attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones (Huxley, 1996, p. 168).  Old things that are considered harmful include old ideas, old values, and old objects.  Everything of value is therefore of a recent origin.  This premise functions to preclude questioning authority and also sustains an economy dependent on constant consumer demand.  In sum, generally speaking, Monds overarching world view is based on his belief that a vibrant economy is the apex of human civilization and that such a vibrant economy requires a very strict and pure for of social stability.

The manner in which Mond pursues and seeks to maintain social stability provides depth to his world view and provides sharp contrasts with Johns world view.  Personal choice, in effect, is irrelevant and to be treated as an undesirable and harmful personal characteristic.  As a consequence, Mond argues that individuality and personal choice should be eliminated.   This is accomplished both through affirmative policies associated with conditioning and oppressive policies such as banning art or killing and exiling individuals with outcast characteristics.  An integral feature of Monds conception of social stability is his notion of happiness.  Rather than being an innate emotional condition, as John believes, happiness is imposed by the state starting even before birth.  Happiness is genetically engineered to some extant, it is reinforced through comprehensive conditioning institutions, and it is a matter of proper political administration rather than a matter of human free will.  Diversions, such as the soma holidays, reinforce this sort of artificially-induced state of happiness.  Interestingly, Mond is quite familiar with Shakespeare and he anticipates many of Johns objections.  Unlike the people he administers, Mond is very aware of the temptations of art and beauty and clearly chooses his notion of the state.  He exercises free will in this way in a manner that he fails to offer his subjects.  Ultimately, this seems to be because Mond engages in a cost-benefit analysis in which he views the benefits associated with his state more favorably than any other option.  To be sure, the text does suggest that people are peaceful and that they do not become engaged in petty disputes.
Competition it would appear is non-existent and all people have homes and enough food to eat.  The standard of living is quite high and inequalities are irrelevant because Mond has eliminated such emotions as jealousy and competitive urges.  In his world view, he administers a completely harmonious state in which his subjects have no fear of losing what is important.

John the Savages World View and Ideal Conception of the State
Johns world view seems less well-defined than Monds and his rationale more scattered.  Despite these constraints, he represents and argues in favor of an entirely different sort of state.  He offers a number of objections to the arguments made by Mond.  His objections are centered on a deep respect for the dignity of the individual, his belief that the meaning of human life transcends vibrant economies and an imposed happiness, and that human beings will betray their ethical and spiritual purposes if they engage in the type of immoral and hedonistic lifestyle that Mond advocates and defends.  These objections derive from his personal experiences on the reservation, from his exposure to Shakespeare, and from his experiences in Monds version of civilization.

One of his main objections is to Monds characterization of happiness.  John argues that happiness depends on the exercise of free will and that free will derives from individual choice rather than a deceptive and imposed administrative sleight of hand.  Whereas Mond sees happiness in ignorance, John sees a violation of human dignity in this type of imposed ignorance.  This is interesting because the conflict essentially concerns how happiness is to be defined.  Happiness is a philosophical imperative for Mond in order to sustain stability and the economy, however achieved for John, on the other hand, happiness cannot exist in ignorance.  Happiness can only arise from an enlightened mind.  Enlightenment, in turn, comes from understanding old ideas such as Shakespeares, the distinctions to be drawn between the beautiful and the ugly, and from divining a more meaningful religious purpose which emphasize an intellectual type of morality and individual decorum and restraint.  John also objects to Monds belief that the extraordinary benefits outweigh the irrelevant costs.  For John, the costs are clearly more substantial.  Monds civilization degrades human beings physically, intellectually, and spiritually.  Human beings become very similar to lower animal forms.  He refuses, in short, to concede to Monds fundamental premises.  For him, individual choice is more important than an artificial type of happiness.  Human dignity is more important than material comfort.  The tension between the two views is quite extreme.

Personal Thoughts and Conclusion
In the final analysis, this is a novel than cannot be easily analyzed.  There seems an easy temptation to choose either Monds conception of the ideal state or Johns conception of the individuals predominant role within an ideal state.  Absolute conclusions, however, are extraordinarily difficult because both views illustrate important philosophical concerns about the meaning of human existence and how to best provide comfort for human beings in a world ravaged by competition and strife.  It would not be surprising, therefore, that Monds state would be preferable to individuals living in corrupt countries where poverty is rife and happiness is neither imposed nor present through free will.  Individuals in wealthier countries, on the other hand, might believe their comparative wealth and happiness is of their own doing or the will of some God rather than a result of deceptive political decisions to which they are not privy.  The comfort offered by Monds world view, though illusory in many respects, is enticing in certain respects.  The troubling question is whether human beings will fail to improve or adapt and therefore offend and defeat the underlying purpose of human existence.  The novel thus leaves the reader with the same types of questions that obviously plagued Huxley.  Do human beings have a purpose  If so, what is this purpose  The novel raises these issues and illustrates the costs and benefits in a comparative fashion without offering firm answers.  Perhaps there are no firm answers.


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