Similarities between the Republic and Huxley’s Brave New World

A few people in class have mentioned some books that seem to be heavily influenced by Plato’s Republic, but I don’t believe anyone has mentioned Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.  Huxley’s book is a depiction of a utopian (or, more accurately, dystopian) society in the year 632 A.F. (632 years after the death of Henry Ford).  Many aspects of the way Huxley’s dystopian society functions are strongly reminiscent of how Plato designs the society in the Republic.

One feature that both societies share is the abolishment of the family.  The same reason for this is given in both books: devotion to familial bonds must remain subservient to devotion to the state in order to prevent conflicting interests (such as the conflicting interests which were the source of the drama in Antigone).

Another idea from the Republic that appears in Brave New World is the division of the population into different classes.  In Plato this takes the form of the three classes that are identified in the Myth of the Metals; Huxley divides his population into five classes.  Both divisions, however, are based on the idea that different people are suited to different professions, with those of a more intellectual nature being the rulers.

In both societies, all the classes are needed to allow the society to function in the best way.  In Huxley’s book, several maxims are repeated over and over again to the citizens; one of these is: “Every one works for every one else. We can’t do without any one. Even Epsilons are useful. We couldn’t do without Epsilons.”  (Epsilons are the lowest class in Huxley’s dystopia.)

The upper classes in both societies have no qualms about lying to those in the lower class (for the lower classes own good, of course).  In the Republic this takes the form of the Myth of the Metals and the rigged lottery that determines the mating process.  In Huxley, it is only the upper classes who have access to knowledge such as that contained in Shakespeare or the Bible, books that are banned for everyone except those at the top of society’s ladder.

An interesting parallel between both books in regard to the upper classes is the idea that those in the upper classes do not necessarily have a happier life than those in the lower classes.  This is the charge proposed by Adeimantus in book IV of the Republic, and Plato responds by saying that while it may very well be true, it is not an issue as the setup proposed by Plato will lead to the greatest overall happiness.  In Brave New World, the only people who are unsatisfied with their life are the main characters, who are members of the highest class.  The rulers in this society state explicitly that those who are “under the water line” (in the lower classes) are happier than “those above it.”

A final parallel between the two is the use of cultural conditioning while the citizens are young.  Plato stresses the need to tell the right kind of stories to children.  In particular, children must not be told stories in which the gods do not perform anything other than wholly good deeds, and heroes do not fear death as these types of stories would encourage the wrong kind of behavior.  The cultural conditioning in Brave New World takes the form of hypnopaedia, which is Huxley’s term for a process in which a recorded phrase is repeated insistently while the listener is asleep.  The phrases that are played are carefully written to encourage behavior that the rulers find to be appropriate for citizens.

While Huxley’s version of the ‘utopian’ society ultimately seems much more sinister, when one compares the two proposed societies one can see that they really are not that different: both share the basic premise that the more intelligent people rule the rest for the benefit of the people as a whole.

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3 Responses to Similarities between the Republic and Huxley’s Brave New World

  1. hybridrogue1 says:

    Upon reading Plato’s ‘Republic’ the first time, several years after reading Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, I was immediately struck by the analog Huxley had drawn to ‘Republic’.

    In an argument on a political blog, I made mention of this. My opponent would have none of it, saying I was making it up out of whole cloth. I replied that he was lacking imagination and taking it too literal.

    I now find that I am not alone in this assessment, I have now seen several articles making the same comparisons.

    Thank you for yours, it is well expressed.

    Willy Whitten, \\][//

    • Greg says:

      I’m so glad I found this! I have read Brave New World a couple years back and I’ve been recently getting through The Republic. Literally as soon as Plato mentioned separation from the family and basically what comes across as sacrifice of human emotion for the sake of rationality – I knew these two books will align. I keep finding more and more similarities and although I am ignorant on which work influenced Huxley the most, I am nearly certain it must also be The Republic. I am glad I am not the only who who spotted this!

      Kind regards,
      Greg

      • hybridrogue1 says:

        If you think on it long and hard I think you will find that just like Huxley, Plato was being facetious, or satirical and meant REPUBLIC as a warning, just like Huxley meant Brave New Word.
        So I am somewhat in disagreement with the author here.
        \\][//

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