“As political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase.” — Aldous Huxley, Foreword to Brave New World
Many liberals seem to think that dystopian cautionary tales can only be directed against the right, religious or otherwise. Yet while A Handmaid’s Tale and a few similar works are indeed critiques of cultural conservatism, the best dystopia stories are at the very least ambiguous in their political orientation. Depicting as it does the social reengineering of language, electronically coordinated hate-sessions, and the insistence that reality is subject to ideology, Orwell’s 1984 applies to today’s digitized left at least as well as it did to, say, Franco’s sleepy Spain.
For that matter, two of the other most preeminent dystopia novels even include swipes at one of the most sacred cows of the 21st-century liberal project: abortion.
Concerned with the homogenizing and stultifying effects of television upon culture, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 depicts an America that had degenerated into a state of utter inanity, where reading is a lost art and people spend more quality time with strangers on video screens than with their own family and neighbors. “No one in his right mind,” laughs one character, conveying this society’s inverted values, “would have children!” The women who do have children automatically turn to Caesarian sections—not for medical reasons, but for convenience and to sidestep the pains of childbirth.
The novel’s protagonist, formerly one of the guardians of the new order, finally breaks free of his conditioning. But his newfound capacity for reflection turns out to be a source of terrible frustration rather than relief, for he can no longer relate to the indoctrinated people around him. At one point, he attempts to share a poem—“Dover Beach”—with some of his wife’s vapid friends. When they are horrified by his attempt to draw them out from their shells of entertainment, consumption, and light gossip, he becomes so incensed that he finally explodes at one of them:
Go home and think of your first husband divorced and your second husband killed in a jet and your third husband blowing his brains out, go home and think of the dozen abortions you’ve had, go home and think of that and your damn Caesarian sections, too, and your children who hate your guts! Go home and think how it all happened and what did you ever do to stop it?
To be sure, no one could mistake the allusion in the preceding rant for a systematic treatise in favor of the rights of the unborn. Yet Fahrenheit 451 was published in 1950, when legalized abortion was still only the fever-dream of a small vanguard of feminists and eugenicists, and the preceding remarks obviously do not push “a woman’s right to choose.” This is a novel about intellectual and moral decline, after all, so the posited normalization of abortion cannot possibly represent progress. Thus the inescapable conclusion is that Bradbury was using abortion as a mark of dystopia, as a way to signal to his readers just how perverse America has become in his imagined future.
The same mark is found in Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World, which depicts a world where sex has been disassociated from family and procreation, religion has been reduced to a form of social therapy, and science is meticulously censored so as to preserve a political orthodoxy.
The 1932 novel is a darkly-comic prophecy that envisions the rise of a technocratic caste in the wake of a catastrophic world war. To ensure that mankind will never again have to endure such a disaster, the elites forge a sterile yet efficient World State based upon superficial pleasures and consumption. In this new regime of indefinitely sustainable decadence the family has become so obsolete that “father” and “mother” are dirty words, the next generation is manufactured in vats, and advances in hygiene and contraception have reduced sex to a consequence-free recreation.
By far the most vulgar character in the novel is a woman named Linda, who is stranded in a wilderness reservation only to be rescued much later by the protagonists. Without the benefit of modern technology, Linda has suffered the ultimate indignity during her exile from the cosmopolis: She has had a baby. But it isn’t her fault, she explains, for “of course there wasn’t anything like an Abortion Centre here.” She goes on to reminisce somewhat nostalgically about the brightly-decorated and well-equipped abortion centers near her childhood home—a narrative detail that was no doubt shocking in the 1930s, when Huxley was mocked for his preposterous and alarmist outline of an antiseptic future.
This outline was based upon Huxley’s conviction that the “truly revolutionary revolution” was not the Scientific Revolution, not the Industrial Revolution, nor the French Revolution, but rather the Sexual Revolution initiated by the Marquis de Sade. This was, in Huxley’s words, “the revolution in individual men, women, and children, whose bodies were henceforward to become the common sexual property of all and whose minds were to be purged of all the natural decencies, all the laboriously acquired inhibitions of traditional civilization.”
Continuing Huxley’s reasoning, it is thanks to this same revolution that fewer and fewer mothers have inhibitions about disposing of their own children.
Planned Parenthood and other opponents of traditional civilization are welcome to the Marquis. Although Bradbury and Huxley were not practicing Christians, they both celebrated the human spirit and recognized its yearning for transcendence, so their work belongs to those of us who cherish that authentic freedom which stems from man’s dignity and an understanding of life based in principled reason, not inhumane convenience.
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