Our Brave New World: The Dark, Sordid Legacy of the Huxley Family

Thomas Henry Huxley

In many ways the modern world was launched into being, not by Charles Darwin and his 1859 book On the Origin of Species, but by T.H. Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog.”  Even Huxley’s gushing biographer, Ronald Clark, admits that Darwinism might only be a footnote in history without the Bulldog’s tireless promotion, which expertly exploited the major organs of public opinion. When his first review of Darwin’s book appeared in The Times, Huxley said that he expected the review to cause reflection among “some of the educated mob, who derive their ideas from The Times.[1]He frequently gave speeches to working-class men, once writing to his wife: “My working men stick by me wonderfully, the house being fuller than ever last night. By next Friday evening they will all be convinced that they are monkeys.”[2] Why was it so important for him and his colleagues to convince the world that man was no more than an elevated thinking ape? Perhaps Bertrand Russell provides the answer when he says, “The absence of any sharp line between men and apes is very awkward for theology.”[3] This is plainly ridiculous, for any five-year old child can see the clear line separating man from apes: reason, language, understanding, will; New York, London, Paris; the Mass in B Minor, the 9th Symphony (Beethoven or Dvořák, take your pick), King Lear. Where is there anything comparable in an ape? 

Huxley expanded the ideas of Darwin’s book, adapting them to human social life and not just the natural world, as Darwin had done, and so is in a very real sense the founder of Darwinism, the metaphysical substrate of our world. He was well rewarded for this service, welcomed into the Royal Society and later becoming its President. He was part of its inner core, the X Club, which provided three successive presidents to the Royal Society. His biographer writes that “from 1870 onward more and more of Huxley’s time” was given over to education and the “ethical structure” of society. “For Huxley, the need for this structure was but the natural outcome of a process which had begun with The Origin, [and] had continued with the work which linked man firmly with the beasts.”[4] He was voted into the London School Board, became a governor of Owens College and Eton, as well as a Trustee of the British Museum. The biography states that “Huxley attended no fewer than 170 [London School Board] meetings and chaired the Scheme of Education Committee which for all practical purposes built the structure of London Education that was to last for more than half a century.”[5] In the latter years of his life Huxley became a Privy Councilor to the queen, writing to his fellow scientist-propagandist Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker, “The Archbishopric of Canterbury is the only object of ambition that remains to me.”[6] This flippant joke reveals more than one might initially suspect. For as a matter of fact Charles Darwin is buried in Westminster Cathedral, and this monstrous joke was engineered by none other than Francis Galton—the founder of the eugenics movement—and T.H.  Huxley. 

Julian Huxley

Huxley had a son named Leonard who, with Julia Arnold (of the famous Arnold family), had three sons and a daughter; one of the sons committed suicide. The other two, Aldous and Julian, became very famous, one as a novelist and the other as a scientist and propagandist like his grandfather. Julian was a devil as a child. Once when he spilled some milk and was told he was a pig he responded by emptying the whole glassful on the bed. His grandfather once said, “I like that chap . . . I like the way he looks you straight in the face and disobeys you.”[7] Although he did say later that Julian’s “one failing is an invariable belief in his own infallibility.”[8] This hubris is perhaps most apparent in his coining of the term “transhumanism” in 1957, as this implies the perfectibility of the species through science and technology. Julian was an agnostic and a leader in the construction of “secular humanism”; he was an internationalist and a eugenicist and wished to apply science to social problems. He rose quickly up the ranks of the establishment, becoming the first Director General of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). He was also a member of the British Eugenics Society and its president from 1959 to 1962, granted the prestigious “Fellowship of the Royal Society,” and knighted in 1958.

While T.H. invented the doctrine of agnosticism, his grandson Julian was obsessed with what he called scientific humanism. “Just as TH had found that the championship of evolution led him inexorably on towards a criticism of religion and ethics, so did Julian find that his own study of biology led not only towards a new assessment of religion but also towards a study of the ways in which science might be applied to social problems.”[9] He wished to create a religion for humanity, a religion without revelation, which is the title of one of his books. In other words, he wanted to found a religion based on man’s authority rather than on the authority of God. He writes in Religion without Revelation: “I believe firmly that the scientific method, although slow and never claiming to lead to complete truth, is the only method which in the long run will give a satisfactory foundation for beliefs, [and] we quite assuredly at present know nothing beyond this world and natural experience.”[10] This is a remarkable admission, for it reveals his prejudice against Christianity, even while admitting that the scientific method cannot give the complete truth or answer any questions about man’s purpose or meaning. He dismisses outright the kind of evidence offered by Christianity because of his own faith in natural science. This was the germ of scientific humanism. 

He writes, “belief in miracles, in revelation, in the inspired authority of the Bible, runs counter to the established truth, as the scientifically trained see it.”[11] I hope the attentive reader discerns the utter nonsense of this statement. Miracles, divine revelation, and the authority of the Bible are all outside the jurisdiction of science. He goes on to say that the “Conflict between religion and science in the last half-century resulted in the complete defeat of religion’s claim to impose its view as authoritative on man’s mind, but it did not build up anything for those whom it emancipated.”[12] This conflict is chimerical and amounts to him imposing his own structure of faith on the wider world, if that world can be persuaded—and this is precisely what happened when the Royal Society and its cult of science (scientism) supplanted the position of Christian authority in the Western World. 

Julian defines a humanist as one “who believes that man is just as much a natural phenomenon as an animal or plant, that his body, his mind, and his soul were not supernaturally created but are all products of evolution, and that he is not under the control or guidance of any supernatural Being or beings, but has to rely on himself and his own powers.”[13]Do you notice the problem with this statement? He says evolution created man, not God. Evolution is a process of change in living matter. It can only change what is already there. How did matter and energy get there in the first place? That is the relevant question. But he is not interested in exploring this question because of his a priori faith commitment to the rejection of God. This is as philosophically untenable as Daniel Dennett saying, “The universe brought itself into existence,” a remarkably incoherent statement for a professional philosopher to make!

It should be noted that although he was an evolutionary biologist, Julian was as famous as his brother the novelist for his radio broadcasts, his lectures, and his writing. His biographer writes that the Second World War “saw him for the first time drawn on to official bodies where his concern for planning the future could be translated from paper schemes to reality.”[14] In fact, he saw the war as a vehicle for change, writing: “It is urgent [that we] begin thinking out the plan of the new world order in detail, designing machinery that will work.”[15] In The Freedom of Necessity, which Clark describes as a “curious mixture of propaganda and world appraisal,” Julian writes: “The war we are now fighting is not only the greatest but the most important war that has ever been fought. It is the most terrible and at the same time the most hopeful of wars.”[16] He echoes here Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope, as Quigley also viewed the war as tragic yet hopeful, a great opportunity to remake the world. Huxley then outlines the planned environment—social and biological—and the planned economy he wants to see after the war.

Like the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, Julian wished to see the “Transvaluation of all Values,” writing in his book Evolution that we should consider “ethics not as a body of fixed principles, but as a product of evolution, and itself evolving.”[17] After the Second World War we saw perhaps the greatest transvaluation of values in world history. For instance, here is a short list of recent headlines from the Internet: “Are Pride Parades Kid-Friendly? Parents Say Children Can Handle The Kink”; “‘Use Lots of Lube and Enter Anus Slowly’: Chicago Schools Teach Anal Sex to 5thGraders”; “Once You Get Past the Cultural Implications of Cannibalism, You’ll Find There’s a Lot of Science behind the Consumption of Human Flesh”; “Now, Some Scientists Think that even Cannibalism is Worth another Hard Look”; “California’s New Sex Ed Guidelines Encourage Teachers to Talk to Students about Gender Identity, Masturbation”; “Frankenstein Designer Kids: What You Don’t Know About Gender-Transitioning Will Blow Your Mind”; “Virginia Governor says Mother Should be Able to Kill Baby up to 9 Months”; “Drag Queens Reading to Children in Public Libraries”; “The 11-year Old Trailblazing Drag Kid Desmond is Amazing.” This could be multiplied indefinitely. The point is, values have been turned on their head, as the equally anti-Christian Nietzsche and Huxley both wished to see. We will return to Julian after we look at his brother’s novel Brave New World, particularly his book UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, which I will argue—and I think conclusively demonstrate—outlines a future world order not dissimilar to his brother’s dystopia, a brave new world, but with a happy face.

Aldous Huxley

Although Aldous Huxley initially took “for granted that there was no meaning” to existence he eventually embraced “perennialism,” the doctrine that states “a oneness underlies diversity.”[18] In 1930 Huxley, already a well-known novelist, was writing for a journal called The Realist, whose editorial board included himself, his brother Julian, H.G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, Harold Laski, and Rebecca West. He met the editor Gerald Heard only as the journal was folding. Heard was a philosopher, mystic, and later a proponent of LSD, turning many people on to the drug, even Henry Luce, editor of the Time-Life publication empire, and his wife Clare Booth Luce, the well-known conservative and free love practitioner. The famous couple took acid with Heard in the early 1960s. Huxley came under Heard’s spell, was deeply influenced by his ideas and of course himself became a huge advocate of LSD and other drugs. Clark writes that throughout “the next few years it became clear that Huxley’s developing views were being influenced by those of Heard … transformed by a growing interest in the changes which might be made in man’s political and social organizations; by a deepening awareness of the perils, as well as the possibilities, presented by a science which gave man increasing control over his environment.”[19] In Hollywood Huxley met Swami Prabhavananda and eventually joined the Vedanta Society. In 1942 he and Heard founded Trabuco College, writing that “only through change of individual character can there be any real apprehension of God’s nature and will, and a lasting change in civilization or humanity.”[20] He was a full-blown mystic, taking LSD for the first time in 1953. Huxley, Gerald Heard, and Timothy Leary were central propagandists of the drug culture which exploded in the 1960s. In 1932 Huxley published Brave New World, and shortly before he died in 1963, he said: “the general outlines of the book are true today.”[21]

Brave New World

In his 1946 forward to a new edition of Brave New World, Huxley writes that “highly centralized totalitarian governments” are inevitable (xviii).[22] However, he goes on to say, we have a choice. There are “two alternatives”: militarized totalitarianisms—plural—or supranational totalitarianism (xxi)—singular. This was written immediately after the end of the Second World War and the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan, and at the exact time his brother was writing UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, also published in 1946. In other words, like his brother he is pushing for a one world supranational government to avoid a destructive clash of multiple totalitarian regimes in war.“A really efficient totalitarian state,” he says, “would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors, and schoolteachers” (xviii-xix). But this is not entirely efficient. Huxley predicts the ultimate revolution of happy slaves will require the fulfillment of four things:

  1.  “a greatly improved technique of suggestion—through infant conditioning and … drugs.”
  2. “a fully developed science of human differences, enabling government managers to assign any given individual to his or her proper place in the social and economic hierarchy.” In other words, a neo-feudal world of masters and slaves.
  3. “a substitute for alcohol and other narcotics, something at once less harmful and more pleasure-giving than gin or heroin.” This is the drug soma, of course, but also an ethos of total “sexual promiscuity” and “sexual freedom.”
  4. a “foolproof system of eugenics” (xix-xx).

Notice that “sexual freedom” is a political tool, which those in power “will do well to encourage” (xx).

Although today human beings are still produced viviparously—that is, by a human mother and not out of bottles—I contend that the system of social control in Brave New World is here now, in its early phase. In fact, just the other day I saw an article titled: “Scientists: Artificial Wombs Could Replace Women,” in which it was stated that “Research groups around the world are exploring the possibility of artificial gestation. For instance, one group successfully grew a lamb in an artificial womb for four weeks … Eventually, we might be able to do away with human wombs altogether.”[23] So we edge ever closer.

Techniques of Suggestion

The drug Huxley mentions in connection with techniques of suggestion is scopolamine. One recent article on the drug states that “while under the influence of scopolamine, someone could convince you to willingly withdraw and give away your life savings from your bank account, but you would wake up and remember nothing.”[24] This is exactly what happened to someone named “Carolina.” She was “drugged with scopolamine and apparently told to rob her own house, and hand over the belongings to her captors. Though she does not remember any of it, Carolina says she happily gathered all of her belongings, as well as her boyfriend’s savings and camera equipment, and helped load it up into the vehicles of her captors.” Carolina feels blessed to have escaped even more deleterious consequences, “as many others have had much worse things done to them while under the influence of scopolamine. Reports indicate that scopolamine is often used for much worse crimes, including as a means by which to influence a person to commit more atrocious acts like rape or even murder.”[25] We know that hypnotically programed assassins, called “Manchurian Candidates,” have been used by the invisible government at least since Sirhan Sirhan was framed for killing Bobby Kennedy. As his lawyers’ state, Sirhan Sirhan “was an involuntary participant in the crimes being committed because he was subjected to sophisticated hypno programming and memory implantation techniques which rendered him unable to consciously control his thoughts and actions at the time the crimes were being committed.”[26] In the article from The Science Explorer cited above, we read that some contend that “the Batman movie shooter, James Holmes, was set up and drugged with scopolamine.” Either way, the incessant mass shootings are either a psychological operation using drugged Manchurian Candidates or a symptom of a serious prescription drug problem, as around “90 percent of school shootings . . . have been linked to a widely prescribed type of antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs.”[27] Perhaps it’s some combination of the two. In any case, most of the country is on some kind of drug, as Huxley predicted.

In the novel we learn of “Neo-Pavlovian Conditioning Centers.” Ivan Pavlov discovered that a population under deep stress is highly suggestible. Our population is now in a state of permanent low-grade trauma due to regular school shootings, terror threats, and global warming fear mongering, all of it endlessly reported in the sensationalized and mendacious media. We are thus deeply suggestible to brainwashing, which is being systematically applied. In Brave New World there are televisions, although the novel preceded the actual commercialization of TV by almost 20 years. (the Nazis came out with television in the 1930s). As has been noted by media critics for years:

flicker rates of televisions, videos, computers and cinema by design are all programmed to contain hidden properties that physically resonate and alter the human brain’s alpha wave state to induce a hypnotic, mesmerizing, trancelike state of mind. This literally drugs and distorts the cognitive processes of the mass audience being subliminally fed input that modify and shape values, moral and ethical messages and multiple autosuggestions that carry powerful binding effects on people’s unconscious minds and future behavior.”[i]

Interestingly, two of the doctors in the book are called Dr. Wells and Dr. Shaw. H.G. Wells and Bernard Shaw were two of the most famous propagandists for an international world order in the 1930s, and Shaw was constantly arguing that undesirables should be sent to the “lethal chamber.” In the novel undesirables are sent to islands, and a good thing too, the Controller says, or he and the other Controllers would be forced, he supposes, to put them “all in the lethal chamber” (176). In Brave New World sleep conditioning—or as Huxley calls it, Hypnopaedia—is practiced religiously. We learn that it was discovered when a boy named Reuben Rabinovitch went to sleep with the radio on and woke up knowing a speech by George Bernard Shaw, “one of the very few [writers] whose works have been permitted to come down to us” (16-17). Shaw himself wanted children to be brought up, as in the novel, in State Conditioning Centers, not by irresponsible parents, and that is no doubt why Huxley includes him in the novel. In Farfetched Fables Shaw imagines that in the far-off future mankind will reproduce itself in laboratories, and in Misalliance one of his characters cries, “Let the family be rooted out of civilization!  Let the human race be brought up in institutions!”  In 1941 Shaw said he wanted “complete State regulation of . . . lives and thoughts.”[29]  

In the novel the population has been conditioned to be revolted by words like “family,” “home,” “baby,” “mother.” When he discovers that his mother has been sent to the Park Lane Hospital for the Dying—where the terminally ill are barraged with television, synthetic music, and drugs before succumbing to mortality—Savage explains his startled expression and pale face to the nurse by saying, “She’s my mother”; after which the nurse “glanced at him with startled, horrified eyes; then quickly looked away. From throat to temple she was all one hot blush” (153). We learn that “Education must always be moral, not rational” (18). This is a crucial concept to understand if one is to grasp the novel and its relation to our world today, for it means the state implants emotional biases through conditioning. We are then very easily triggered, as the nurse is here to such an extent that she has an autonomous physiological reaction upon hearing the word “mother.” Hypnopaedia is “the greatest moralizing and socializing force of all time,” the Director claims (20). In our world I would call the conditioning technique, Hypnomedia rather than Hypnopaedia, as conditioning is utilized now primarily through television and other screens, and through the neuro-linguistic programming of its talking heads: “At last the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of all the suggestions is the child’s mind. And not the child’s mind only. The adult’s mind too—all his life long. The mind that judges and desires and decides—made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions,” the Director concludes (20). Frequently I will be talking to people who think they are sharing their own thoughts with me, but in fact these sentiments and prejudices are exactly the same as I am hearing from many others; they are regurgitating their programming, but entirely unaware that they have been programmed at all. “The mind that judges and desires and decides—made up of these suggestions. But all these suggestions are our suggestions.” This is what is meant by a “moral education.”

Drugs and Hyper-Sexualization; or the Totally Permissive Society

The people of Huxley’s brave new world are dependent on drugs—not scopolamine or similar drugs, which would only be used in special cases—but “soma,” a Greek word meaning “body”; for this is a mindless hedonistic utopia with the focus entirely on the body and its pleasure. Nowadays almost seven in ten Americans are taking some pharmaceutical drug, many of them psychotropic. But marijuana is as likely to act as soma for people as prescription drugs. Citing a recent study, a Washington Post article says “pot has become a part of everyday life for millions of Americans” and there are “almost as many marijuana users as there are cigarette smokers in the U.S.”[30] Of course, marijuana has now been legalized or decriminalized in most states. In Huxley’s world and ours, contentedness is manufactured by pharmacology. The people of Brave New World are totally inhibited from introspection and genuine feelings and emotion. Despite the pervasive drug use in our culture, I would contend that the cell phone and the incessant media distraction are even more responsible than drugs for the inhibition of introspection and reflection, but of course there are multiple factors working conjointly. People have been stripped of the capacity to hear the “still, small voice” within that the prophet Elijah mentions as the voice of God. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity this practice is called hesychia—a concentrated silent prayer of the heart leading to theosis—but in the drugged-out, sex-crazed Brave New World and in our heavily mediated world today, this is not possible; a “soma holiday” is always on hand when life is challenging.

In Brave New World no one gets old due to “Gonadal hormones, transfusion of young blood, magnesium salts” (42). Today companies like Ambrosia offer transfusions of young blood at $8,000 a liter, mostly to Silicon Valley executives. Over the last several decades “a multitude of anti-aging practices have appeared worldwide, aiming at retarding or even stopping and reversing the effects of aging on the human body,” including gonadal hormone replacement.[31] And magnesium is found in a plethora of anti-aging products. Of course, aging can’t be staved off indefinitely and the happy slaves are apparently euthanized when youth and health begin to wane: “All the physiological stigmata of old age have been abolished. And along with them, of course . . .” (43). Once unthinkable, euthanasia is legal now in more and more states; even children can be euthanized in Holland: “In the Netherlands children as young as 12 can legally be granted euthanasia.” Almost four and a half percent of registered deaths in Holland in 2017 were due to voluntary euthanasia.[32] Huxley had an uncanny perception into the world of the twenty-first century. 

Huxley writes that the second factor for the assurance of a smoothly running scientific dictatorship with a population of happy slaves, as we’ve been discussing here, is “a substitute for alcohol and other narcotics, something at once less harmful and more pleasure-giving than gin or heroin.” This for him was soma and for us marijuana and prescribed pharmaceutical drugs, but I think so-called sexual freedom, a major focus of the novel, is at least as important as mass drug taking. And besides, the drug revolution and the sexual revolution are inextricable, introduced at the same time and by the same forces. 

The society of Brave New World is a hyper-sexualized society, just like ours. In the novel, children are having sex. Huxley does not mention adults having sex with children (for obvious reasons) but it goes without saying that in a totally permissive society children and adults would be having sex together. The children are conditioned to be totally sexual through “rudimentary sex games” (21). There is an incredibly powerful movement in the world right now to normalize pedophilia and in fact all forms of sexual transgression, as we see in the media and in academia. Note the title of a recent article in the Telegraph: “Paedophilia is Natural and Normal for Males.” The caption underneath the title further elaborates: “How some University Academics Make the Case for Paedophiles at Summer Conferences.”[I]

Before being nurtured and trained into adulthood, the infant is focused on his own bodily pleasures; yet counter to this we have here a society of enforced infantilization. When the director rebukes Bernard, he says: “Alphas are so conditioned that they do not have to be infantile in their emotional behavior. But that is all the more reason for their making a special effort to conform. It is their duty to be infantile, even against their inclination … if ever I hear again of any lapse from a proper standard of infantile decorum, I shall ask for your transference to a Sub-Centre” (75). Alphas are not autonomically compelled to be infantile because they are doing the necessary work of the technocratic society and need to exercise their minds. But infantilization is essential to the ethos of the greater society and so they are expected to conform, just as the Outer Party members in 1984 are conditioned to engage in doubethink in order to get the necessary work done while still functioning socially in the managed society. Speaking of his desire to replace Christian values and mores with an ethos of total permissiveness, Jack Parsons says the post-Christian “Age of Horace” will be infused with a “liberation of new energies and the trend toward power governments, war, homosexuality, infantilism, and schizophrenia.”[i] As an aside, I should mention that contemporary literary theory also extolls schizophrenia. Wikipedia describes Deleuze and Guattari’s book Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia in the following terms: “Friedrich Nietzsche is also an influence; [the book] has been seen as a sequel to his The Antichrist … It is seen as a key text in the micropolitics of desire … schizoanalysis… [makes] emancipatory claims for schizophrenia. Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia became a publishing sensation and a celebrated work.” Like almost all contemporary theory, it’s rubbish. 

Most important, this is a society of total permissiveness and instantaneous gratification. World Controller Mustapha Mond says, “Has any of you been compelled to live through a long time-interval between the consciousness of a desire and its fulfilment?” (33). As if that were a good thing. One essential source of sensual gratification is the Feelies, which, as World Controller Mond says to the Savage, are works of “art out of practically nothing but pure sensation.” These are actually pornographic movies with full sensual stimulation: auditory, olfactory, visual, tactile. By simply putting your hand to a device you experience the Feelies—the film—with all your senses: “‘Take hold of those metal knobs on the arms of your chair,’ whispered Lenina [to the Savage], ‘Otherwise you won’t get any of the Feely effects’” (128). Compare that to this passage from a 2019 book by philosopher Jean-Claude Larchet: “Over the last few years, the IT industry has developed headsets that allow their users to be immersed in an artificial virtual reality. All the senses are involved, sight, hearing, smell, and touch. Sound comes from different places and images are 3-D. Odors are diffused and the body feels movements and impulses to which it can react.”[ii] Huxley precisely predicted virtual reality supplanting or at least augmenting actual reality. But these films at the same time reinforce ideology: “The negro was packed off to an Adult Re-conditioning Centre and the film ended happily and decorously, with the blonde becoming the mistress of all her three rescuers” (129). Here they have Pregnancy Substitutes, Violent Passion Surrogates, eat synthetic foods, listen to synthetic music, all of which, I contend, we do also. For instance, our processed and GMO foods, the pseudo-music churned out by the so-called music industry, the violent passion surrogate of following your favorite sports team or watching slasher movies or releasing vitriol against whoever the media programs us to ridicule and hate. Of course, our Pregnancy Substitute is that fabulous career and climb up the ladder of success that is promised to women in the traditionally male work world.


In the novel this society came into being after the Nine Years’ War in A.F. 141 (i.e. 2049). After the “Nine Years’ War, [and] the economic collapse [t]here was a choice between World Control and destruction. Between stability …” (36). We should remember here what Huxley says in his introduction. Totalitarianism is inevitable; we have two choices: “militarized totalitarianisms” (i.e. destruction) or supranational totalitarianism (i.e. stability). We are being frightened into choosing a “stable” totalitarian World Government—in Brave New World there are stockpiles of biological weapons like anthrax, but it’s a “peaceful” neo-Feudal society (35-36). After the Nine Years’ War, the Controller says, “People were willing to have even their appetites controlled. Anything for a quiet life. We’ve gone on controlling [them] ever since” (175). The truth is that in 2019 the move to neo-Feudalism is already far advanced. The deliberate destruction of the Middle Class, the de-industrialization of the United States, the incessant global warming conditioning with its hammering away about our need to make sacrifices—all designed to make us happy slaves in the coming Neo-Feudal order. This order is Pagan, and the sacrifices are to the great goddess Earth. 

The masses have been conditioned to dislike reading books (and the great books are suppressed from the Alphas who might read them). Today, in most cases, books aren’t even censored because our controllers know hardly anyone reads dangerous books anymore. It seems conditioning against serious reading is farther along than even Huxley imagined; that is, he still imagined it would be necessary to prohibit books like the Bible. The World Controllers are the priestly caste, the only ones with knowledge of literature and history. Very few people have such knowledge today.

Christianity has been abolished and replaced with Neo-Pagan New Age religion, exactly as has happened or is happening in the world today. We read: “We have the World State now. And Ford’s Day celebrations, and Community Sings, and Solidarity Services” (40). Uninhibited hedonism is the religion of the State. Today we have so-called Gay Pride parades in every major Western city; these are really neo-Pagan Phallic Worship festivals disguised as civic recognition of a minority (I’m told that at the first ever Gay Pride parade in Los Angles there was a twenty-foot phallus being marched around).  And just as today no scientific theories are permitted that would support the notion of cosmic purpose—instead we have mandatory purposeless Darwinian evolution as our metaphysical substrate—so in this society purpose is strictly forbidden:

Once you began admitting explanations in terms of purpose—well, you didn’t know what the result might be. It was the sort of idea that might easily de-condition the more unsettled minds among the higher castes—make them lose their faith in happiness as the Sovereign Good and take to believing, instead, that the goal was somewhere beyond, somewhere outside the present human sphere; that the purpose of life was not the maintenance of well-being, but some intensification and refining of consciousness, some enlargement of knowledge. Which was, the Controller reflected, quite possibly true. (136)

Aldous’s brother Julian would write of the need to unify the world mind in his manifesto of the future, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy. We see this accomplished especially in the Solidarity Service scene, one of the best in the book. 

… it was not the ear that heard the pulsing rhythm, it was the midriff; the wail and clang of those recurring harmonies haunted, not the mind, but the yearning bowels of compassion …The service had begun. The dedicated soma tablets were placed in the centre of the table. The loving cup of strawberry ice-cream soma was passed from hand to hand and, with the formula, “I drink to my annihilation” twelve times quaffed. Then to the accompaniment of the synthetic orchestra the First Solidarity Hymn was sung. (62). 

They keep repeating, “I drink to the Greater Being” and “I drink to the imminence of His Coming.” Of course, it ends in a Dionysian climax: “Orgy-porgy, Ford and fun, / Kiss the girls and make them One. / Boys at one with girls in peace; / Orgy-porgy gives release” (65). This is the same sort of hypnosis we see in 1984 before the idol of Big Brother: “B-B! . . . B-B! . . . B-B!” incessantly intoned while “the stamp of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms” is heard in the background, “a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise.”[i] Near the end of the book we have the requisite Grand Inquisitor scene with World Controller of Western Europe Mustapha Mond explaining to the Savage why the people prefer artificially induced happiness and slavery to freedom and responsibility. We get the same type of scene in 1984 between O’Brien and Winston. The source is Dostoevsky’s chapter “The Grand Inquisitor” in The Brothers Karamazov. Again, it comes down to moral and epistemic relativism. The Savage says man is degraded in this world and the World Controller replies: “Of course if you choose some other standard than ours, then perhaps you might say he was degraded. But you’ve got to stick to one set of postulates” (181). Truth is what the World Controllers say it is. That is precisely our world now. 

We have seen how three of Huxley’s requirements for a society of happy slaves—what he calls the “ultimate revolution”[i]—have been fulfilled:

  1. A powerful technique of suggestion, using Pavlovian conditioning techniques and drugs.
  2. A totally permissive, hedonistic society based on instantaneous gratification and so-called sexual freedom.
  3. The infrastructure for a neo-Feudal world of masters and slaves.

The only one we have not discussed is eugenics. Let’s look at that now.


In Brave New World only thirty-percent of female embryos develop normally, the rest get a dose of male sex hormone (8). Most women are sterile (9). In our time fertility is historically low in both men and women. Why? Apparently, it’s due to chemicals. Live Science reports that atrazine in the water is turning some male frogs into females capable of reproduction. This is the study that induced Alex Jones to say that the New World Order controllers are turning frogs gay. He was citing an actual Stanford University study, but atrazine is turning them female not gay. Another story from NPR is titled “Gender-Bending Fish Widespread in U.S.” and says that a “survey of fish in rivers and streams around the country shows that a large percentage of male bass have acquired feminine characteristics. Scientists say it’s the biggest survey of this gender-bending condition in U.S. waters. And while they can’t be sure of the cause, they suspect industrial and pharmaceutical chemicals are the culprit.”[i] Actually, synthetic estrogen is found in nearly every can of food we consume and estrogen mimicking endocrine disruptors are also found in plastics. Multiple studies conclude that male fertility is extremely low due to chemicals. This is why many critics believe the eco-movement against global warming is a ruse, a front, since very little if anything is said about synthetic estrogen, estrogen mimicking endocrine disruptors in plastics, pesticides, and other chemicals reducing fertility and causing cancer and other diseases which are endemic. Although world population is expected to stabilize, this is not good enough for eugenically-minded elites. Bertrand Russell writes in The Impact of Science on Society: “I do not pretend that birth control is the only way in which population can be kept from increasing … [War] has hitherto been disappointing in this respect, but perhaps bacteriological war may prove more effective.” Like the Huxleys, Russell was writing shortly after the Second World War, and he engages in the same fear mongering: “To deal with this problem it will be necessary to find ways of preventing an increase in world population. If this is to be done otherwise than by wars, pestilences, and famines, it will demand a powerful international authority.”[ii] Population control is a euphemism for eugenics, and for the oligarchs is a topic of obsession. I would contend that it has little to do with actual over-population, and much more to do with an active antipathy to the lower orders, with whom they are then forced to share resources. There was no question that after the Second World War, when the infrastructure was established for an international world order, birth control would become destigmatized and accessible, abortion would also become destigmatized and legal, and homosexuality would be encouraged. Although nobody could ever have guessed it at the time, despite Julian Huxley’s proposals as the first Director General of UNESCO. Twenty years after Russell wrote the above words, Henry Kissinger wrote National Security Memo 200: “Depopulation should be the highest priority of U.S. foreign policy towards the Third World” (April 24, 1974).  Kissinger then established a policy-planning group in the U.S. State Department’s Office of Population Affairs: “GLOBAL 2000.” This was declassified in 1989. He cites thirteen countries for depopulation through food scarcity, sterilization, war, and family planning (a euphemism for abortion). This is a major PSYOP. We are being incessantly inundated with alarmist anti-human fulminations, such as the following from David Attenborough: “Humans are a plague on Earth.”[iii]  Attenborough would certainly be in sympathy with the “Anti-Natalist” movement. Professor David Benatar, who chairs the Department of Philosophy at the University of Cape Town, wrote a book titled, Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, published by Oxford University Press in 2006. He actually argues in his book that extinction of the human race is desirable. Anti-Natalism is also summed up in the following excerpt from a recent article in The Guardian:

In February, a 27-year-old Indian man named Raphael Samuel announced plans for an unusual lawsuit. He was going to sue his parents for begetting him. “It was not our decision to be born,” he told the BBC. “Human existence is totally pointless.” Samuel recently told me over Skype from Mumbai that his is a good life, and he is actually close to his parents. His complaint is more fundamental: he believes it is wrong to bring new people into the world without their consent. He wanted to sue his parents for a symbolic amount of money, such as a single rupee, “to instill that fear among parents in general. Because now parents don’t think before having a child,” he told me. Samuel subscribes to a philosophy called anti-natalism.[i]

This view is becoming pervasive, and we are seeing healthy young women getting sterilized, saying that having babies is a crime against the earth. The point is, this is a mental virus implanted into minds deliberately. Ted Turned recently said on camera to a journalist from We are Change: “We need to reduce the population from seven billion to two billion.” How on earth are you going to do that, Ted? Research on population control, the prevention of future births, is now being carried out covertly by biotech companies. In the novel, Foster says: “fertility is merely a nuisance” (8), and one of the slogans of the community is: “Civilization is Sterilization” (92). And although the fertile woman all wear “Malthusian Belts”—that is, they carry and habitually practice birth control—for the rare pregnancy there are “Abortion Centres” (92). We should remember that Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger, who infamously said: “We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population.” The fact is, fifty-two percent of African-American pregnancies end in abortion. That is to say, while African-Americans make up only twelve percent of the US population they account for thirty-seven percent of all abortions, something the Reverend Clenard Childress calls “Black Genocide.”[i] But to be fair to elites, they don’t just want to exterminate black people, they want to exterminate poor and middle-class white people as well. Recently there was an article in the British Journal of Medical Ethics titled, “After-birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live?” The fact is there is a push for legalized infanticide, which is not surprising since it was Christianity that put an end to legalized infanticide in the first place, and we are now living in a post-Christian neo-Pagan world. The Princeton “moral philosopher” Peter Singer believes parents should be allowed to kill their babies, at least if they are born with a disability. “Killing them,” he says, “cannot be equated with killing normal human beings.”[ii] 

The word eugenics was coined in 1883 by Sir Francis Galton, Charles Darwin’s half-cousin. He was a fanatical eugenicist, saying eugenics “must be introduced into the national conscience, like a new religion. … for eugenics cooperate with the workings of nature by securing that humanity shall be represented by the fittest races.”[iii] Of course, the “fittest race” is always the race of the person who is advocating eugenics. The Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Institute were involved in promoting Eugenics laws in the United States in the early part of the twentieth century, and over 60,000 Americans endured forced sterilization. The Rockefellers transferred their program to Germany in the 1930s, funding The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. We all know how that turned out. The targets of population reduction in the US were based on ethnic background, mental intelligence, and economic status. The Carnegie Institute established a “Eugenics Records Office” called Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory in 1904, collating genetic data on Americans with the intention of controlling population size and expunging certain traits from the population. The Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory is still extant, under the guise of a philanthropic institution. Huxley’s brave new world is under the control of one united World Government, with ten World Controllers; a totally “standardized” (4) world with the lower orders or dysgenic population bred to do the manual labor and conditioned to never question anything. Like the Outer Party in 1984, the Alphas are strictly conditioned too; they also do what they are told and do not ask uncomfortable questions. The size of population and the quality and behavior of all people is totally controlled: “The principle of mass production at last applied to biology” (4). The dumbing down of the mass population is scientifically perfected. Lower castes are “dosed almost to death with alcohol” (3) and given less oxygen: “Nothing like oxygen-shortage for keeping an embryo below par” (9).  As someone who taught at American universities for nine years, I can attest to the systematic dumbing down of Americans. Many of my students were barely literate, and few were trained to think critically (if you are reading this, former student of mine, you are not in that category). As Hagopian writes, “an insidious federal agenda has been implemented to condition and brainwash a population of mindless, robotic citizenry that simply does what it’s told, and of course the brainwashing commences early in America’s schools.” Educational researcher Cynthia Weatherly says, this is a system of “limited learning for lifelong labor.”[iv] Add to this the harm done from a toxic media culture, and Huxley’s brave new world is an accomplished fact. But there is more. We must remember that chemically processed foods, genetically modified organisms, hormone injected meat, and the pesticides and chemicals found in most of what we consume all contribute to the deleterious mental condition of the masses; likewise, stratospheric aerosol geoengineering is bombarding the environment with barium, aluminum, strontium and other heavy metals. (Incidentally, while stratospheric aerosol geoengineering or weather modification is no longer denied by many climatologists, people who pointed out the obvious were at one time, and perhaps still are, labeled “chem trail conspiracy theorists”; one more obvious example of systematic brainwashing, since it witnessed people denying the evidence of their senses in favor of their programming, as you just had to look up at the sky to confirm the spraying.) Add to this the drug use of most Americans, and it’s no wonder that cognitive functioning is seriously debilitated. 

Lastly, we learn that theirs, like ours, is a data-based society: “all the relevant information” on every person is on file (6). 

UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy

It should be clear that we are now living in the brave new world of Huxley’s imagination. But if we look at his brother Julian’s book, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, we see the same vision—although without the satirical dystopic fictional dressing. To conclude this essay, let’s take a very brief look at this 1946 book, written just after the Second World War, about the same time his brother was writing his forward to the new edition of the novel. UNESCO stands for United Nations Educational, Science, and Cultural Organization and was formed after the Second World War. As Hagopian rightly notes in his article, “The Dumbing Down of America—by Design,” Julian had UNESCO issue a barrage of pamphlets insisting that “children be educated devoid of any national allegiance, patriotism or family loyalties” as these were “identified as the biggest barriers to their demonic ambitions.” UNESCO was Julian’s creation, and when he left in 1948 “Unesco was well set on a course which might be altered by the odd few degrees but which could not now be seriously diverted.”[i] Julian’s creation is still very active. In the book, the four necessary requirements for the new age of happy slaves under the complete control of their masters, according to his brother Aldous, is spelled out, but with a positive spin.


Eugenics got a bad name after the Nazi years. Julian writes that “even though it is quite true that any radical eugenic policy will be for many years politically and psychologically impossible, it will be important for Unesco to see that the eugenic problem is examined with the greatest care, and that the public mind is informed of the issues at stake so that much that is now unthinkable may at last become thinkable.”[i] Remember, at that time even legalized abortion was unthinkable. Let alone the deliberate destruction of the newly born.  So, we have been moving from that time to now with a sure and steady step to the fulfillment of his vision. 


UNESCO will structure education so that it will “fit” the person “to take his place as a member of the community and society into which he is born.”[i] As in the feudal societies of old, you are born into your position and there is no social mobility. We see this in Brave New World and we see this in Julian’s visionary manifesto for the New World Order.


UNESCO will be enabled to “Correctly discount the ideas of … fanatics and overzealous doctrinaire moralists … [T]he time will doubtless come when we shall be able to be more precise and say that a particular sub-type of asthenic is definitely prone to over-rigid moralizing.”[i] This is clearly a gibe at Christian morality, which we see frequently in the book. For instance:

[O]ver-strong or one-sided repression is capable of producing various distortions of character and frustrations to full development, and notably a hypertrophied sense of sin which can be disastrous for the individual or to others. If we could discover some means of regulating the process of repression and its effects, we should without doubt be able to make the world both happier and more efficient. This would mean an extension of education backwards from the nursery school to the nursery itself.[i]

Consider especially that last sentence in relation to his brother’s novel: “This would mean an extension of education backwards from the nursery school to the nursery itself.” Of course, control of the individual from the nursery and even the womb is pivotal to the extension of total control in Brave New World, and we see here that Julian is craving the exact same form of total control from cradle to grave.

Techniques of Suggestion

Using almost the same words as his brother, Julian writes that it will be necessary to take “the techniques of persuasion and information and true propaganda that we have learnt to apply nationally in war, and deliberately bending them to the international tasks of peace, if necessary utilizing them, as Lenin envisaged, to ‘overcome the resistance of millions’ to desirable change.”[i] And there it is, all four points addressed, at much greater length in the book, of course, than I have suggested by these few brief quotes, but hopefully enough to see the unity of the brothers’ books.


What is the purpose of it all? As Zbigniew Brzezinski would write later in Between Two Ages, the New World Order will be a synthesis of Russian Communism and American Capitalism. Regarding communism and capitalism, Huxley writes: “Can … these opposites be reconciled, this antithesis be resolved in a higher synthesis? I believe not only that this can happen, but that, through the inexorable dialectic of evolution, it must happen.”[i] We must always remember that our World Controllers manipulate Hegelian dialectic consciously and deliberately to make happen that which they wish to happen. In other words, things don’t just happen by chance or through some kind of innate power of evolution. Huxley wants precisely the supranational totalitarian One Word Order that his brother tells us is the lesser of two evils, and that we should be choosing. He writes that the goal is “political unification in some sort of world government.” “Special attention should consequently be given by Unesco to the problem of constructing a unified pool of tradition for the human species as a whole … a unified common outlook and a common set of purposes. This will be the latest part of the task of unifying the world mind.”[ii] Solidarity Service, anyone? Strangely for a rationalist, the book discusses the importance of exploring parapsychology, extra sensory perception, pre-cognition, and the “elaborate techniques and exercises [of] Hindu yogis and other mystics.”[iii] And just as the most famous of his followers in our day, Richard Dawkins, refuses even to concede the possibility that our world was created by the God of Christian revelation yet incredibly says space aliens might have seeded human beings in the far distant past, so Julian—equally incredibly—believed in the possibility of disembodied spirits, such as Shaw dramatized in his play Farfetched Fables.[iv] Of course, we should not forget that the cover of the book is adorned with an illustration of three statues of identical Buddhas in deep meditation with smaller dancing buddhas woven on textile behind them. Part of the mandate of the New World Order is the destruction of Christianity and its replacement by Eastern “New Age” religion. As social engineer, this was the role of Aldous even more than his brother Julian. This task is almost complete. Will they need a “Nine Years’ War” of horrific destruction to bring us to our knees and give up national sovereignty? I suspect they will. The two themes most constant throughout the book are eugenics and the eradication of the nation state. 

When Thomas Henry Huxley finally sailed to America to reunite with the sister, whom he had not seen in over twenty-five years, the first thing he noticed as the ship entered New York Harbor was the New York Tribune and Western Union Telegraph buildings. “Ah,” he remarked to the passenger at his side, “that is interesting; that is American. In the Old World the first things you see as you approach a great city are steeples; here you see, first, centres of intelligence.”[i] How incredibly sad, and indeed deluded. The process of molding a new world order on the ash heap of Christianity did not begin with Thomas Henry Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” but he did as much as anyone to assure that it came to pass. After all, the man practically guaranteed that Darwinism as a metaphysical system would replace Christianity, and almost singlehandedly reconstructed the educational system in the UK. Two generations later his grandson Aldous would write a brilliant satire of the new world order, and barely more than a dozen years after that his other grandson would outline the brighter vision of that society in UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy. He wrote this manifesto shortly before taking charge of UNESCO, an institution designed to remold and unite international culture after a devastating world war had traumatized the population. Indeed, the war served as a catalyst for world re-organization. The job is essentially done. 

[1] Ronald Clark, The Huxleys (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968), 53.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 66.

[1] Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (New York: AMS Press, 1968), 15.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 78.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 83.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 79.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 114-15.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 144.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 185-86.

[1] Quoted in Gregory L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Nacogdoches: Covenant Media Press, 1996), 200.

[1]Quoted in Clark, The Huxleys, 173.

[1] Quoted in Clark, The Huxleys, 174.

[1] Quoted in Clark, The Huxleys, 196.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 275.

[1] Quoted in Clark, The Huxleys, 277.

[1] Quoted in Clark, The Huxleys, 281.

[1] Quoted in Clark, The Huxleys, 282.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 218, 226.

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 232.

[1] Quoted in Clark, The Huxleys, 301.

[1] Quoted in Clark, The Huxleys, 235.

[1] All quotation from are from Aldous Huxley, Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited (New York: Harper and Row, 1965) and will be cited in the body of the essay.

[1] “Scientists: Artificial Wombs Could Replace Women,” Technocracy News and Trends, November 27, 2019. https://www.technocracy.news/scientists-artificial-wombs-could-replace-women/.

[1] Kelly Tatera, “Scopolamine: Is This Mind-Control Drug the ‘Most Dangerous’ in the World?” The Science Explorer, December 23, 2015. http://thescienceexplorer.com/brain-and-body/scopolamine-mind-control-drug-most-dangerous-world.

[1] Ethan A. Huff, “Most dangerous drug in the world can block free will, wipe memory – Was it involved in Batman shooting?” Natural News, August 2, 2012. https://www.naturalnews.com/036661_scopolamine_mind_control_drug.html.

[1] Michael Martinez, “Convicted RFK assassin Sirhan Sirhan seeks prison release,” CNN, November 26, 2011. https://www.cnn.com/2011/11/26/justice/california-sirhan-rfk/index.html.

[1] Jerome R. Corsi, “Psych meds linked to 90% of school shootings,” WND, December 18, 2012. https://www.wnd.com/2012/12/psych-meds-linked-to-90-of-school-shootings/#RgDwC5hgM3PU0SE1.99.

[1] Joachim Hagopian, “The Dumbing Down of America—By Design.” Global Research, January 30, 2018.  https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-dumbing-down-of-america-by-design/5395928.

[1] Quoted in Matthew Yde, Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism: Longing for Utopia (Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), 16. Shaw wrote this for the July 1941 issue of Labour Monthly.

[1] Christopher Ingraham, “11 charts that show marijuana has truly gone mainstream.” Washington Post, April 19, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/04/19/11-charts-that-show-marijuana-has-truly-gone-mainstream/.

[1] “Off-label use of hormones as an antiaging strategy: a review.” US National Library of Medicine 
National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4116364/.

[1] “Teenager who was sexually assaulted multiple times ends her own life after requesting legal euthanasia.” Independent, June 4, 2019. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/euthanasia-clinic-suicide-depression-rape-anorexia-netherlands-teenager-noa-pothoven-a8944356.html.

[1] Andrew Gilligan, “Paedophilia is natural and normal for males.” The Telegraph, July 5, 2014. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/10948796/Paedophilia-is-natural-and-normal-for-males.html

[1] Jack Parson, The Book of Babalon. The quote can be found in the second paragraph of the introduction.

[1] Jean-Claude Larchet, The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul. Trans. Archibald Andrew Torrance (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Publications, 2019), 88.

[1] George Orwell, 1984 (New York: Signet Classics, 1977), 16.

[1] Aldous Huxley, “The Ultimate Revolution (Berkeley Speech, 1962).” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2WaUkZXKA30.

[1] “Study: Gender-Bending Fish Widespread In U.S.” NPR, September 16, 2009. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=112888785.

[1] Russell, The Impact of Science on Society, 103, 111.

[1] Quoted in Josh Hrala, “David Attenborough Has an Important Warning About Human Population.” Science Alert, November 11, 2016. https://www.sciencealert.com/the-time-david-attenborough-said-humans-are-a-plague.

[1] Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, “I Wish I’d Never been Born: The Rise of the anti-Natalists.” The Guardian, November 14, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/nov/14/anti-natalists-childfree-population-climate-change.

[1] “Exposing the Black Genocide with Rev. Clenard Childress.” The Corbett Report, March 13, 2012. https://www.corbettreport.com/corbett-report-radio-087-exposing-the-black-genocide-with-rev-clenard-childress/.

[1]Katie Booth, “What I learned about disability and infanticide from Peter Singer,” Aeon, January 10, 2018. https://aeon.co/ideas/what-i-learned-about-disability-and-infanticide-from-peter-singer.

[1] Quoted in Yde, Bernard Shaw and Totalitarianism, 73.

[1] Hagopian, “The Dumbing Down of America—By Design.”

[1] Clark, The Huxleys, 321.

[1] Julian Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy (London: Euston Grove Press, 2010), 21.

[1] Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, 29.

[1] Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, 20.

[1] Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, 33.

[1] Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, 60.

[1] Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, 61.

[1] Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, 17.

[1] Huxley, UNESCO: Its Purpose and Philosophy, 37.

[1] See Clark, The Huxleys, 332-33.

[1] Quoted in Clark, The Huxleys, 89.

The Novelist as Playwright: Cormac McCarthy’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, The Sunset Ltd.

After years of relative anonymity, Cormac McCarthy emerged in the 1990s as one of the few unquestionably preeminent novelists writing in the English language, an American writing in a tradition that dates back to Melville. Critics most often cite Faulkner as the primary influence, although in his later more pared down minimalist works the influence of Hemingway is demonstrably apparent. Although he is too dogmatic, Harold Bloom puts the matter bluntly: “there are four living American novelists I know of who are still at work and who deserve our praise,” the four being Pynchon, Roth, DeLillo, and McCarthy.[1] That is egregiously unfair, as it omits many American novelists worthy of praise, not least Toni Morrison. But the point is taken: few would deny Cormac McCarthy his place in the pantheon of contemporary American novelists. 

Yet McCarthy is also a playwright. He has written two interesting plays, one of which I will argue in the following essay is a masterpiece worthy of serious attention. Yet when Vintage published The Sunset Limited in 2006 it was presented as “a novel in dramatic form,” which is patently absurd. Works of literature in dramatic form are just that, dramas, not novels. The so-called subtitle of The Sunset Limited has fooled some critics into taking it seriously; thus John Vanderheide refers to the opening stage directions as a “spare narrative prologue.”[2] So why would McCarthy—or Vintage—include the subtitle, “a novel in dramatic form”? The answer is obvious: to sell books. McCarthy is a famous novelist with many readers, and the subtitle is meant to encourage his readers to buy and read the play. Thus while published plays usually come with a record of the initial production immediately preceding the printed play itself, in the Vintage edition of The Sunset Limited the record of the initial production—at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in 2006, which later transferred to New York—is hidden away at the rear of the book.

Despite this preamble, it is not the intention of this essay to argue that The Sunset Limited is a play and not a novel; that would require no argument, as the Steppenwolf and other productions, including the HBO film, prove amply enough. I will argue instead that The Sunset Limited is an incredibly powerful work of dialectical drama that in semi-allegorical fashion dramatizes the clash of two irreconcilable worldviews encountered frequently in our pluralistic society, and that the author, while sympathetic to both worldviews, strongly favors one over the other. Reviewers frequently fail to observe which point of view McCarthy favors, which makes the writing of this essay necessary. The two characters are diametrically opposite in every conceivable way, and it is something of a miracle that they are even sitting together at the same kitchen table engaged in a discussion which is literally a matter of life and death. (White even remarks, “I don’t think you have any idea how strange it is for me to be here.”)[3] The elite academic White denies a transcendent dimension of any sort while Black is a theist, specifically a Christian, although he calls himself a “heretic.” White embraces the “closed world structure” that only became possible in the Western world with the Enlightenment. Black—and the importance of his minority status to the play’s meaning should never be underestimated—represents an almost antiquated worldview that is increasingly impotent in the face of a hegemonic modernity.[4]More disturbingly, the play suggests that this rationalistic Western worldview founded on Cartesian doubt is ultimately nihilistic and self-defeating, even suicidal. It would seem that after destroying every conceivable idol it then turns and destroys itself, like a cancer that devours its host. 

White is emblematic of the Closed World Structure (CWS) that Charles Taylor writes about in his book, A Secular Age. The “masters of disengagement,” as Taylor refers to them, proclaim an objective “view from nowhere,” but there is no such thing: “A powerful homogenizing a priori is at work here . . . perverse in its effect.” Perverse because “reality is being arraigned before the bar of Method; what doesn’t shape up is condemned to a shadow-zone of the unreal.”[5] The closed world structure is a social construct and ideology like any other worldview. And while proponents of this CWS, such as White in the play, take this as self-evidently based on “reason” and “science” it actually reflects, as Taylor writes, “a deep-seated moral distaste for the old religion that sees God as an agent in history.”[6] In other words most of the time it is a moral prejudice or reflex, the default position of academics like White, at least in Western Europe and the United States. McCarthy dramatizes this brilliantly by telling us that White carefully scrutinized the platform to make sure there was no one present before leaping to his death. He was very diligent because he especially did not want any children to witness his suicide. Yet out of nowhere Black appears and prevents the suicide attempt. It’s inexplicable, and Black even jokes that White seems to be suggesting that he is an angel (23). White should be dead but instead is sitting in Black’s small apartment discussing weighty matters, sharing a meal, and drinking coffee. In another time and place this strange encounter would have been described as a “correspondence” (in Jungian terms, synchronicity), and it would have given someone in White’s position a reason to pause and reflect on its possible meaning. In fact the play opens with Black suggesting there is a meaning implicit in their encounter and White responding, “It doesn’t mean anything. Everything that happens doesn’t mean something else” (3)—i.e., there is no correspondence.[7] The social imaginary that posits the world as closed—or as Taylor also puts it, posits an immanent frame—will not permit such reflection; there can be no meaning in the encounter, certainly not any kind of numinous meaning: “A powerful homogenizing a priori is at work here . . . perverse in its effect.”

Before proceeding further in our examination of the play’s deep layers of meaning it is necessary first to discuss, briefly, its form. The Sunset Limited is a dialectical drama of the sort invented by Plato in the fourth century BC. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries there have been a number of playwrights who essentially eschew the Aristotelian model, with its emphasis on plot, and instead employ the Platonic or dialectical model: Shaw, Brecht, Weiss, Stoppard, and Guirgis come immediately to mind, but there are others. In an interesting book on this topic Martin Puchner writes, “dramatists and directors [have] failed to recognize Plato as a radical theater reformer, the prescient inventor of a form of drama that is closer to modern drama as we know it than to anything known in the classical world.”[8]  In The Sunset Limited there is very little action and the play consists chiefly of dialogue between White and Black as they sit in the kitchen of Black’s dilapidated apartment immediately after he has prevented White’s attempted suicide in a New York subway. White is an atheist, more specifically a nihilist; Black is an ex-con, a convicted murderer whose life was transformed when, after a prison fight that nearly left him dead, he heard a voice say that but “for the Grace of God you would not be here” (49). It is this lack of action that has prompted some critics, who should know better, into saying things like, “Brilliant, but hardly a play.”[9]

Dialectical drama alternates points of view, with each speaker attempting to convince the other that he or she possesses the truth. This is the essence of a pluralistic society, where different worldviews compete for predominance. In The Sunset Limited Black importantly refers to himself as a questioner, not “a doubter.” When White asks him what the difference is he replies, “the questioner wants the truth. The doubter wants to be told there aint no such thing” (67). While Black quests after the absolute, White believes he has already found it: nothingness. Sounding much like the writer of Ecclesiastes, he says: “Evolution cannot avoid bringing intelligent life ultimately to an awareness of one thing above all else and that one thing is futility” (136). In dialectic questions are asked and truth is sought for. Black wants to understand White, particularly his nihilism, not in a disinterested way but because he wishes to save him. White has no real interest in asking questions; he has found the answer to every question in self-annihilation. Plato calls dialectic a “science,” explaining that “when there is some contradiction always present . . . then thought begins to be aroused within us.” [10] Both Black and White are committed to their particular worldviews, so the dialectic is chiefly for the benefit of the audience; it is we who are constantly aware of the contradiction present and have our thinking aroused.

In dialectical drama the author controls the end result of the contest, of course, and usually sides with one character’s way of thinking in preference to another’s. Plato’s dialogues lose their dramatic power when Socrates has no worthy interlocutors, but there is no question but that Socrates speaks for Plato. (In Plato’s early dialogues, such as theApology and the Credo, it is likely that Plato is transmitting Socrates’s own words and ideas, but by the middle of his career he is bending Socrates to suit his own ends.) In the Republic Thrasymachus is as formidable an opponent as we get, but he leaves the drama early; Socrates completely dominates. In dialectical drama the author’s point of view always wins in the end, but in a great play— such as Man and SupermanTravestiesMarat/SadeFreud’s Last Session, or The Last Days of Judas Iscariot—it is not always clear who wins, or if it is clear the battle is at least close to evenly matched. I was amazed to read the critical literature on The Sunset Limited, because some critics thought Black was the clear winner and others that White took the prize. I can only assume such decisions are formed in many cases when a bias for one particular worldview is held in preference to another, despite every effort to demonstrate scholarly objectivity. This is a testimony to the greatness of McCarthy’s play and its open-ended conclusion, but I believe an honest and careful scrutiny of the text reveals a clear winner. Likewise knowledge of McCarthy’s others works, not least The Road—which was published the same year as The Sunset Limited—gives weight to what seems obvious to me: McCarthy is critiquing a peculiar form of modern alienation and holding it up against a rare but precious form of empathy and commitment. As Black says, “you must love your brother or die” (121). White is profoundly alienated from himself, from other people, and from God, and as Black suggests will happen to those who do not love: he leaves at the end of the play to destroy himself.

The Sunset Limited is a multi-layered drama with various themes woven intricately into its complex fabric, but it is essentially about human alienation, the alienation of the modern subject. As John Vanderheide has written, the play has many characteristics of the medieval allegory, not least the names of the characters, which serve far more than just race markers. The characters’ epistemologies, even their ontologies, are radically incommensurate, with White signaling by his whiteness a will to power untethered from any sort of transcendence. White is a sympathetic character in many ways, but he is also emblematic of a powerful force that is charging straight into an abyss of nihilistic destruction. As Luc Ferry puts it: “Like the sorcerer’s apprentice who unleashes forces which soon escape his control, Descartes and the Enlightenment philosophers unleashed a critical spirit which, once in motion could not be stopped, somewhat like an acid that continues to eat into the materials with which it comes in contact, even after water has been thrown over it.”[11] In this play, Black is the water, but it has no effect; the corrosive is too strong and too far advanced. Writing of McCarthy’s earlier play, The Stonemason, Mary Brewer says, “blackness becomes associated with genuine spiritual values through the characters of Ben and Papaw, thereby prompting a reversal of the white/black binary.”[12]The same is true here. Black says to White, “The light is all around you, cept you don’t see nothing but shadow. And the shadow is you” (118). And White says, “I’m a professor of darkness. The night in day’s clothing” (140).  If traditionally the color white signifies light, goodness, truth, and beauty, in Sunset that is reversed. It signals power, certainly, but that power is moving directly toward a head-on collision with a super-charged locomotive, that emblematic symbol of modernity. In this play spiritual power is located in the character Black.

Throughout the dialectical exchange Black clearly evinces a quick mind and is a formidable dialectical debater. For instance, he gets White to estimate that he has read over four-thousand books in his life, yet he has never read the Bible, which he also gets White to admit is probably a better book than War and Peace or The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (14-21). White has little interest in debate and longs for the moment he can leave and resume the business of ending his life. Only at the end of the play does his passion for self-destruction find articulate release, and it is this deluge of deeply felt words that has convinced some critics that his is the point of view we should side with. In “‘A Howling Void’: Beckett’s Influence on Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited” Lydia Cooper argues that because White “manages what none of Beckett’s seminal characters do—an effective departure—White’s anti-theology seems to win the day over Black’s agonizingly agnostic faith.”[13] I want to spend the next few minutes demonstrating not only why this is not the case, but I want also to demonstrate why Cooper’s comparison to Beckett itself is misguided. As already articulated at some length, the play is structured as a dialectical drama in the manner of a Platonic dialogue; the characters are extremely articulate, speak in mostly complete sentences, and engage in discussion where one thought induces a counter thought, as indeed the play must be structured if it is to be a successful specimen of the genre. It is simply not the case that the characters “alone on a stage discuss the meaninglessness of language.”[14]Indeed, any articulate discussion on the meaninglessness of language would be self-defeating, as it would demonstrate by its very articulation that language possesses meaning. At the end of the play Black cries out to God in his agony, “I don’t understand it. If you wanted me to help him how come you didn’t give me the words? You give em to him.” Even so, he says, “That’s all right. That’s all right. If you never speak again you know I’ll keep your word” (142). As critic David DiSalvo puts it, “Black then reaffirms to God that despite this loss, he will still always stand behind ‘the Word.’”[15]  

Cooper goes on to say that while the action is continuous “it is terribly fragmented, the dialogue broken by brief linguistic ellipses, single syllable articulations, terse lines, and longer silences . . . [and] non-linguistic grunts.” There are actually no ellipses in the entire play, and the grunts she is referring to are Black’s occasional response of “Mm hm,” which are not non-linguistic as they often serve the purpose of letting the speaker know the auditor is listening, comprehending, and that he should continue. Or they carry a meaning not fully articulated. August Strindberg and Anton Chekhov more or less invented the art of the dramatic pause and this was taken up to perfection by playwrights like Beckett and Pinter, but in this play there are only three stage directions in the entire play indicating silence and two indicating a pause, and they are specifically related to dialectical exchange. For instance:

White:  (Pointing at the Bible) You don’t think you have to believe everything in there in order to be saved? 

Black: No. I don’t. I don’t think you even have to read it. I aint for sure you even got to know there is such a book. I think whatever truth is wrote in these pages is wrote in the human heart too and it was wrote there a long time ago and will still be wrote there a long time hence. Even if this book is burned ever copy of it. What Jesus said? I don’t think he made up a word of it. I think he just told it. This book is a guide for the ignorant and the sick at heart. A whole man wouldn’t need it at all. And of course if you read this book you goin to find that they’s a lot more talk about the wrong way than they is the right way. Now why is that?

White:  I don’t know. Why is it?

Black: I’d rather hear from you.

White: I’ll have to think about it.

Black: Okay


White: Okay what?

Black: Okay go ahead and think about it. (67-68)

This is linear thinking and logical exchange—and typical of the exchanges throughout the play—and the silence is there to allow White time to think about Black’s question. Nothing could be further from the type of fragmented dialogue Cooper suggests in her effort to convince her readers that the play is Beckettian in form as well as content. The few silences written into the play by McCarthy all fit the same pattern. On another occasion Black tells White that if God spoke to him he can surely speak to White. After which the stage direction indicates that he drums his fingers on the table and looks intently at the professor, followed by a further stage direction indicating silence (64). Clearly Black is waiting for White to listen for what the prophet Elijah called the “still small voice” of God.[16] Finally, the third author-directed silence in the play comes at a moment of terrible existential urgency when Black tells White that according to Jesus eternal life is his if he just lets his “brother off the hook.” The monologue grows in urgency as Black explicates what this entails: 

Black: You got to actually take him and hold him in your arms and it dont make no difference what color he is or what he smells like or even if he dont want to be held. And the reason you wont do it is because he dont deserve it. And about that there aint no argument. He dont deserve it. (He leans forward, slow and deliberate.) You wont do it because it aint just. Aint that so? 


Black: Aint it?

White: I don’t believe in those sorts of things.

Black: Just answer the question Professor.

White: I don’t think in those terms.

Black: I know you don’t. Answer the question.

White: I suppose there’s some truth in what you say. (79)

I have quoted from the text at some length to illustrate how McCarthy’s few silences contribute to the dialectical structure of the play, but we can also see from these exchanges why Black is not a particularly sympathetic character to some readers. In these exchanges and others like them he is clearly the fervent evangelist. But we should keep in mind that whereas we do not take seriously the fundamentalist on the street corner who tells us our lives will be forfeit if we do not accept Jesus into our hearts, in this case the professor’s literal biological, if not eternal, life is hanging in the balance. Black knows that if he loses the dialectical debate White will return to the station and throw himself in front of the Sunset Limited.

To return to the quote I cited earlier, I am not sure what Cooper means by “Black’s agonizingly agnostic faith.” After all when White asks him if he really believes Jesus is in the room with them he answers, “I know he’s in the room” (10). Black’s faith is never in question—if anything, it is too certain; after all he professes knowledge here, not faith. But McCarthy has also distinguished between the two characters by making one, Black, concrete and specific and the other, White, general and abstract. As Philip Brandes describes them in his review of a production in Los Angeles, “White (Ron Bottitta) is a professor, a jaded atheist who lives in a world of abstract conceptualization; Black (Tucker Smallwood), an ex-con turned devout Christian, is all about practical street smarts, concrete experience and rescuing others (even those he may not like).”[17] Black’s faith is not based on propositional statements such as: “I believe that Jesus is Lord and Savior.” Rather, he experiences his faith with his senses, metaphorically and literally. He tells White, “If it aint got the lingerin scent of divinity to it then I aint interested” (13). Likewise he does not accept the gospel at second hand but rather hears God’s voice: “I hear this voice. Just as clear. Couldnt of been no clearer” (49). White on the other hand has a propensity for abstraction and generalities, and frequently speaks in epistemological absolutes. While for Black God is experienced, for White “God” is just an idea, and furthermore one which he pronounces on in absolute terms: “the whole idea of God is just a load of crap. . . . It’s simply a fact” (62-63). He also claims to “know” that no better world awaits the believer (133). Even world-renowned atheist Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion counts himself a six on a scale of 1-7, with 1 being absolute certainly that there is a God and 7 absolute certainty that there is not.[18] White also sometimes speaks in academic jargon, saying, “The dialectic of the homily always presupposes a ground of evil” when he means, “How many wrong paths are there? There number is legion. How many right paths? Only one. Hence the imbalance you spoke of” (69-70). He is also too literal, as befits his role in the scheme of the play as emblematic of Enlightenment rationalism. When Black says he is trying to keep White “from slippin off into the night” White responds, “It’s not night” (80).

Ferry describes our post-Nietzschean world as in “accordance with Nietzsche’s wishes, the idols are all dead: no ideal, in effect, animates or disturbs.”[19] White says that his reason for desiring suicide is his “gradual loss of make-believe. That’s all. A gradual enlightenment as to the nature of reality” (120). McCarthy’s use of the word “enlightenment” here is surely not accidental. Writing of another of his nihilists, the Judge in Blood Meridian, Steven Frye writes: “The thematic tie that links the Judge to antireligious materialism and philosophical naturalism becomes clear in his many monologues, in which he reveals himself as a natural historian and an avatar of Enlightenment science.”[20] Going further, Frye writes that for McCarthy meaning is found and sustained when human beings “participate in fictions that are more truthful than actualities bereft of purpose, since they are embodied with principles of unity, communal understanding, and intimations of the divine, principally as it is defined in terms of order, harmony, human intimacy, and finally in the only thing that can be seen as real—grace.”[21] Thus White’s refusal to participate in “make-believe” ironically removes him further from the truth. His alienation is so pronounced that he did not even visit his father when he was dying of cancer and the thought of seeing his mother again, if there is an afterlife, is torment to him: “I yearn for the darkness. I pray for death. Real death. If I thought that in death I would meet the people I’ve known in life I don’t know what I’d do. That would be the ultimate horror” (135). He is a self-confessed misanthrope who says the word “loathe” is not powerful enough to describe his feeling for his colleagues at the university (82). Taking the word etymologically, White is an idiot: he is utterly alone and therefore intellectually deprived. 

Further, he is in a very real sense mad, insane. “Separation from society also inflicts unbearable psychological tensions upon the individual, tensions that are grounded in the root anthropological fact of sociality,” writes Peter Berger in his classic sociological study The Sacred Canopy. “The ultimate danger of such separation is, however, the danger of meaninglessness. This danger is the nightmare par excellence, in which the individual is submerged in a world of disorder, senselessness, and madness. Reality and identity are malignantly transformed into meaningless figures of horror.”[22] Thus White’s isolation and misanthropy and his view of the world as meaningless are inextricably connected. And this is another reason I use the word “masterpiece” in regard to McCarthy’s play. The formof The Sunset Limited recapitulates the theme. For instance, Berger also writes that each human being “is formed in the course of protracted conversation (a dialectic, in the literal sense of the word) in which he is a participant.” He adds that, “once the individual is formed as a person, with an objectively and subjectively recognizable identity, he must continue to participate in the conversation that sustains him as a person in his ongoing biography. That is, the individual continues to be a co-producer of the social world, and thus of himself.”[23] Black not only attempts to reinscribe meaning into White’s life, but in a very real sense he attempts to reinscribe him back into society, into meaningful human contact. Black does this not only by engaging him in protracted conversation—and desperately attempting by whatever means available to keep the conversation going whenever White threatens to leave—but also by trying to find other people, any people at all, whom White might be able to begin meaningful relations: “I don’t know, Professor. I just tryin to find you some constituents out there somewheres” (84).  Additionally, White is in some sense responsible for the cultural world he abhors, for the dissolution of the fragile cultural things he believes will pass away soon. He is a co-producer of the social world, and this is why Black will say when he prays: “We thank you today for the life of the professor that you have returned to us and we ask that you continue to look after him because we need him” (98). White should eschew suicide and work to create the meaningful world he wishes to see.

Following Berger—who is himself borrowing from Sartre, not Freud—we can say that White is a sort of masochist: “Man cannot accept aloneness and he cannot accept meaninglessness. The masochist’s surrender is an attempt to escape aloneness by absorption in an other, who at the same time is posited as the only and absolute meaning, at least in the instant in which the surrender occurs. Masochism thus constitutes a curious convulsion both of man’s sociality and of his need for meaning.”[24] In this case the modern locomotive and the nothingness that follows is the absolute that White surrenders to. In his relation to this absolute White even employs religious language and embodies the enthusiast’s fervor: “I yearn for the darkness. I pray for death” (135). Cooper writes that because of White’s realization of the meaninglessness of existence “survival may not be the virtue it once was. In the one thing he refuses to give up—the act itself of giving up—White demonstrates a perverse yet very real source of courage.”[25]Certainly White recalls Nietzsche’s aphorism in that he “would rather will nothingness than not will.”[26] But I would hardly call this courage. In fact, while he evinces the masochist’s desire to surrender to something more powerful than himself, he lacks the masochist’s love of pain, having calculated that at the speed the locomotive is traveling it will outrun his neurons and he will feel nothing (123). This brings us to a subject we have yet to discuss: suffering.

White asserts—again as an epistemological absolute—that “the world is basically a forced labor camp from which the workers—perfectly innocent—are led forth by lottery, a few each day, to be executed. I don’t think that this is just the way I see it. I think it’s the way it is” (122). He claims that “being happy” is “contrary to the human condition” (54). According to White “no one” is happy: “Suffering and human destiny are the same thing. Each is a description of the other.” But here Black catches him in a logical inconsistency:

Black: We aint talkin about sufferin. We talkin about bein happy.

White: Well you cant be happy if you’re in pain.

Black: Why not?

White: You’re not making any sense.

Black: The point, Professor, is that if you didn’t have no pain in your life then how would you even know you was happy? As compared to what? (55)

Of course people in pain can be “happy” and people free of pain can be miserable; this can be empirically demonstrated, which the putative empiricist White should know. What brings happiness—I think the better term is joy—is meaning, precisely what White lacks in his life. In his famous book Man’s Search for Meaning, the psychotherapist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel writes, “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” He closes the book with these words: “Our generation is realistic, for we have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”[27] McCarthy’s play demonstrates the cogency of Frankel’s thesis as well as it does anything else. It might be helpful to remark here that in what is perhaps the best essay I’ve read on this play, Robert Wyllie persuasively argues that McCarthy based Black on the Christian existentialist Kierkegaard and White on the gloomy philosophical pessimist Schopenhauer: “Black’s faith, White’s despair, and their open-ended Socratic dialogue all reflect the influence of Søren Kierkegaard upon McCarthy.”[28] Leading McCarthy scholar Steven Frye also affirms the powerful influence of Kierkegaard and other Christian existentialists on McCarthy’s writing.[29]

If Black clearly speaks for the author, why do some critics so strangely side with White? Part of the answer lies in the heartfelt agony and clear-sighted depiction of human cruelty and suffering he expresses at the end of the play. Also, as mentioned before, the success of dialectical drama depends on the persuasiveness of both characters. That said, it is unlikely that anyone would conclude that the Devil speaks for Shaw in the dream sequence of Man and Supermanor that Tristan Tzara speaks for Stoppard in Travesties or that the Marquis De Sade speaks for Weiss in Marat/Sade, however persuasive such characters might be. Conversely, it is virtually impossible to settle on who wins the debate when reading Mark St. Germain’s dialectical drama Freud’s Last Session, the atheist Freud or the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis; unless one gives attentive notice to a short stage direction near the end of the play (which reminds us also why it is important to remember that these are plays and meant to be performed). At one point Freud confesses to Lewis that even his doctors will not remove his prosthetic jaw because of the hideous stench. Later in the play, in an effort to relieve his debating partner’s pain, Lewis will put his hand in Freud’s mouth and remove the artificial jaw. I spoke with a director and she told me she slowed down the action here and then froze this moment when she directed the play.[30]It is this performed action of neighborly love that ultimately compels me to conclude that Lewis is the winner where otherwise it would have been impossible to draw a conclusion. We should remember also that it is likely that even Plato’s dialogues were originally performed at his academy, in some fashion or another. “[W]hat is most important” to remember, Puchner writes, “is that [Plato] mixes abstraction and embodiment. It is this mixture that sets his drama apart from its competitors.”[31]

Therefore it seems likely that some of the critics of The Sunset Limited might be viewing the world from the same closed world structure or immanent frame that was discussed earlier; that is, from the same vantage point from which White himself views the world. Taylor writes that this viewpoint can seem to those who hold it “obvious, compelling, allowing of no cavil or demurral.” Yet he adds that this type of “thinking is clouded or cramped by a powerful picture which prevents one seeing important aspects of reality.” He cites Wittgenstein’s famous dictum, “a picture held us captive.” For instance Cooper seems to take it for granted that “the absurdity of existence . . . the futility of human existence” is self-evident and that the stage is the perfect medium to explore this “recognition.”[32] While White might be a morbid case, Taylor claims that “those who think the closed reading of immanence is ‘natural’ and obvious are suffering from [a] kind of disability.” This “spin of closure,” as he calls it, “is hegemonic in the academy.”[33] I would suggest that this “spin of closure” is in part what McCarthy’s play is about. After all, it is no coincidence that White is an academic.

With this in mind let us consider Black’s account of his transformation, his conversion, or what in the New Testament is called metanoia, his “turning in a new direction.” According to Black he was stabbed with a knife while in the chow line in prison and in retaliation nearly killed his assailant, who was “never . . . right after that” (48). While recovering in the infirmary, near death and with 280 stitches in him, Black hears the voice recounted earlier. As a dedicated “master of suspicion” White questions how strange it is that “a fellow prisoner became a crippled one-eyed halfwit so that you could find God” (49). Cooper aligns herself with White here, writing that Black “unproblematically links violence to redemption . . . Black’s insistence that an act of bloodshed sparked his redemptive journey suggests that he ‘buys into’ the sacramental nature of ritual bloodshed.” According to Cooper, if Black “is correct and grace is achieved through the shedding of blood, a concept personified in the divine martyr whom Black cites, Jesus, then Black’s attempts to save White from self-immolation are perhaps counter-intuitive.”[34] The assumption is that Black never actually heard the voice of God, and that this psychological experience of conversion follows necessarily from his own act of violence. But Black is not “insisting” nor “buying into” anything; he is merely relating what happened to him. I am reminded of another convict who finds God in another contemporary American play. In Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Jesus Hopped the A Train Angel confronts Lucius with the strange “convenience” of finding God while on death row. He responds, “I coulda had God when I was six, sixteen, thirty-two, thirty-five, he wasn’t goin’ nowhere! It happens I didn’t get him till I was forty-two; a suicidal, multiple homicidal drug addict starin’ down at Death Row! Would I have preferred to find him at twenty-five? Hell yeah! But I didn’t!”[35] In that brilliant drama of ideas it turns out, ironically, that after great resistance Angel will have the more enduring conversion experience.

Black had led a violent life and it brought him to prison and nearly to death. While lying in the infirmary he hears a voice, with utter clarity (he tells his auditor twice). White and Cooper assume that this could not have been what Black claims it to be, the voice of God. But why? Because they assume a priori that there is no God, and certainly not one who speaks to human beings. Taylor writes that beginning in the eighteenth-century Deists “have a deep distaste for action (putatively) inspired by God.” He goes on, “From a philosophical perspective, such as that of Spinoza, historical religion could be written off as pandering to popular fears and illusions.” He adds, “But of course, what doesn’t figure in this kind of indictment is the (alleged) interventions spoken of in the autobiography of Santa Teresa, or the writings of John Wesley, nor a fortiori the myriad of unknown, less awe inspiring acts and experiences of ordinary people which they have understood as related to God.” [36] It is just assumed that such claims are not true, even when coming from notable figures like the twentieth-century Marxist philosopher Simone Weil, who claimed that “Christ himself came down and took possession” of her when she was reading a poem by George Herbert.[37] The point is: why should we not take Black—and others like him—at their word? As the play is a critique of a type of thinking that, in the author’s view, leads to nihilism and potential destruction, I think we should give Black the benefit of the doubt, especially when we see the fruit of the experience: metanoia, or a life completely turned in a new and life-affirming direction.

Cooper writes, “Black’s prayerful agony at the end is a starkly failed attempt at experiencing the presence of God.”[38] But did she really expect McCarthy, if he favored Black’s point of view, to have Black hear God’s voice after White exits? That would have been mawkish and ruined a brilliant play; it would have spoiled the open-endedness necessary to dialectical drama. Black’s relationship to God is tested when he is unable to save the professor, but he asserts his continued faith even in the face of silence and defeat. Although he overstates the case, perhaps Vanderheide has a point when he writes, “The Joban angle of the narrative suggests that, if anything, God arranged the encounter with the express purpose of curing Black’s daemonism. Black, however, fails to recognize this. Too far gone in his self-identification as a fisher of men, he is in fact unwilling to ‘let [his] brother off the hook.’”[39] By daemonism he means allegorical lack of freedom, the characters’ obsession with one thing: for White self-annihilation, for Black saving White. Yet McCarthy is juxtaposing one character who feels no commitment to his fellow man and another who does; after spending the morning in discussion with White, after sharing a meal with him and continuing to exhort him on the ultimate value of life even in the face of suffering—and Black emphasizes the value of White’s own particular life, not life in general—he relinquishes his hold and lets him go. Black has saved his own life by giving himself to others, and it is natural that he wishes to save this strange man also, a man that it seemed Providence had led him to at the crucial moment.

McCarthy has carefully constructed the play as a modernist allegory. Therefore The Sunset Limited is a tale with a moral, however concealed it may be in its subtle modernist framework. Black’s prayer, quoted in part earlier, precedes a meal that the two men share together; and this meal is essential to the meaning of the play: it is a shared communion, which along with baptism is the most important of the sacraments. While initially reluctant to eat, White eventually is persuaded to partake of the meal and finds it delicious. Naturally Black describes the cuisine as “soul food” (98). This meal is especially important because White has no friends and, as Black says, “You break bread with a man you have moved on to another level of friendship. I heard somewheres that that’s true the world over” (93). White laments the absence of wine (Black is a recovering alcoholic), as if to note that the Eucharistic sacrament is incomplete. Nothing that Black does is able to alter White’s determination to end his life. Values that have sustained civilization up to now are void: God, family, friends. Death is the last value.

If McCarthy is opposing an extreme form of secularism that leads inevitably to nihilism against an authentic theism that finds its ethos in love of God and love of neighbor, then we need to look more closely at the worldviews of these two characters. As a good Enlightenment rationalist White places the intellect above all else. He believes “in the primacy of the intellect,” yet admits that this very intellect eventually brings one to an “awareness of one thing above all else and that one thing is futility” (96, 136). Yet there seems to be a contradiction here, for he says that it is evolution that brings intelligent life to this realization; yet in Darwinian evolution, traits are supposed to be passed on for their survival value. So intellect, despite its “primacy,” is self-defeating. White is apocalyptic and may be prophetic. After all, The Sunset Limited was published the same year as his post-apocalyptic novel The Road. The theme and pattern of the two works is almost identical, as in the novel a man’s wife commits suicide, refusing to live in a world of darkness and despair, while the father chooses life. More particularly, the father is a self-appointed protector of ultimate value, embodied in his young son. In a world now bereft of all human values they are attempting to “carry the fire,” to keep the light burning in a world of almost total darkness. It is intimated that the boy is the receptacle of that fire and in fact is associated with the Word of God, that is, with Christ. As his father says, “If he is not the word of God, God never spoke.”[40] In both The Road and The Sunset Limited McCarthy envisions the end of all human values and the intrepid attempt in the midst of such darkness to keep humane values alive. 

In The Sunset Limited Black carries the fire while White is drowning in total darkness. McCarthy’s irony is potent: for White is appalled that Black chooses to live in the ghetto, as if he might find a better life for himself elsewhere. He calls the neighborhood “a moral leper colony” and asks him why he does not go someplace where he might be able to do some good. Black replies, “As opposed to someplace where good was needed?” (76). Black is serene and happy in the ghetto while White, who lives in more luxurious surroundings, is miserable. I am reminded of Satan’s line in Paradise Lost, “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell.”[41]

White: I don’t understand why you live here.

Black: As compared to where?

White: Anywhere.

Black: Well I’d say this is pretty much anywhere.

The better question would be, Why do you, White, live where you do, in the mental universe you occupy? Place of residence does not matter, what matters is inner disposition. Whereas the wife in The Road decides to depart a post-apocalyptic world devoid of all humane values (she expects that she and her boy will be raped and killed), White does not wish to wait around for what he believes is inevitable. He predicts the end of civilization and wishes to depart before the cataclysm arrives: “Western civilization finally went up in smoke in the chimneys at Dachau but I was too infatuated to see it. I see it now” (27). He adds, “The things that I loved were very frail. Very fragile” (25). White’s nihilism succeeded a time when he still had faith in the values of civilization, but he realizes it was an illusion. And that illusion which sustained him for a time, will soon abandon everyone else as well; it “is largely gone. Soon it will be wholly gone” (25). As he puts it, “The truth is that the forms I see have been slowly emptied out. They no longer have any content. They are shapes only. A train. A wall. A world. Or a man. A thing dangling in senseless articulation in a howling void” (139). As will be noted, this is where Cooper gets her title and finds the comparison with Beckett most pronounced. All the forms that used to sustain human life, for White, have been emptied out; life is totally absurd and meaningless. But Beckett did not write dialectical dramas, plays where a nihilist clashes intellectually with someone who very much occupies a world of meaning and purpose. If Taylor’s magnum opus A Secular Age had not been published the year after The Sunset Limited appeared, we might be excused for assuming McCarthy read the book and that it inspired his play. For White very much embodies the “disenchantment” that Taylor, borrowing from Weber, stipulates as one of the key characteristics of the secular age. White is disenchanted. Black asks him if he ever had one of those days when “things just fell into place.”

White: I’m not sure what you mean.

Black: Just one of them days. Just kind of magic. One of them days when everything turns out right. 

White: I don’t know. Maybe. Why?

Black: I just wondered if maybe it aint been kindly a long dry spell for you. Until you finally took up with the notion that that’s the way the world is. (42)

When White asks if he is a prisoner in Black’s apartment, White replies, “you was a prisoner fore you got here” (31). White occupies a zone within the stahlhartes Gehäuse, the iron cage that Weber proclaimed came with increased rationalization. We must acknowledge that the views White articulates are very real perceptions and McCarthy clearly shares his apprehension. But the answer to the problem is not isolation, misanthropy, and suicide, but more along the means found by Black (I am not suggesting, of course, that McCarthy thinks we should all become Christian evangelists. However, opening oneself to what might lie beyond the immanent frame, if that is what it takes to perceive meaning again, may be recommended). Taylor writes about “the heroism of the modern misanthropic stance,” a heroism that “consists in continuing to live in the face of the [perceived] meaninglessness and worthlessness of life.” He brings up Camus, whose stance may be more heroic than Christian martyrdom because of its persistence in philanthropic action when “bereft even of the hope of return, which the martyr still has.” Nonetheless, Taylor asks us to imagine that “the highest good consists in communion, mutual giving and receiving, as in the paradigm of the eschatological banquet,”[42] which we see dramatized so powerfully in McCarthy’s play. Black lives in the ghetto by choice, and has no possessions because the junkies he tries to help would steal them. It is notable that in our hyper-mediated world Black has no cell phone, no computer, no television, and even lacks anything to play music, which he loves. The opening stage direction, in an obvious allusion to Karl Barth, points to “a bible and a newspaper” on the kitchen table as the sole source of media we see.[43] DiSalvo writes that what White suggests by the fragility of things is that what he loves have “shattered amidst the decay of culture—a world changing too quickly for anything of depth and substance to survive for long.”[44] Some philosophers of science now predict that rapid technological development will soon bring us to a point where artificial intelligence will usurp the human intellect’s position of “primacy,” what is called the “Singularity.” As French philosopher Luc Ferry writes, “For the first time in the history of life, a living species holds the means to destroy the entire planet, and this species does not know where it is going.”[45] And Walter Benjamin writes that our “self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order.”[46] McCarthy has created a character who can look forward to his own destruction with rapturous delight, and Black provocatively asks if directing his violence inward as opposed to outward is not perhaps “the same thing” (92). 

As we draw towards the conclusion, it is fitting to remind ourselves once more that The Sunset Limited is a play, a work of literature that demands embodiment by actors. I have argued over the course of this essay that the critical faculty privileged in the West has a powerful proclivity toward nihilism and ultimate self-destruction, and that White is emblematic of this faculty. Descartes, where we can locate the origin of this tendency, violently bifurcated the mind from the body, a process that Taylor calls excarnation, “the exaltation of disengaged reason as the royal road to knowledge, even in human affairs.”[47] The alienation Benjamin writes about is, among other things, an alienation from our own bodies. And this is why, finally, The Sunset Limited should if possible be experienced in the theatre. Writing about the Steppenwolf production, Diane Luce remarked how every time Black reached out to touch White, played by Austin Pendleton, he would cringe and recoil. Likewise “the body posture of Austin Pendleton, though he is a slender man, makes his belly protrude like that of a toddler. Freeman Coffey’s much larger stature and more commanding demeanor contribute further hints that his may be the more formidable wisdom.”[48] Only in performance can the totality of the play’s themes find full expression because it is, ultimately, about the way ideas live in our bodies and mold us in particular ways. Ideas are matters of life and death, and McCarthy demonstrates that with the assurance of a master dramatist


[1] Harold Bloom, “Dumbing Down American Readers.” The Boston Globe, September 9, 2003. http://archive.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/09/24/dumbing_down_american_readers/. Bloom wrote this over a decade ago. The octogenarian Roth, though still alive, is no longer “still at work.”

[2] John Vanderheide, “Sighting Leviathan: Ritualism, Daemonism and the Book of Job in McCarthy’s Latest Works.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, Vol. 6 (Autumn 2008): 107. JSTOR.

[3] Cormac McCarthy, The Sunset Limited (New York: Vintage Books, 2006), 41. McCarthy’s spelling and grammar are sometimes idiosyncratic and will not be edited. From now on citations to the play will be found in the body of the essay.

[4] While religious belief is on the rise around the world—which would have surprised almost all sociologists of religion a half century ago—it is almost non-existent in the principal centers of power, such as Western Europe and the academic world of the United States. As for the ubiquity of theistic claims among our politicians, we might cite Bertrand Russell here: “The immense majority of intellectually eminent men disbelieve in Christian religion, but they conceal the fact in public, because they are afraid of losing their incomes.” Quoted in Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 97. 

[5] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007), 286.

[6] Ibid., 274.

[7] This type of thinking is described by Erich Auerbach in the epilogue to his masterpiece of literary criticism Mimesis, “In this conception, an occurrence on earth signifies not only itself but at the same time another . . . without prejudice to the power of its concrete reality here and now. The connection between occurrences is not regarded as primarily a chronological or causal development but as a oneness within the divine plan, of which all occurrences are parts and reflections.” Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953), 555.

[8] Martin Puchner. The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theatre and Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 7.

[9] Chris Jones, “Brilliant, but hardly a Play.” Chicago Tribune, May 29, 2006. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-05-29/features/0605290129_1_suicidal-sunset-limited-white.

[10] Plato, The Republic (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2000), 176, 187.

[11] Luc Ferry, A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. Trans. Theo Cuffe (New York: Harper Perennial, 2011), 144.

[12] Mary Brewer, “‘The Light is All Around You, Cept You Don’t See Nothin but Shadow’: Narratives of Race and Religion in The Stonemason and The Sunset Limited.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, Vol. 12 (2014): 44. JSTOR.

[13] Lydia Cooper, “‘A Howling Void’: Beckett’s Influence on Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, Vol. 10, No.1 (2012): 7. JSTOR.

[14] Ibid., 10.

[15] David DiSalvo, “The Sunset Limited: Cormac McCarthy’s eulogy or anthem to meaning? Contrary Blog, February 24, 2011. http://blog.contrarymagazine.com/2011/02/the-sunset-limited-cormac-mccarthy%E2%80%99s-eulogy-or-anthem-to-meaning/.

[16] 1 Kings 19:12.

[17] Philip Brandes, “Theater Review: The Sunset Limited’ at Theatre Theater.” The Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2010. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/11/theater-review-the-sunset-limited-at-theatre-theater.html.

[18] Dawkins, The God Delusion, 50-51.

[19] Ferry, 207.

[20] Steven Frye, Understanding Cormac McCarthy (Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 2009), 78.

[21] Ibid., 127.

[22] Peter L. Berger, The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York: Anchor Books, 1990), 22

[23] Ibid., 18.

[24] Ibid., 56.

[25] Cooper, “‘A Howling Void,’” 12.

[26] Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals: A PolemicBasic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: The Modern Library, 2000), 599. This can be found in the Third Essay, section 28.

[27] Viktor Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning, trans. Ilse Lasch (Boston: Beacon Press, 2006), 111, 134.

[28] Robert Wyllie, “Kierkegaard Talking Down Schopenhauer: The Sunset Limited as a Philosophical Dialogue.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, Vol. 14, No.2 (2016): 186. Muse.

[29] Frye, Understanding Cormac McCarthy, 63.

[30] Personal conversation with Jacqueline Reid, who directed Freud’s Last Session at FUSION Theatre in Albuquerque, NM in 2012.

[31] Puchner. The Drama of Ideas, 20.

[32] Cooper, “‘A Howling Void,’” 11.

[33] Taylor, A Secular Age, 549-551.

[34] Cooper, “‘A Howling Void,’” 9.

[35] Stephen Adly Guirgis, Jesus Hopped the A TrainThree Plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis: Our Lady of 121st Street,Jesus Hopped the A TrainIn Arabia We’d All be Kings (New York: Faber and Faber, 2003), 168.

[36] Taylor, A Secular Age, 274-75.

[37] Simone Weil, Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Harper and Row, 1951), 69.

[38] Cooper, “‘A Howling Void,’” 11.

[39] Vanderheide, “Sighting Leviathan,” 111.

[40] Cormac McCarthy, The Road (New York: Vintage, 2006), 5. The metaphor of carrying the fire of goodness in a world of darkness appears throughout the novel, the first time on page 83 and the last time on page 278.

[41] John Milton, Paradise LostComplete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1957), 279. Book IV, line 75.

[42] Taylor, A Secular Age, 701-702.

[43] This quote attributed to Barth has never been verified. However The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary cites the following: “Perhaps the most clear statement on the record from Barth concerning these matters comes from a Time Magazine piece on Barth published on Friday, May 31, 1963: ‘[Barth] recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’” The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, Frequently Asked Questions. http://barth.ptsem.edu/about-cbs/faq.

[44] DiSalvo, “The Sunset Limited: Cormac McCarthy’s eulogy or anthem to meaning?

[45] Ferry, A Brief History of Thought, 216.

[46] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 242.

[47] Taylor, A Secular Age, 746.

[48] Dianne C. Luce, “Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited: Dialogue of Life and Death (A Review of the Chicago Production)” http://kmckean.myteachersite.com/teacher/files/documents/cormac%20mccarthy%20journal.pdf.

Works Cited

Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Trans. Willard   R. Trask. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1953.

Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken Books, 1968.

Berger, Peter L.  The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion (New York:            Anchor Books, 1990.

Bloom, Harold. “Dumbing Down American Readers.” The Boston Globe, September 9, 2003.             http://archive.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2003/09/24/dumbin g_down_american_readers/.

Philip Brandes, “Theater Review: The Sunset Limited’ at Theatre Theater.” The Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2010. http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2010/11/theater-review-the-sunset-limited-at-theatre-theater.html.

Brewer, Mary. “‘The Light is All Around You, Cept You Don’t See Nothin but Shadow’: Narratives of Race and Religion in The Stonemason and The Sunset Limited.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, Vol. 12 (2014): 44. JSTOR.

Cooper, Lydia. “‘A Howling Void’: Beckett’s Influence on Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, Vol. 10, No.1 (2012): 7. JSTOR.

Dawkins, Richard. The God Delusion. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.

DiSalvo, David. “The Sunset Limited: Cormac McCarthy’s eulogy or anthem to meaning? Contrary Blog, February 24, 2011. http://blog.contrarymagazine.com/2011/02/the-sunset-         limited-cormac-mccarthy%E2%80%99s-eulogy-or-anthem-to-meaning/.

Ferry, Luc.  A Brief History of Thought: A Philosophical Guide to Living. Trans. Theo Cuffe.      New York: Harper Perennial, 2011.

Frankel, Viktor.  Man’s Search for Meaning. Trans. Ilse Lasch. Boston: Beacon Press, 2006.

Frye, Steven. Understanding Cormac McCarthy. Columbia: The University of South Carolina Press, 2009.

Guirgis, Stephen Adly. Three Plays by Stephen Adly Guirgis: Our Lady of 121st Street, Jesus Hopped the A TrainIn Arabia We’d All be Kings. New York: Faber and Faber, 2003.

Jones, Chris. “Brilliant, But Hardly a Play.” Chicago Tribune, May 29, 2006.        http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-05-29/features/0605290129_1_suicidal-sunset-  limited-white.

Luce, Dianne C.  “Cormac McCarthy’s The Sunset Limited: Dialogue of Life and Death (A Review of the Chicago Production).”             http://kmckean.myteachersite.com/teacher/files/documents/cormac%20mccarthy%20journal.pdf.

Milton, John. Complete Poems and Major Prose. Ed. Merritt Y. Hughes. New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1957.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage, 2006

—. The Sunset Limited. New York: Vintage Books, 2006.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Basic Writings of Nietzsche. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: The        Modern Library, 2000.

Plato, The Republic. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2000.

Puchner. Martin. The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theatre and Philosophy. New    

York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Vanderheide, John. “Sighting Leviathan: Ritualism, Daemonism and the Book of Job in   McCarthy’s Latest Works.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, Vol. 6 (Autumn 2008):         JSTOR.

Weil, Simone. Waiting for God, trans. Emma Craufurd (New York: Harper and Row, 1951.

Wyllie, Robert. “Kierkegaard Talking Down Schopenhauer: The Sunset Limited as a         Philosophical Dialogue.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, Vol. 14, No.2 (2016): 186.   Muse.

“1984 in 2019”

I agree with those who say that Huxley’s Brave New World more accurately forecasted the future than Orwell’s 1984—that is to say, Huxley’s novel resembles our world much more than Orwell’s—but it must not be forgotten that Orwell’s dystopia is, in many ways, an uncanny depiction of the world we live in now. On the first page of the book we learn, parenthetically, that the inhabitants of Oceania are preparing for “Hate Week,” and soon we learn that these people have regular sessions of “Two Minutes Hate.” Nowadays the Two Minutes Hate and Hate Week have expanded into 24/7 Hate, as is evident by the most cursory perusal of the media. (To confirm this experientially I turned on AOL news while writing; it was indeed non-stop virulence. Try the experiment yourself.)

In the novel much of the hate is directed at “enemy of the people,” Emmanuel Goldstein, a figure Orwell based on Leon Trotsky; but as demonized by the Soviet propaganda machine the communist revolutionary no longer resembled himself. He was a mythical repository for the people’s hate and hostility, much the way Osama Bin Laden was used by the US before they finally jettisoned him in 2011 (Bin Laden and Trotsky were also both heroes before they were villains). Orwell writes that during the Two Minutes Hate Goldstein’s face flashed on the screen, “delivering his usual venomous attacks upon the doctrines of the Party—an attack so exaggerated and perverse that a child should have been able to see through it, and yet just plausible enough to fill one with an alarmed feeling that other people, less levelheaded than oneself, might be taken in by it” (12).[1] Perhaps if the Party had found it useful, they could have staged a Navy Seal-type raid and dumped Goldstein’s mythical body into the sea. The inhabitants of Oceania could have watched the whole thing unfold on the telescreens, just as we in the USA so breathlessly witnessed Bin Laden’s capture on our own telescreens. (And you know, if it happens on TV it must be true. See Wag the Dog, one of the most honest depictions of our world ever to come out of Hollyweird—this is called “Revelation of the Method”.) We learn on the second page that the cityscape is littered with ubiquitous signs saying, “Big Brother is Watching You.” In other words, this is a surveillance state. Then we read: “In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a blue-bottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the Police Patrol, snooping into people’s windows. The patrols did not matter, however. Only the Thought Police mattered.” This reminds me of something I experienced firsthand when I lived in Columbus, Ohio. Intermittently over a year or two a helicopter would appear hovering over a residential building across the street from the apartment building where I lived. Every few months or so I would see the helicopter hovering very near a particular window on the second floor of the large house and shine a blindingly powerful light into the window and hold it there. I saw this many times, and it was always the same window. Initially I thought, as charitably as I could, perhaps someone was hurt and needed to be flown to the hospital. But obviously that was not the case. Only after I moved away from Columbus and began an extensive study of Mind Control did I ascertain, almost certainly, what was going on. But amazingly, loud as the helicopter was and as near as it was to street level, I never noticed other people looking on with disturbed countenance, as I always did. In the novel Winston, the “Last Man,” as he is described later, seems to be the only one (along with Julia) who is aware of the disturbing reality that has become normalized in this dystopic metropolis. 

Then there are the ubiquitous telescreens. Television was introduced in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, and the commercial film industry was decades old when Orwell was writing. Nonetheless it is shocking how accurate he was with regard to the screen culture in which we now live, and screens that not only project brainwashing electromagnetic images and sounds, but that allow the voyeuristic state to spy on the people as well. Four pages into the novel we are introduced to what Orwell is best known today, his depiction of reality control through the misuse of language: “War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength.” These are the slogans of Oceania. The Ministry of Truth—“an enormous pyramidal structure”—is where bogus news is fabricated and history rewritten. In other words, the Ministry of Truth is where lies of all sorts are manufactured for public consumption. Just yesterday I learned of an ABC News broadcast that purported to show footage of a Turkish assault on the Kurds. This was broadcast shortly after President Trump announced he was withdrawing troops from Northern Syria. It was discovered that the footage was actually from a gun show in Kentucky from two years ago: “ABC News regrets the error.” Fake news and tawdry entertainment, so pervasive today, Orwell calls in Newspeak prolefeed: “the rubbishy entertainment and spurious news which the Party handed out to the masses” (307). Besides the Ministry of Truth, where lies are conjured, we have the Ministry of Peace, where war is planned; the Ministry of Love, where political prisoners are tortured; and the Ministry of Plenty, where the severe economic austerity policies are hatched. These are the four great ministries of Oceanic London. Orwell goes through many more of these grotesque violations of nomenclature in his essay on Newspeak appended to the novel, for instance joycamp is a place where forced labor is undergone. Today we have “ethnic cleansing” and “friendly fire” and “enhanced interrogation” and countless others, contemporary examples of what Orwell describes in “Politics and the English Language” as “making lies sound truthful and murder respectable.” As if taking its cue from Orwell’s novel, the US War Department changed its name to the Department of Defense in 1949, the same year the book was published.

Later in the book Julia says that in her opinion the terror attacks experienced by the people of Oceania are false flag operations, that the rocket bombs “were probably fired by the government of Oceania itself, ‘just to keep people frightened’” (153). Winston is astonished that such a thought never occurred to him; it should have been obvious. Julia also does not believe in any underground opposition movement: “The tales about Goldstein and his underground army, she said, were simply a lot of rubbish which the party had invented for its own purposes and which you had to pretend to believe in” (152). We know that Operation Gladio was a NATO/CIA run psychological warfare operation that coordinated terrorist attacks and then blamed them on communists. This strategy of tension, as it’s called, was shifted to Islamic terrorism when the Cold War ended (what has been called “Gladio B”). Terrorist groups exist, of course, but they are usually created and/or controlled by Western auxiliaries, catalyzed by US covert agents like Fidel Castro. This is called “Controlled Opposition” and includes not only terrorist organizations but groups and media that seem to be and even are hostile to the establishment. To comprehend power in the modern world it is necessary to understand Hegelian dialect and its manipulation: the synthesis that arises from the clash of opposites. The power elite control left and right, Democrat and Republican, CNN and Fox News, Democracy Now and National Review, the Mujahideen and the Pentagon, and can bring about a predetermined outcome from the manipulation of both sides. Both former National Security Advisor and Obama advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and the neoconservative members of the Project for a New American Century said that it would be difficult for America to achieve is goals in the Middle East and Central Asia because, in Brzezinski’s words, people are “inimical to imperial mobilization.” Only under “conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public’s sense of domestic well-being” would intervention be possible. In the words of PNAC, “the process of transformation . . .  is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” On 11 September 2001 the power elite got their “new Pearl harbor.”[2]

On a related note, we learn in the novel that there are committees for organizing “spontaneous demonstrations” (22). Today protest movements that appear spontaneous are often organized by powerful psychological operations experts. This is called “astroturfing,” and it fools almost everybody. Chaos and a highly stressful environment induce vulnerability to suggestion and so is optimal for conditioning (brainwashing); it also provides the pretext for imposing order. For instance: Problem (terrorism) produces a Reaction (the people cry, “Help us, do something”), which begets a Solution (police state; massive expenditure to the military-industrial-complex; imperial aggression in geopolitical areas of interest). That is the Hegelian dialectic: Problem/Reaction/Solution = Thesis/Antithesis/Synthesis. But the most interesting facet of the book, from my perspective, is the colonization of the human mind through doublethink, the “splitting of the intelligence” for the purpose of maintaining power, a process achieved most easily “in an atmosphere of war” (192). After the September 11 attacks the United States went into a state of permanent war, ambiguously called a “War on Terror.” Mass trauma is requisite to social control, and in Oceania there is perpetual war just as we have today, only now we have regular school shootings and global warming hysteria working in tandem with fear of terrorist attacks to keep the population in a state of permanent fear and low-grade trauma.

Doublethink is “reality control” (35, 214). Doublethink is “holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously and accepting both of them” (214). Doublethink is willful self-deception. It is soul-murder. We hear and believe that the United States is the greatest force for peace in the world even while knowing that since 2001 the US has invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria. This is doublethink. The only president in US history to be at war all 8 years of his presidency is Barak Obama; he dropped over 100,000 bombs on the aforementioned countries yet won the Nobel Peace Prize. After all the expense and institutional restructuring after 911, why is it that worldwide terrorist attacks increased from 355 in 2001 to a staggering 13,500 in 2014, according to the State Department’s own statistics? Orwell says that the “world-view of the Party” was imposed on people who were totally unaware of what they were accepting, people who “could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality . . . and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening” (156).

The key is education. In the first chapter of Emmanuel Goldstein’s book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism (Goldstein of course did not really write the book), we learn that the Party maintains its power by “continually molding the consciousness both of the directing group and of the larger executive group that lies immediately below it” (207-208). That is to say, the ruling elite are themselves brainwashed. A key Newspeak word is blackwhite: “Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary” (212). Was it blackwhite when, in a recent presidential debate, Julian Castro declaimed, “just because a woman, or let’s also not forget someone in the trans community — a trans female — is poor, doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exercise that right to choose.” But a transgender woman is biologically unable to get pregnant, as everyone knows, and therefore to have an abortion. Blackwhite. Doublethink. Writing in 1951 in The Impact of Science on Society, propagandist Lord Bertrand Russell writes, “The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is black.” But it is important that “indoctrination begins before the age of ten.” In the novel Party members are indoctrinated and the uneducated proles have their “consciousness . . . influenced only in a negative way” (208); that is to say, the masses are enslaved by incessant appeal to their base passions: mindless media, celebrity gossip, sports, fake news, and the incessant hostile chatter I mentioned at the start of this essay, are all used to condition the mind. In our society there is more overlap than in Orwell’s novel. Managerial persons today are formed by the total environment, and might be as addicted to prolefeed as someone of a lower station, something the Outer Party is forbidden in 1984. Our psychological warfare experts today make certain that free porn is available to anyone with a computer, and all sexual taboos have either been destroyed or are in the process of being destroyed. Addictive “Pornosec” garbage is not only for the proles. And that is one reason why Brave New World is a more accurate depiction of reality today than Orwell’s novel. In 1984 sex for pleasure is prohibited among Party members and in Brave New World it is proforma, part of their brainwashing, as it is ours. In 1984 family ties are in the process of being destroyed, and gender difference as well, both of which are in process of destruction now, with the erosion of gender differences (gender anarchy) obviously much more successful than the destruction of family affection. But as Russell says, “the influence of home is obstructive” and must be eradicated.[3] Finally, subjection comes through the worship of an idol. Big Brother is the human face of the state, and worship of him is by no means feigned by the majority of Oceanic slaves. The Party uses rhythm and sound vibrations to induce hypnosis and worship of Big Brother. We see these slaves in the novel ecstatically giving themselves over to Big Brother, “B-B! . . . B-B! . . . B-B!” endlessly repeated while “the stamp of naked feet and the throbbing of tom-toms” is heard in the background, “a sort of hymn to the wisdom and majesty of Big Brother, but still more it was an act of self-hypnosis, a deliberate drowning of consciousness by means of rhythmic noise” (16). It was for good reason that Plato excluded certain types of music from his ideal state, and it is no coincidence that we of the New Order are inundated not only with hypnotic electromagnetic rays from our telescreens but also with hypnotic rhythms issuing out of the same devices. Much of music today is not really music but electronic base-heavy repetitive stimulation, inducing hypnosis. Again, I punched into YouTube the search term “electronica” and listened to the first thing that appeared, “El Chombo – Dame Tu Cosita Feat” by someone named Cutty Ranks. Give it a listen; it confirms everything I just said. It goes without saying the any god other than Big Brother, especially the Christian God, is strictly excluded from Oceania. One party member of too much intelligence and aesthetic feeling, Ampleforth, whose job it was to rewrite old poems, is eventually condemned for allowing the word “God” to remain in a poem by Rudyard Kipling (230). He has no attachment to the Christian God, but he does genuinely love poetry and he needed the word for the rhyme scheme. In 1984, as in Brave New World, Christianity must be destroyed. After all, the claim of Christianity is to free people from idols and base passions and addictions that enslave. Likewise, objective reality, objective truth, and objective morality must be destroyed. Relativism means that those in power get to decide what is true and what is not true. After all, if there is no objective truth than “truth” is what those in power say it is. Ironically, it was a victim of the very communist world that Orwell takes as his model for 1984, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who focused his attention on America, not the Soviet Union, in his commencement speech to Harvard University students in 1978: 

[F]reedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility . . . fifty years ago, it would have seemed quite impossible, in America, that an individual could be granted boundless freedom simply for the satisfaction of his instincts or whims. Subsequently, however, all such limitations were discarded everywhere in the West; a total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice.

Solzhenitsyn saw more clearly than most that the moral and religious relativism of the West would lead to the very tyranny he knew so well from experience. “Men are infinitely malleable,” O’ Brien tells Winston (230). And as proof he offers for consideration the new Winston, the formerly recalcitrant subject who through intensive mind control techniques has joined the happy slaves of Oceania. These techniques—torture, intense interrogation, drugs, sleep and sensory deprivation, inducing fear through rats— are the very same used in MK-Ultra mind control, which relies on the victim’s capacity to dissociate. MK Ultra is an admitted CIA program. The Agency claimed that its purpose was to develop torture and interrogation methods to counter the communist threat. Testing included the administration of LSD, electric shock, torture, isolation, sensory and sleep deprivation, and was conducted on both children and adults. In the 1970s the CIA announced that it had stopped all MK-Ultra experiments, although several whistle-blowers have come forward to say that the project went underground under the name, “Monarch Mind Control.” But the truth is, alchemical transformation has advanced to such a degree that, in Michael Hoffman’s words, “The System doesn’t need MK-ultra anymore. The media culture is so far gone it functions like MK-Ultra.” (Yet again, the reason Brave New World is the more prophetic novel.) Winston is quite literally a new man—that “new man” so breathlessly anticipated at the beginning of the 20th century; his “self-willed exile from the loving breast” of Big Brother is over. It’s interesting that he “was still troubled by false memories occasionally” (296). Is this where the CIA got its idea to concoct the False Memory Syndrome Foundation, which was expertly used to discredit children who said they were raped, victims of satanic ritual abuse? Never mind that the “experts” Paul and Shirley Eberle ran an underground tabloid for pedophiles in the 1970s called Finger. They did the talk show circuit and were heralded in the media as the highly respected authors of that masterpiece of clinical psychology, The Politics of Child Abuse. No one ever mentioned that before The Politics of Child Abuse there was “Sexpot at Five” and “My First Rape.” It seems they came right out of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth. 

[1] All quotations from 1984 are from the Signet Classics edition, 1977.

[2] See Zbigniew Brzezinski:  The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives (1997), 35, 211 and Project for a New American Century, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century (2000), which can be found on the Internet.

[3] All quotes from Russell are from Chapter 2, “General Effects of Scientific Technique.”

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