Aldous Huxley on 'the Land Question'
[Reprinted from Land & Liberty, May-June,
Aldous Huxley was the grandson
of Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-95), the British biologist who is
generally agreed to have been one of the 19th century's top
One encyclopaedia describes him thus: "His remarkable
powers of research, his clear exposition of scientific facts,
and his accuracy of deduction have rarely been equalled."
It was probably through his grandfather that Aldous Huxley
became familiar with the works of [Henry] George.
According to Agnes de Mille, Henry George's granddaughter "Thomas
Huxley head been historically the first of what Mother always
referred to as 'disciples'" (Speak To Me, Dance With Me,
Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1973. p.71).
TWENTIETH century writers who have sought to predict the future have
generally been pessimistic. As social critics, they believed we were
destined for a dehumanised existence.
Some of them suggested we were collectively heading for the funny
farm: George Orwell exploited this notion in a masterly way in Animal
Farm, his savage satire of the dictatorial aspects of Soviet
But in alerting us to the dangers of regimentation, the subordination
of individual freedom to the orderly process of central planning, and
the a-moral efficiency of scientific solutions, they made the fatal
mistake of narrowing their readers' visions of what was possible.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is a classic example.
Fortunately, the author was big enough to recant and tell another
Huxley (1894-1956), after taking a first in English at Oxford, earned
a living by writing verse. He was living in France when he wrote Brave
New World in the early 1930s, before settling in California in
Brave New World offered readers the vision of two models. One
was of a primitive existence on a reservation in New Mexico; here, the
"savages" would be free to live their lives based on the
nuclear family system, free to drown their pain and sorrows with
In the other society, humans were bred in test tubes. They lived
trouble-free lives of controlled bliss and sexual promiscuity. The
price they paid: the abolition of all sense of individuality.
Scary, yes, but real? In the foreword to the 1946 edition, Huxley
pinpointed the central flaw in this work. He acknowledged that he
was wrong to offer "only two alternatives, an insane life in
Utopia, or the life of a primitive in an Indian village, a life more
human in some respects, but in others hardly less queer and abnormal.
At the time the book was written this idea, that human beings are
given free will in order to choose between insanity on the one hand
and lunacy on the other, was one that I found amusing and regarded as
quite possibly true."
Generations of students of literature and political philosophy have
pored over Brave New World, the better to understand the
future. And they came away blinkered!
Huxley redeems himself when he concedes that, if he were to rewrite
the book, he would offer a third option, one which he characterised as
"the possibility of sanity." In a few bold strokes he
outlines the elements of this model:
"In this community economics would be decentralist
and Henry Georgian, politics Kropotkinesque and co-operative.
Science and technology would be used as though, like the Sabbath,
they had been made for man, not (as at present and still more so in
the Brave New World) as though man were to be adapted and enslaved
Huxley, now, did not want to transport the Savage of the Indian tribe
to Utopia "until he had had an opportunity of learning something
at first hand about the nature of a society composed of freely
co-operating individuals devoted to the pursuit of sanity. Thus
altered, Brave New World would possess an artistic and...a
philosophical completeness, which in its present form it evidently
The tendency towards statism was one of Huxley's fears. This, he
argued, was the result of rapid technological change, the adoption of
mass production techniques, and the fact that the population was
largely propertyless. This combination produced "economic and
social confusion," the solution to which was centralised
governmental control of a totalitarian kind.
"Only a large-scale popular movement towards decentralization
and self-help can arrest the present tendency towards statism,"
he warned. "At present there is no sign that such a movement will
On the latter point, Huxley has been proved-to be wrong. There is now
a growing demand for the decentralisation of power, both in economics
That demand is not, as yet, coherently articulated by either the
libertarians or the "greens", the most vociferous opponents
of statism. In the main these two schools of thought fail to
integrate the economics of Henry George into their political
philosophies. If they were to do so, they would realise that the
concentration of corporate and political power that stems from the
monopoly control over natural resources would automatically dissolve.
This is what Huxley came to appreciate. He saw that the socialisation
of the rental value of land (using the tax system and the marketplace)
would liberate people, shifting the balance of power in favour of the
individual. People would acquire the freedom to choose whether to work
for themselves or others; be free to agree on the terms of employment
without resort to the countervailing power of trades unions; and enjoy
decent living standards based on the retention of the full value of
the product which they produced by their labour.
In sharing the value of the resources of nature among all members of
a community, by using the money to fund socially-necessary projects, a
new social spirit would emerge based on generosity and cooperation,
rather than selfishness and conflict. This is evidently what Huxley
had in mind when he incorporated the name of Kropotkin, the Russian
anarchist, into his model of an alternative society. Peter Kropotkin
(1842-1921) developed a theory of mutual aid in which social stability
and individual welfare were promoted by the communal side of life.
The Georgist model is now receiving increasing attention (though not
always with due acknowledgement to Henry George himself). It
synthesises the best of the two major streams of thought of the past
100 years; the freedom of the individual associated with the rights
and obligations which stem from the social and spiritual side of life.
- The first edition was
published in London by Chatto & Windus in 1932. The 1946
foreword appears in the 1977 Granada paperback edition.
- A start has been made. See
Paul Ekins, Editor, The Living Economy, London: RKP, 1986.