-- Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, Chapter 2
In college in the early ‘60s I read Brave New World, Huxley’s bleak vision of the future written in 1931. The book, with its five classes fixed at birth, seemed to describe the Soviet Union--a well-protected inner party (nomenklatura) at the top overseeing an outer party, then workers (the favored proletariat), then peasants, and finally the gulag at the bottom. The U.S.S.R. was in those days the powerful alternative to a free Western society, and Huxley had foreseen that alternative.
Huxley wasn’t picturing the 1960s U.S.; his book was a warning not to head in Russia’s direction. But that was then. Fifty years later, I’m unsettled by the parallels between Brave New World and the society Walter Russell Mead--himself no liberal--believes is what liberals now envision for America:
A conventional. . . view holds that the death of industrial society means the death of the mass middle class. When millions of people can’t make a living “making stuff” in factories anymore, wages for the unskilled will fall. America will be increasingly polarized between a small group of high skilled creative professionals and a larger group scavenging a living by serving them: mowing their lawns, catering their parties and so on.
For . . . liberals, the programmatic consequences are obvious: tax the productive private sector in order to fund a dignified life for those in education, health care and especially for the large majority of the population without the skills or the creativity that would qualify them to join the productive minority.
It turns out that [today’s liberals] believe that differences of talent and ambition ensure that the world will always be divided between a creative minority and an inert majority, and that the goal of social policy isn’t to eliminate that ineradicable difference, but to ensure that the process of recruitment into the elite is . . . purely meritocratic.
Authority must rest in the hands of the qualified; those who score poorly on aptitude tests, don’t do well in classes and/or lack extraordinary beauty, artistic talent or ambition must resign themselves to taking direction from the natural aristocracy that a well ordered society has brought so smoothly to the fore.In addition to Mead’s analysis, there is this disturbing fact uncovered by Richard Vedder of the conservative American Enterprise Institute:
“If today the country had the same proportion of persons of working age employed as it did in 2000, the U.S. would have almost 14 million more people contributing to the economy.”It’s wrong, truly wrong, that 14 million people who should be working are unemployed. It’s a tragedy hardly mitigated by government’s caring for them at some reduced level. At least Brave New World’s Deltas and even Mead’s gardeners have the dignity of employment.
We should aspire to an American opportunity society that recognizes all are “created equal” with an equal right to pursue happiness, not a Soviet-like caste system disguised as a meritocracy.