Science, Liberty and Peace
by Aldous Huxley
(Chatto & Windus, London, 1950)
No social evil can possibly have only one cause.
Progressive science is one of the causative factors involved in the progressive decline of liberty and the progressive centralization of power.
Science and technology have equipped the political bosses who control the various national states with unprecedentedly efficient instruments of coercion.
In the past, personal and political liberty depended to a considerable extent upon governmental inefficiency.
Today, if the central executive wishes to act oppressively, it finds an almost miraculously efficient machine of coercion standing ready to be set in motion.
Tyrants are able to dragoon larger numbers of people more effectively, and strategists can kill and destroy more indiscriminately and at greater distances, than ever before.
If any resistance is to be offered by the many to the few, it must be offered in a field in which technological superiority does not count.
The pen and the voice are at least as mighty as the sword; for the sword is wielded in obedience to the spoken or the written word.
The spread of free compulsory education, and, along with it, the cheapening and acceleration of the older methods of printing, have almost everywhere been followed by an increase in the power of ruling oligarchies at the expense of the masses.
In countries where the press is said to be free, newspapers are subsidized primarily by advertisers, and to a lesser extent by political parties, financial or professional groups. In countries where the press is not free, newspapers are subsidized by the central government.
In capitalist democracies the popular press supports its advertisers by inculcating the benefits of centralized industry and finance, coupled with as much centralized government as will enable these institutions to function at a profit. In totalitarian states all newspapers preach the virtues of governmental omnipotence, one-party politics and state control of everything.
Undesirable propaganda will not cease until the persons who pay for propaganda either change their minds, or are replaced by other persons willing to pay for something else.
By supplying the ruling oligarchy with more effective instruments of coercion and persuasion, applied science has contributed directly to the centralization of power in the hands of the few.
Concentration of financial power preceded the scientific revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and was largely responsible for making our industrial civilization the hateful thing it was and, for the most part, still is.
Centralized finance begot centralized industry, and in due course the profits of centralized industry increased the power of centralized finance.
Economic dependence upon bosses is always bad, because, quite obviously, it is not easily reconcilable with local and professional self-government or with civil and personal liberty.
Small-scale farmers, who used to be primarily concerned with subsistence, secondarily with a cash crop, have been largely replaced by men whose primary concern is with cash crops and who use the cash so earned to buy ‘nationally advertised’ processed and denatured foods at the grocer’s.
Social, economic and political changes can take place too rapidly and too frequently for human well-being.
Man as a moral, social and political being is sacrificed to homo faber, or man the smith, the inventor and forger of new gadgets.
Technological unemployment is always with us; for every labour-saving device, every substitution of a new and more efficient technique for an older and less efficient one, results in a local and temporary diminution of the labour force.
The chief consequence of progressive science is a chronic social and economic insecurity.
Power is in its essence expansive, and cannot be curbed except by other powers of equal or at least comparable magnitude.
If offered the choice between liberty and security, most people would almost unhesitatingly vote for security.
It is in … non-violent direct action, that the only hope of future revolutions resides.
Mass-producing and mass-distributing methods are technologically justified in about one-third of the total production of goods. In regard to the remaining two-thirds, the economies effected by mass-production are offset by the increased costs involved in mass distribution over great areas, so that local production by individuals or co-operating groups, working for subsistence and a neighbourhood market, is more economical than mass production in vast centralized factories.
The continuous advance of science and technology has profoundly affected the prevailing mental climate.
Unlike are, science is genuinely progressive. Achievement in the fields of research and technology is cumulative; each generation begins at the point where its predecessor left off.
It was not until the late seventeenth century (the age of the rise of modern science) that the note of bumptious self-congratulation began to be sounded, not until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that the dogma of inevitable progress became an unquestioned article of popular faith.
The belief in all-round progress is based upon the wishful dream that one can get something for nothing. Its underlying assumption is that gains in one field do not have to be paid for by losses in other fields.
Unlike the Greeks, we of the twentieth century believe that we can be insolent with impunity.
Faith in progress has affected contemporary political life by reviving and popularizing, in an up-to-date pseudo-scientific and this-worldly form, the old Jewish and Christian apocalypticism. A glorious destiny awaits mankind, a coming Golden Age, in which more ingenious gadgets, more grandiose plans and more elaborate social institutions, will somehow have created a race of getter and brighter human beings.
It is a highly significant fact that all modern dictators, whether of the Right or of the Left, talk incessantly about the golden future, and justify the most atrocious acts here and now, on the ground that they are means to that glorious end.
In practice, faith in the bigger and better future is one of the most potent enemies to present liberty: for rulers feel themselves justified in imposing the most monstrous tyrannies on their subjects for the sake of the wholly imaginary fruits which these tyrannies are expected … to bear some time.
As theory, pure science is concerned with the reduction of diversity to identity. As a praxis, scientific research proceeds by simplification. These habits of scientific thought and action have, to a certain extent, been carried over into the theory and practice of contemporary politics.
A highly organized and regimented society, whose members exhibit a minimum of personal peculiarities, and whose collective behaviour is governed by a single master plan imposed from above, is felt by the planners and even … by the plannees to be more ‘scientific’, and therefore getter, than a society of independent, freely co-operating and self-governing individuals.
Confronted by the data of experience, men of science begin by leaving out of account all those aspects of the facts which do not lend themselves to measurement and to explanation in terms of antecedent causes rather than of purpose, intention and values.
As a representation of reality, the scientific picture of the world is inadequate, for the simple reason that science does not even profess to deal with experience as a whole, but only with certain aspects of it in certain contexts.
Because of the prestige of science as a source of power, and because of the general neglect of philosophy, the popular Weltanschauung of our times contains a large element of what may be called ‘nothing-but’ thinking. Human beings, it is more or less tacitly assumed, are nothing but bodies, animals, even machines; the only really real elements of reality are matter and energy in their measurable aspects; values are nothing but illusions that have somehow got themselves mixed up with our experience of the world; mental happenings are nothing but epiphenomena, produced by and entirely dependent upon physiology; spirituality is nothing but wish fulfilment and misdirected sex; and so on.
Unrealistic beliefs tend to result in foolish or morally evil actions.
Our basic trouble is that, in spite of everything that has happened, everybody thinks he is right. In the past, despots committed the crimes that despots always do commit - but committed them with a conscience that was sometimes distinctly uneasy.
Nationalism leads to moral ruin because it denies universality, denies the existence of a single God, denies the value of the human being as a human being; and because, at the same time, it affirms exclusiveness, encourages vanity, pride and self-satisfaction, stimulates hatred and proclaims the necessity and the rightness of war.
The modern world differs from that of ancient Greece in degree and scale, not in kind.
Whenever progressive applied science has produced some strikingly more efficient instrument of slaughter, hopes have been voiced, and facts and figures marshalled to prove, that henceforward war would be too expensive in life, suffering and money to ge worth waging. Nevertheless wars have still been fought.
Advances in technology do not abolish the institution of war; they merely modify its manifestations.
It is a highly significant fact that people love to talk about a war to end war, or a war to preserve democracy; they don’t like to talk about peace to end war or self-governing democracy (which is the polar antithesis of militarism) t preserve democracy.
Preparation fort war and sometimes even war itself are things which a highly centralized government finds very useful for its own totalitarian purposes.
Armaments are the only goods that are given away without consideration of costs or profits. Modern war is, among other things, a competition among nations as to which can hand out, free, gratis and for nothing, the largest amount of capital goods in the shortest time. These capital goods are all maleficent and unproductive; but the thought occurs to one that somethtng resembling wartime prosperity might be made permanent if there were more giving away at cost, or even for nothing, and less selling at a profit and paying of interest.
The great majority of men and women have been conditioned to believe that progressive institutionalization, controlled by private capitalists, or the state, or goth tougher, is an intrinsically beneficent thing and at the same time an inevitable and quasi-natural development.
The nature of modern war is such that it cannot be successfully waged by any nation which does not possess a highly developed, not to say hypertrophied, capital-goods industry supplemented by a mass-producing, consumer-goods industry capable of rapid expansion and conversion for wartime needs.
Universal conscription is most easily imposed where large numbers of the population are rootless, propertyless and entirely dependent for their livelihood upon the state or upon large-scale private employers.
Christianity once insisted, and Buddhism still insists, upon the importance of ‘right livelihood.’ There are certain professions so intrinsically harmful that no individual ought to practise them.
One must weigh the power of enlightened self-interest against the power of nationalistic passions and prejudices. Enlightened self-interest will unquestioningly vote for world government, international inspection and the pooling of information. But unfortunately, in some of the most important issues of life, human beings do not act form considerations of enlightened self-interest. If they did, we should now be living in something very like paradise.
In spite of their training (perhaps, indeed, owing to the narrowly specialized character of that training, because of it), scientists and technicians are perfectly capable of the most dangerously irrational prejudice, nor are they immune to deceitful propaganda.
The planning of scientific activity with a view to achieving certain predetermined political, social and economic ends must begin at the point where the results of disinterested research are applied to the solution of practical problems.
Whenever people call for ‘integration’ they are always calling for the exercise of centralized governmental power and for yet another extension of the process of institutionalization.
The problems if power are primarily the concern of the ruling few, and the nature of power is essentially expansive, so that there is not the least prospect of power problems being solved, when one expanding system collides with another expanding system, except by means of organized, scientific violence or war.
The first item on the agenda of every meeting between the representatives of the various nations should be: How are all men, women and children, to get enough to eat?
The rapid industrialization of Asia … is pregnant with the most dangerous possibilities.
Any scientific and technological campaign aimed at the fostering of international peace and political and personal liberty must, if ti is to succeed, increase the total planetary food supply by increasing the various regional supplies to the point of self-sufficiency.
One of the contributing causes of recent wars has been international competition for the world’s strictly localized sources of petroleum, and the current jockeying for positon in the Middle East, where all the surviving great powers have staked out claims to Persian, Mesopotamian and Arabian oil, bodes ill for the future.
So long as the lust for power persists as a human trait - and in persons of a certain kind of physique and temperament this lust is overmasteringly strong - no political arrangement, however well contrived, can guarantee peace.
We must conclude that atomic energy is, and for a long time is likely to remain, a source of industrial power that is, politically and humanly speaking, in the highest degree undesirable.