Monday, December 05, 2005

Where Plato and Two 21st Century Authors Differ

There are some startling similarities between The Republic of Plato, 1984, and Brave New World. At the most basic level all three are describing the perfect society in which the population is collectively working towards a common goal. Unlike Socrates, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell are much more reserved when discussing the positive qualities of such societies. Their two novels create a warning against the societies featured in their novels instead of embracing them as Plato does. This difference in philosophies stems from what each one is focusing on.

Throughout the discussion of Plato’s republic, there are no specifically detailed protagonists and antagonist; rather the just and unjust are spoken of in generalities. By taking this stance Plato can turn the focus of the novel away from specific characters and towards the city as a whole. Each intrinsic character in the city is referred to as little more than, “the farmer…the shoemaker…or smiths.” Their personal happiness does not matter in the whole picture. Instead of the personal, the focus is on the justice of the entire system.

Huxley and Orwell approach the issue from the perspective of two similar protagonists, Bernard Marx and Winston Smith. By analyzing the governments based on the individual characters such as Smith or Marx, these authors come away with a very different opinion of this so-called perfect society. Both Orwell and Huxely understood what they must choose as the Controller explains in Brave New World, “’Of course it is,’ the controller agreed. ‘But that’s the price we have to pay for stability. You’ve got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We sacrificed the high art. We have feelies and the scent organ instead.’” The choice between total personal freedom and social stability is the question that Plato, and Huxley and Orwell answer so differently. It is apparent that both Huxley and Orwell sympathize with their protagonists throughout their novels and side with personal freedoms over social stability.

The societies featured in Brave New World and 1984 have been nearly perfectly modeled after Plato’s republic. The notions of family, class structure, and material possessions that horrify so many people are nearly all directly copied from Plato’s republic. Mother and Father have become obscenities in Brave New World, stable and unquestioning ignorance is the norm in 1984, and the caste system has been perfected with rapidly developing technology. Instead of viewing the benefits oh having such institutions, Huxley and Orwell focus on every failing from the eyes of a questioning individual.

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