- Aldous Huxley: The Political Thought of a Man of Letters by Alessandro Maurini
Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2017. 269 pp. Cloth, $90.00, isbn 9781498513777.
Alessandro Maurini's book follows in the stream of a series of recent studies that have attempted to reread Aldous Huxley's thought, highlighting the extent to which, especially in his later essays (collected in The Human Situation, 1959) and his novel Island (1962), he expressed ideas and proposals that [End Page 284] were to become extremely topical in the latter half of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first. Read from this perspective, Huxley becomes a utopian writer who anticipated not just some of the fundamental principles of ecology but also those of pacifism, as well as forms of ecological and pacifist communitarian thought. In his introduction, Maurini exposes his work hypothesis and his lines of research, which are articulated in seven chapters. Huxley's thought is not systematic, it is sometimes discontinuous, but it has the merit of being a continuing, constant investigation in the attempt to find alternative solutions to dominating ideologies. Maurini rightly foregrounds how his particular family background, a fascinating combination of humanist (his maternal great-grandfather was Matthew Arnold's brother) and scientific (his paternal grandfather was the positivist scientist Thomas Henry Huxley) culture, compelled Huxley not only to support an integrated culture (see the essay "Integrated Culture") but also to choose the novel form to expose his political ideas, in order for them to have a greater impact on the general public. Unlike his brother, Julian, a biologist and geneticist, Aldous claimed that a civilization's progress is measured not only on the basis of its scientific and technical conquests but also on the presence of values such as compassion (according to etymology, cum-patior, i.e., "suffering with, sharing the suffering of, others"), humility, and, above all, a highly critical level of self-awareness on the part of its citizens. (On this, see the volume R. S. Deese, We Are Amphibians: Julian and Aldous Huxley on the Future of Our Species [Oakland: University of California Press, 2015]).
Maurini also intends to identify the possible sources that, at a European and extra-European level, influenced Huxley's political thinking. In this sense the book presents accurate documentation and materials as yet not often examined in the rich bibliography on Huxley. I am referring in particular to the analysis Maurini carries out on the important influence on Huxley that Vilfredo Pareto's Trattato di sociologia generale (1916) had, on his awareness of the experience of Danilo Dolci's community in Sicily, and on the 1958 debate—reported in the volume's appendix—between Huxley and the Italian writer and intellectual Giuseppe Prezzolini, which occurred in Turin. These materials highlight how close Huxley's ties with Italy were.
In the first chapter, "Beyond Marxism and Positivism," Maurini dwells on pivotal moments of Huxley's intellectual training. In his upper middle-class family morality was perceived as a sort of obligation, and education played a fundamental role. In Huxley's opinion, individuals can only [End Page 285] emancipate themselves through education and culture: it is the only way in which to assume a critical mind-set, the foundation to exploring a different society from a capitalistic, consumer-driven one. Each individual must make an effort to give his or her existence meaning by making the most of his or her potentialities. From Matthew Arnold Huxley learned the concept of intellectual aristocracy and the importance, for society, of the presence of an elite of intelligent, wise men (sophocracy), knowledgeable in diverse fields. In his youth, Huxley came into contact with Fabian socialism, whence he drew the idea that society needed to be transformed; he certainly did not believe in Marxist class struggle or in a revolution. He joined the intellectuals who would gather at Garsington Manor, among whom were Bertrand Russell, Maynard Keynes, and D. H. Lawrence—the latter was fundamental to his approaching the works of Nietzsche and Freud. Huxley shared their criticism of the hypocrisy and conformity of late Victorian...