Aldous Huxley And Perennialism Through A Muslim’s Eyes – Book Review
By Eric Walberg
Conspiracy is not the way out of our deadend, nor is quasi-Marxist wokeness. Huxley’s vision is new-old, a rediscovery of spirit-soul, the other dimension in life denied in our age of scientism. Simple truths which are found in all the great religions, but have been shelved, blinded as we are by the dazzling smoke and mirrors of technology.
Grandson of Thomas Huxley, notorious critic who declared Darwinism was becoming a religion, a cult, younger brother of Julian Huxley, atheist and popularizer of science, Aldous trumps them with his quiet pacifism, his spiritual quest, looking for truths in the ancient past, not the slick, exciting world of atomic bombs and miracle cures. What’s the point, if we are doomed to extinction through world war?
‘Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (BNW) and George Orwell’s 1984are both warnings about what H G Wells’ World State would be like. Huxley depicted dumbing-down with sex, drugs and entertainment.’+ Wells and both Huxleys were eugenicists. Eugenics is rational but is it good? Too many gifted will be a problem too. Wells proposed alternate high-brow low-brow work. No. The smart will find a ruthless way to cultivate their gifts. Better (at least in BNW) to breed inferior, superior. Then control people by pharma and social/ educational conditioning. The setting is year 600AF (After Ford), our 2520AD. Pavlov conditioning before after birth. Planned sexual promiscuity. Existence sans frustration, maladjustment, fear, rebellion, poverty, crime. No past, no art, no God.
Orwell was anti-eugenics and criticized Huxley’s PPU (see below) as fascist. He was a Trotskyist and anti-Stalinist, so he was more interested in Speech Codes and Thought Police. Both capture our incipient dystopia, and remain icons in pop culture. Today, with the Holocaust Industry and laws against Hate speech (i.e., you hurt my feelings), those who criticize Judaism, Jewish power or LGBTQAI feel that they are taking on the Thought Police.
But whereas Orwell shot his bolt and then died, BNW was the prologue to Huxley’s dissection of modern society and his lifetime work to promote peace and environmentalism. Reflecting on WWI, the toxic swirl of decadence vs revolution of the 30s, Huxley explored his burning desire to transcend the sordidness in Eyeless in Gaza (1937). We don’t have to sit and wait for the conspirators, whoever they are, to have their way. Aldous Huxley’s quest was for world peace, where means = ends, a humble way that can’t succeed in the short run, but is what’s ultimately necessary.
Huxley moved on from Brave New World to Eyeless in Gaza but without Orwell’s angry targeting of the Soviet Union at a time when it was vital to the fight against Hitler. The Spanish civil war was as much a fight between Stalin and Trotsky, which meant the fascists won. Huxley did not muddy his own literary career by praising or dissing the Soviet Union. He was not interested in Orwell’s ugly, vengeful invective, though ultimately he rejected revolution, living out his life in mellow beatniki California experimenting on drugs as a stepping stone.
Unlike Orwell’s sensationalistic diatribes against the Soviet Union, Huxley’s novels were admired and quietly translated into Russian. Point Counter Point was translated twice, in 1930 and 1936. An excerpt of Crome Yellow was included in an English reader for high school, though criticized as too bourgeois, pessimistic, yielding to mysticism, and there were no large editions until Crome Yellow was published in 1976 and reprinted in 1979. He had passed up a chance to visit the Soviet Union with his older brother Julian, who was invited by Intourist in 1931.
Both Julian and Aldous Huxley initially admired the results of Soviet social and economic planning on a large scale, Julian writing A scientist among the Soviets (1932). It was noted with approval by the Soviets and accounts for Julian’s appointment to head of UNESCO in 1945, when the Soviets still had real clout at the UN, and when his brother’s stories and novels were gaining world attention. Aldous Huxley joined the common front anti-fascist movement in 1935, attending the writers Conference for the Defense of Culture in Paris, giving the Soviet journal Foreign Literature the green light to publish four chapters of Brave New World. (What a coup, to evade the Soviet censors at the height of the repression.)
Huxley was active in the pacifist Peace Pledge Union (PPU), founded in 1934 in Britain. Its members are signatories to the following pledge: ‘War is a crime against humanity. I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war.’ They promote peaceful and nonviolent solutions to conflict. Orwell denounced the PPU as proto-fascist — it did support diplomacy with Hitler until the invasion of France. Even then it promoted negotiating an armistice with Hitler, though its support was fading and members joining the war effort. (It is still alive and well, noted for the white poppy for Remembrance Day.)
At least the PPU called for a declaration of war aims, protested against unconditional surrender, and supported draft resisters, all noble efforts. But strict pacifism is utopian. We can’t get to peace through violence, but violence won’t let us get there through peaceful methods. So pacifism is a failed policy by definition. Hitler saw British pacifism as a green light to invade both France and then Britain. And pacifists would have preferred to submit to Hitler’s yoke than to fight a genocidal war against fascism.
So pacifism isn’t much help in the short run. And revolution has earned a mostly dark reputation. We are stuck with encouraging personal transformation and at best small intentional communities, working and sometimes fighting evil with force, but knowing that this will not bring lasting peace without a dual track of love and compassion for the enemy too. No more vindictive peace (WWI) or permanent war (WWII+). Even though Stalin’s camps went on unliberated, unchallenged after the war, even though Lysenko was terrorizing Julian Huxley’s friend Vavilov (he died in prison in 1943), there is no room for Orwell’s hatemongering. Let the Soviet Union correct its own mistakes (or risk total collapse). Hatemongering was what the US empire needed. Huxley was too principled (and smart) to let either the US or the Soviets use him as their war mascot.
Yogi and the Commissar
Another writer on a similar quest at the time was Arthur Koestler, whose The Yogi and the Commissar (1942) proposed a continuum of philosophies for achieving heaven on earth, from the Commissar at the materialist, scientific end of the spectrum, to the Yogi at the spiritual, metaphysical end. The Commissar wants to change society using any means necessary, while the Yogi wants to change the individual, with an emphasis on ethical purity instead of on results. The Commissar is the infra-red end of the spectrum; the Yogi is ultra-violet. Neither are in the realm of visible light, he suggests, and just so the full dynamics of history and culture escape us.
Huxley critiqued Soviet socialism obliquely in BNW, and the horrors of Stalinism led him to dismiss Koestler’s Commissar as the way to get to paradise. He planned to finally visit but his health deteriorated and he died in 1963, though he had a veritable cult following in the socialist world. A shame. All his novels and stories were published starting in the late 1980s. Nina Diakonova, in “Aldous Huxley in Russia”,* bemoans the fact that none of Huxley’s nonfiction works have been published even without Soviet censors. Sadly, modern Russia is locked into the profit motive. Orwell’s pop culture comic books are much less challenging and so are now widely read in Russia. As Russian Orthodoxy and spirituality in Russia flourishes, Huxley’s really important writings on spirituality will find their readers.
When Julian became head of UNESCO in 1945, both he and Aldous were appalled by Stalin’s labour camps, which unlike the Nazi camps, continued to operate during and after WWII. Julian was also appalled at Lysenko and wrote a book to that effect in 1948, Soviet Genetics and World Science. By then, he had been removed from his UNESCO job by US pressure for his refusal to make UNESCO a pawn in the Cold War, despite his aversion to Stalin. Clearly a pinko in US eyes.
Julian was atheist, but realized religion was necessary as man’s way of social cohesion. ‘Marxist-Leninism had become a dogmatic religion… and like all dogmatic religions, it had turned from reform to persecution.’ So he, in a truly scientist way, proposed both a new man, coining the term transhumanism in 1951, and a new religion in The Coming New Religion of Humanism (1962). Humans should worship by bettering themselves through science and technology, including eugenics, but also, importantly, the improvement of the social and natural environment. The atheistic version of what Aldous was up to in California. His grandfather Thomas’s true heir.
Orwell, on the contrary, became a pillar of anti-communism in the West, not only providing much needed ideological support for US imperialism, but doing harm to the struggle for socialism and world peace, which, despite Stalin, had always been the key policies of the Soviet Union. Whereas Orwell happily named names from 1945 on, seeking revenge for his lost Trotskyist comrades, and became a neocon icon. William F Buckley bought the numbers 1-9-8-4 as his phone number, while Orwell’s old Trotskyist comrades sold out to the empire as neolibs and neocons by the 1960s. So much for starry-eyed revolution.
Huxley wrote a sequel to BNW, Brave New World Revisited, in 1959. He concluded that the world was becoming like Brave New World much faster than he originally thought. It is more a fable, like Animal Farm, for which Israel Shamir wrote a sequel where Stinky, the head pig, sells out the inefficient animal-run farm (the Soviet Union) to a slick farmer bearing Marlboro cigarettes and nylons, and the “excess” animals are promptly carted off to the slaughter house.
He damned Orwell’s 1984 with faint praise. Huxley’s influence in BNW was not Zamiatin, as Orwell accused him of plagiarizing, but Mesmer, who Freud had dismissed as a quack, but who Huxley saw as revealing powers of consciousness that could be misused to create passive obedient citizens governed by an elite, allowing a less nightmarish future than Orwell’s 1984. In fact, 1984 would quickly devolved into BNW, so who needs 1984 except diehard anticommunists? It is clear he despised Orwell but he preferred to focus on the real needs of the time, which were 1/ not to diss anyone from a soapbox, 2/ to get on with transforming the world, individual by individual.
The yogi could just as easily be the Sufi. Koestler’s life journey followed a wilder trajectory than Huxley’s. He started as a communist but disowned that after the Stalin trials, turned to spirituality, experimented with hallucinogens in the 1960s—though, unlike Huxley, he came out against the use of drugs in the quest for enlightenment. Instead, he turned to extrasensory perception, Jung’s idea of synchronicity, leaving his estate to establish a chair of parapsychology at Edinburgh University.
Islam – neither capitalism nor socialism
There are many other war casualties who turned to spirituality. And this happened with both WWs. Marmaduke Pickthall and Leopold Weiss notably in the aftermath of WWI, and Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali in the 1960s — all converts to Islam. My gripe with Huxley is that he completely leaves out Islam. No mention of Pickthall, Schuon, Lings and other westerners who converted, disgusted by the wars, the hypocritical church and the bloodlust of even sweet little old ladies. And Kahlil Gibran, the most widely read spiritual writer in the 20th c, who was influenced not only by his own Maronite religion but also by the Bahá’í Faith, Islam, and the mysticism of the Sufis. He was a perennialist too, similar to William Blake. Gibran had met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Bahai leader, affirming he had ‘seen the Unseen, and been filled.’ So many gaps in Huxley’s spiritual journey.
He was very much an arrogant, elitist Oxbridgean, not quite an atheist like his older brother Julian, but close, dismissive of Christianity and Judaism and apparently willfully ignorant of Islam. But he was convinced that he must help find a way out of the deadend consumerist dystopia, which he concluded in 1961 was coming much faster than he had anticipated. He correctly forecast that both Hitler and Stalin’s dictatorships would collapse. No slouch.
The Russians had Lenin and Marx, and support from disaffected elements in the West in 1917, and were able to forge a new system in the face of bitter enmity from the West. It ultimately failed. What about Islam? Can Islamic rule provide security and peace by bringing people together on an altruistic basis, as the communists tried (and still try) to do with mixed success?
When it comes down to it, Islam could be replaced with almost any other religion (or, conceivably, reinvigorated communism), as Aldous argues in Perennial Philosophy (1945), but he hardly mentions Islam, focused on Hinduism and Buddhism, quoting only Rumi a few times. Very California. His dismissal of Islam comes with his dismissal of Christianity and is embarrassing to read:
And in Mohammedanism we find a system that incorporates strongly somatotonic elements. Hence Islam’s black record of holy wars and persecutions – a record comparable to that of later Christianity, after that religion had so far compromised with unregenerative somatotonia as to call its ecclesiastical organization the Church Militant. (Perennial Philosophy 253).
Mohammedanism is a disparaging term from the middle ages, as is somatotonia (a personality type characterized by assertiveness and energy correlated with a mesomorph body type ). It is so puzzling, ad hominem and wrong, I won’t bother to deconstruct it.
At least he wasn’t as dismissive of tradition as his shiny, teflon brother with his worship of the transhuman. Spiritual reality underlies the phenomenal world, imparting value. The world is illusion but it is essential to improve on the illusion. War is not survival of the fittest. It murders the best youth and threatens the tribe with extinction. Religion (when not being abused) is the evolutionary antidote nature provides.
But of the three great religions, only Islam has proved durable, capable of resisting imperialism, and is truly universal. The real-world bottom line is the return of morality to politics and economics, after it was banished with the rise of capitalism. After the era of imperialism, and the communist experiment, which tried to bring morality back to economics and failed, it is now the turn of the Islamists. For them, morality derives from spirituality; morality and ethics as concepts are invalid in isolation.
Koestler’s (communist) Commissar is concerned with the individual’s relation to society, the Yogi with his relation to the universe. The Commissar advocates transformation from without. He insists that all the evils of humanity can and must be cured by revolution and the reorganization of the system of production. The yogi holds that salvation is from within, and that only the spiritual effort of the individual can save the world. History, the disillusioned atheist Koestler concluded, had established the bankruptcy of both theories. The first had led to mass killings and the second led to the passive toleration of everything.
Islam avoids Koestler’s dilemma, as the goal from the start has been to nurture a morally sound community based on the Quran, where the visions of Commissar and Yogi do not conflict—because they are not separated, Foucault’s ‘political spirituality’. Islam is neither capitalism nor communism.
Aldous and Julian represent the two great civilizational rivals, religion and science. As Julian pursued a career of popularizing science. Aldous following Christopher Isherwood and Gerald Heard to California, where he explored drugs and eastern religion. Heard had found eastern religion though he was science correspondent of the BBC in the 1930s. Faced with the looming war, he set up a retreat, Trabuco, (now the Vendanta Society’s Ramakrishna Monastery).
Ethical expenditure and spiritual income
Empirical theology** consists mainly of meditation techniques, hypnosis and drugs. Huxley’s head was firmly in the clouds by the late 30s and stayed there. His writing after BNW is mostly related to his spiritual journey, culminating in The Perennial Philosophy (1945), The Doors of Perception (1954), Heaven and Hell (1956).
There is no secret to making the world a better place. It starts with the individual, love as the gravity holding the system together, means = ends. That is, if you want peace, an end to war, you can get there only peacefully, not through violence. There are similarities in the mystical ideas and practices of the main religious traditions. The common goal is to overcome the ego and awaken to reality. Ordinary egocentric reality is considered to be a trancelike succession of automatic impulses and attachments. The path to awakening involves daily training in contemplation, recollection, non-attachment, charity and love. When one has achieved ‘total selflessness’, one realizes the true nature of reality.
Throughout the 1960s, the perennial philosophy was championed by figures such as Kahlil Gibran,* as well as Huston Smith and Ram Dass, both of them friends and fans of Huxley’s. It was promoted in places such as the Esalen Institute in California and celebrated in pop culture by everyone from John Coltrane to the Beatles. Before he died in 1963, Huxley became a hit on US campuses, lecturing on mystical experience to thousands of fascinated students. He appears on the cover of the Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), and even inspired a band name – the Doors.
Today, the fastest-growing religious group in the US is the ‘spiritual but not religious’, who account for 27% of the population (up 8% in five years, according to Pew Research). There’s also been a renaissance in psychedelic research in the past decade, inspired by Huxley. The ‘mysticism for the masses’ that Huxley prophesized seems to be coming to pass. According to surveys by Gallup and Pew, the number of Americans who say they’ve had one or more mystical experience rose from 22% in 1962 to 49% by 2009. But what is a mystical experience. Is it God talking to you, like Moses and Muhammad? Or is it you becoming the light? No communication.
There are different paths up the mystic mountain, but Huxley suggests that the peak experience is the same in all traditions: a wordless, imageless encounter with the Pure Light of the divine. This is contested by many (most?) mystics, who have visions and actual communication. The Quran is the classic example, and was curiously ignored by Huxley, though all Sufism derives from it. So Huxley’s Eyeless in Gaza sounds less like Milton on Samson, and more like a metaphor for Huxley’s own blindness to the misuse of religion, the war against ‘Gaza’ waged by Jews.
And how to love? How to be dispassionate without indifference. Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. I see better things and I approve, I follow worse things. (Ovid Metamorphsis.VII.20-21). Where to start?
It’s not a ‘new man’, a transhuman, that we need. We need to resurrect the concepts of soul, spirit, now dismissed by science for not being real. Without it we are automatons. The closer we get to AI, the more even scientists are protesting. It’s as if we are catching a glimpse of the void, the emptiness of man in the age of science, and it terrifies even hardened scientists. We live on the borderline between two worlds, temporal and eternal. An unmystical world that is blind and insane. But without the divine serenity and goodwill that must be at the heart of things, human evil would long ago have driven us to extinction. We need both ethical expenditure and spiritual income (not commodities and money).
Action alternates with repose, speech with alert passive silence. Accept what happens to us. Self-denial is not showy acts but self-control of tongue and moods. We don’t even need Freud. Rochefoucauld understood well how the persona as the polite mask for rationalizing unconscious motives, sex and will to power.
Science is not the answer. It is developed and then used to make war and mass production, which leads inevitably to monopoly, centralization of power and ever great bloodbaths. War is a perverse competition to expend a nation’s surplus and kill as many as people as quickly as possible, willfully destroying nature in the process. Excess consumption is destroying the planet more slowly. Social change does not abolish ignoble desires. It just transfers people’s sins from one plain to another. We did this when envy and ambition moved from the plane of physical violence, now economic competition. State socialism is the answer today but misuse of power is built in. So we have to embed morality in the economy.
Borrowing from Buddhism, awareness. You must strive to see the reality behind the reality. Which means empathy, understanding the object in itself. Only understanding translates good intentions into acts. Being sure you’re doing what you know you ought to.
The barbarian and sadist are strong within us. Not stronger than love, but greater than the boring pleasures of abstract and impersonal benevolence. While Yeats was ‘aware’ of the disaster of WWI, he realized protesting it would not do any good because man is not conscious, aware. The psychological causes of war lie in the unconscious. We can only give sedatives to prevent suicide. But a cure? How to achieve that awareness that ensures good intentions that ensure good acts?
Behaviourists answer: if reflexes can be conditioned then they can be reconditioned. Brain plasticity. Learning to use the self properly. The problem is our time scale is wrong. It’s not enough to bewail the sickness that was Europe in the 1930s; rather, to see that reality as a point between ice ages. National behaviour is a large-scale projection of individual behaviour. Or rather one’s secret wishes. We would like to behave worse than our conscience and respect for public opinion allow. Patriotism fulfils our worst wishes, we can vicariously bully and cheat. Peace propaganda amounts to instructions to modify character. Brain plasticity, epigenetics vs raw eugenics. We can’t all be Einsteins, but we can all be peace-loving.
We can’t be happy unless we’re virtuous, we can’t be virtuous unless we’re God. The essence of the mystical experience, the same paradoxical logic of pacifism. We can’t get to peace through violence, but violence won’t let us get there through peaceful methods. And the same answer to both paradoxes: strive to be close to God. Enlightenment.
The world is illusion but I must take the illusion seriously. Try to detect Reality in the one miserable, illusory part of the universe which my self-centred, blinkered consciousness permits. Transform and transfigure it. Be in the world but not of it. Live in time without being swallowed by it. Thought’s the slave of life, and life time’s fool; and time, that takes survey of all the world, must have a stop. Henry IV part I. Knowledge reflected on, i.e., understanding.
The scientist inhabits a radically different universe, not the world of appearances but a world of inferred fine structures, quantitative regularities. Verbal caution is the highest virtue. Vs a man of letters, who accepts the uniqueness of events, the diversity of world, the radical incomprehensibility of existence. He renders it as organized and meaningful works of art. Speaks about the ineffable, communicates in words what words are not intended to convey.
Reinventing the wheel
Islam was not central to Huxley’s thinking, yet the features of Huxley’s quest are all part of Islam. At the same time as he was dabbling away in California, apparently unknown to Huxley, Fritz Schuon (1907–1998) was living with and wrote about the Plains Indians in the US, emphasizing the commonalities between native religions and Islam. Like Aldous and Rene Guenon, Schuon was first attracted to Hinduism before converting to Islam in Algeria in 1932 under the Sufi Sheikh Ahmad al-Alawi. Aldous’s search for a mystical experience would have amused Schuon, the Plains Indians and Sufis everywhere, for whom meeting with God is integral to their lives, though not necessarily the pure light Aldous supposed.
Martin Lings (1909–2005), an English convert and follower of Guenon and Schuon, wrote mind-blowing works on Shakespeare, including Sacred Art of Shakespeare, showing how Shakespeare’s deep spirituality is congruent with Islam. A recent edition of Lings’ book on the spiritual world of Shakespeare’s plays includes a foreword by Prince Charles. Dabbling in Islam has long been an aristo hobby.
If Islam is ‘true’ then all great works of any civilization can be viewed through Muslim eyes, seen for their ‘truth’. Not only Shakespeare, but Huxley too.
*Wonder/ awe of nature (Point Counter Point: the astonishingness of the most obvious things.)
~ The importance of ecology (And the heaven He raised and imposed the balance. That you do not transgress within the balance…′ Quran 55:7-8)
*In Huxley’s manifesto ‘The double crisis’ (1947), he compares overpopulation and erosion to a Martian invasion. In Ape and Essence, ‘these wretched slaves of wheels and ledgers congratulate themselves on being conquerors of nature. But they merely upset equilibrium of nature.’
~ The Quran is replete with warnings about misuse of God’s blessings. ‘Eat and drink: But waste not by excess, for Allah loveth not the wasters.’ (Quran 7:31).
*Means = ends. The basic prayer begins with ‘God the merciful, the compassionate’. (Quran 1)
*Peace. Sin and atonement. The mystical experience of oneness. They infuse the Quran at each step.
*What makes us human (reason) prevents self-realization and understanding. AH: To understand we must first encumber selves with intellectual and emotional baggage which impedes.
~ In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day – there are indeed signs for men of understanding. (Quran 3:190) i.e., observation and reason (science) is essential to Islam.
In Island 1961), Huxley’s ‘good’ BNW, there are the material basics: coop banking, controlled population, no war, waste. Early heightened awareness training. Love is spontaneous, free from guilt. (hmm) Food + caress + contact + good = love. Balance as the rule in nature translates into morality as the rule. And you thank God for your blessings. (Blake: gratitude is heaven itself.) It could be Medina in the time of the Hijra (except for the free love, and with lots of praying.
Recent advances in anthropology, archeology, evolution now focus on epigenetics as the vehicle for human evolution, and memes as social genes. William James’s solution was to find a moral equivalent of war, i.e., games. Replace vendettas with football. If you treat men as men, they behave as men. Look for the good, you will find it.
The ultimate meme is religion, an evolutionary adaptation to regulate man’s instinct to fight and his propencity for murder, unknown in nature except for us. So, cavalierly rejecting religion as unscientific, is, well, unscientific. It is a time-proven adaptive trait, ie valuable for survival. We discarded it, and now face extinction through war and environmental collapse. To allow the irrational its proper scope within a framework of rationality and benevolence.
Re heaven, does it matter if death is the end? Salvation is not in next world; it’s in this here and now. Within. So even if you are atheist, it’s still ration to follow the path, as your life of love and humility in the dunya benefits you and everyone around you.
My own journey from Marx to Muhammad
In my starry-eyed romantic youth, I was a communist. As with millions, it was my answer to WWI. I still can’t understand why the whole world didn’t see that horror for what it was and overthrow the system that led to it. End capitalism, end war. Simple. Was that foolishness, or did I see a reality behind the dreary, creaking Soviet monolith of the 1970s? A denial of the supreme worth of material goods, promoting a higher humane purpose, where money did not rule the earthly kingdom.
But I was never comfortable with the dogmatic atheism, a holdover from the 1920s, when Christianity was abandoned after it blessed the WWI bloodbath. Anyone with experience in the Soviet Union realized the atheism was skin-deep, that many communists were believers. And then, it suddenly collapsed, as if to confirm the folly of dogma.
Like Huxley, it was my realization that the devil is alive and well than led me to renew my faith. Man’s often perverse relations with his fellow man can only be seen as evil. The bloodbath in Ukraine today is bringing delight to the devil(s) among us. Constant warfare makes it look like that’s man’s nature, that we have an evil, self-destructive instinct, not adaptive in any evolutionary sense. Why it is so prevalent and so against survival can only be addressed outside the bounds of reason. And it is clearly the reason behind evolution’s promotion of religion as an antidote.
But a return to Christianity? More dogma and another collapsing faith? As for Islam, it played no part in the 20th c horrors. Living in Uzbekistan allowed me to experience a Muslim society, able to maintain the faith through all attempts to eradicate it. And other than the declaration of faith (shahadah) — there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger — there is little dogma.
Marx, while a brilliant theorist of capitalism, was blinded by its venal use of religion to pacify the masses, and hence, far too dismissive of religion as an evolved social category. We now understand from evolutionary biology that monogamy is the highest evolutionary form in nature and society. Marx dismissed it too, crudely, as exploitation (though he, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, the whole lot, Huxley included, were in monogamous marriages). The anarchist Bakunin, Marx’s nemesis, immediately saw the fallacy of Marxian politics of revolution. Marx took the enlightenment project to the extreme. Totalitarian.
Now I see the problem with Marx (and Lenin). Yes, man is reduced to a machine by capitalism. He rebels but after the revolution uses the same totalitarian technology. That goes for both traditional Marxists and the new-fangled gender-bending totalitarian version of wokeness. Forces of production determine relations of production. The forces shape the way we think and act. Revolution is a long way (the wrong way) to liberation.
Lenin added in philosemitism. He ignored Marx’s trenchant critique of Judaism, censoring the Russian translation of Marx’s article on the Russian loan published in the New York Daily Tribune, January 4, 1856.*** Jews were revolutionary in Tsarist Russia and formed the backbone of the (totalitarian) Bolshevik party. With the roots of that in Marx’s own evolutionary ancestry, Judaism. Israel Shahak in Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years (1994), emphasizes that Judaism has a totalitarian streak. ‘The Jewish religion’s harsh condemnation of pagans (goyim or ‘the nations’), its insistence on separation from them, its depiction of God’s People’s unending battle with its opponents—these are the origin of the hardness.’ ) The Jewish gene is strong. Dreams of a superior, entitled (totalitarian) world aristocracy. The Jewish capitalist conspiracy undermined (or rather, jettisoned) the communist one.
You can see all this through a Muslim’s eyes. Including the Islamic critique of Judaism, which devolved over time through Jewish arrogance and disobedience. Israel’s genocidal policies would not surprise Muhammad (pbuh). Jews had long ago strayed too far from the straight path.
Huxley and Islam are congruent: act with intent, respect nature, stand against war. And yet the Quran isn’t even mentioned in Perennial Philosophy. Huxley was just too much the skeptic, the scientist, the ghost of his grandfather Thomas haranguing him for even thinking of actually joining a religion, submitting, prostrating to God. He claims to finally have had a mystical experience when he took mescalin. I hope so, but I like to think of Malcom X, when asked what the hardest thing was about becoming a Muslim: The hardest test I ever faced in my life was praying…bending my knees to pray.
Huxley was born to entitlement, a brilliant thinker, too proud to submit to anyone, anything. Not anti-anything. He could have reached out to the post-Stalin Soviet Union too, as did Norman Cousins in his quest for world peace, but he had dismissed it as flawed, then left it too late for even that much less challenging, but humble move towards building a peaceful, soulful world order. Instead, he chose to live the ‘high’ life in California before moving on to Valhalla.
*Kahlil Gibran, the most widely read spiritual writer in the 20th c, who was influenced not only by his own Maronite religion but also by the Bahá’í Faith, Islam, and the mysticism of the Sufis. He was a perennialist too, similar to William Blake. Gibran had met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, the Bahai leader, affirming he had ‘seen the Unseen, and been filled.’ So many gaps in Huxley’s spiritual journey.
+Peter Gerard Myers, The Cosmopolitan Empire: One World but Whose?, 2023.
*Journal of Modern Literature, 1997
**Perennial Philosophy 13.
***Full text of Marx’s unaccredited article at the New York Public Library found by Peter Gerard Myers.