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In chapter I of Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley writes:

[…] there are nowhere any religious traditions in favor of unrestricted death, whereas religious and social traditions in favor of unrestricted reproduction are widespread. For all these reasons, death control is achieved very easily, birth control is achieved with great difficulty.

My guess: "unrestricted death" could be translated as "restricted life". So, as life expectancy becomes longer and longer, both variables tend to overpopulation. But that doesn't fit with death control is achieved very easily. What does Huxley mean?

  • I have read the book some years ago, therefore I am not sure of remembering all the details. However, in my opinion it refers to the fact that almost everybody is afraid of dying. Moreover, if you believe in an afterlife, you can be even more afraid of the possible punishment (much more than reward, that in many religions seems to be reserved to predestined ones or exceptional individuals) that is expecting you. This fear has been understood and used by religions and social institutions to control the life of human beings. As you correctly stated, in fact, "unrestricted dead can be... – JackI Sep 9 '18 at 8:31
  • ... translated as restricted life". Since this fear is so diffused, it is actually easy to use it to control death. For example, you can consider the option of suicide, that seemed to be quite diffused in ancient Greek, but it was fought by the Catholic Church in the following ages. From my perspective, the possibility of committing suicide could be an appealing possibility for living without a very strong morality, for example the one proposed by the Church. Killing myself may seem to be a good way of avoiding a punishment. In my opinion, it can be related to the following quote,... – JackI Sep 9 '18 at 8:36
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    ... attributed to Schopenhauer if I remember correctly: "Life is a prison, but the door of the cage is open". – JackI Sep 9 '18 at 8:37
  • @JackI nice comments, thanks...but Huxley is referring to the government, that's what seems strange... – santimirandarp Sep 9 '18 at 14:53
  • I think that there are several examples, in history, of religion-based governments (in Italy, at least, it seemed to be normal for centuries). In the same way, fear can be used as a way of governing (not only in a dictatorial way, but also driving the fear of the masses to influence them and to create consensus, as populist and xenophobic parties teach us nowadays in Europe). – JackI Sep 9 '18 at 15:19
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‘Birth control’ means ‘prevention of births’. Huxley gives as examples, “chemical or mechanical means of contraception”.

So if ‘death control’ is to be understood analogously, it must mean ‘prevention of deaths’. Huxley gives as example mechanisms, “Penicillin, DDT and clean water”. (The second of these has not aged well: most likely Huxley is referring to the use of DDT to combat malaria, but this was much more promising in 1958, before it became clear how quickly mosquitos would evolve resistance. However, we can choose to take it as a placeholder for campaigns of disease eradication.)

Similarly, “religious traditions in favor of unrestricted reproduction” refers to Catholic opposition to most forms of birth control. So by analogy, if there existed “traditions in favor of unrestricted death” then these would take the form of opposition to ‘death control’; that is, to antibiotics, vaccination, clean water, and so on.

Huxley’s argument is that death control is politically easy, because the means can implemented “by a few technicians working in the pay of a benevolent government”, whereas birth control

depends on the co-operation of an entire people. It must be practiced by countless individuals, from whom it demands more intelligence and will power than most of the world's teeming illiterates possess, and (where chemical or mechanical methods of contraception are used) an expenditure of more money than most of these millions can now afford.

In 1958 when Huxley was writing Brave New World Revisited he could perhaps be forgiven for this, as fertility was rising in much of the industrialized world, including England and Wales, where the total fertility rate was 2.5 in 1958, and grew almost to 3.0 by 1964 (ONS). It was hard to see that the demographic transition was coming.

  • Thanks for both the answer and the edit. How do you interpret "unrestricted death" in this context? – santimirandarp Sep 9 '18 at 20:39
  • DDT might more likely stand for killing mosquitoes and preventing malaria, etc than the Green Revolution. – muru Sep 9 '18 at 23:32
  • @muru: Yes, that's a better interpretation. – Gareth Rees Sep 10 '18 at 7:11

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