Aldous Huxley on the Current Situation Affecting Human Rights



The following is an excerpt from Aldous Huxley’s contribution to the 1947-48 UNESCO symposium on human rights. Huxley offers a bleak outlook for humanity, if it is unable to balance scientific and military progress with humanitarian concerns. A number of his characterizations of the human situation are somewhat fanciful, but his overall message promotes a vision of peace and cooperation for the human race.

About three quarters of the 2.2 billion inhabitants of our planet do not have enough to eat. By the end of the present century world population will have increased (if we manage to avoid catastrophe in the interval) to about 3.3 billions. Meanwhile, over vast areas of the earth's surface, soil erosion is rapidly diminishing the fertility of mankind's four billion acres of productive land. Moreover, in those countries, where industrialism is most highly developed, mineral resources are running low, or have been completely exhausted - and this at a time when a rising population demands an ever increasing quantity of consumer goods and when improved technology is in a position to supply that demand.

Heavy pressure of population upon resources threatens liberty in several ways. Individuals have to work harder and longer to earn a poorer living. At the same time the economic situation of the community as a whole is so precarious that small mishaps, such as untoward weather conditions, may result in serious breakdowns. There can be little or no personal liberty in the midst of social chaos; and where social chaos is reduced to order by the intervention of a powerful centralized executive, there is a grave risk of totalitarianism. Because of the mounting pressure of population upon resources, the twentieth century has become the golden age of centralized government and dictatorship, and has witnessed the wholesale revival of slavery, which has been imposed upon political heretics, conquered populations and prisoners of War. Throughout the nineteenth century the New World provided cheap food for the teeming masses of the Old World and free land for the victims of oppression. Today the New World holds a large and growing population, there is no free land and over the vast areas, the much abused soil is losing its fertility. The New World still produces a large exportable surplus. Whether, fifty years from now, it will still have a surplus, with which to feed the three billions inhabiting the Old World seems doubtful.

It should be added, at this point, that while the population of the planet as a whole is rapidly increasing, the population of certain extremely overpopulated areas in Western Europe is stationary and will shortly start to decline. The fact that, by 1970, France and Great Britain will each have lost about four million inhabitants, while Russia will have added about seventy-five millions to its present population, is bound to raise political problems, which it will require consummate statesmanship to resolve. But political problems are not the only ones that will arise. In Western Europe the reduction in the quantity of population is destined, it would seem, to be accompanied by a deterioration (owing to the infertility of the more gifted members of the community) of its quality. In the light of existing trends, Sir Cyril Burt foresees that, by the end of the present century, the average intelligence of the British population will have declined by five IQ points. How far personal liberty, group co-operation and local and professional self-government -- the three factors which constitute the essence of any genuine democracy -- are compatible with the qualitative deterioration of the population retains to be seen.

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