links (the authoritarianism edition)


Jeffrey Wasserstrom has a lovely piece on China which examines a pleasure-driven versus fear-driven authoritarianism, embodied respectively by the distinction between Brave New World and 1984, and creatively summarized in this comic by Stuart McMillen. I’ve always been more familiar with and symapthetic to Orwell’s writing and creative vision than Huxley’s, so in thinking about authoritarianism this isn’t a distinction I have often thought to make. What Wasserstrom suggests is that there might be a scale of authoritarianism which runs between 1984 and Brave New World, in which North Korea marks the Orwellian extreme while Singapore marks the Huxley-esque one, and China falls somewhere between. It’s fun enough as food for thought–I find that “pleasure-driven authoritarianism” is an eerily appropriate way to describe Singapore–and it’s enough to make me want to revisit Huxley. And how better than in vintage audio form, read by the maestro himself?

while on the subject of authoritarianism, if you haven’t already seen this, you should!


5 responses to “links (the authoritarianism edition)

  • Jeff Wasserstrom

    I was delighted to see that you liked my piece, especially that it is inspiring you to get more closely acquainted with Huxley and that you thought my comments about Singapore, a place I’ve only visited briefly, seemed apt. And I’m always glad to know about other relevant films, speaking of which, one that has an Asian setting and involves an intriguing mix of Orwellian and Huxlean elements is “Code 46,” a visually arresting Michael Winterbottom film that I’ve written about a bit due to its Shanghai setting.

    • Rachel

      What a pleasure to hear from you! thank you for your essay, it was a good read — and thanks for the tip on Code 46: I’ve actually been meaning to watch some of his films (viz., this one). Where have you written about it? — if you leave a link, I’ll have a look 🙂

  • Jeff Wasserstrom

    I’m very glad to know about your blog and have been letting others I think would like it know about it as well. I also liked your piece on blogging for the Journal of Women’s History. One place I wrote about Code 46 is in a two-part look at Shanghai and science fiction for (just relaunched as, a great site devoted to tracking trends in Chinese media: . Hope you enjoy the piece–and the movie, if not for the plot than at least for the visual feel and the acting.

  • Jeff Wasserstrom

    p.s. In case you, Rachel, or any London-based readers of your blog are interested, I’ll be part of a panel in London next week that will deal in part with varieties of authoritarianism and other issues raised in that Orwell/Huxley piece. It will take place on July 4, at the University of Westminster, and be linked to an exhibit that Chinese gender studies scholar Harriet Evans has curated of Mao era posters and related artifacts, and since one of the other panelists will be Pankaj Mishra, it will be heavy on China but have a pan-Asian dimension. Details here:

  • Rachel

    Hi Jeff – I heard about this from HNN and had been planning to stop by – perhaps I’ll see you there!

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