Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ epigraph and Bolshevik psychiatrist Bogdanov (2020)

‘Red Star’ and ‘Brave New World’

by Federico Soldani – 22nd Dec 2020

Lenin‘s co-founder of Bolshevism was psychiatrist Alexander Bogdanov.

We have already encountered Bogdanov in these pages when discussing contemporary political psychiatry and some of its roots. On my part, the encounter with the figure of Bogdanov and the knowledge that he was a psychiatrist happened around the Spring of 2019 while reading about the history of revolutionary Russia. Before, I never heard of him, as far as I can recall; it was actually difficult even to find out that Bogdanov was a psychiatrist. while conducting historical research in English.

Lenin plays chess with Bogdanov during a visit to Gorky’s villa in Capri, Italy in 1908

Around that time I was studying the historical origins of psychiatry and formulated the hypothesis about a possible relation between political revolutions, in particular the American and French Revolutions, on one side and the birth of psychiatry on the other side. Such historical connection to my knowledge had not been previously studied. In case relevant literature has been published, on the topic of the historical relation between the birth of psychiatry and political revolutions, references would of course be most welcome.

Two texts helped me to confirm the link between Bogdanov and the field of psychiatry: [1] a book chapter by Bogvanov about the organization of socialist society; and [2] a note from Russian Christian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, who just like with Bogdanov, as far as I recall, I never heard of previously.


[1] In his 1919 “Socially Organised Society: Socialist Society”, a chapter of his book on economics, Bogdanov made clear how there was no need for special legal safeguards to deal with the “mentally diseased” and that it would have been “not necessary to have special ‘laws’ and organs of ‘authority’ to remove such a contradiction; the teachings of science are sufficient to indicate the measures by which to cure that person, and the social sense of the people surrounding him will be sufficient.”

[2] A passage by Berdyaev reported in Red Hamlet : the life and ideas of Alexander Bogdanov (2019) helps elucidate how Bogdanov conceived the relation between philosophy and psychiatry:

“Somewhat curious were my relations with Bogdanov” – wrote Berdyev – “I was considered to be an “idealist” imbued with metaphysical seekings. For Bogdanov this was a completely abnormal phenomenon.

He had originally qualified as a psychiatrist. He began to visit me often. I noticed that he systematically put to me incomprehensible questions: how I felt in the mornings; how did I sleep; what were my reactions to this and that, and so on.

It emerged that my inclination towards idealism and metaphysics, he considered to be the symptoms of an incipient mental disorder, and he wanted to establish how far this malady had progressed.”


More recent readings, as far as I was concerned at the time completely unrelated to Bogdanov or Berdyaev, brought me back to both those texts that were instrumental to establish a link between Bogdanov and psychiatry. They were a doctoral thesis on Huxley’s political thought and Huxley’s novel ‘Brave New World’.

While reading a doctoral thesis in juridical sciences about Huxley’s political thought, I came across this quote from ‘Island’ (1962), the last novel written by Huxley, a utopia:

That’s what the human brain is there for — to turn the chaos of given experience into a set of manageable symbols.

Sometimes the symbols correspond fairly closely to some of the aspects of the external reality behind our experience; then you have science and common sense.

Sometimes, on the contrary, the symbols have almost no connection with external reality; then you have paranoia and delirium.

More often there’s a mixture, part realistic and part fantastic; that’s religion.”

This quote immediately made me think of how Huxley was completely bypassing political and judicial human institutions (see Hegel for a comparison on this issue), while moving straight from “paranoia” and “delirium” to the reality of “common sense” and “science”; no political and judicial institutions in-between. No intermediate bodies or social institutions to characterize reality. Only madness vs. common sense and science.

It also brought back the relevance of Bogdanov‘s quote about how in a highly developed socialist society, in order to deal with the “mentally diseased”, special laws would not be necessary but only “science” and “the social sense of the people”.

Almost the same words to express a very similar concept in relation to a mind or brain disfunction in a political context.


Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ epigraph, written in French, from one of the editions in English

The similarity between Huxley and Bodganov’s reasoning about mental illness appeared more cogent when I came across the epigraph of Huxley’s Brave New World. The epigraph right before the famous dystopian novel starts is a quote by Berdyaev!

The same obscure Russian Christian philosopher that, in my studies, helped me establish the link between Bogdanov and psychiatry.

“Utopias seem to be much more realizable than we formerly believed them to be. – Berdyaev wrote in a quote used as epigraph – Now we find ourselves presented with another alarming question: how do we prevent their definitive realization? …Utopias are realizable. Life marches toward utopias. Perhaps a new century will begin, a century in which intellectuals and the cultivated class will dream of ways to evict utopias and return to a non-utopian society, less “perfect” and more free.”

For some reason, I did not note such epigraph previously, possibly because I did not know Berdyaev at the time when I read Huxley’s novel and also because the spelling of first and last name, as adapted from Russian, was different from the one I came across when studying Bogdanov: Nikolai Berdyaev and Nicolas Berdiaeff, respectively.

The most famous novel by Aldous Leonard Huxley is opened with a quote, used as an epigraph, by the man who described how psychiatrist Bogdanov – founder of Bolshevism with Lenin – was treating, surreptitiously, philosophical ideas he disagreed with as a form of mental illness.

In the original English edition, the epigraph is in French. Presumably because Berdyaev was at the time when he wrote it living if France and writing directly in French? Indeed the Soviet authorities expelled Berdyaev from Russia in 1922.

At any rate, what I find remarkable is that before the opening of his most famous dystopian novel, Brave New World, Huxley quotes the Russian Christian philosopher Berdyaev, as if he wants to warn the reader against the dangers of dystopia.

However, in his later and last utopian novel, Island, thirty years later Huxley appears to reproduce a kind of thinking that I immediately recognized, before knowing of any possible intellectual relation he might have entertained with Russian intellectuals; the same thinking of Russian anti-Christian revolutionary psychiatrist Bogdanov, a man who was a protagonist of the Soviet experiment.


Another consideration came to mind after finding out about such surprising connections between Bogdanov and Aldous Huxley, a man who came from a prominent family of the English elite. It concerns the two most famous novels of both authors, considered a utopia and a dystopia, respectively: “Red Star” and “Brave New World.”

In Huxley’s Brave New World there are characters named Marx and Lenina. The novel’s name, Brave New World (1932), is due to the ‘savage’ who, while seeing the people of the New World, expresses his awe with Shakespeare’s Tempest verses:

“O brave new world

That has such people in’t!”

Was Huxley describing this way how a ‘savage’ European who reads Shakespeare and has a romantic idea of love might react to more advanced people from a society that overvalues physical appearances and sexual openness and devalues traditional as well as bookish culture? Possibly relevant in such respect, five years after publishing his most famous novel Brave New World, he moved to Hollywood in California.

Bogdanov wrote the first Bolskevik utopia, “Red Star”, published in 1908, which takes place on the red planet, Mars and describes a futuristic communist society. The red star symbol, whose origin might be worth studying in greater detail, and the fortune of which was surely related to Bogdanov’s utopia, became one of the principal symbols of socialism and communism worldwide.

Bogdanov’s ‘Red Star’, Prague 1921

About socialist perspectives in English politics, the Fabian Society might be relevant in this context. An incandescent, red planet Earth, with Russia and China prominently visible at the centre top, is present in the so-called Fabian Window, which I heard of recently from cultural historian Mario A. Iannaccone and that is nowadays in the George Bernard Shaw library at the London School of Economics.

An epigraph at the top reads: “Re-mould it nearer to the Heart’s Desire!”

The Fabian window was unveiled by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Shaw Library on the 20th April 2006 at the London School of Economics

Last Updated on December 22, 2020 by Federico Soldani

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