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New at IWP Books: Aldous Huxley, 1923, On the Margin. From the Essay on Pleasures:

We have heard a great deal, since 1914, about the things which are a menace to civilization. First it was Prussian militarism; then the Germans at large; then the prolongation of the war; then the shortening of the same; then, after a time, the Treaty of Versailles; then French militarism — with, all the while, a running accompaniment of such minor menaces as Prohibition, Lord Northcliffe, Mr. Bryan, Comstockery….

Civilization, however, has resisted the combined attacks of these enemies wonderfully well. For still, in 1923, it stands not so very far from where it stood in that “giant age before the flood” of nine years since. Where, in relation to Neanderthal on the one hand and Athens on the other, where precisely it stood then is a question which each may answer according to his taste. The important fact is that these menaces to our civilization, such as it is — menaces including the largest war and the stupidest peace known to history — have confined themselves in most places and up till now to mere threats, barking more furiously than they bite.

No, the dangers which confront our civilization are not so much the external dangers — wild men, wars and the bankruptcy that wars bring after them. The most alarming dangers are those which menace it from within, that threaten the mind rather than the body and estate of contemporary man.

Of all the various poisons which modern civilization, by a process of auto-intoxication, brews quietly up within its own bowels, few, it seems to me, are more deadly (while none appears more harmless) than that curious and appalling thing that is technically known as “pleasure.” “Pleasure” (I place the word between inverted commas to show that I mean, not real pleasure, but the organized activities officially known by the same name) “pleasure” — what nightmare visions the word evokes! Like every man of sense and good feeling, I abominate work. But I would rather put in eight hours a day at a Government office than be condemned to lead a life of “pleasure”; I would even, I believe, prefer to write a million words of journalism a year.

The horrors of modern “pleasure” arise from the fact that every kind of organized distraction tends to become progressively more and more imbecile. There was a time when people indulged themselves with distractions requiring the expense of a certain intellectual effort…