Published in 1962, Anthony Burgess’s novel A Clockwork Orange proved to be prescient in a more oblique way than its admirers would have you believe. Though it foretold the surge of violence, crime, and social pathology that was about to overtake many Western cities, both the book and the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film that followed are so deeply equivocal that what is most unsettling about them is not so much that they predicted urban moral and literal decay but that they predicted the step beyond that—the cringing and excuse-making of the bien-pensant class, which would come to worry that the cure for crime might be worse than the epidemic itself.

After a crime spree that includes rape and murder, Burgess’s young hood Alex is in effect mentally castrated by the Ludovico brainwashing technique. His interior reform results in...


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