“Who controls the past controls the future, who controls the present controls the past” ( 1984) In Orwell’s 1984, the book’s protagonist, Winston Smith, works in the Ministry of Truth, rewriting and falsifying history. The Ministry writes people out of history, torpedoing “down the memory hole” and into an anonymity . The Ministry also creates people as historical figures who heretofore had no identity. Big Brother uses “thought police” to ensure that people in the inner and outer Party of government are kept under rein.
George Orwell’s classic dystopia was the bugaboo of the twentieth century. It was the ultimate in rationalism gone mad. Although his year has come and vanished, are we still close to living down to his vision?…
Orwell set out to shock by the juxtaposition of fact and fancy. He combined the stylistic skills of the modern polemicist with the wry detachment of the classical moralist. He stood the year of the book’s completion on its head to sum up his negative vision of the future in a single stroke. He had considered The Last Man in Europe as a title, but it lacked the stinging immediacy of his final choice, yet it gives a stronger clue to his humanist aspirations. He wanted to reach his readers primarily for political purposes. By the end of his life as a writer he had come to believe that people didn’t make aesthetic judgments at all, only political ones. He wanted to be a best-seller author without surrendering his particular vision of the world. And he succeeded.
Since WWII, very few political books, whether fiction or non-fiction- and the essence of Orwell’s success is that no one is ever sure whether 1984 is one or the other- has passed more thoroughly into the English language and the popular consciousness of the Western world than Orwell’s dark masterpiece.
Various insights expressed in this short work have secured a hold on individual’s and groups of such diversity. Both left and right have invoked the image of Big Brother to the detriment of the individual: a message at its most frightening level based on totalitarian threat to individual freedom from collectives of the right or left. Such common intellectual currency as Orwell’s inevitably becomes turned into debased coinage especially when minted by such a nonsystematic intelligence as Orwell’s. But equally, any book that can strike such a responsive chord among such natural enemies say much about the world in which they all live.
What the Orwell cultists, whatever their stripe, cannot take in, is his description of the most pervasive development of post WWII political thought. Namely, the bankruptcy of liberal rationalism. Most of us believe, naively, that if only the weight of human institutions is more equitably distributed, individuals would at last behave decently and rationally. We may disagree, as to where the balance of equity falls, but there is nonetheless a belief that ideas can contribute to a more perfect society.
Orwell says this is simply false, or at very best is not possible or feasible. We have to be schooled that the best defense against totalitarian invasions of privacy of the individual spirit must be centered around rationally perfectible institutions. Orwell maintains they are no defense. He warned that the rationalist spirit of progress represents in fact the first step toward the very thing it aims to prevent, because it gives one the power to enforce their ideas over you.
“Sensible men have no power,” Orwell said in dismissing the dream of well ordered world government. In lambasting H.G. Wells and his comfortable, reassuring, Fabian Society vision of utopia Orwell had this to say in 1941:
For the last twenty years the main object of English left-wing intellectuals has been to break this feeling down, and if they had succeeded, we might be watching the S.S. men patrolling the London streets at this moment. Similarly, why are the Russians fighting like tigers against the German invasion? In part, perhaps, for some half-remembered ideal of Utopian Socialism, but chiefly in defence of Holy Russia (the ‘sacred soil of the Fatherland’, etc. etc.), which Stalin has revived in an only slightly altered from. The energy that actually shapes the world springs from emotions — racial pride, leader-worship, religious belief, love of war — which liberal intellectuals mechanically write off as anachronisms, and which they have usually destroyed so completely in themselves as to have lost all power of action. Read More: http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/wells/english/e_whws
Orwell’s most important discovery was that the managers of our society, far from being sensible, mainly men, share the irrational drives of their fellows, and these include power. This is really what is frightening as we watch the liberal imagination turn into a totalitarian nightmare.
As a novel, 1984 is not particularly good.The prose is stiff and heavy and lacking the ostensible aggression of say Henry Miller though the subject of hate is certainly central. It is more fable than fiction and more fantasy than both. Big Brother is the only character anyone seems to remember, and he probably doesn’t even exist. This is quite proper. Big Brother is the symbol and the apex of an all-embracing and self-perpetuating state machine called the Party. It is split into an Inner Party- the decision makers- and an Outer Party who are the middle management. The mass of citizens, called the proles, simply do not count at all in the political scheme. Their lives are dominated by work and poverty, but their emotions are still free.
Robert Philbin:Americans (any public) are slow to react to Orwellian machinations because they respond based on the complexity and emotional immediacy of the particular “issue” – its impact directly in their lives. But they do eventually react precisely because they are not “proletariat.” Most populations are uniformed and far removed from the process of government, and with good reason: governments natural drift toward totalitarian control. But once alerted, once abused, as in the case of the failed war in Iraq, the public does respond. The American public currently has a low level of tolerance for Bush Administration policy, certainly relative to the Wilson Administration in 1916, and this is in large part a reaction against war propaganda over time; resistance to propaganda today has much to do with the accumulated cultural and public knowledge gained since World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Viet Nam War, and the Watergate era.
None of this dilutes Professor Chomsky’s historical arguments or institutional analysis; it simply extends his narrative into the future. The press (any media, anywhere) functions within and subject to economic and cultural conformity; but in a relatively free democracy, the economic and cultural context is also in constant transition, because citizens (whether taxpayers or consumers, ignoramuses or activists) are moving along some “arc of progress” despite any ruling elites.Read More: http://www.nthposition.com/deconstructingthemedia.php
George Orwell: The people who say that Hitler is Antichrist, or alternatively, the Holy Ghost, are nearer an understanding of the truth than the intellectuals who for ten dreadful years have kept it up that he is merely a figure out of comic opera, not worth taking seriously. All that this idea really reflects is the sheltered conditions of English life. The Left Book Club was at bottom a product of Scotland Yard, just as the Peace Pledge Union is a product of the Navy. One development of the last ten years has been the appearance of the ‘political book,’ a sort of enlarged pamphlet combining history with political criticism, as an important literary form. But the best writers in this line-Trotsky, Rauschning, Rosenberg, Silone, Borkenau, Koestler and others-have none of them been Englishmen, and nearly all of them have been renegades from one or other extremist party, who have seen totalitarianism at close quarters and known the meaning of exile and persecution. Only in the English-speaking countries was it fashionable to believe, right up to the outbreak of war, that Hitler was an unimportant lunatic and the German tanks made of cardboard. Mr. Wells, it will be seen from the quotations I have given above, believes something of the kind still. I do not suppose that either the bombs or the German campaign in Greece have altered his opinion. A lifelong habit of thought stands between him and an understanding of Hitler’s power.
Mr. Wells, like Dickens, belongs to the non-military middle class. The thunder of guns, the jingle of spurs, the catch in the throat when the old flag goes by, leave him manifestly cold. He has an invincible hatred of the fighting, hunting, swashbuckling side of life, symbolised in all his early books by a violent propaganda against horses. The principal villain of his Outline of History is the military adventurer, Napoleon. If one looks through nearly any book that he has written in the last forty years one finds the same idea constantly recurring: the supposed antithesis between the man of science who is working towards a planned World State and the reactionary who is trying to restore a disorderly past. In novels, Utopias, essays, films, pamphlets, the antithesis crops up, always more or less the same. On the one side science, order, progress, internationalism, aeroplanes, steel, concrete, hygiene: on the other side war, nationalism, religion, monarchy, peasants, Greek professors, poets, horses. History as he sees it is a series of victories won by the scientific man over the romantic man. Now, he is probably right in assuming that a ‘reasonable,’ planned form of society, with scientists rather than witch-doctors in control,… Read More: http://orwell.ru/library/reviews/wells/english/e_whws