“1984” by Orwell turns 70

Over at Quillette, there’s an article on the publication anniversary of Orwell’s 1984.  The article is pretty good, but I’d like to highlight two of the comments.  The comments section of Quillette used to be really good, with a high signal-to-noise ratio, but that has declined over time as trolls and/or boors have found it and taken up residence there, becoming yet another example of Gresham’s law applied to the internet.  The trolls have not poisoned this particular article’s thread (yet).

From a Mr. “El Uro”:

Nikita Khrushchev was removed from power October 14, 1964. The next day at school in history class, the teacher asked us to take pens, to open the history textbook on page N and to black out his face in the photo, where he was standing next to Gagarin.

I was not a dissident. I was 11 years old, a curious boy who loved to read. But so far I remember what I was thinking at that moment: “History is something that you have no right to erase”.  Now I am 65 years old. And with horror I see that the left, like zombies, rise from their graves here, in the homeland of freedom.

“warforthewest” writes:

What does one do when Orwell’s dystopian nightmare comes to fruition before one’s eyes? China is Oceania. In every way possible, from the two minutes of hate to the endless revision of history and control of all news. Iran is similar, although not as technologically or bureaucratically sophisticated.

And in the West we have our “soft-totalitarian” version of it, which in some ways is the hardest to watch. I’ve watched Progressives and Socialists, who make up about 8% of the U.S. population claim ownership of our political and social discourse, essentially policing the public square. They use every angle of pressure, shaming, denigration and their own hate to suppress, oppress and disappear those who’s speech they find “offensive”. All because “they know” that their morality is superior, that’s “settled” for them. Me and mine? Mere backlash to be mopped up.

As I write this, I’m thinking about revolution. I’m not even as brave as Winston Smith. I play along in public cuz I have to and I don’t want endless fights. I “go along to get along” and am broadly cynical about our society so I pull inwards and cut off the spew of endless propaganda I’m subjected to by the Prog-Marxist media. […]

There is more, worth reading IMHO.

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5 thoughts on ““1984” by Orwell turns 70”

  1. Why was Orwell able to see this when others didn’t? I am impressed with G K Chesterton seeing things too.

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  2. 10 Cents:
    Why was Orwell able to see this when others didn’t? I am impressed with G K Chesterton seeing things too.

    This is only part of it. You should read the end of de Tocqueville. If you are not shaken by how accurate he is when writing in the 1830s, then you aren’t paying attention.

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  3. Robert A. McReynolds:

    10 Cents:
    Why was Orwell able to see this when others didn’t? I am impressed with G K Chesterton seeing things too.

    This is only part of it. You should read the end of de Tocqueville. If you are not shaken by how accurate he is when writing in the 1830s, then you aren’t paying attention.

    Agreed.  Some credit Orwell’s prescience on his alleged debt to Zamyatin’s We (which I haven’t read yet, but should), which preceded 1984 by many years and was brought to his attention while he was planning 1984, but I think his key contribution was understanding that many of his ostensible allies (i.e., leftists/socialists) were quite sympathetic to totalitarianism. 1984 was an extrapolation of present-day Stalinism to the future.  Two relevant Orwell quotes:

    On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side.

    and

    I consider that willingness to criticize Russia and Stalinism the test of intellectual honesty.

    Had he lived, and had his fellow intellectuals been more immediately successful, Orwell would have been one of the first up against the wall, or placed into Room 101.

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  4. 10 Cents:
    Why was Orwell able to see this when others didn’t?

    I call it the “Orwell gift”, and coincidentally mentioned it in my review of The Case for Trump posted last night.  The Orwell gift is the ability to observe something, whether in person or based upon reportage and other indirect sources, and see precisely what is really going on, then express that in clear language that anybody can understand.  This is an extraordinarily rare skill.  Most of us have a weltanschauung, either developed individually or acquired from others, through which what we observe is filtered.  This allows apparently discordant information either to be ignored or, frequently, jammed into pigeonholes so that it fits with the pre-conceived world view.  As a particularly egregious and funny example of this, consider Bernie Sanders in 1985 praising people lining up for food.

    Orwell never let his political and philosophical beliefs blind him to what he saw with his own eyes.  He was a committed socialist: he didn’t just espouse the philosophy, in 1936 he packed up and went to Spain to fight in the chaotic Spanish Civil War on the Republican (Socialist/Communist) side.  His superb book about his experiences, Homage to Catalonia, recounts what was actually going on: the factional squabbling among the rival parties, the incompetence of the socialists in managing anything, and the ruthlessness and amorality of the murderous Communists he encountered in Barcelona.  “No one who was in Barcelona then, or for months later, will forget the horrible atmosphere produced by fear, suspicion, hatred, censored newspapers, crammed jails, enormous food queues and prowling gangs of armed men.”  (Doubtless Bernie Sanders would have considered these “a good thing”.)

    This same gift allowed him, while remaining a committed socialist, to see where the implementation of its programme ultimately leads, as described in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.  During World War II, surrounded by intellectuals who preached pacifism, he wrote “Pacifism and the War”, in which he observed,

    Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist. This is elementary common sense. If you hamper the war effort of one side you automatically help that of the other. Nor is there any real way of remaining outside such a war as the present one. In practice, ‘he that is not with me is against me’. The idea that you can somehow remain aloof from and superior to the struggle, while living on food which British sailors have to risk their lives to bring you, is a bourgeois illusion bred of money and security. Mr Savage remarks that ‘according to this type of reasoning, a German or Japanese pacifist would be “objectively pro-British”.’ But of course he would be! That is why pacifist activities are not permitted in those countries (in both of them the penalty is, or can be, beheading) while both the Germans and the Japanese do all they can to encourage the spread of pacifism in British and American territories.

    We should treasure those few among us who have the “Orwell gift”.

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