Author’s note: This article contains spoilers.
First and foremost a magnificent novel, George Orwell’s 1984 is also a terrifyingly prescient political commentary. Written by an Englishman in 1949, it substantially mirrors the trajectory of American politics today.
We can see this by examining four main elements:
- the story as a whole;
- the political principles and policies that Orwell dramatizes—and his brilliantly original contributions to the language of political discourse;
- his insights into the philosophy underlying totalitarianism; and
- several instances of Orwell’s nightmare world becoming our reality.
1984 is a love story set against a background of brutal communist oppression (communists are referred to simply as the “Party”). After a nuclear war in the 1950s, the world was divided into three super-states: Oceania, consisting of North America and Great Britain (the latter renamed “Airstrip One”); Eurasia, composed of the European continent and Western Asia; and Eastasia, or the bulk of the Asian continent. The powers are constantly at war with each other. Allies and enemies change over time, but war is the way of the world: At times, Oceania is allied with one of the others, fighting the third; at other times, they are reversed. No one ever wins, nor is victory the intent.
Oceania’s goal is to keep its populace in a frenzied state of hatred against the nation’s enemies and therefore loyal to the Party. Strict obedience to the Party is enforced by several means.
One is the omnipresence of the secret police—the “Thought Police” who deploy an advanced two-way telescreen technology. Every building and home in the country has a telescreen, in virtually every room. The Thought Police can spy on you at any moment. They can see and hear you at will; “any sound . . . made, above the level of a low whisper would be picked up by [the telescreen].”1
Further, the Party imposes a daily “Two Minutes Hate.” Every day, every person in Oceania is required to drop everything else, stand in front of a telescreen, and scream vitriol at Oceania’s foreign enemy—and at its domestic traitors, Emmanuel Goldstein and the Brotherhood, most likely invented threats supposedly seeking to overthrow the Party. The Thought Police monitor this procedure sedulously, imposing prison sentences or death for those suspected of insufficiently spewing hate.
The population is kept in a state of relentless indoctrination. The Party controls every means of communication and uses them to disseminate its lies. Its history books claim that the Party invented the airplane. The Ministry of Truth rewrites past newspaper and magazine articles to suit the propaganda of the moment; the past is continually rewritten. If a Party member is purged for treason—real or imaginary—he is “vaporized,” not merely killed but written out of recorded history. It is treason, punishable by vaporization, to state the “delusional” belief that he ever lived. When the Party switches from fighting Eurasia to Eastasia, it claims that Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, all contrary writings are rewritten, and any opposing claim is considered treasonous.
The government is composed of four branches: the Ministry of Truth, which spreads the Party’s lies; the Ministry of Peace, which conducts relentless warfare; the Ministry of Love, which tortures and/or executes the Party’s enemies; and the Ministry of Plenty, which keeps the populace in perpetual poverty. The Party propagates three slogans: “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” “Ignorance is Strength.” The bulk of the citizenry receives little education and is kept in a state of ignorance in which the only absolute is: All truth comes from the Party. . . .
Click To Tweet
You might also like
1. George Orwell, 1984 (New York: Signet Classics, 1977), 3.
2. Orwell, 1984, 72.
3. Orwell, 1984, 209.
4. Orwell, 1984, 154.
5. Orwell, 1984, 125.
6. Orwell, 1984, 172–73.
7. Orwell, 1984, 287.
8. Orwell, 1984, 298.
9. The 2006 German film The Lives of Others provides a chilling and accurate account of the Stasi’s pervasive spying on East German civilians.
10. Orwell, 1984, 24.
11. Orwell, 1984, 233.
12. Orwell, 1984, 34.
13. Orwell, 1984, 51–53.
14. Orwell, 1984, 37–38.
15. Orwell, 1984, 1–2.
16. Orwell, 1984, 265.
17. Orwell, 1984, 265.
18. Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand (New York: Penguin, 1993), 18.
19. Peikoff, Objectivism, 18.
20. Eugene Lyons, Workers’ Paradise Lost (New York: Paperback Library, 1967), 322.
21. Lyons, Workers’ Paradise Lost, 322 (emphasis added).
22. Lyons, Workers’ Paradise Lost, 322.
23. Lyons, Workers’ Paradise Lost, 323.
24. Quoted in Lyons, Workers’ Paradise Lost, 324.
25. Lyons, Workers’ Paradise Lost, 324.
26. Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties (New York: HarperPerennial, 1992), 546.
27. Jean-Louis Margolin, “China: A Long March into Night,” in Stephane Courtois et al., eds., The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), 489.
28. Frank Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958–1962 (London: Bloomsbury, 2017), 39.
29. Dikotter, Mao’s Great Famine, 40.
30. Orwell, 1984, 263.
31. Orwell, 1984, 267.
32. Glenn Greenwald, “NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily,” The Guardian, June 6, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order.
33. Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, “NSA Prism Program Taps in to User Data of Apple, Google and Others,” The Guardian, June 7, 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data.
34. Matt Taibbi, “The Twitter Files, Part Six: Twitter, the FBI Subsidiary,” Twitter, December 16, 2022, https://twitter.com/mtaibbi/status/1603857534737072128.
35. Brian Lilley, “Twitter Files on COVID Show Government Attempts to Silence Dissent,” Toronto Sun, December 27, 2022. https://torontosun.com/opinion/columnists/lilley-twitter-files-on-covid-show-government-attempts-to-silence-dissent.
36. Jesse O’Neill, “Biden Admin Pushed to Bar Twitter Users for COVID ‘Disinformation,’ Files Show,” New York Post, December 26, 2022. https://nypost.com/2022/12/26/biden-admin-pushed-to-ban-twitter-users-for-covid-disinformation.
37. O’Neill, “Biden Admin Pushed to Bar Twitter Users for COVID ‘Disinformation.’”
38. O’Neill, “Biden Admin Pushed to Bar Twitter Users for COVID ‘Disinformation.’”
39. O’Neill, “Biden Admin Pushed to Bar Twitter Users for COVID ‘Disinformation.’”
40. “Government Is Not the Divine Source of ‘Truth,’” Spectator Australia, July 26, 2022, https://www.spectator.com.au/2022/07/government-is-not-the-divine-source-of-truth/.
41. Jill Goldenziel, “The Disnformation Governance Board Is Dead. Here’s The Right Way to Fight Disinformation,” Forbes, May 18, 2022. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jillgoldenziel/2022/05/18/the-disinformation-governance-board-is-dead-heres-the-right-way-to-fight-disinformation/?sh=4be5dd097a0b.
42. Ken Klippenstein and Lee Fang, “Truth Cops: Leaked Documents Outline DHS’s Plans to Police Disinformation,” The Intercept, October 31, 2022. https://theintercept.com/2022/10/31/social-media-disinformation-dhs/.
43. “Joseph Stalin Coins the Term Desinformatsiya (Disinformation),” Jerry Norman’s History of Information, https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=5069 (accessed January 30, 2023).
44. For details, see Andrew Bernstein, Why Johnny Still Can’t Read or Write or Understand Math: And What We Can Do about It (New York: Post Hill Press, 2022), xiii–xxiv, 3–8.
45. Shepard Barbash, “Science Betrayed,” City Journal, Winter 2021, https://www.city-journal.org/k-12-science-curriculum-environment; Zach Goldberg and Eric Kaufmann, “Yes, Critical Race Theory Is Being Taught in Schools,” October 20, 2022, https://www.city-journal.org/yes-critical-race-theory-is-being-taught-in-schools; Mary Grabar, Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America (Washington, DC: Regnery History, 2019), 90–93.
46. Bruce Golding, “NJ First-Graders to Learn about Gender Identity in New Sex-Ed Lessons,” New York Post, April 8, 2022, https://nypost.com/2022/04/08/nj-kids-to-learn-about-gender-identity-under-sex-ed-curriculum/; Ginny Gentles, “School Choice Can Save Children from Radical Gender Ideology,” Washington Examiner, August 18, 2022, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/restoring-america/community-family/school-choice-can-save-children-from-radical-gender-ideology; Brenda Álvarez, “Fair Play for Trans Girls and Women in School Sports,” National Education Association,” June 21, 2021, https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/fair-play-trans-girls-and-women-school-sports; “Guidance for Massachusetts Public Schools Creating a Safe and Supportive School Environment,” Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education,” https://www.doe.mass.edu/sfs/lgbtq/genderidentity.html (accessed February 13, 2023).
47. Charles Lane, “Is the U.S. Economy About to Slip on a Banana,” Washington Post, July 27, 2022, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/07/27/united-states-economy-recession/.