Orwell’s Big Brother

Rothbard’s review of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four (Harcourt, 1949) appeared in Analysis, September 1949, p. 4

In recent years, many writers have given us their vision of the coming collectivist future. At the turn of the century, neither Edward Bellamy nor H. G. Wells suspected that the collectivist societies of their dreams were so close at hand. As collectivism sprouted following World War I, many keen observers felt that there was a big difference between the idyllic Edens pictured by Bellamy and Wells and the actual conditions of the various “waves of the future.”

Notable among these revised forecasts of the world of the future were Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Ayn Rand’s Anthem. Both of their future worlds, evil as they were, had saving graces. Huxley’s future was spiritually dead, but at least the masses were happy; Ayn Rand’s dictators were timid, stupid men who permitted a renascent individualist to escape from the strangling collectivist world and begin life anew.

George Orwell’s collectivist Utopia has plugged all the loopholes. There is no hope at all for the individual or for humanity, and so the effect on the reader is devastating. Orwell’s future is run by a Party whose job is the total exercise of Power, and it goes about its job with diabolic efficiency and ingenuity. The Party represents itself as the embodiment of the principles of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. These principles turn out to be: blind, unquestioning obedience to the Party, and equally blind hatred of any person or group the Party proclaims as its enemy. These emotions are the only ones permitted to anybody; all others, such as personal and family love, are systematically stamped out.

All ideas are of course treasonable and subversive – the only persons permitted to live are those who unthinkingly parrot the Party Line. Any man with a bent for independent thought is subtly encouraged in his heresy by the Thought Police. Then, when he has come to realize the nature of the regime and hates it thoroughly, the Ministry of Love takes over and, via the most horrible forms of torture, burns out of him any spark of human dignity. Finally, the heretic goes to his slaughter convinced of the goodness of his persecutors. He dies loving the Party and its mythical leader, Big Brother. Not even martyrdom is permitted in the inferno of the future.

To accomplish its purpose of destroying the human mind and heart, the Party uses: constant propaganda, inducing all to love Big Brother and hate his enemies; the destruction of truth by continually altering historical records to conform to the ever-changing Party Line – thus history is destroyed and all truth flows from the Party; the destruction of language to make it impossible to think independent thoughts – by confusing the meaning of words and by introducing a new gibberish-language; and the destruction of logic by a process known as doublethink defined as the capacity to hold in one’s mind two contradictory beliefs at the same time.

One significant method that the Party uses to remain in power is to contrive to keep its country always at war with some other country. The other countries are also run by similar parties, though each have different names. By the process of doublethink every loyal Party member believes that his part will ultimately conquer the world, yet also recognizes that all the countries tacitly engage in a war that never becomes too “hot.” Thus, each Party has an excuse to starve and terrorize its subjects in the name of military necessity, while its ruler remains secure from any wartime disaster.

“I understand how,” said Winston Smith, the pathetic heretic of Nineteen Eight-Four,“but I don’t understand why.” Why does the Party do all this? One of its leaders explains:

“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others were cowards and hypocrites. They never had the courage to recognize their motives. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. How does one man assert his power over another? By making him suffer. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. In our world, there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement – a world of fear and treachery and torment. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face forever.” Orwell’s collectivist world of the future is doubtless a nightmare – but is it merely a dream?

7 responses to “Orwell’s Big Brother

  1. Steve Moxon writes:
    “It is also known that not only do people tend to withdraw attention from low status individuals, but that we have a neurochemical reward/punishment mechanism to reflect rewarding or punishing others according to their status. So it is that if you deal harshly with others perceived to be of lower status, then your stress indicators and stress hormones fall and ‘reward’ hormones flow in their place. If, on the other hand, you attempt to retaliate against a person perceived to be of higher status, then stress levels actually rise.The same mechanism is evident in various primate species, which is what we
    would expect for a ‘policing’ mechanism for a social structure as phylogenetically ancient as DH [dominance hierarchy].”

    Personally, I would reason that creeping totalitarianism is not just a product of collectivist ideologies, but more of a general failure to recognise and deal with our true nature.

    • Interesting….

      Perhaps socialism/collectivism is a sort of atavistic throwback to our own species-specific barbarian past…
      This is when all we did, or could do, post-the last-ice-age, was to assault the nearest set of caves/hutments where we’d not previously been for a few “seasons”, slaughter the males of any age (and/or eat their remains) and drag away their fertile wome/pubescent/pre-pubescent girls for fucking, so as we’d make more males later to assault the next hutments.

      We could always, of course, butcher and eat any females that “displeased us” (the sort of thing Saddam Hussein or the pig Mao would have done) throuhg our not having “come quickly enough” inside them, perhaps owing to their screams and struggles at our rape attempts.

      Oh, and we’d have confiscated any corralled animals that they might have had, for eating after we’d finished the remains of the slaughtered males, and also of the females that “displeased” us. Wed have strung ivy-strings round the poor bastard-animals’ necks, and dragged them away until they fell down choking. Mr Richard Blake ought to write a novel set in, say, Anatolia, in 14,000 BC, about a “feud” between two sets of hutments about 1,900 yards apart, competing for the same “grasses and pulse-seed-plants” and the same set of “breeding-goats”, in the same sort of “area”.

      He’d have a field-day.

      “Indigenous” “tribes” and “local people” – all the things that the GramscoFabiaNazis love to orgasmically (sorry) promote, are almost always disgusting. One almost imputs to the GFN bastards the wish that we – or those of us that might be left – are booted backwards to this sort of horror.

      Why any of the fellas (GFNs and “primitive tribes” – both) are still allowed to be here on our planet with us, without being fully-socialised by English Liberalism, is a mystery. But given a gun at my head and a decision to take, I’d forgive the “primitive tribes”, and I’d let them go free.


      • I’m only a lowly shelf stacker – not versed in any learned discipline, but my humble enquiries into the vast body of human knowledge is leading me to the idea that ‘liberalism’ (GFN) manifests when a nation’s rulers reach a relative level of comfort and security.

        The extremely prosperous nineteenth century Britain, for instance, showed off its status to the rest of the world with excessive displays of morality and tolerance – material wealth is never enough. Today, if someones says they don’t have a problem with mass-immigration, what they’re really trying to convey is that they are so financially secure that immigrants pose no threat to their livelihoods. If you complain about mass immigration, then you are conveying to your betters that your status is low or insecure.

        Like gamekeepers in a wildlife park, our rulers don’t have a problem with their subordinates reverting to a feral state – as long as it doesn’t threaten the rulers themselves. Single parenthood (something the rulers rarely practice themselves) has a regressive affect on the lower strata of society (crime, child abuse, domestic violence, poor achievement etc.). I’ve seen unconfirmed figures that only 40% of men are mating with the 80% of the women who conceive – just like hunter-gatherer times again. Thuggish traits being the most likely to be passed on in the gene-pool.

        So is excessive tolerance from above really an unconscious evolved mechanism to ensure that those who lord over us stay that way? The old nobility had to mix with their ‘social inferiors’ on a daily basis, even as children, so they developed more empathy. ‘Superior acts of virtue’ would often have to come out of their own pockets and entail risk – there was no bottomless public purse back then. All these factors helped to keep their behaviour in check.

  2. [Pulled from our spam filter on the 23rd July 2013. Apologies]

    If I had been around at the time I would have assumed (as most people then associated with Rothbard then did) that Rothbard was attacking Stalin’s Soviet Union and Mao’s China as evil totalitarian regimes of the sort that George Orwell warned of.

    It only became obvious much later that Rothbard treated the Unted States of Harry Truman or of Eisenhower as fundamentally similar to these totalitarian powers (as the third one).

    Did Rothbard really believe this nonsense? Or was he just playing games? I doubt we will ever really know – and now the matter is between the late Murray Rothbard and God. If there is a God.

  3. OT but amusing–Tht Honest Courtesan blog reports that some New York coppers have been driving around blaring out the Darth Vader March from Star Wars.The leadership of NY’s least fine are not amused at this open statement of whose side the cops arte on. Here is the link to the original story–the comments are funny: