Orwell, Politics, and Power

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Orwell. and Power Craig L. Carr . Politics.

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For my students

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Contents
Preface 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 THE EVOLUTION OF OCEANIA THE MORAL IMAGINATION THE PRICE OF POVERTY REVOLTING PIGS TECHNOLOGIES OF POWER GOD IS POWER ORWELL INTO THE FUTURE ix 1 16 37 59 84 106 128 155 161

Bibliography Index

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My inclination as a political theorist is to take what is perhaps Orwell’s finest novel. What follows differs from the multitude of previous studies of Orwell by taking him seriously as a political thinker and deriving a “political message” (of sorts) from his works that qualifies (or so it is argued) as a timeless contribution to the political thought of the liberal tradition. might this outcome be averted? My aim here is to expose and articulate answers to both these questions. The moral of my story is relatively straightforward and can be put simply: Orwell’s fears about power becoming its own end resulted from his general belief that liberal political culture was under attack in his day by social and economic forces that undermine and erode the foundational ix . The novel troubles chiefly because in this novel Orwell supposes that power has become an end in itself and is no longer simply a means to some other desired end. answers derived from Orwell’s political writings. If his warning is that this possibility is (1) very real and (2) important to avoid. Orwell himself indicated that his novel was a warning. it is not another book about George Orwell. readers can legitimately wonder (1) why is (and not was) this possibility a potential political outcome for modern society and (2) how. as a source of puzzlement and consternation. nor is this yet another literary critique of Orwell’s writings or an evaluation of his prose reflections upon the political and social conditions of his day. if at all. I shall suggest that Orwell’s enduring contribution to political thought and theory. I take the distinctive political writings within Orwell’s literary corpus as a source of inspiration for theorizing about contemporary political issues and themes. I have not attempted to offer yet another biography of Orwell. have already been written. Nineteen Eighty-Four. needless to say. however.Preface This is a book about George Orwell’s political thought. on what his warning was supposed to be about. These works. rests with the political significance of these answers. In so doing. he was less clear. as well as his contemporary relevance for political thinking.

A careful exploration of Orwell’s political writings can thus do much to sensitize his readers to the important need to cultivate. and I fear any attempt to acknowledge them all will leave someone. Stu Scheingold. Norm Greene. and defend those fundamental values that prevent political decay and domesticate political power. Jeff Wade and Chris Cooney. and frequently is. This lesson. undergraduates and graduates alike. I am indebted to him for his help and support. Steve Lansing. Nonetheless. Over the years I have gained a strong appreciation for Orwell’s political works as a rich source of theoretical problems and challenges that repay political inquiry and theoretical rumination. John Mansfield. a source of inspiration and insight that transcends the design of the artist. Nathan Austin. Brad Maier. Lori Kinder. Orwell worried that truth was fading out of the world. I have incurred many debts in the process of putting this study together. Dean Darris. I benefited greatly from the able research assistantship of David Robinson. Karen Csaijko. moreover. and the present study brings an order and focus to these problems and challenges that expose a political lesson I think worth understanding and evaluating. is as valuable and significant today as it was in Orwell’s time and has not faded in importance with the collapse of Soviet communism and fascism— the two political movements that were of primary concern to Orwell during his lifetime. Gwen Thompson. and perhaps many. Gary Scott read earlier versions of the manuscript and offered many helpful and important insights on how things might be improved. though I think I really do get Orwell right when I say that I think Orwell would respect this point. I want to thank the many students. and Robin Barklis.x PREFACE beliefs and convictions of liberal political morality. Stephen Moore. my thanks to each of them. and it is a pleasure at this point to repay them. It is the lesson that matters and not the struggle to get Orwell right (whatever this is taken to mean). Dan Enbysk. out. Jennifer Pennell. Greg Hill. preserve. my thanks to Dick Flathman. and for this I am most grateful. Whether George Orwell would smile on the lesson I have drawn from his political writings is neither here nor there. and more importantly. Tony Lott. fading out of the world. . I make no claim to have gotten Orwell right or to have exposed the “true meaning” (whatever this would seem to mean) contained within Orwell’s political art. Chuck White. who have traveled through my class on Orwell’s political thought. I’ve chatted over the years with many friends and colleagues about Orwell and his political concerns. Lastly. but underlying and supporting this worry was his deeper concern that what he prosaically called decency was also. As usual. It is now rather taken as granted that art can be. Bill Lund. Bruce Gilley sent many helpful suggestions and thoughts my way.

Preface

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The eagerness and enthusiasm with which young readers engage Orwell’s political writings has never ceased to amaze me and is certainly emphatic testimony to Orwell’s great success as a writer. The questions, comments, and concerns expressed by my students have almost surely had a far greater effect on the formation of my own thoughts on Orwell than I can even begin to imagine. But for their efforts, curiosity, and dogged interest in Orwell’s political thinking I doubt that this book would ever have come into being. It seems only fitting, then, that I should dedicate this work to each and every one of them with my most sincere thanks.

We are subjected to the production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth. Michel Foucault

Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian Dictatorships—an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction. The autonomous individual is going to be stamped out of existence. George Orwell

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1
The Evolution of Oceania
On January 20, 1950, a writer died. He was not regarded at the time as a great writer, and he is probably still not regarded as a great writer by many. But he wrote a great book, though it is perhaps fair to say that it is not regarded as a great novel—a minor classic, perhaps, but not a great novel. But a novel can be a great book without also being a great novel, and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a case in point. Since this is a book about Orwell’s book, I want to introduce what follows by saying something about why I think Nineteen Eighty-Four is a great book. But first a disclaimer. I’m happy to take the word of many a literary critic on the artistic status of Nineteen Eighty-Four. If they say, as they invariably do, that Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a great novel—not equal, say, to the likes of Joyce’s Ulysses or Mann’s Magic Mountain, I’m in no position to argue. I put bread on the table by wondering out loud about the traditional and enduring problems of political theory, and when it comes to the wonderful world of literature, I’m just an admiring novice. But political thinking is not confined to political theory. Many thinkers and writers contribute to the world of political thought even though they do not do so in the traditional fashion of the political philosopher. George Orwell was one such thinker and writer. His medium was literature but his message was political. I’m interested here in the message, not the medium. His passion for art certainly came to him before his obsession with politics, and the two blended sometimes awkwardly in his writing. He was not a particularly philosophical thinker, and though a voracious reader, it is unclear how much time he spent exploring the history of political ideas, though his biographers leave the impression that it wasn’t much. But his interest in politics is in plain view, and he came to believe that “no book is genuinely free from political bias” (Orwell, 1946a: 313). His interest in
1

Perhaps this is more typical than atypical. So I want to treat Orwell’s last novel as a work of political theory and explore the direction in which its author wished to push the world. AND POWER politics. or Marx had died at age forty-six!) This is tragic not only because of Orwell’s untimely passing. But it is something that is commonly associated with the enterprise of political theory.1 1 The claim that Orwell’s political thought culminates in Nineteen EightyFour requires some qualification. in one fairly tragic sense. but also because there are indications in Nineteen Eighty-Four that his political thinking was beginning to head in new directions and migrating away from the concerns that were the focus of attention in his early years. This is not necessarily something that all political theorists want to do. I intend to suppose that the political purpose that drove Orwell’s writing involved a theoretical inquiry into political life of the sort that has a traditional association with political theory. that is the subject of this book. Locke. then. I do think that someone who pursues this kind of agenda is likely to be of interest to political theorists. and while I don’t want to say that this sort of intellectual agenda characterizes what it means to do political theory. and he succumbed to the tuberculosis that had troubled him most of his life. ebb and flow. It is true. POLITICS. That is. Thinkers—political or otherwise—rarely stop thinking. Viewing his novel as the culmination of Orwell’s political thought should not be understood. It is this inquiry. he tells us. where his art and his politics might have taken us. involves the “[d]esire to push the world in a certain direction. . Kant. but for his unfortunate death. they just run out of time. to imply that the work provides us with the completion of a coherent political edifice available for analysis and critique by future generations. Hobbes.: 312–13). But it is worth wondering where Orwell’s political thoughts might have gone. of course. (Imagine what our world would look like if. The sense I have in mind is tragic because this culmination is the result of Orwell’s premature death. its twists and turns. and the political insights associated with this culmination explain why it is altogether appropriate to call this work a great book. say. This inquiry culminates in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. At the rather young age of forty-six—a point in life when many political thinkers are just getting going—his frail lungs finally gave out. nor is it necessarily something that only political theorists attempt to do. to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after” (Ibid.2 ORWELL.

The futuristic character of the story is illustrated primarily by the book’s chosen title: Nineteen Eighty-Four—a point some thirty-six years in the future of the time Orwell completed the work in 1948. It is hardly the technically progressive place Aldous Huxley imagined in Brave New World or the scientifically and rationally driven place Yevgeny Zamyatin portrays in We (Huxley. though hardly ultimate.” but eventually abandoned this title in favor of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (Cf. The largest class in Oceania. To understand and appreciate this paradox. The mythical visage of Big Brother. and decently. as we shall see. however. Orwell’s famous proles.The Evolution of Oceania 3 As it is. itself the third most populous of the provinces of Oceania” (Orwell. Bowker. Orwell’s story is set in his future. the novel’s curious protagonist. Though the story is officially futuristic.3) Technological sophistication is restricted to strategies of surveillance—to the apparently omnipresent telescreens that conjure up images of Bentham’s panopticon. his most enduring political legacy. is rather unfortunate since the former choice is considerably more evocative. 1972). Zamyatin. “a minority of one.2 Orwell initially thought to call the book. the humanized symbol of political legitimacy and totalitarian control (at the same time!). and more humane. The setting is the city of London in 1984. He is a self-proclaimed revolutionary with the temerity to want a better political world and the courage to work for it. but they are largely left to themselves by the inner party and are dismissed as politically indolent. is everywhere. expression of Orwell’s political thought. and he longs for a time when Big Brother will be eliminated and the people of Oceania can again live peacefully. we are left with Nineteen Eighty-Four as the final. it is necessary to rehearse quickly the basics of the story Orwell tells in Nineteen Eighty-Four and to acknowledge his own declared message that motivated his decision to tell his story this way. 2003: 382). constitutes eighty-five percent of the population. In the midst of this horrific situation lives Winston Smith. (The latter novel in particular seems to have served as something of a template for Orwell’s story. Winston has no love for Big Brother. This. however. civilly. Yet the book can be seen as a culmination of sorts. the future Orwell imagined is dreary and stagnant. A cruel and sadistic inner party rules its outer party colleagues with a brutal fist and sophisticated cunning. about a time before Big Brother when he supposes things were simpler. I believe. 1961: 7). The text presents us with his finest and most troubling construction of the political paradox that is. “chief city of Airstrip One. more decent.” who fails . He wonders about the past. “The Last Man in Europe. 1932. a deviant. Oceania is a place where things have gone horribly and irreparably wrong. He is also. though the particular future he chose is now our past.

he is now able to be a citizen once again. But this is not the point of view that Orwell urges us to adopt. Poor Winston has lost the ability to fathom the world in which he lives. and all that much more paradoxical at the same time. To survive. abandoning unreason for reason. we can find some reason to think it might be a happy story. Thanks to O’Brien. just as we must deal with the unreasonable in our own culture. Winston Smith. really was voluntary. this is not the point of view that most readers do adopt. In Oceania. POLITICS. that is. Why should readers rush to take the side of the deviant here? Still. In biological terms. his return to the loving breast. the seat of reason. Winston recognized and understood the previous error of his ways and made the appropriate adjustment.4 ORWELL. wrong to suppose either that Winston wasn’t really transformed into a reasonable citizen of Oceania or that Winston was simply tortured into a passive acceptance of O’Brien’s insanity. was reasoned back to health. Winston is cured thanks to the intervention of his tormentor/savior O’Brien who nurses Winston back to sanity. If they don’t. if they are driven by what Foucault calls “unreason. back to Big Brother’s loving breast. as O’Brien emphasizes. the organism is at war with its environment. whose deviance is hard to ignore.” they must be dealt with by society (Foucault. and ironically. the organism must adapt to its environment. Winston is dealt with. this is not all that disturbs. and for the most part. It is. and when this happens. for he loves Big Brother. Yet this is what makes the story all that much more terrible and disturbing. At novel’s end. The finality of Winston’s defeat deep in the bowels of the Ministry of Love is also a haunting feature of the story. 1965). The plot of the novel is focused upon a particular individual. they must participate in social mind. He again belongs. This looks on the surface like a tale of deviance overcome. Winston is cured. AND POWER to grasp the nature and the logic of the world in which he lives. one might plausibly ask is this not a happy book? The question might seem strange given the exaggerated cruelty and torture present in the novel. so why is this not a happy book? Is a bit of torture enough to change our minds about this? Seen from O’Brien’s point of view. I suppose we can say that Orwell’s story does have a happy ending. though he now awaits the bullet in the back of his head. Winston. As is typical of successful psychological treatment for unreason. They must be reasonable. I want to insist. Why. Individuals must belong to their social world or they cannot function within it. There is paradox lurking here. I also want to insist. the organism cannot survive. . But if we put this aside for the moment and think only about what transpires in the text.

The Evolution of Oceania

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The demise of Winston’s personal revolution is accompanied by the realization that no revolution is possible in Oceania. History, in Hegelian terms, has ended. There will be no political transformations in Oceania; political change has ended because Big Brother will not let it happen. In other antiutopian fiction, readers are usually treated to a bit of optimism at the end. In Zamyatin’s We, for example, the revolution is on the verge of success at the story’s close, and the One State seems headed for final collapse. But there will be no such collapse in Oceania because the inner party won’t allow it to happen and it has the power to prevent it from happening. Things in Oceania are hopeless, and this pessimistic realization is certainly one reason why the book is not a happy one. But this also invites another important question: Why did Orwell elect to write such a depressing and pessimistic book, or a book that seems depressing and pessimistic from our point of view? There is apparently no consoling message here, no hint of optimism, no idealistic identification of something enduring in the human breast that protects against evil eternally and promises a happy resolution to the political threats human beings seem constantly to face. The hopelessness of the story makes Orwell’s book scary, and this suggests a not altogether inappropriate answer to the question about why Orwell elected to write this book. He wrote it because he wanted to write a scary story—and he succeeded. Sometimes writers tell stories simply because they want to scare their audience, but of course there are different kinds of scary stories. Ghost stories often scare us; that is most certainly their point. But they have little point beyond this, and when viewed in the light of day and the sobriety of reason, they seem rather silly. Other stories scare for a purpose, perhaps to get us to change our ways or to encourage us to avoid situations that are dangerous or unwelcome. Orwell wrote a scary story for a purpose like this. At one point, Orwell, in poor health and apparently depressed over misunderstandings of the work that flourished in the United States shortly after its release there, dictated a few comments about his purpose behind the novel to his English publisher, Warburg, who then wrote them up and offered them in the form of a press release. Among other things, the release said, “The moral to be drawn from this dangerous nightmare situation is a simple one: Don’t let it happen. It depends on you” (Crick, 1980: 395, italics in original). But what is the “it” that has happened and that we should labor to avoid? If we suppose the “it” is Oceania, we need to get to the genuinely horrifying features of this mythical place that we need to avoid and ask how and why it happened. We must, that is, spend a bit of time analyzing the novel, unpacking its mysteries, and grasping the sordid logic that

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ORWELL, POLITICS, AND POWER

produced this terrible place. We must see why this is a depressing and pessimistic book and not a happy one, discern its really scary side, and think about what lesson Orwell wanted to teach us that might help us prevent its happening. It is perhaps best to understand this statement of Orwell’s purpose as a warning backed by a plea: “Don’t let it happen.” But the plea can matter to us only if we recognize and appreciate the nature of the warning. Orwell felt that socio-political forces were pushing his posterity toward Oceania and that something like this nightmare state could in fact come into being (Ibid.). But it could also be avoided; it was not too late, at least in 1948 (Ibid.: 398). In this sense, the work is not a prediction of the future but a description of political trends and forces that push in a direction Orwell hoped human beings could avoid. He wanted to scare his readers to get their attention, to set them to thinking politically about the direction their political world was heading. It is altogether easy to pick up Nineteen EightyFour today, notice that the year that has come to symbolize the story is now long past, realize that Oceania is not with us, and answer Orwell’s warning triumphantly by saying, “We didn’t!” It is easy, in other words, to suppose that the threat Orwell imagined and the political danger he foresaw have passed. Things have changed in the world and the specter of totalitarianism that loomed on the horizon of the early and middle part of the twentieth century is now little more than a distant memory. The warning is no longer necessary, we might suppose, and if Nineteen Eighty-Four continues to scare modern readers, it does so only in the fashion of a ghost story. Such a judgment, however, remains premature. Before we can adopt such confidence, we should learn a bit more about the “it” that scares. And the “it” that scares involves that traditional and bedeviling problem of political thought: Living with political power. We can’t live without it, but how can we manage to learn to live with it? The “it” that scares, then, is the prospect of losing the struggle to domesticate political power, and once domesticated, to keep it under control. This is not a problem that can pass with time. As long as political power is with us, as it seems it must eternally be, the problem is also with us. Here it is best to let Orwell speak for himself, or rather, to notice him speaking through the apparent villain of Nineteen Eighty-Four, O’Brien. During his torture/cure at O’Brien’s hands, Winston is taught a terrifying lesson about life in Oceania. The logic of Big Brother is nowhere more forcefully described than when O’Brien tells Winston: We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish

The Evolution of Oceania

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a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to safeguard the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. (Orwell, 1961: 217) And if this is not horrifying enough, O’Brien continues in a fashion that signals Orwell’s fears about the end of history: But always—do not forget this, Winston—always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever. (Ibid.: 220) Such passages are certainly intended to scare, and to scare with a purpose that we can rightly understand to be timeless. Oceania—in fact, all of humankind it would seem—has lost its struggle with political power in the novel. It is no longer domesticated or even able to be domesticated. It now rules without qualification or compromise, and it will continue to do so forever. If humankind succumbs to totalitarianism, there is no escaping it—forever.

2
This is surely an end to history that anyone possessing something like a liberal spirit should want to avoid. And if Orwell saw the prospects of Oceania, or something like it, on the political horizon, he did well to warn us against it. But two matters are still a source of trouble. First, if Orwell believed he saw a totalitarian future for humankind, why did he not elect to warn us in a more direct and specific manner? Why build his warning into a novel rather than an essay or treatise? Why, that is, did he elect to put his warning obscurely and inchoately in a form that could easily be misunderstood or misconceived? Second, if he indeed intended Nineteen Eighty-Four as a warning, he must have thought that totalitarian control was possible and perhaps even probable. His warning, this is to say, must be credible and not merely fanciful. He must have had reasons to think that something like Oceania really could happen, and if his warning was to be credible, he must do something to convince his readers that his reasons for thinking Oceania could happen are valid and pertinent.

and the medium with which he was most comfortable. To anticipate somewhat the analysis to follow. then. the fate of humanity. viz. Power has become an end in itself. gained absolute control of a new mega-state. Torture and coercion are perhaps the most familiar examples of these old. makes good on his claim that the novel is intended to serve as a warning. Old technologies of power were particularly crude. and his answers must be reasonable and compelling. write a novel intended as a warning about a political crisis that threatened. His reflections on this score foreshadow the eclipse of the individual by detailing the complete dependency of individual mind. It is the second issue. and to which he was most dedicated. and hence individual will. As we shall see. Perhaps all we really need to know on this score is that Orwell wanted to marry politics with art. on what might be called social mind. and now exerts totalitarian control over a segment of the population simply because it wants to exercise power for its own sake. The new technologies of power that Orwell saw coming into being manage a more thorough control of the individual by capturing the mind and thereby controlling the will automatically. that is the subject of what follows. They involved strategies of control that depended upon controlling individual will by threatening the body or the mind. increasingly dated technologies of power. and may continue to threaten.” This raises two crucial questions that Orwell rightly elects to emphasize in his novel: How did this happen? And. But this should not stop the political theorist from exploring the more philosophical aspects and implications of his thought. why did it happen? To serve as an effective warning against a real political possibility.8 ORWELL. POLITICS. AND POWER I’m not concerned here with the first of these issues. Taken together the answers to these questions establish the possibility of a state like Oceania coming into being. I think Orwell answers the how question by detailing in subtle and powerful ways the emergence of what I will call (and with apologies to Foucault who uses the term in a slightly different way) new technologies of power that are mastered and refined by inner party tyrants. The political world has morphed into a totalitarian nightmare. Orwell must answer both these questions. It raises a biographical question that is largely irrelevant to what Orwell did in fact do. He had a message he wished to leave his posterity. We know from the story Orwell tells what has happened. The result is a “boot stamping on a human face—forever. and by so doing. happened to be literature.. Orwell does put compelling answers to both these questions. Orwell’s account of these technologies and their use to eclipse the integrity of the independent individual could easily be taken as the most . An all-powerful ruling elite has risen. and in Orwell’s view.

It is one thing to persuade readers that new technologies of power exist and that they make possible the eclipse of the individual as we understand him or her. It might incline its possessors to suppose. To understand his answer to the why question. Power. (If someone like this was around. The change that Orwell imagines taking place here involves a shift away from thinking about power as a means to some desired end and toward thinking about it as an end in itself. might go to one’s head and produce ego-maniacal beings with no regard for others whom they deem to be inferior. for no one is around with the power to compel them to do so. as Hobbes has famously noticed. and then a question about how to keep this someone from abusing his or her power would simply arise again—an insight that takes us back to the paradox of political power. they would really be in charge. Why would one want to exercise power for its own sake? And how could such a transformation in the psychology of power possibly have happened? These are questions Orwell must answer if his warning is . This is where Orwell is the most interesting.The Evolution of Oceania 9 unsettling aspect of the entire novel. The result is an insensitivity that can produce a great deal of inhumanity. Most everyone is familiar with Lord Acton’s famous quip that power corrupts. Power is desirable. at least from the standpoint of political theory. On the standard view. too morally flawed.) Rather than rule in the public interest. but it is quite another to demonstrate that someone might actually be inclined to put them to the use Orwell imagined in Nineteen Eighty-Four. it will be helpful to juxtapose Orwell’s recognition of new technologies of power with his anticipation of changes in what I will call the psychology of power. But his vivid portrayal of the effectiveness of these new technologies actually pales in comparison to what he says about the why question. this is to say. and absolute power corrupts absolutely. power corrupts because humans are too weak. those in possession of political power can use their power to rule in their own interest and betray those they are presumably in power to serve. Of course. This makes Orwell’s claim that power has become an end in itself all the more puzzling. this is to say. that they really are superior beings. at least ideally. These technologies of power threaten only when there is reason to believe that someone might actually want and intend to put them to use. to avoid temptation. But the powerful need not meet their responsibilities if they elect not to. But power here still serves some further end—in this case the ego—and thus still seems to fall rather short of being an end in itself. power might corrupt in other ways as well. for example. because with it one can get whatever else one wants. Responsibility typically accompanies political power.

Julia. falls to sleep when Winston reads them to her. like the old technologies of power. More importantly. 3 By way of prelude to what follows. 1961: 152–78). At one point in his persecution/cure. AND POWER to be credible. elements of which we have already rehearsed. Orwell intended it to be something like possible history. He tells us a good deal about the mythical state of Oceania. In a lovely example of his sense of humor. but they pose no particular danger in themselves. Winston’s love interest in the story. for here we learn about the political philosophy that has come into prominence in Oceania. They become dangerous. If Oceania is to be averted. These passages are not just tedious tangents to the story. Perhaps good political theory sometimes makes for bad literature. it might be helpful to say a bit more about the political world Orwell has imagined in Nineteen Eighty-Four. bereft of any real significance. In this they are no different from the old technologies of power which have been with human beings almost forever. detailing their triumph and displaying the logic and political philosophy of Oceania. The new technologies of power Orwell foresaw are already in place. We learn about life there. and for good reason. and we shall discuss the answers he puts to them near the end of the discussion. of course. The key passages I refer to are to be found in Emmanuel Goldstein’s book. and we learn about how Oceania has come into being and how it operates. since Goldstein’s book is officially presented as the bible for a revolutionary conspiracy dedicated to putting an end to the reign of Big Brother. There is no such conspiracy. only when some group or clique elects to exploit them and use them to achieve the totalitarian control they make possible. Yet Orwell seemed aware that they would be considered tedious by some.10 ORWELL. Orwell builds this little book into his story in order to provide a bit of historical background that explains the evolution of Oceania. POLITICS. . in reality. For now it is important only to appreciate that it is really this transformation that matters most in Orwell’s warning. of course. and the book was actually prepared by elements of the inner party. they are crucial aspects of Orwell’s political thought. There is considerable irony in this. The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism (Orwell. it will only be because we have found a way to avert this change in the psychology of power. but the fact that Orwell seemed not to care about this possibility is some indication of the importance he attached to this bit of theorizing. It is. They may similarly have put many a naïve reader to sleep. their bible.

The high wants to retain its position of privilege. political conflict is presented as a form of class struggle. The high. notice that increased wealth and the considerable rate of productivity introduced by capitalism has raised the general educational level. . and O’Brien assures Winston that as a matter of description they are in fact quite true (Ibid. class conflict continues apace. by what ever name it called itself. without laws and without brute labor. but once the middle has replaced the high. . but Goldstein’s book suggests the following scenario. and fraternity that momentarily stir the low into a shallow political consciousness. But the middle has historically succeeded in momentarily galvanizing the political allegiance of the low and bringing about revolutionary change. This inclined the low to be discontented with its lot in life and to insist more strongly on . The reasons for this transformation are rather elusive. for example. and the low yearn for equality insofar as they have any political consciousness at all. and the low. By the middle of the twentieth century the noble vision became discredited. usually by rallying the lower class to its cause. ” (Ibid. seeking to retain their position of privilege.: 215). At this apparently pivotal moment in human history all elements of political thought became authoritarian. thus making the low more aware of their predicament. . often by trumpeting political ideals like liberty. the middle struggles to change places with the high. meliorist vision of “an earthly paradise in which men should live together in a state of brotherhood. Goldstein’s book tells us that political history is a story of conflict between three fundamental and apparently ineradicable classes: the high. justice. led back to hierarchy and regimentation” (Ibid. they pose no real threat to the high because they “are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives . are said to have been inspired by this noble vision. ” (Ibid. The British. The middle is described as the historical instigator of political change because it works to unseat the high. and readers are told that the jealousies of a new and emergent middle is responsible for all this. and ironically at just the moment when it seemed potentially realizable. But Goldstein’s book explains that this historical class struggle is not an eternal condition. . Following a tradition that begins with Aristotle and is developed importantly by Machiavelli. Behind Orwell’s account of class conflict there lurks a noble. the middle. French. and American revolutions. .: 168). and “[e]very new political theory. each with its own particular interests.). If those who belong to the low are left to their own devices.The Evolution of Oceania 11 Winston asks O’Brien whether the materials in the book are true.: 166).

At some point the people are sure to revolt against the yoke of oppression. For reasons that we shall explore shortly. for Winston insists. This is a description of tyranny refined and perfected. The new oligarchy is a motley collection of “bureaucrats. POLITICS. “As compared with their opposite numbers in past ages. the less the high have to fear from them. and the more tyrannical their leadership becomes. happen in Oceania. even though he knows better. that the future . The belief that the people will finally arise and unseat their oppressors is presented by Orwell as a feature of Winston’s dementia. Orwell claims here that poverty paralyzes the low and leaves them incapable of thought— political or otherwise. the high are able to enslave the middle and continually oppress it in a fashion that guarantees the oligarchical structure of Oceania will not be destabilized. In a curious twist on the Marxist account of the process by which the proletariat presumably comes to consciousness. Thus history is frozen. the idea of tyranny has now fully manifest itself—the rational has become the horrible. Tyranny is bound to be unstable. This leaves only the middle as the political enemy of the high. Tyrannies have enemies within. the high became frightened by this political pressure and strategically worked to defend its position of privilege by reducing overall wealth and throwing the low into a condition of abject poverty. In spite of the ideals presented to them by the noble political vision of a just and egalitarian civil order. and apparently cannot. Yet this is the very prospect that Orwell wants to insist will not. journalists. the more enemies they make. the greater the impoverishment of the low. sociologists. and the horrible has become the real. Orwell does not allow Goldstein to tell us much about this impregnable ruling clique that constitutes the inner party—the new high class. and to remain so.12 ORWELL. publicity experts. Viewed from the icy logic of political science. but they will still hope for something better. precisely because it is tyrannical. and professional politicians” (Ibid. We are told only that. trade-union organizers. more conscious of what they were doing and more intent on crushing opposition” (Ibid. Goldstein’s tale is as curious as it is upsetting. and thanks to new developments in the technology of power. They may get only another tyrant for their efforts. scientists. less tempted by luxury.: 169). to resort once more to Hegelian jargon. technicians. AND POWER the ideal of equality.). the structure of Oceania should make no sense. Their ability to refine the new technologies of power at their disposal allowed them to transcend the half-hearted tyrannies of the past and achieve one of the great goals of political thought: a stable and enduring political order. they were less avaricious. teachers. hungrier for pure power. and above all.

Still the object of torture is torture. Orwell’s inner party. Still the boot continues to stamp on the human face! This is the chilling condition Orwell invites us to try and understand. but he both understood and appreciated the historical forces at work that Burnham had noticed. and history. The new high. and much of the political success of the story can be attributed to his considerable success in doing so. History. from James Burnham. there is no future. Thus the crucial political challenge facing Orwell’s world was to not let this future come about. He offers us an account of history where political ideals serve class interests only. Thus Big Brother is eternal. They were. Orwell thought. Orwell needed to make this counter-intuitive description of political development believable. he believed. The particulars are borrowed largely. But still there is the obsession with power. is measured here not by its artistic stature but by the political theory it contains and the . Orwell’s historical account of Oceania is hardly bereft of logic. and the lessons it learns enables it to solidify its position of privilege by isolating and pauperizing the low and completely subjugating the middle. but its logic turns Marxist optimism on its head. quite real. understood as a saga of political change. for the people—both the low and the middle—are seemingly unaware of any oppression in anything approaching significant numbers. ends when class interests completely capture and obliterate political ideals. if the future lies with the proles. Totalitarian control of the middle means that the middle class will no longer be able to radicalize the lower class. fathom’s the logic of history.4 Orwell found little merit in Burnham’s predictions. 4 By the end of this book readers should understand why I think Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four is a great book. and perhaps something below will persuade readers to agree with me.The Evolution of Oceania 13 lies with the proles. and the lower class is simply incapable of radicalizing itself. And this is the world he urges his posterity to avoid. The people will not awaken politically and throw off the yoke of oppression. if not entirely. But as O’Brien forcefully illustrates. The history/future described in Goldstein’s book is not Orwell’s history/ future. though they lacked the determinist rigor Burnham ascribed to them. Its greatness. however. could go this way if people were not careful and not attuned to the forces pushing in this direction. So to make his warning plausible. whose speculations about the inevitable rise of a managerial class caught Orwell’s attention on more than one occasion.

AND POWER political problems it explores. Next we need to understand the initial target of his political concern and the way his life experiences helped shape his hatred of imperialism and poverty. Orwell had something important and provocative to say about this paradox. we can learn from it. as a political theorist. But of course it is hardly possible to separate an artist from his art so completely. I have said that this is a book about Orwell’s book. Instead. I write. If we recur to thinking of Nineteen Eighty-Four as a culmination. POLITICS. but such objections are of no concern to me because I’m not really concerned with Orwell/Blair the writer. and finally. I’m concerned instead with what Orwell wrote. because I’m interested in the political paradox I find at the center of Orwell’s political writings and because on my reading of his work. the two elements of political dominance that initially troubled him. I want to consider the evolution of Oceania in terms of a set of concerns that emerge as Orwell’s political thinking progresses. but first we must decipher its lessons. and my aim is to tell a coherent story about the political thought I find there. of sorts.14 ORWELL. As students of politics. not to get Orwell right (whatever that . Works of political theory endure and reach the stature of greatness because they continue to speak with pertinence to the human condition. Rather. And that is the purpose of this book. concerns that help configure his literary journey. Orwell scholars may object that I have ignored certain aspects of Orwell’s life or distorted others. First of all. especially Nineteen Eighty-Four interests me. This odyssey is not intended as biography. But this is not the way I intend to proceed here. In particular. because they continue to shed an element of insight into how we might address profitably the political challenges we continue to face. By this I mean to signal that this is not a book about George Orwell or Eric Blair—Orwell’s given name. We need to know a bit about the artist to fathom the meaning behind the art. we need to see how Orwell’s story develops out of Orwell’s life and his other works. we need to become familiar with Orwell’s moral focus and explore the way this focus turned him in the direction of political thinking. to his ultimate political warning. This will take us to his fears about fascism and totalitarianism. Orwell’s confrontation with the problem of political power belongs to this category of political thought. Orwell’s work. of Orwell’s political thinking. it becomes important to see how this culmination has grown out of his previous reflections on politics. it is essential background that should permit us to place Nineteen Eighty-Four in its proper political perspective and make sense out of Orwell’s political claims. One way to do this is to consider his literary offerings in their historical progression.

4. Orwell published a review of Zamyatin’s work in a Tribune article on January 4. and no doubt several works of fiction substantially influenced the construction of Orwell’s novel. The book was published in England under the title. Orwell’s most extensive discussion of Burnham is “James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution. nor is it likely to be the last. and I will follow him in this practice. The Managerial Revolution (1941). and Michael Maddison. Orwell finally managed to procure a French translation—the French title is Nous Autres—and his review is based upon this.” Orwell. my medium corresponds with its message. which was written around 1920 (though Orwell puts the date at around 1923) had been censored in the Soviet Union but was published abroad in English (1924). and The Machiavellians (1943). (1956). French. I’m not inclined to explore the literary origins of the story.” (Orwell. my aim is to analyze and assess its political significance. 1969. my aim is to produce a piece of political theory. “Nineteen Eighty-Four. Notes 1. it is also easy to overestimate the influence Zamyatin’s work had on Orwell. For Burnham’s influence on Orwell. But unlike previous books. Lief. 1968c:160–81). This is hardly the only book that has been written about Orwell’s book (Cf. I make no apologies as long as my political message is relatively clear. Unlike Orwell’s novel. instead. See James Burnham. “1984. 3. see Christopher Hollis. . but to bring to light what I think he said that is important to understanding and domesticating the problem of political power. Steinhoff. and if it happens that I’ve gotten Orwell wrong (whatever that might mean). 2. 1975). 1975: 3–29. The book.The Evolution of Oceania 15 might mean). wrote the date out rather than putting it in numerical form. 1946. however. (1961). Of course. By treating Nineteen Eighty-Four as a piece of political theory. See Steinhoff. There he indicates that he had tried for some time to get his hands on a copy. and Czech (1927).” but American editions are typically published under the title.

unwilling to abandon this rather romantic vision of the ordinary worker in spite of his awareness that increased political consciousness was well beyond the abilities of the working class. This. as we shall see. is certainly not the only similarity these thinkers share. preferring to build his political thought out of his literary ambitions. inclined him to wonder if it was possible for humankind to reclaim its moral soul and escape the hell on earth he believed would be its fate if it failed to do so. coupled no doubt with his advancing paranoia.2 The Moral Imagination Edmund Burke reportedly said of Rousseau that he was a “lover of his kind and a hater of his kindred. that might have sustained him against the disillusionment that comes with age. Orwell’s moral disappointment. sent him toward misanthropy near the end of his life. Rousseau turned to theory to articulate a game plan for moral development.” The same might plausibility be said of George Orwell. but it does introduce the moral disapproval both thinkers directed toward their fellow human beings. Rousseau’s moral disappointment in his fellow man inspired him to think about how humankind might outgrow its corruption and get on a proper moral track. But be this as it may. to understand Rousseau’s political thought. Orwell stuck with literature and issued a plea that he hoped might inspire a moral awakening. at the time of his death. Orwell’s premature death left his moral critique unfinished and his moral quandary unresolved. It may also have spared him Rousseau’s misanthropy. of course. one must first see how his moral imagination directed and informed his thinking about politics. Rousseau’s moral angst. He remained. on the other hand. But here too the place to start an exploration of Orwell’s political thought is with the moral instincts 16 . Orwell did not turn to political theory in the overt way Rousseau did. though Orwell retained a fondness throughout his life for the ordinary working stiff. missing in Rousseau.

Moralists. I do not know. and his expectations are accordingly great. Where it came from.The Moral Imagination 17 that eventually sent him along a path not altogether dissimilar from the one taken by Rousseau before him. we can appreciate him for his integrity. to borrow a phrase from Kant. is right to complain that man is a disappointment to man. but we might also worry a bit about his mental health.” as Pritchett described Orwell). or perhaps even a Thoreau. in a kind of unsocial sociability. but beings capable of exceptional good and extraordinary bad at the same time. it is the mark of his style. that is. And as we trip through the pages of an Orwell or a Rousseau. on the other hand. or at least anticipate. The realist is comfortable in his skin because his moral expectations are not great. because he is a lover of humanity. The realist notices that human beings are neither saints nor devils. . Moralists are disinclined to accept people as they are because their love of their kind requires them to set the bar of moral expectation rather high. at least for a time. they expect the rest of us to join them and share their disapproval. and discomforting. Readers of Orwell find this disillusionment throughout the pages of his prose and poetry. We live. Realists are happy to take people as they find them and do not expect too much in terms of moral decency from others. the moralist is uncomfortable. his disillusionment is also great. 1 Where on earth do moralists come from? Why. If the moralist establishes himself as the conscience of the community (or the “wintry conscience of his generation. we should not hope for too much from our fellow man. The moralist. for the world must be dealt with as it is. we might actually do so. Here I will be concerned only with how this disillusionment helped shape and configure Orwell’s political thought. in realist eyes. and we had best leave it to his biographers to speculate on this matter. Because of this. When they elect to put pen to paper in order to advertise their outrage. But moral disapproval is a heavy burden to carry through life. seem to expect. are some people—a rare breed it seems—inclined to expect moral decency from their fellow human beings and to suffer a form of moral indignation when their expectations are not fulfilled? Most people seem to take naturally to a kind of moral realism and never bother with moralism. decency and to display a form of moral outrage when they notice the indecency that seems invariably to swirl around them. but we should not expect too little either. why Orwell became a moralist. but that is the way it is.

1946a: 1). because he showed promise as a student and not because of his family’s social station. It took Orwell some time to fashion this moral outlook into a political form. but it did not take long for this rage to drive his literary efforts. As Orwell tells it. proper clothing. His earliest writings seem driven by a desire to introduce his readers to the indecency characteristic of the social world. Cyprians served his literary purpose well by allowing him to indicate. and this would become a source of bragging rights and excellent advertising for the school that had turned him out. “Such. He managed admission to a private school somewhat beyond the socioeconomic class to which his parents belonged. that his readers should care about all this.” as a bit of an over-achiever. Cyprians). because the schoolmasters were interested in promoting the intellectual development of a particularly talented child. Instead. but it did not take him long to notice that the social world did not function at all according to the standards of decency that mattered to him. more likely. the fictionalized version of his boyhood school St. Such. his moral disappointment initially developed during his days as a policeman in Burma. It seems unlikely that Orwell actually first noticed the prevalence of indecency during his school years. People should be treated decently and should have the opportunity to live a decent life. he just didn’t fit in. Here Orwell can speak for himself: . POLITICS. Orwell claims to have felt something of an outcast once he recognized that he did not really belong at Crossgates (St. just how thoroughly the indecency he had come to loathe soaked into English culture. he lacked the background and specific virtues valued not only by the schoolmasters but also by his fellow students. and he seems to have supposed. decent medical care. This means that people should not be bullied. though bright. This made all the difference. and they should have access to those goods required to live reasonably well—enough food. and so forth. AND POWER Morally speaking. with the naiveté characteristic of the moralist. he initially encountered indecency at Crossgates. More exactly. Such Were the Joys” (Orwell. or oppressed by others. he claims. a meaningful job. in a story about the formative days of his education.18 ORWELL. He was taken on. Cyprians. But finding indecency initially at St.1 Orwell probably did not take to writing in order to express his moral rage at the world that surrounded him. the story goes. demeaned. Orwell describes himself in “Such. he lacked the proper social standing to be accepted at Crossgates. imagined in the little essay. he was taken on because his ability was such that he might just win a scholarship to Eton or Wellington (which he did). His promise as a student did not prompt the school to take him on. He did not possess the proper admission credentials. the world for Orwell seemed like a reasonably simple place. reasonable housing.

they are. For the young. and consequently in spite of who he was. and the inequality it introduces. Orwell was reasonably successful in school. athleticism and something called “guts” or “character. And Orwell is at his ironic best in insisting that these attributes of class are what mattered at school. It was not only money that mattered: there were also strength. in some seemingly undefined sense. “I had won two scholarships. because success was measured not by what you did but by who you were. but he could not shake off the stigma of class difference and the embarrassment it caused him. So in spite of his achievements. Here one discovers one’s . this perception is indicative of Orwell’s well-known antipathy for class division. beauty. It was there in the boarding schools of the upper class that the class/caste system that Orwell took to typify English society reproduced itself. In boarding school. they are the inheritances of the upper classes. one learns one’s place. the point sinks to a deeper level of moral critique. charm. “guts. I was no good. he supposed he must be deficient in the other virtues that determine who the good boys are. The wealthy are not just richer than the members of the lower classes.The Moral Imagination 19 By the social standards that prevailed about me. better. in spite of his scholarships.” which in reality meant the power to impose your will on others. Because Orwell lacked the proper class status. was quite ancillary to what really mattered at Crossgates. But all the different kinds of virtue seemed to be mysteriously interconnected and to belong to much the same people. 1946a: 35–6) In academic terms. not native intelligence and a willingness to work hard—attributes that ride with the individual and stand independent of class standing.” and the like are the virtues of those with the proper standing. It is not a class system Orwell discovered at Crossgates but an invidious caste system. beauty. he supposes. 1946a: 41. I was ‘not a good type of boy’ and could bring no credit on the school” (Orwell. class division amounts to a difference of status and worth. Status. (Orwell. or rather. but I was a failure. Orwell’s italics). and could not be any good. is taught in England from early youth onward. lack the understanding of class as simply a matter of economic division. the reality of class division is learned by the young as a form of caste system. Seen through youthful eyes. Whether true or not. one’s role in society. The real focus of the school was socialization. Orwell concludes in admitted hindsight. One was what one’s birthright allowed one to be. and with it. The educational process. he was a failure because lower class sorts simply lack the “character” of the upper class. Orwell seems to insist. but in the story he tells. Athleticism.

and one’s place in that world is determined before one even gets started in life. not to sense the indecency plainly evident in all this when measured by the simple standards of moral propriety. 2 Whether or not Orwell was really sensitive as a youth to the indecency he later associated with his boarding school days is really neither here nor there. In “Why I Write. Orwell does not explain his outrage over the class/caste system he encountered at Crossgates in terms of inequality.” for example. AND POWER future and one’s worth in the social scheme of things. In an indecent world. He could not take the class/caste system at face value. But something like an egalitarian spirit seems always to have powered his moral angst and his distaste for the indecency he came to see as pervasive throughout English society. his homilies about his personal meanderings house the artistic structure through which he vented his moral rage and taught his moral lessons. Individual merit and personal achievement don’t matter. But these confessions. Children are taught not to question this simple fact of social life. The class/caste system sees to this. I don’t know if this is invariably characteristic of the moralist. also have a more theoretical purpose. This introduces the first and perhaps primary source of the moral indecency that so outraged Orwell. success as it is conventionally understood would seem to be possible only if one is willing to pay the requisite moral price. . Such. Orwell was a strategically autobiographical writer. People should not be discriminated against because of inconsequential factors like family background or class status. People deserve to be evaluated on their own merits and as equals and not on the arbitrary standards of conventional social division. The social world is divided. They offer a moral polemic that masquerades as innocent biography.20 ORWELL. but it certainly introduces another bond between Orwell and Rousseau. though by the time he penned “Such. they both illustrate and personalize the indecency that haunts a world whose citizens should know better. he confesses to a lonely childhood: “I had the lonely child’s habit of making up stories and holding conversations with imaginary persons.” the notion of equality had overtly entered his moral and political lexicon. all that matters is the product of birthright. because his moral conscience was fundamentally egalitarian. and I think from the very start my literary ambitions were mixed up with the feeling of being isolated and undervalued” (Orwell. like Rousseau’s confessions. Curiously. POLITICS. Perhaps he scattered occasional details about his life and his youth throughout his essays because he wanted readers to understand him all the better. as realists are inclined to do. 1946a: 309).

Orwell’s characters invariably experience. And Orwell accordingly builds a bit of his own moral rage into each of them. and Winston Smith suffers with his throbbing ulcer. The overt racism of the other English . has a hideous birthmark. they are hardly wicked. but they lack the courage to be the sort of failure that Orwell aspired to be. is hardly unique to British imperialism. but by insisting upon his failure. an upright and honest enough fellow who is curiously tolerant of the English presence in his country. when it came to displays of moral integrity. They carry his message of moral critique. But still. Orwell clearly did encounter indecency in the jungles of Burma. John Flory is surely the most interesting of Orwell’s many creations. he was not above a bit of bragging. rather. these are not altogether bad people. the moralist will be happier thinking himself a failure. and he enlists Flory as his vehicle for expressing and emphasizing his moral hatred for the particular form it took there. To fail in order to live decently is hardly a vice. it would seem to lie in deliberately living a life of failure and intentionally abjuring success because of its moral cost. but it is not the same kind of failure that Orwell bragged about. in Burmese Days. In a world like this. the specter of failure also accompanies his most notable and enduring literary characters.The Moral Imagination 21 Success in an indecent world would seem to require one to master indecency. These characters are invariably weaklings with some obvious flaw that becomes a source of self-consciousness and embarrassment: John Flory. Roger Comstock is a would-be poet without talent (not altogether unlike Orwell himself). and the inevitable defeats. Perhaps one never really likes them—they seem to whine a bit too much—but they also live in worlds worth whining about. Interestingly. the imperial presence of the British in Burma simply sets the stage for a deeper and more generic indecency that Orwell sensed throughout his life. He counts among his friends a Burmese doctor by the name of Veraswami. if they suffer a degree of shame. But the indecency he encountered and suffered in Burma. he also shames the world in which he lived. are typical of the various battles. the indecency he builds into Burmese Days. and his final failure. On this score. These two characters are the “good guys” in a generally tedious tale of intrigue that involves outside official pressure on the members of the European Club to admit a native Burman to their ranks. Flory is unique among the Englishmen who inhabit the European club in Orwell’s story because he is not a racist. Flory’s fight. Orwell insists throughout his life that he has been a failure and that his novels are failures. He hated British imperialism throughout his life and worked against it until the end. George Bowling is obese. to be up to the scheming and treachery that self-serving requires. If nobility is to be found in such a world.

the self-serving ways of the characters displays another. Orwell’s characters do not come close to exhibiting the moral character readers may well expect of them. evil wins in the end. Veraswami. but it is not what really unsettles. form of indecency. Behind the calm of English rule—rule made possible and calm in the end by English arms—is an unending power struggle where anything goes. While it appears that Dr. The pursuit of self-interest knows no barriers or boundaries. He manages to embarrass Flory so thoroughly that he can gain admission to the Club over the ashes of both Flory and Dr. This is hardly a story unique to Burma. Those who do play fair. indecency: getting what one wants by stepping over the broken bodies or spirits of others. a cunning and heartless character named U Po Kyin is busy plotting against the doctor in order gain favor with the English and win election to the Club for himself. The heartless schemer gains his desired end while the decent players on the stage are both undone. are accordingly undone by their own virtue. U Po Kyin’s treachery proves successful. Treachery defeats decency. By novel’s end. It is the background intrigue that matters here.2 He does not play fair. Burma is thus merely Orwell’s initial stage for what turns out to be a fairly typical tale about a power struggle between decency and indecency. Veraswami has the inside track on getting elected to the Club. No happy ending here. U Po Kyin is cagey enough to identify the weaknesses of his adversaries and cunning enough to exploit them with virtually complete success. but perhaps also more commonplace.22 ORWELL. What really unsettles is the moral depravity of those characters who struggle to promote themselves within the context of an established caste system. It is the indecency of a world without discernible moral standards. POLITICS. With the notable exception of the relationship between Flory and Dr. those who do possess something like a conscience. but this is hardly the heart of the story. AND POWER members of the Club presents an obvious barrier to the election of a native. but this proves to be his strength. If Burmese Days is read as a tale of good versus evil. by any means. Burma matters here only because it provides the specific context that houses an altogether commonplace. Veraswami. even more basic form. The dehumanizing racist attitude of the English characters in the novel is unsettling enough. Burmese Days might seem to be a story told by a moral cynic. The overt indecency of British imperialism merely houses a more subtle. even pedestrian. The racism underlying the caste divisions of Burma merely illustrates one form of human indecency. It pays to wonder if . the characters in the story are little more than self-promoting egoists.

The Burmese turn to Orwell. if racism is at heart just a special form of self-serving. Bowling. like Dr. A life of perceived failure and embarrassment weighed him down. But could he have controlled events more effectively? Could he have successfully championed Dr. Veraswami at the Club and secured his election? His failing was that he could not effectively hide the skeletons in his own closet. This he does. There was no real reason for his suicide. by killing the elephant. He did so. killing a coolie. in his capacity as policeman. Veraswami. There stands Orwell with his gun. the attack of must is over and the elephant is now quiet and serene. something he had not intended to do when he set out to deal with the situation. but in this he was also very much the antithesis of George Orwell. we might suppose Orwell took pen in hand to share his cynicism with us and in so doing to illustrate the indecency to which he had become reconciled.The Moral Imagination 23 the two are related. 1946a: 155). As moral cynic. In this he resembles Comstock.” escaped its caretaker. By the time he catches up with the elephant. when he met one. Nor was there any real reason for him to kill the now tranquil creature. he could not escape the implications of his affair with a native girl. He had the character to cut through the bric-a-brac of caste that comes with imperial rule and appreciate a virtuous character. simply to “avoid looking a fool” (Orwell. “Shooting an Elephant. He had no particular use for the racism he saw in his English peers. But he was his own worst enemy in the end. but Orwell never did. he gave up just when he should have gotten tough. but it seems to be in Burma that Orwell began to go to war with the indecency of the world around him. Rousseau eventually got there. of course.” Here Orwell tells the story of an elephant that has gone “must. he tells his readers in a fairly cathartic moment. We might think of the moral cynic as a moralist who has become laden with disappointment. and Winston. and rampaged through a Burmese village. Orwell undoubtedly built some of his own reactions to life in Burma into Flory’s character. Like Flory. This becomes hauntingly evident when we take a quick look at his notable short story. albeit in importantly different ways. But the moral cynic is irredeemable because he has quit the struggle against indecency. and behind him stand the Burmese from the village with their expectation that Orwell will levy a bit of justice on the poor animal. and he took the cowardly way out. for help and relief. But there is also an impotence about poor Flory worth noticing. however. Orwell had a strong sympathy for the . facing the now calm elephant. This is not an indecency Orwell could have found in Burma alone.

to know his own mind and do definite things. of U Po Kyin’s cunning. his loss of face was premised upon his violation of the standards of the caste system that prevailed in Burma. and the fact that his actions reached Elizabeth was just a bit of unintended bad luck for Flory—and good luck for U Po Kyin. POLITICS. with two thousand people marching at my heels. the street-level representative of British imperial rule in Burma. the reason behind what we might call his loss of face. and he could not endure the public shame he had suffered at the hands. a fate Flory was unable to avoid. Perhaps more than anything else. having done nothing—no that was impossible. Veraswami and his affair with Ma Hla May. Flory would likely have been able to live with the shame of his affair with Ma Hla May being publicized had it not been for Elizabeth. yet both allowed the caste division underlying the situation to get to them in a strong moral sense. every white man’s life in the East. and then to trail feebly away. he has got to appear resolute. rifle in hand. In a revealing moment of candor. or rather for their plight under British rule. He offended the snobbish etiquette of British rule. was the source of his shame. he knew they hated him. even if it might have weakened his ability to see Dr. Flory could not deal with being made a fool by his Burmese lover. (Orwell. 1946a: 153) . To come all that way. Even though he expressed sympathy for the plight of the Burmese under British rule.3 This Orwell did not do in his confrontation with the elephant. symbolized both by his association with Dr. had overtaken him. Veraswami elected to the Club—U Po Kyin’s intended outcome. ultimately. in spite of Flory’s vulnerability with regard to Elizabeth. and was made a laughing stock for the Burmese as a result. and he hated being the target of their hatred. was one long struggle not to be laughed at. Orwell provides no indication in the story to suppose that U Po Kyin was privy to Flory’s feelings for Elizabeth. If Orwell did not want to look the fool in front of the Burmese. AND POWER Burmese. The crowd would laugh at me. his female interest in the story. things were different when it came to Elizabeth. The exposure of his affair with the woman cost him any chance he had to marry Elizabeth. Flory’s attention to the Burmese. he admits he hated the idea of being laughed at by the Burmese. And my whole life. whom he had released once his desire for Elizabeth. he tells his readers his biggest fear at that moment: A sahib has got to act like a sahib. Yet. While Flory seems to have cared little about the way his fellow Europeans regarded him.24 ORWELL. He carried on with the Burmese in a way inconsistent with the demands of his imperial station. He simply needed to discredit Flory in the eyes of his fellow Europeans.

Orwell controlled things somewhat more effectively. But emotion is a reasonable moral guide only if a sense of decency is stronger than other. and our moral conscience is accordingly jeopardized by concerns that focus exclusively on the self. Flory was incapable of controlling the events around him and found himself unable to endure the shame and loss that he experienced as a consequence. He had the courage not to be laughed at and unlike Flory. But his declared reason for shooting the elephant was to save face. It takes a thick hide to be a practicing moralist. As a pawn of British imperial rule. was perfectly illustrative of what he saw as a grotesque indecency. 1946a: 152). with its caste divisions and awkward distributions of power. Perhaps Orwell left Burma and his position as policeman because his hide thickened. and Orwell confesses. It doesn’t matter in the end whether Orwell went to Burma a moralist or whether he became one there. because an elephant was worth more than any damn Coringhee coolie” (Orwell. is what one does in such situations. to act the sahib. and he cared little whether shooting the animal was right or wrong. “[W]hen the white mans turns tyrant it is his own freedom that he destroys” (Orwell. and this only worsened his transgression of the imperial code. The whole affair of imperial rule. “The older men said I was right. while in Burma. it seems. 1946a: 156). the younger men said it was a damn shame to shoot an elephant for killing a coolie. Keeping up expectations in an indecent environment demands indecency of one. Either way. He was enslaved by protocol. not by shooting the elephant. he understood. Something like face—how one is seen by others—matters too. Orwell officially presents the predicament he faced in this situation as something of a moral dilemma: Was shooting the elephant justified or not? It seems to have been something of a split decision among his peers. but he discovered its fragile nature there as well. competing emotions. caught in the grip of a social situation that made him behave in a manner he considered improper. His embarrassment was a source of amusement to them. Keeping the appearance of knowing his own mind meant actually acting contrary to his own conscience. But he also learned that he did not have the taste for it. even though he well understood that acting like a sahib meant doing something he believed it unnecessary and wrong to do. and only if it points clearly in the proper direction. Orwell would not risk a loss of face with the Burmese. but by walking away from a thoroughly indecent enterprise. .The Moral Imagination 25 Flory ultimately suffered a loss of face with his fellow Europeans because he put himself in a position where the Burmese could mock him. He followed his most powerful emotion and remained faithful to the role he found himself playing. This. that decency matters.

directly or indirectly.” He tells us. resembles a child’s morality play. His own literary legacy tends to belie this view. He understood that a writer cannot escape politics. One way to discern the home of decency is to suppose that it is embedded permanently in the human breast and waiting only to be called to arms by the perspicacious social critic.: 312–13). it need not be a vice—it is because it makes the moral world into a fairly simple place. AND POWER 3 If the moralist merely vents his spleen at the terrible absence of moral integrity in the world. POLITICS. as I shall argue shortly. It is tempting.” that he wrote to expose some lie or draw attention to some fact. he began to think that he knew the kind of society people should strive after. But of course there is more to what Orwell was up to than this. But decency also exists. “Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written.” and “to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after” (Ibid. in “Why I Write. as I understand it” (Ibid. If there is simplicity in this—and if there is. 1946a: 315). he wanted not only to expose lies but also to “push the world in a certain direction. he does little that is constructive.26 ORWELL. Orwell also seemed to understand this rather well. other than that he takes the term in the “widest possible sense. on this view. The moral world. Orwell’s italics). Orwell probably wanted the moral world to be a simple place. Rousseau understood this rather well. but to do something about it. and his initial concern was “to get a hearing” (Orwell. and to expose things in this light is the first and most onerous step in making things right. and his genius is best displayed not in the moral condemnation of the social world he found himself in—the subject of his early political writings—but in the novelty of his effort to imagine a better tomorrow. to dismiss him in this regard as simplistic. and the problem is to find where it dwells and bring it to light. and the most bedeviling challenge linked to grasping his literary legacy is to understand what he wanted to do about it and how he intended to do it. The real challenge is not just to notice how poorly humans treat one another. and perhaps not altogether misleading. And as his works became more overtly political. Indecency exists. and in Orwell’s later years he thought it to wear the mask of totalitarianism. against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism. But the theoretical sophistication he developed . The moralist who dwells on how miserable things are and leaves matters at that becomes little more than a righteous bore. though he never tells his readers precisely what he means by politics. but it is far from clear that he was convinced that it really was.: 314.

“Charles Dickens. But this simply clues us into the fact that the progress Orwell has in mind is something like moral enlightenment.The Moral Imagination 27 in later years should not be allowed to blind the continuous pull that moralism had on him. We should not confuse change with progress here. while the latter displays the mindset of the .: 65). he thought. are always tenable: “The one. The problem I am referring to has to do with what might be called political progress—the political manifestation of making the world a decent place. he supposes. He chides Dickens for being a moralist without a game plan. that he remained wedded to Dickens’s platitude in 1948.“The central problem—how to prevent power from being abused—remains unsolved” (Ibid. he soon became his own staunchest critic on this score. And Orwell’s message in the essay seems to be: “ ‘If men would behave decently the world would be decent’ is not such a platitude as it sounds” (Ibid. “is one that at first glance looks like an enormous platitude: If men would behave decently the world be decent” (Orwell. the revolving door of tyrants has ended. and if Orwell wanted to believe it. 1946a: 52).” he was inclined to ponder the question of how to make the world a more decent place. By the time we get to Goldstein’s book in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Progress must be made against the powerful trend toward moral decay. for example. Two viewpoints. but tyranny constantly reappears. old tyrants fade away and their place is taken by new ones. when Orwell wrote his powerful essay. when he finished Nineteen Eighty-Four. as perhaps he did in 1939. The struggle for justice continues. what is the use of changing the system before you have changed human nature?” (Ibid.’” he wrote of Dickens. By 1939. But he was clearly onto the problem in 1939 that troubled him in 1948 (and in Nineteen Eighty-Four). It is far from clear. But this is a hard sell.: 65). “His whole ‘message. how can you improve human nature until you have changed the system? The other. There is little question that he saw in Dickens a kindred spirit. and perhaps this explains why his review of Dickens has more to do with Orwell than it does with Dickens.: 64). The barrier to meaningful political progress now takes the form of a paradox in Orwell’s thinking. but it is a middling sort of progress. though Orwell was hardly sensitive to the distinction. and the “central problem” is now unresolvable. Progress—political progress—happens. This is the viewpoint of a moralist who has developed a political awareness and recognized the problem of indecency as a political and not just a moral one. a decay that results from the human failure to master and control power itself. Dickens would leave society as it is but make men better. The former question he associates with the revolutionary.

particularly Nineteen Eighty-Four.: 103). though for reasons he never explores.” Orwell gives the moralist his due. nor his emotions. that they can’t get inside you. Orwell’s attraction to moralism inclined him to pay a powerful tribute to poor Dickens. Such must be the case if the moralist is to have any hope. Individual integrity is uprooted to its core. Why “freedom and equality” constitute a single idea he does not say. he merely wishes it away. but it has penetrated to all ranks of society” (Ibid. But he sticks to it. it is only an idea. He associated this moral chord. of an unavoidable truth lurking buried in the human breast. “ ‘If men would behave decently the world would be decent’ is not such a platitude as it sounds” (Ibid. whatever his actual conduct may be. he seems to want to say. Nonetheless. he is transformed into a dutiful cog in the machinery of Oceania. neither Winston’s thoughts. . He is remade into a proper supplicant. POLITICS. A basic sense—Orwell supposes it to be an emotion—of human decency is lodged in the human breast.: 103. The moralist does not resolve the problem of power. Why does Dickens endure as a writer of significance? Orwell answers this by insisting.28 ORWELL. So. Given some of his earlier published remarks. but of course we learn at the end of the novel that in fact they can. Orwell’s italics). and he concludes almost triumphantly that. and it constitutes a piece of moral truth that must be kept in plain sight. is a haunting testimony to the fact that things are hardly as simple as all this. nor does he explain why he thinks this idea really has penetrated all ranks of society. AND POWER moralist. Orwell supposes. Orwell the moralist rejects the revolutionary posture. There is. Here. a bit of decency lurking in nearly everyone that cannot be snuffed out by even the most egregious indecency. Missing from this homily is the unseen power of power. “But in his own age and ours he has been popular chiefly because he was able to express in a comic. If it can be kept in sight and made evident enough. But Orwell’s own work. This is about all the moralist has to hang his hat on. Nonetheless. in “Charles Dickens.: 103). but neither seems terribly compelling in its own right. vaguely with Christian ethics. he reminds us. perhaps in the fashion of the moralist. as we shall see. insisting. Dickens strikes a moral chord with us. “Nearly everyone. this basic sense of decency. these two views stand in opposition to one another. remain solely his own. this claim suggests a fairly shallow optimism. responds emotionally to the idea of human brotherhood” (Ibid. But the due given does not measure up to the paradox Orwell has discovered.: 65). simplified and therefore memorable form the native decency of the common man” (Ibid. it seems. yet he gives it a distinctly political shape: “[T]he Western world has been haunted by the idea of freedom and equality. political progress may just happen. Winston Smith supposes.

however. The novel is an exercise in hyperbole. But. Big Brother controls both ideas and emotions. and for reasons that Orwell. we can keep Orwell the naïve moralist alive by arguing that this view of the matter makes sense only if he really believed the nightmare of Oceania was in fact possible. But he wanted to make it seem possible in order to illustrate what it is that we must avoid. that Orwell himself notices and explores with relentless prescience. by imagining an impossible world where this moral sense has been eliminated altogether. our sense of decency can be enlisted against its happening. In a world where power remains untamed. whether Orwell is really on firm ground with his rather naïve conviction that some basic emotional attachment to human brotherhood actually lurks in the human breast. or in Orwell’s later fiction. however. Orwell’s Oceania is really not possible. and in so doing to put us on guard against the realization of this possibility. Perhaps. is that it might simply underestimate those technologies of power. and when we see it in all its naked ugliness. but it also seems a fairly weak reply to the evil Orwell has imagined. we might also want to ask if evil can be so readily exposed. this is overly fanciful. was clearly onto. our idea of brotherhood. Good is put on proper guard when we sense just how clever evil can be. And even if it does. We should ask. It will be “a slimy Anglicised form of Fascism. Supposing we feel the force of this response. 1958: 212). On this view. Evil is going to be much harder to realize when it wears much friendlier garb. the moralist. He tweaks our sense of humanity.: 231). but hyperbole with a moral purpose. How then can tales of . and our sense of brotherhood—our sense of decency—triggered by occasional artistic renditions of grotesque injustice of the sort on display in Dickens. and more fearfully the psychological transformation of power into its own end. The problem with this response. the argument continues. This is what we must not let happen. in fact. The only remaining emotion is what O’Brien has put there: his love for Big Brother. As Orwell himself noticed in Wigan Pier. when fascism arrives in England it will be of a “sedate and subtle kind” (Orwell. for decency to endure. the moralist is doomed. This is probably a fairly faithful rendering of what Orwell was really up to. and there is no sanctuary.The Moral Imagination 29 There is no longer any place for the idea of freedom and equality in his emotional make-up. for example. perhaps. either in the human breast or anywhere else. we might then entertain the thought that Orwell imagined a real political possibility in order to inspire our sense of brotherhood. with cultured policeman instead of Nazi gorillas and the lion and the unicorn instead of the swastika” (Ibid. Orwell was doing exactly what Dickens did: illustrating that the world would be a decent place only if people would behave decently.

it seems somewhat foolish to think that Orwell thought it sufficient merely to expose and illustrate the lie. The moralist might have an element of success at pointing out what we should avoid. others will take stock. Human beings. Rousseau believed that it requires cultivation if it is to have any influence on human action. that he lived in a time of moral. and thus political. but his real concern involved how to reverse the trend. While he preceded Dickens in thinking that a sense of decency can be found in the human breast. difficulties that Orwell only slowly came to notice.30 ORWELL. The problem. Dickens. vastly more sagacious. had come to dominate human behavior. as he saw it. AND POWER torture in the Ministry of Love and stories about the thought police trigger our sense of decency to stand guard against this sort of thing? Given the theoretical sophistication of Nineteen Eighty-Four. this is to say. It may seem comforting to think that decency lurks somewhere in the human breast. POLITICS. but he did manage to become a moralist with a game plan. and that we must simply surrender to them for life to go better. than the sort of moralism Orwell attributes to Dickens. and live happily ever after. He thought he knew a bit about how this decay had come about. and we must look elsewhere if we are to defend against indecency and resolve the problem of power. supposed that our moral emotions are there and in place. perhaps with a bit of justification. but this still makes him just a crashing bore. Orwell never abandoned moralism. 4 Rousseau’s moralism. Rousseau knew better and no doubt because he was sensitive to the underlying philosophical difficulties surrounding the matter. What the moralist must do to be effective is to turn to theory and offer some indication of precisely how a perceived threat or evil can be avoided. decay. Social power. to think that if the artist shouts loud enough and long enough. but there is perhaps enough indecency around to notice that this sort of lurking isn’t very effective. selfishness. In Nineteen Eighty-Four we learn that Orwell figured out that there wasn’t much lurking in the human breast after all. we might say with deliberate obscurity. has had a corrupting affect on human beings. wise up. Rousseau supposed. is vastly more penetrating. at least on this score. he supposed. Rousseau insisted. It seems foolish. for this decency is juxtaposed . the moralist. Humankind has been corrupted by society. do have a moral sense. was educational as well as political. but it competes for control of the self with a different and selfish sense. Orwell’s reading of the moral situation of his day was not unlike Rousseau’s.

the claim. and if people are to learn to behave decently. and should. For Rousseau. the moralist and the revolutionary do not stand in such stark opposition as Orwell supposed.” really is just an unhelpful platitude. at least in theory. though how this is to be achieved is rarely explained. then. inclinations and emotions. Central to the usual moralist complaint is the belief that the world can. amour propré is likely to dominate the self and incline people to become selfish egoists who profit themselves at the expense of others. only through a properly constructed form of civil association. If decency is present in the human breast. early in his writing. by Rousseau. What is needed is a dose of real moral integrity.4 So. it is. What is required is a form of social cultivation and not just artistic articulation. There is reason. Orwell’s paradox was both anticipated and resolved. Though hardly a utopian. but more than this is also required. albeit a rather romanticized one. But before one can be a revolutionary. instead. there along with other. to be simple and straightforward moral insights— the value of freedom and equality—were recognized as complex moral concerns by Rousseau. an unseemly sense of self-love Rousseau calls amour propré (Rousseau. 1979: 4–18 and passim). concerns that demanded considerable reflection to be properly understood and effectively appreciated. provide the socio-political context that would enable moral character to thrive and hopefully sustain itself. but they are sustainable.The Moral Imagination 31 by a different sort of emotion. to hold the moralist’s feet to the fire and ask for some details regarding what this better world would look like in practice. according to Rousseau. “If men would behave decently the world would be decent. according to Rousseau. Rousseau thought it possible to turn to politics and craft a republican form of civil association that could. one must first be a moralist. be a better place. if they are sustainable at all. Equality and freedom—ideals championed by Rousseau as well as Orwell—are possible only with the proper moral education. The spirit of brotherhood immanent in the breast needs to be transformed into a moral vision. With the proper moral psyche in place. I should certainly like to think that it does (though Rousseau was rather ambivalent on the matter). Perhaps artistic articulation has a place to play in the process of social cultivation. of what equality and . they need to work together. Rousseau comes through for us on this score. they must work at it. in turn. for working alone neither can hope to push humankind in the direction of social justice. Absent this training. and this is possible only with proper moral training. Absent the proper moral education. Consequently. far less noble. the moralist of Rousseau’s stamp well understands the need for and value of moral education. What seemed for Orwell. The Social Contract provides a glimpse.

Orwell’s sense of what a decent world looks like in practice is hardly as refined as Rousseau’s. Ibid. But his moral vision still had little place for orthodoxy of any sort. Still. they demand political concessions to existential reality that erode the idyllic vision and introduce contestation that becomes a political challenge in its own right. In his more lyrical moments. and it was eventually his personal war with religious orthodoxies that encouraged his misanthropy. Forthright discussion shapes the general will (Rousseau. Yet he was not altogether silent on what a decent world might look like. In his later years. POLITICS. Size and social complexity are the great enemies of simple community.32 ORWELL.: 165). one that reflected more accurately his fundamental focus on human equality. These are not individuals with their own independent agendas trying to work others into embracing their desires. It would involve the triumph of something he called “democratic socialism”—a poor choice of terms. By invoking the word “socialism” he borrowed from one of the popular orthodoxies of his day and found himself a strange bedfellow with thinkers and activists consumed with their own internal political squabbles. regarding one another as friends. for the will of the community can only be reached by open and honest discussion. meet together for the purpose of deciding what they shall do. Their personal interests are put aside. Had his imagination not failed him. but Rousseau seems to insist that it is not an impossible one. perhaps. he asks us to imagine a sylvan environment where individuals. and particularly in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eightyfour. As with Rousseau. It is an idyllic vision. not antagonists. but he would not make much of a socialist either. as he understood it. should be understood as a real commitment to equality. he might have found a better word. “The thing that attracts . his decent world would take a distinctly political shape. AND POWER fraternity might look like in practice. he well understood that it is an improbable one. working faithfully and harmoniously to reach a common decision. Rousseau was full of ways to accommodate all this diversity and to get along politically in spite of it all (Cf. He would not let go of this word. It seems to have taken Orwell a bit of time to recognize that decency involves equality and that socialism. for here his imagination failed him. 1986a: 30–4). nor are they ideological opponents already convinced they know what is best for the group and working to have their favored vision adopted. Once again we can see something of Orwell in all this. It wasn’t until Homage to Catalonia that he finally identifies socialism with equality. They are friends. and cannot be achieved through scheming and treachery. he seemed more intent upon detailing the inevitable outcome of indecency than exploring the triumph of decency.

first of all. he might have thought to think of his egalitarian condition in terms of civil community rather than in terms of socialism. is characterized by honesty and forthrightness. and appropriately. Here. No person should be subject to the will of another. socialism as Orwell envisioned it is fundamentally and essentially democratic. is the clear opposite of tyranny. Orwell lived among the poor—more on this later— and grew to appreciate the fact that poverty is as debasing as it is debilitating. There are no class/caste divisions that choreograph interpersonal relations between people who recognize and approach one another as equals. Human interaction. to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society. Equality would eliminate caste (and its ugly political ramifications) and with the elimination of caste. is the idea of equality.” It seems Orwell had to actually experience equality in order to recognize it. 1952: 104). And by “classless society. presumptuousness. in this sense.” The notion is relatively complex. the notion of “democratic socialism” is something of a redundancy. he supposed. posturing.” it is best to understand Orwell to mean a “casteless society. and his later writings suggest that his hate drove his literary career more than his love. and he thought he experienced it in his early days in Spain. Respecting others as equals and treating them accordingly also means not hogging all the stuff necessary for a person to live reasonably well. or it means nothing at all” (Orwell. in turn. Individuals simply see and respect one another as equals. or arrogance. and it gives rise to a fairly complicated political vision—to a vision not altogether unlike Rousseau’s. such divisions lie at the heart of Orwell’s sense of indecency. or what he called “equality in fact. has an economic component. Orwell’s love of democracy inclined him to hate tyranny. and everyone should have at least some input into the process by which decisions affecting them are made. where democracy is best understood to involve a form of political equality. no hierarchies. a social condition in which people see one another as independent human beings and recognize that a dignity adheres to this status. There is no social baggage that stands between persons as equals. Democracy. Viewed politically. To see others as equals in the sense that mattered to Orwell (and Rousseau) takes one naturally to democracy. the ‘mystique’ of Socialism. Living a decent life requires access to sufficient material goods to allow everyone to enjoy the physical comfort Orwell naturally associated with a dignified human condition.The Moral Imagination 33 ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it. Had Orwell had any familiarity with Rousseau. Orwell’s sense of equality involves. if by tyranny we mean one lot of people imposing their will on another lot of people. the class system . was true equality. But the notion also.

the economic side of his “democratic socialism” receded into the background of his thought as his concern with tyranny increased. AND POWER would go too. But he inspired a great revolution. Living comfortably. decent) life involved a degree of material well-being. was no stranger to poverty. it seems. he was a moralist. Revolutionaries are structuralists who think that human character is a product of socio-economic forces and that by revising our institutions we can remake our moral psyches. if one must put it in more Christian terms. This introduces some inkling of what Orwell’s decent world might look like and suggests why he could think that Dickens’s view that “[if] men would behave decently the world would be decent” is rather more than a platitude. albeit simply. without some strategy for getting people to behave decently. who. we are again left with only a platitude. Revolutionaries. . The full flowering of the individual is not possible in conditions of squalor. they do not regard socio-political problems as illustrations of humankind’s moral failure—as the result of humankind’s fallen condition. But for reasons it is important to try and understand. the idea that we must all co-operate and see to it that everyone does his fair share of the work and gets his fair share of the provisions. What seems to have troubled Orwell on this score is that poverty to him seemed so damned unnecessary. 1958: 171).e. are not moralists.34 ORWELL. For the only hope for democratic socialism (or genuine community) is the triumph of decency. but whose egalitarianism does not receive a distinctive economic expression.. In this regard. Orwell again approximates Rousseau. and he seemed to suppose that a civil (i. at about the point at which Orwell began to understand the egalitarian foundations of his sense of decency. seems so blatantly obvious that one would say that no one could possible fail to accept it unless he had some corrupt motive for clinging to the present system” (Orwell. his focus on economic injustice began to subside and his moral rage to shift toward more overtly political themes. potentially. as Orwell understood this term. “The world is a raft sailing through space with. but it did not. In economic terms. But saying this still will not make it so. the moralist puts moral failing first and demands moral awakening as the sine qua non of human improvement. plenty of provisions for everybody. He has no sense of a future in which human beings have outgrown Marx’s fetishism of commodities and live quietly amid some imagined cornucopia of wealth. like Orwell. mattered to him. The moralist is not like this. Orwell is anything but a Marxist. Interestingly. The revolution he inspired changed the social institutions of France. POLITICS. change the French. Rousseau was no revolutionary in this sense.

Both have stood accused of misogyny. Understanding must eclipse innocence before the desired insight can be achieved.The Moral Imagination 35 Orwell. political improvement was possible only through proper moral education. this is what I mean when I say Orwell was a moralist with a game plan. Both lived lonely childhoods. Orwell says little about education. When Orwell finally looked carefully into the human breast. his moralism set him to thinking. he concluded that nothing has been put there by nature. Orwell eventually learned that ideals like freedom and equality—political manifestations of a sense of decency—require understanding and cultivation if they are to endure. Like Rousseau. 5 Though they are in so many ways strange bedfellows. is best read as an invitation to pursue political thinking and not as a recipe. Both went to war with the world that housed them. Both knew poverty. as it did with Dickens. for again like Rousseau. but these characters begin to resemble Rousseau’s noble savage in his thinking. Orwell did not turn to education and moral psychology in order to flesh out some mysterious empathy built into the human breast. both looked into their own souls in search of an understanding of humanity. hoped to resuscitate something like Rousseau’s revolution and to direct it to a happier destination. . Animal farm and Nineteen Eighty-four. They are innocent enough. and there is an element of nobility about this innocence. But he did not allow his moralism to control his art. it turns out. for a better world. Dickens’s platitude. For Rousseau. But innocence should not be confused with moral insight. they also had their differences. To read his most haunting and enduring novels. Of course. the moralist. both identified strongly with their native lands. Both ventured to Paris in search of a future. His thinking led him in the direction of political thought. as political satire should not cloud our view of them as primers on moral and political education. in itself. but his readers may plausibly suppose that he wrote not just with a political purpose but with a moral one as well. George Orwell and Jean-Jacques Rousseau share oddly similar biographies. and not just to writing. Rousseau died an unwanted exile. Unlike Rousseau. and his fondness for the ordinary worker should not be allowed to mislead here. both became dreamers of a better world. Orwell got along better with others than did Rousseau. Orwell died a successful writer. Both traveled through their own memories. And both left powerful political legacies. however. both were moralists with the strength of imagination to conceive of a better world and a better political condition. He never doubted the basic goodness of the worker. But in spite of it all.

perfectly respectable—but you’ve got to realize.—and where are you? Ruined. still have these little orthodoxies to contend with. Orwell foreshadows the humiliation that would become Flory’s fate in sketches he made for the novel. I don’t doubt. Rousseau. and his work remains of value well into the twenty-first century because moralists still have work to do. 1946a: 104. and while writing about Dickens. AND POWER Orwell wrote. He remained an independent thinker who valued independent thinking. Ruined!” (Quoted in Bowker. even at Eton if one is to accept Cyril Connolly’s account of him in Enemies of Promise. that it won’t do. my boy. He is properly famous for his clear. he died suddenly. POLITICS. in effect. . 2003: 83). (Orwell. Orwell. however. Orwell’s italics) The purveyors of little orthodoxies continue to hate Orwell. honest prose. the face of a man who is generously angry—in other words. not really to change the world but to save it. but no triumph. 2. 4. and when he acquired political opinions they merely channeled his moralism. It is to be found in the closing remarks of his essay on Dickens. George Woodcock says that. one can’t help but think that he was thinking of himself: He is laughing. a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls. 1981. 1966: 132).36 ORWELL.—very respectable girl. but Orwell builds a bit of solace into the story by allowing for a bit of cosmic justice in the end. he penned his own most enduring portrait. Rousseau’s own misanthropy eventually prevented him from being overly optimistic on this score. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something. a free intelligence. of an nineteenth century liberal. His writing displays the very egalitarianism he eventually came to recognize and treasure as the core of decency. 3. but by no means tamed it” (Woodcock. but who fights in the open and is not frightened. Cf. “Now this girl you’ve made friends with. Get entangled with a woman like that. with a touch of anger in his laughter. could not allow U Po Kyin to enjoy complete success. Indecency may triumph over decency is the workings of man in the story. but before he could make good on his final plan of atonement. U Po Kyin’s religion required him to make some atonement for his many sins. no malignity. Notes 1. Appropriately enough. “Orwell was always a moralist.

The faces changed. Nor is it surprising to find a down at heel but aspiring writer taking on poverty as a subject. moral outrage. One rather obvious response quickly presents itself: Poverty drove Orwell toward socialism and thus effectively shaped his politics. The issue that concerns me at present. Socialism. The places changed. It is not surprising that Orwell should have found something indecent about a life of poverty. and much of his literary venom was directed at socialist thinking that moved in the direction of orthodoxy and away from the simple ideal he found at the heart of the notion. as he understood it. amateur psychoanalysis. involves recognizing how Orwell’s encounter with poverty shaped his political thought. 1958: 171). and political analysis. involved the empowerment of the poor and the corresponding pursuit of an economic condition in which people did their fair share in contributing to social wealth and received their fair share in return (Orwell. But the indecency was all too familiar. Orwell took the side of the poor in what he considered a class struggle with an uncertain outcome. Readers find awaiting them a tangle of innocent observation. but also rather unhelpful. The similarities of experience the inhabitants of these sub-worlds share outweigh any difference of place or face. sociological speculation.3 The Price of Poverty It’s a long way from the jungles of Burma to the spikes of London and slums of Paris. however. But it wasn’t much of a journey for Orwell. Always the friend and ally of the underdog. This is true enough. and dedicated foe of the overdog. 37 . What surprises is the eclectic yet penetrating collection of thoughts and insights that typify his musings on poverty. But he embraced socialism as an ideal and not as a doctrine. His experiences in Burma always hover in the background as he explores the life of the down and out in Paris and London.

the standard view seems to be that Orwell did regard the working poor in largely Marxist terms and remained confident until the end that “the future lies with the proles. however. But he also acknowledges the problem linked to such optimism.: 202).: 210). but it knows enough to keep pushing upwards towards the light. POLITICS. his political thought is another matter. AND POWER Yet Orwell’s politics should be kept distinct from his political thought. O’Brien puts the matter to rest. is Orwell’s sense of the political price of poverty. “No bomb that ever burst/Shatters the crystal spirit” (Ibid. Orwell says. Later in the text of Nineteen Eighty-Four. Yet this optimism in the strength of the crystal spirit is belied by the text of Nineteen Eighty-four. “Until they [the proles] become conscious they will never rebel. What matters here. Marx identified the proletariat—that class of exploited and increasingly impoverished workers created by capitalism largely to service the machines of capitalist production—as a universal class. he says. and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious” (Orwell. “The struggle of the working class is like the growth of a plant. In Marxist jargon. and the political challenge linked to revolutionary transformation involves getting the proletariat to recognize the evils of capitalism and use its superior numbers to initiate transformative change. and it will do this in the face of endless discouragements” (Orwell.” for example. . Winston writes in his diary that if there is hope it lies with the proles. “Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War. 1961: 61. Orwell the moralist had no choice other than to side with the poor in defense of decency. The plant is blind and stupid. the interests of the proletariat correspond with the interests of humanity in general. In a passage reminiscent of his reflections in his essay on Dickens.” There is some textual support for the standard view. Regardless of whether Orwell had studied Marx. His personal revulsion toward the plight of the poor—the revulsion that shaped his politics and sent him toward socialism— is best separated from his critique of the way poverty affects those sad characters who suffer from its ravages. Orwell’s italics).1 There Winston expresses an apparent optimism in the revolutionary future of the proles only to eventually doubt this possibility. 1946a.38 ORWELL. he knew all this. But did he also share Marx’s optimism about the political empowerment of the poor? Orwell’s reply to this is at times contradictory and his thoughts on the radicalization of the poor seem to shift with changes in his political mood. This seems to be the inspiration for the often quoted last stanza of the poem he appended to this essay. Orwell is always up front about his politics. Orwell has Winston write. Nonetheless. Noting that Winston knew better than to put his faith in the proles. they have numbers on their side. In his essay.

The Price of Poverty 39 “The proletarians will never revolt. he knows he should have known better. we are told. His leftleaning publisher. Whether or not he intended to find a subject to write about by going down and out in Paris and London is neither here nor there. The confrontation between Winston and O’Brien in the Ministry of Love can profitably be read as a discussion Orwell was having with himself. This depressing conclusion is foreshadowed in Orwell’s earlier writings on poverty.: 216). at this point. he repeatedly insists. 1980: 109–13). and an examination of Orwell’s critique of the effects of poverty on those who suffer from it should help make this clear. Crick. you know it already” (Ibid. 1 Orwell set out to learn about poverty upon his return from Burma and soon found himself walking with the tramps of London. The discussion has a clear winner. entitled Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936). presumably with the intention of launching upon a literary career. They cannot. Orwell got another opportunity to study poverty. A tramp. The trip resulted in one of his most powerful and disturbing works: The Road to Wigan Pier (1958). are not subhuman or a subspecies of humankind. Orwell’s writings on poverty display a fur-ball of tangled concerns. Orwell seems. but in the fashion typical of the moralist. Just as the novel was finished. This was followed shortly thereafter by a loosely biographical novel about the troubles faced by an aspiring writer who struggles because of his impoverished way of life. is simply an Englishman down on his luck. Next he headed for Paris. commissioned him to go to Wigan to report on the working conditions of the coal miners of the region. The result was a moving tale about his various experiences with poverty: Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). He invites his readers to adopt a bit of sympathy for the poor and by so doing to recognize poverty as both a social and a political problem. this time from a bit of a distance. as is symbolized by O’Brien’s victory over Winston. It is easy for the upper classes to ignore the problem of poverty if these people suppose that the poor really are subhuman or if they think the poor have brought their . Chief among these is his desire to introduce the poor to the upper classes and by doing so to dispel some apparently evident misconceptions. his outrage at the plight of the poor quickly provided him with a literary purpose (Cf. Victor Gollancz. with Winston representing the latter and O’Brien the former. I do not have to tell you the reason. to scold himself for previously placing a degree of faith in the proles. The poor. not in a thousand years or a million. a discussion between his more reflective self and his more emotional side.

it is not difficult for Orwell to express considerable sympathy for both the miners of Wigan and the dishwashers of Paris. to be sure. These characters reappear. The hearty miners of Wigan are powerful figures who do extraordinarily demanding work. in the form of Boxer the great horse of Animal Farm. With this sense of nobility in place. But this. This makes the numerous petty indignities that the miners continuously suffer all the more objectionable. “I am only saying.: 34). AND POWER predicament upon themselves. and we are oblivious of its existence” (Ibid. it keeps us alive. but its political importance is also shrouded by Orwell’s sociological critique.” he writes of the tramps of London. but the tragedy of a life of poverty can be grasped only when one recognizes that the poor are also terribly powerless. He does not act. Although inspired by the miners of Wigan. The plight of the miners seems especially tragic because their work is so crucial to the well-being of English society. A life of poverty is demeaning and degrading. recurs as a basic leitmotiv in his account of poverty. 1958: 32). this description of the working poor fits well with Orwell’s general account of poverty. Yet nowhere does Orwell press the point with greater poignancy and fervor than he does in his account of the genuine pathos and helplessness associated with the predicament of the tramp. “A thousand influences constantly press a working man down into a passive role. hard.: 49. of course. “that they are ordinary human beings. This is hardly the source of the indignity and inhumanity that accompanies poverty. “The miner’s job would be as much beyond my power as it would be to perform on the flying trapeze or to win the Grand National” (Orwell. Orwell’s italics). “It is so with all types of manual work. is not the case. and their corresponding powerlessness and timidity. He also encourages his readers to find a degree of nobility in the predicament of the poor. POLITICS. The passivity of the poor. but terribly important work. demanding. and particularly in the efforts of the working poor who do dirty. It is the political implication of this insight that really matters. and if they are worse than other people it is the result and not the cause of their way of life” (Orwell. he is acted upon” (Ibid. and Orwell concedes that he could never hope to endure the exhausting manual labor that these stoic fellows experience daily. and yet. They support the wealthy society above them. who willingly undertakes the most challenging work on the farm.40 ORWELL. but it does account for the political . Orwell labors to emphasize. 1933: 202). But Orwell’s moralism also demanded that he do more than just provide the better off with an introduction to poverty.

exploit their tremendous numbers to generate much needed political change.The Price of Poverty 41 predicament that the poor must face. the focus of his consciousness seems restricted well beyond even the modest range of the dishwasher. Weakened by malnutrition and defeated by lack of employment. Political organization and the mobilization of labor might do much to turn around the plight of the poor and to put civil association on a more egalitarian path. Orwell undoubtedly found a degree of solace in this familiar political theme. Orwell emphasizes this by insisting that a tramp is just an Englishman down on his luck.” Orwell says. “I believe he was a typical tramp. With recognition (as the radical slogan goes) comes enlightenment. seems to be the eternal hope of the democratic socialist. Orwell’s tramps are mere shells of what were once human beings. He seemed to resist believing in the political impotence of the poor even as he explained it. Orwell provides his readers with a varied and fairly sophisticated sociological account of the impotence of the poor. if suitably inspired.2 Orwell personifies the life of the tramp by telling readers about a single character he elected to name Paddy. for the most part. And on Orwell’s account. This. there is not much left of the tramp. in any event. There must be something in the human spirit. But the tramp is so far down on his luck that there is no way out of his situation. Once inspired by the proper sociological insight. yet Orwell tempered this hope with an appreciation that anyone who seeks to empower the poor by encouraging their enlightenment must understand the limitations of the folks they are working with. It is perhaps best to consider the powerlessness of the tramps first because. he seems at times to suppose. they are the most pathetic and most crippled element of the poor that Orwell tells us about. The poor are impoverished. “and there are tens of thousands in England like him” (Orwell. but it was not a solace he could sustain given his own appreciation for the debilitating aspects of poverty. that inclines the poor to dislike and resist their condition. the poor could. and this something. Yet he had some difficulty appreciating the full force of his own sociological critique. and certainly would. may become a source of exceptional empowerment. They are the prisoners of a fate that is hardly of their own doing. . 1933: 149). but the really sad aspect of this is that they are also utterly incapable of doing anything about it. these limitations are considerable. With something like Marxist optimism. apparently to emphasize his Irishness. he imagined for some time that the poor could recognize their plight. and enlightenment leads naturally to political empowerment.

” but also as self-pitying. worm-like envy of anyone who was better off—not the rich. “He had the regular character of a tramp— abject.: 152). is ontological.” The notion recurs in Orwell’s account of the proles in Nineteen Eighty-four (Orwell. are simply incomprehensible. The remark contains an important insight. but because of its target. This life is beyond his experience and therefore beyond his consciousness. Orwell describes Paddy as a “good character” and “generous by nature. Why are the rich beyond the “social horizon” of the tramp? It is perhaps easy enough to understand why the wealthy do not really see tramps and pass them by in apparent oblivion. Orwell’s general description of Paddy is designed to personify a general characteristic of poverty. It must be able to identify others more fortunate within the parameters of its social horizon. and illiterate. envious. for they were beyond his social horizon. And because they are not part of one’s world. It is far more curious to think that tramps do not also see the rich. But perhaps the most interesting comment Orwell makes about the man is that “[H]e had a low. whimpering. a jackal’s character” (Ibid. one can’t worry or even think about such things because they are simply not part of one’s world. Orwell leaves little doubt that this was an unsavory individual. beyond one’s way of life. He could no more envy the rich than he could envy the gods.42 ORWELL. This is not the only place where Orwell refers to the notion of a “social horizon” or a “horizon of consciousness. Orwell leaves little doubt that the mental horizons of the poor are desperately narrow. Paddy couldn’t be envious of the rich because he couldn’t even imagine them or what such a life is like. Things outside one’s experience. If they have some faint grasp of .” seems to have been unusually limited and cramped. Why does this crowd not constitute a revolutionary mass? The reason is not hard to notice once one reads Orwell’s account of the man. Orwell suggests here that there is such a social gulf between the life of the tramp and a life of wealth and luxury that the poor tramp doesn’t have any real sense of what the life of the wealthy is like. Paddy’s social horizon. But whether intended as hyperbole or not. The limitation. POLITICS. not because of the envy Orwell notices.: 153). they are beyond notice. even if they are right in front of one’s eyes. Envy needs a recognizable target. AND POWER Whether hyperbole or not—and how Orwell could have known this I cannot say—the number resonates for its political potential. envious. It speaks to an individual’s sphere of awareness and captures not just what a person thinks about but what a person can think about. 1961: 62). but of men in work” (Ibid. In spite of those few more positive attributes he identifies. the “horizon of his mind. so to speak.

Orwell’s tramps are simply incapable of political consciousness. 1933: 180) Together malnutrition and leisure spell doom for the tramp. That is why it is so much nonsense to pretend that those who have “come down in the world” are to be pitied above all others. The man who really merits pity is the man who has been down from the start. Their minds are filled with the trivial and modest affairs that press upon them in the course of making it from one day to the next. is the result of a lack of education. They live in small. the tramp has far too much of it. Paddy has a mind with nothing in it. The tramps Orwell encountered are literally forced to tramp. .The Price of Poverty 43 a larger world around them. this limitation is particularly stultifying. he could well understand why the wealthy had nothing to fear from them. and consequently he lacks the ability even to find a bit of entertainment for himself and fill the long hours of tedium. But a man like Paddy. Part of the problem. The great enemy of the tramp. and here we can again let Orwell speak for himself: An educated man can put up with enforced idleness. in the case of the tramp. (Orwell. with no means of filling up time. their focus of concern is defined exclusively with the daily features of their lives and its momentary challenges. but it is terribly boring. egocentric worlds. Their political powerlessness is largely a product of this limitation of consciousness. Beyond this. In Paddy’s case. and their thoughts almost never range beyond themselves and their immediate needs. resourceless mind. and faces poverty with a blank. there is nothing for them to do. This is a crushing. which is one of the worst evils of poverty. Orwell elected to call this character Bozo and to present him as the antithesis of the ordinary tramp. pushed along by legal decree to move daily from one inhospitable spike to the next. however. They lack any work from which they might derive a degree of self-respect. The poverty of the tramp may not be life threatening. He also introduces readers to a second street person who is noticeably and importantly different from Paddy—and all the more disconcerting to Orwell for this. is as miserable out of work as a dog on the chain. there was nothing that could ever manage to reach the level of a revolutionary proletariat among the ranks of this lumpen crowd. But Paddy does not personify all the characters Orwell discovered while tramping around London. If there really were tens of thousands of Paddys tramping around London in Orwell’s day. Orwell emphasizes. Orwell suggests. is leisure. demoralizing way of life that leaves the tramp not much good for anything at all.

Bozo had an uncanny intelligence about him. you got to take an interest in something. Bozo: Of course. The stars are a free show. . but this discussion impressed Orwell sufficiently for him to recall the conversation in reasonable detail. Bozo was at peace with himself and not terribly bitter about either his tragic condition or the sad fate to which his accident had consigned him. it don’t matter if you’re on the road for the rest of your life. That’s the way most of them go. But you don’t need to get like that. I know a bit though. It don’t follow that because a man’s on the road he can’t think of anything but tea-and-two-slices. I got two letters from the Astronomer Royal thanking me for writing about meteors. and goes as follows: Bozo: [Referring to his knowledge of the stars] Not a great lot. At one point in Orwell’s association with Bozo. The exchange begins with Orwell displaying a bit of surprise over Bozo’s extraordinary knowledge of the stars. and no doubt Orwell took to him because he was a fellow with whom he could discuss matters and have a reasonably intelligent conversation. only fit to scrounge for fag-ends. Like most cynics. in most respects. and in the same way that many of the successful literary figures of his day troubled him. it don’t cost anything to use your eyes. I despise them. But Bozo troubled Orwell. Orwell: It seems to have that effect on most people. It don’t need to turn you into a bloody rabbit—that is.44 ORWELL. Still. It is hard to imagine that Orwell either imagined or embellished this exchange because Bozo held views with which Orwell disagreed. Bozo was. Bozo: Well. When Orwell found him he was living on the street earning a shilling here and there as a pavement artist. [A cup of tea and two slices of bread with margarine. Orwell: What a good idea! I should never have thought of it. not if you set your mind to it. Look at Paddy—a tea-swilling moocher. AND POWER Bozo had been a craftsman and able to earn a decent living before an unfortunate accident left him incapacitated. a classic cynic. he was well aware of the tragic state of the political world but also inclined to think that there was little anyone could do about it. POLITICS.] Orwell: But isn’t it very hard to take an interest in things—things like stars—living this life? Bozo: Screeving [pavement art] you mean? Not necessarily. the subject of the stars came up. and a rather remarkable conversation followed. If you’ve got any education.

he was certainly the type of character Orwell had in mind when he fashioned Benjamin. Bozo displays a different sense in which the poor are apolitical and also illustrates another reason why we ought not think that the poor can become a source of . I’m inclined to think he may have been the fellow who inspired Orwell’s notorious character Benjamin the mule in Animal Farm.: 164–5. Bozo: No. and he thought. stoic view of his world and his freedom left a powerful impression on Orwell. that any sort of improvement in the human condition was beyond human design. quite simply. he was still a thinking being. Orwell’s italics) Bozo’s curious and. 1946b: 56). But one must live through them because that’s life. for he thought things could be made better and because of this it was worth trying to make them better. however. And anyone who embraces it. and Orwell warmed to him in spite of his cynicism. Nonetheless. It is not a motto that the moralist can endorse. you can live the same life rich or poor. . Though impoverished. Bozo would certainly subscribe to the motto that Orwell puts into the mouth of Benjamin in Animal Farm. and sometimes these things were bad. not necessarily. To fail to do so would assure that the motto was a truism. He understood that people could be brought to ruin through no fault of their own (as he had been). This is not a motto Orwell could embrace. for he believed such an attitude presages ongoing political disaster. Orwell had a measure of respect for Bozo even though he was a clear anomaly in Orwell’s world.3 But in Bozo’s case Orwell seemed to find things a bit different. It is tempting to think of Bozo as a pre-Enlightenment thinker. I’ve found just the contrary. but this was not cause for concern because the problems that befall people are not necessarily the result of some character flaw. If you set yourself to it. if not. badly” (Orwell. Things just happened to people. (Ibid. “I’m a free man in here—he tapped his forehead—and you’re all right. like Bozo. Orwell would later rage against this sort of apolitical and pre-Enlightenment fatalism where and when he saw it displayed in the literary community of his day. one wants to say. .The Price of Poverty 45 Orwell: Well. is bound to be an apolitical thinker who will leave the world as it is. “[L]ife would go on as it had always gone on—that is. . You can still keep on with your books and your ideas. You just got to say to yourself. as someone who is resigned to his condition because things are simply beyond human control. It seems to me that when you take a man’s money away he’s fit for nothing from that moment.

His inaction would seem to make him blameworthy. While the tramps have far too much leisure time. While the powerlessness of the working poor of Paris and the miners of Wigan has similar roots. Both are slaves to their jobs. his failure to speak up politically displays a passivity that works to the benefit of the pigs. there is nonetheless a distinction of some importance between the two. The dishwashers of Paris are condemned to “stupid and largely unnecessary work. but the reasons for this limitation are entirely different.” while the underworld of the miner is crucial to the operation of English society. there is also a political cost. Nonetheless. “but so long as he could read. 1933: 167).” Orwell wrote. In Bozo’s case the problem was not a horribly limited and truncated horizon of the mind. Yet he is rarely demonized for his passivism and remains one of the novel’s more endearing characters. he does nothing to protest or expose to his friends the transition of political control into the hands (or hooves) of the pigs. But he had found a way to get along and to sustain himself in the grip of his poverty. 2 The circumstances that render both the working poor of Paris and the miners of Wigan politically impotent are substantially different from those of the tramps of London. and speaks out only once when his friend Boxer is taken away to the knackers. It was the amount of work and the repetition it involved that Orwell noticed in the kitchens of Parisian hotels. Leisure remains a problem for these hard working characters as well. The dishwasher is caught on a treadmill from which there is no apparent escape. While Benjamin the mule can read. he was. for the opposite was very much true of him. They are kept busy to the point of exhaustion. but for an entirely different reason. as he said.46 ORWELL. there is a bit of dignity in Bozo’s outlook. Like the tramps. AND POWER revolutionary transformation. under the circumstances. the horizon of their minds again dooms them to political powerlessness. free in his own mind” (Orwell. yet their jobs differ importantly. think and watch for meteors. If Orwell could not condone such an apolitical philosophy. The irony of this is evident enough in Animal Farm. He looked out for himself instead. “He might be ragged and cold. or even starving. if there is dignity in the efforts of thinking beings to cope with a condition of poverty by retreating to cynicism. a fact that separates him from the “lower animals” with whom he associated. he could not deny that. POLITICS. though the other animals cannot understand his concern. . neither the workers in Paris nor the miners in Wigan have much leisure at all.

of course. Orwell found a bit of dignity in this life. they think about their lot in life and their prospects for realizing something a bit better. people are always conscious of something. He has fallen into poverty from middle-class origins largely because he refuses to compromise with the “money God. and of these sleep is the most important” (Ibid. The mind is never empty. and thus they do not think politically. and the modest life it supported. They think about their jobs and their future. however. coupled with the dreary conditions in which the dishwasher is forced to live. unwilling to do what they can in order to feed themselves.” He aspires to be an artist. “Nothing is quite real to him but the boulet. “the pride of the drudge—the man who is equal to no matter what quantity of work” (Orwell. wander to deeper. like Comstock. more reflective thoughts that focus upon the socio-economic causes of their poverty and their wage enslavement. if he is aware of it at all. We encounter this account of poverty again in the character of Gordon Comstock. that he does not mean by this that the poor are just walking zombies with empty minds. He noticed a pride in the dishwashers. because “they have no leisure for it. Constant work and the perpetual exhaustion it creates leave the working poor “trapped by a routine which makes thought impossible” (Ibid. Comstock’s biography is rather different from what we learn of the working poor of Paris. and to eat he must work—and work endlessly. pushes one’s consciousness entirely into oneself. came with a terrible price. they resemble Orwell’s tramps. And in this sense the poor do a lot of thinking. The steady repetition of life.: 116). The external world becomes a mirage about which the dishwasher is only dimly aware.The Price of Poverty 47 The dishwasher must eat to live. their own predicament. seemingly because they cannot. The dishwasher’s social horizon orbits around himself and little else because he has neither the time nor the energy to think about things beyond his own well-being and survival. But these thoughts always remain close to home. drinks and sleep. the focus of their mental gaze is always on their own life. even if this involves abandoning their more lofty ideals and ambitions. . As Orwell puts it. but his poverty is a constant barrier to his more noble pursuits. 1933: 78). He is reduced to the condition of a grumbling malcontent at war with the socio-economic realities that punish those. and their own respective and immediate futures. These workers do not think. the ambivalent protagonist of Keep the Aspidistra Flying.” Orwell makes it apparent. a poet. But this unending work. Perhaps predictably. They do not. Here. The intellectual cost of such a life should be readily apparent. It numbs the worker to the world around him and erodes his moral sensitivity.: 91).

But he lacks any inclination whatsoever to give his anger a political shape. in the small hours. there was a murder just beneath my window. POLITICS. When one’s focus is upon the drudgery one must endure. and. they retain a degree of humanity in spite of their predicament—rather unlike the tramps of London. his thoughts always hover around his own personal problems. I could see the murderers. the well-off parlor socialist. going to the window. it does not reach them because the routine of their life leaves no time or place for it. he thinks about the shame of it all. AND POWER What matters about Comstock for present purposes is the curiously apolitical character Orwell gives to the fellow. . Like the poor of Paris. Orwell describes his Parisian comrades as reasonably generous and considerate fellows. Orwell further suggests that the disinclination to think politically in a condition of poverty is driven at least partly by the moral debasement the poor suffer. the one character readers might expect to have sympathy for the working poor—the one character whose poverty might incline him toward political activism. The political thinker in the story is Ravelston. He even chides Ravelston for understanding poverty only through the lens provided by Marx.4 Comstock is confident he knows poverty because he knows its indignity and indecency. his thoughts remain too self-centered for this. he dwells continuously upon the indignities he is forced to suffer and the deprivations he is forced to endure. But this Comstock refuses to do. His parlor socialist friend. he does not think about Marx. does not inspire political consciousness. this is enough to inspire his anger. But the poor are also hardened against human tragedy. Ravelston. the injustice that he is forced to endure. When a member of the fallen middle class feels demeaned by his poverty. one thinks about food. one does not think about Marx. Poverty. at least in the character of Comstock. When one is hungry.48 ORWELL. instead it generates self-pity and poor judgment. But Comstock is oblivious to the social injustice that surrounds him. encourages Comstock to read Marx and by doing so to put his rant against the money God in a more systematic political perspective. I’m inclined to see this not as a character flaw in Comstock but as an Orwellian comment on the disabling condition of poverty. which isn’t much of a lens at all—though there is room to wonder if Orwell was really aware of this. there is little time or temptation to care much about the condition of others. There is irony in this. saw a man lying flat on the stones below. Orwell illustrates the point by telling of a murder he claims to have witnessed while working in Paris: One night. I was awoken by a fearful uproar. and not poor Comstock.

What purpose could such a life serve? What. And it seems that at this point he needed to blame someone for consigning a segment of the human population to such drudgery. but not for Gordon Comstock. it was sleep that really mattered. Orwell had to ask. to engage politics.: 116)? There is irony in Orwell’s desire to grasp the social significance of the dishwasher because he well knew that there really was none.: 118). flitting away at the end of the street. is a luxury that belongs only to those with the time and training for it—a luxury for the likes of Ravelston. The common decency that invites a moral concern for others is not just a casualty of imperial rule. and where was the sense of wasting sleep over a murder? (Ibid. People whose focus of concern is so blind to the plight of others are not likely to find injustice in the lives they live. is “more or less useless. Orwell had now made the initial turn to political thinking (even if he did not officially acknowledge it at this point). he says. But without this sense of decency. what inclination could one have to think about politics. Orwell tells us. 3 The life of the Parisian dishwasher troubled Orwell. I remember the colour of his blood.” and merely affords “a small amount of convenience” to hotels and the well-heeled (Ibid. So were most of the people in the street.The Price of Poverty 49 three of them. to become politically empowered? A concern for justice. like wine. curiously purple. But what Orwell was really after was a grasp of the socio-political condition that requires some people to endure such hardship so that others can eat in fancy restaurants. But the thing that strikes me looking back is that I was in bed and asleep within three minutes of the murder. his skull cracked with a piece of lead piping. it seems. they are too busy living them for any of this. . .: 91) Perhaps the most striking feature of this passage is Orwell’s confession that he did not think much about his actions until he had the time to look back on the event in question. and he had done so with a chip on his shoulder. He wanted to understand the power relationships in play that bring this condition about. Not a moment is taken to ponder the tragedy associated with the loss of a human life. was its “social significance” (Ibid. it is also a casualty of poverty. and went straight back to bed. . . Such work. it was still on the cobbles when I came home that evening. We were working people. we just made sure the man was done for. Some of us went down and found that the man was quite dead.

that the perpetuation of useless and dirty work is little more than a mechanism of social control. consider a possible explanation of the social significance of the dishwasher that he introduces and explores. simply fear of the mob. at bottom.” He does not see that since there .” he says. and directing the flow and direction of their shared lives. If things have gone badly for some. for it is the very idea of the “work of civilization” that he felt the need to question. So. those wealthy snobs Orwell imagines to be endowed with a powerful sense of basic human superiority are not just wealthy. he is quick to insist. POLITICS. wanting only a day’s liberty to loot his house. fundamental difference between rich and poor. educated. burn his books. are reflective creatures who are fully capable of examining.” he thinks. sooner than let that mob loose. The mob (the thought runs) are such low animals that they would be dangerous if they had leisure. “is a superstitious fear. “Some people must feed in restaurants. it is “at bottom” a caste system—and one that subtly rejects or denies the liberal ideal of the basic equality of persons. AND POWER To illustrate. it is safer to keep them too busy to think” (Ibid. understanding. it must be because others want it that way. The poor are properly left to labor to the advantage of the rich because in the end they are really a subhuman mob. But their education has not eliminated their moral stupidity: The educated man pictures a horde of submen. Indecency is not an inevitable condition of history but a consequence of a moral failing in some people.” “Fear of the mob. It is based on the idea that there is some mysterious.” he hypothesizes.: 119). in the fashion of a sociologist. Nor does he leave matters at this. It is the work of civilization. he looks beneath the fact of economic difference to expose a “deeper lie. they are also. “and so other people must swab dishes for eighty hours a week. and set him to work minding a machine or sweeping out a lavatory.” he says. as though they were two different races.: 116). The prospect that civilization has a momentum and a logic all its own that legitimates and justifies the features that develop within it seemed outrageous to him at this point in his life. and therefore unquestionable” (Ibid. in Orwell’s judgment. a means by which the rich dominate and oppress the impoverished masses that apparently threaten their condition of privilege. Human beings. “Anything. So the class system that Orwell noticed has a deeper and darker side. “I believe. any injustice. some unmasking needs to be done to get to the bottom of things and understand why some people must labor eighty hours a week doing menial and largely useless work. He concludes. But this will hardly do as an explanation of the work of the dishwasher.50 ORWELL.: 120). Interestingly. “that this instinct to perpetuate useless work is. like negroes and white men” (Ibid.

and the pigs have since then co-opted the other animals’ catalyst for revolutionary thought. Orwell elects to think in conspiratorial terms. The mob is in fact loose now. The biting poverty the miners of Wigan were forced to endure again wrecked their lives in ways reminiscent of the dishwashers of Paris. there is no question of setting the mob loose. there would never have been an animal revolution in the first place. this all seems a bit silly. As Orwell explains in Goldstein’s book in Nineteen Eighty-four. . Perhaps predictably.: 120–1) So the work of the drudge is the grand scheme of the wealthy and educated who believe. 4 Orwell’s conspiratorial inclinations did not last long. But the work of the miners was not useless work. Pilkington say to the pigs. it was work of vital importance for English life. the long hours of work. Minors were not sent into the mines to keep them busy and make sure they did not become a rebellious rabble. conspiracy had given way to an appreciation for the vicissitudes of circumstance. This he recognizes as a strategy of control aimed at keeping the animals too busy and impoverished to reflect upon the injustice of their predicament. . the lower class is a threat to the upper class only when members of the middle class inspire them to revolution. 1946b: 126). mistakenly in Orwell’s judgment. Orwell’s experience in Wigan served to confirm his suspicions about the price of poverty. for the “lower animals” don’t seem to require such elaborate strategies of control. But in Down and Out and to a lesser extent in Animal Farm. And again he found the poor to be a dull and politically impotent lot. And people who cannot think are left politically powerless. This thought will be echoed once again in the closing pages of Animal Farm when Orwell has Mr. however. In the absence of the inspiration from Old Major and the other pigs. . rendering them unable to think. “If you have your lower animals to contend with. In Animal Farm. and—in the shape of rich men—is using its power to set up enormous treadmills of boredom. The educated know that poverty and unending work dull the abilities of the poor. . Pilkington goes on.The Price of Poverty 51 is no difference between the mass of rich and poor. By the time he left Wigan. of course. and the general absence of pampering” he has noticed at Animal Farm. we have our lower classes!” (Orwell. (Ibid. to congratulate the pigs on the “low rations. that they must find some way to control the great number of submen who live among them. such as “smart” hotels.

Down there where coal is dug it is a sort of world apart which one can quite easily go through life without ever hearing about” (Orwell. and they did it without criticism or complaint. Here Orwell is exploring the . and dangerous. She knew well enough what was happening to her—understood as well as I did how dreadful a destiny it was to be kneeling there in the bitter cold. But then. 1958: 33). Orwell supposes. Early in the text Orwell creates the impression that the wretched lives these people lead is really clear to them and that they understand and detest their plight at least to some degree. “Watching coal-miners at work. you realize momentarily what different universes different people inhabit. (Ibid. POLITICS.” and that people bred in the slums can imagine nothing but the slums. Yet the impression this passage leaves sits awkwardly beside another impression Orwell cultivates later in the text. For what I saw in her face was not the ignorant suffering of an animal. hopeless” one he had ever seen.: 18) This woman. an element of nobility in all this that Orwell is quick to identify and document. he tells the story of a woman he noticed out the window of his train as he rode “through the monstrous scenery” of the northern slums. poking a stick up a foul drain-pipe. Orwell puts an answer to this question that is crucial for an understanding of his political thought. But Orwell’s account of the dignity of the miner is packaged alongside an altogether understandable disbelief. how should we account for this powerlessness? In Wigan Pier. on the slimy stones of a slum backyard. Yet the miners remained the unseen and unrecognized victims of the very society they labored to sustain. did not need to be told that her life was one of misery and drudgery or that people should not have to live like this if it was humanly possible to prevent it. and he described her expression as the “most desolate. There was. As he tells it: It struck me then that we are mistaken when we say that “It isn’t the same for them as it would be for us. demanding. and it was up to the miners to get it—and thus to keep England alive. AND POWER They were sent into the mines because coal at the time was the lifeblood of England. to be sure. Why do these people put up with their difficult lives and the indecent treatment to which they are subjected on a near daily basis? That they do so is evident testament to their political powerlessness. The woman was poking at what Orwell supposed was a clogged waste-pipe running from a sink in her house. To illustrate this point. They labored for little reward at a challenging job with little future.52 ORWELL. Orwell found the work of the miners of the day to be difficult.

It is just the same. They are the prisoners of circumstance and unable to control or even influence the forces that impose upon them a condition that they detest. . Yet this view of the matter merely makes the question of the political powerlessness of these people all the more urgent. “When we were told about it. seems built into Orwell’s account of poverty in Down and Out and Aspidistra. He documents . This. though it has a degree of plausibility about it. The reason. Even if they are aware of their plight. say.The Price of Poverty 53 housing shortage. and he tells a little story about a conversation he had with a miner. The fatalism Orwell encounters in Wigan is again underscored by the limited “horizons of the mind” of the people condemned to live lives of drudgery and poverty. .: 18). and perhaps knowingly suffer. If the miners of Wigan are aware of their sorry predicament. . The poor are caught in the grip of a power vice. Perhaps he would have liked it to be untrue because he wanted to think that the poor are aware of and sensitive to their misery. this was part of his literary agenda in Wigan Pier. with a little political effort. People forced to live eleven in a room should surely know that this is an indecent hardship. and Orwell wanted to impress his readers with the idea that the people forced to endure such deplorable conditions are not blind to their fate. was the kind of thing people would put up with “till they were told about it. all they know. even if they seriously entertained the desire to break loose. and they have no idea how to break loose. he said. they endure it because it is all they have. The salient passage goes as follows: Talking once with a miner I asked him when the housing shortage first became acute in his district.” (Ibid. they are still not disposed to do much of anything about it. Their consciousness does not extend to the realm of politics or to more theoretical reflections on what is and what. he answered.” meaning that till recently people’s standards were so low that they took almost any degree of overcrowding for granted. might be. Down and Out. But in Wigan Orwell also noticed how these horizons of the mind are constrained by silly diversions and the bric-a-brac of modernity. and the poor know it.: 64–5) Orwell hastens to add that he does not know whether this is true. Poverty numbs the mind to such an extent that those who suffer. Unlike. from it are incapable of thinking sufficiently to become angry over their situation. moreover. His better-off readers must now give up the belief that the deplorable conditions that accompany poverty are not “the same for them as it would be for us” (Ibid.

The circumstances of modernity have taken care of this. (Ibid. these things are rather close to home. POLITICS. Hitler. they have enough spare time to entertain themselves with simple palliatives. but the decision of the Football Association to stop publishing their fixtures in advance (this was an attempt to quell the Football Pools) flung all of Yorkshire into a fury. But the rich and powerful need not work overtly to protect themselves from the mob. tinned salmon. I happened to be in Yorkshire when Hitler re-occupied the Rhineland. art-silk stockings. but they still matter.: 89)5 This marks the demise of Orwell as a conspiracy theorist. strong tea and the Football pools have between them averted revolution. Unlike the dishwashers of Paris. AND POWER with derision the way the poor of the north were occupied by transient pleasures and mindless activities. Orwell found a bit of nobility in the simplicity and dedication of the working folk he encountered in Wigan. the radio. They have no inclination to rebel because they have no political . between complacency and contentment. they find solace in the diversions that blind them to the reality of their situation.54 ORWELL. The working poor. Locarno. (Ibid. He develops this thought in a manner worth noting at length: Of course the post-war development of cheap luxuries has been a very fortunate thing for our rulers.: 90) There is a thin line. With apparent amazement he tells of a moment that made a lasting impression on him. cut-price chocolate (five two-ounce bars for sixpence). but he also found them dreadfully stupid. The thing has happened. What I have seen of our governing class does not convince me that they have that much intelligence. but by an unconscious process—the quite natural interaction between the manufacturer’s need for a market and the need of half-starving people for cheap palliatives. it would seem. the movies. It is quite likely that fish and chips. find a bit of contentment in their lives. with no background to help them think otherwise. They have things that matter to them. Fascism and the threat of war aroused hardly a flicker of interest locally. Therefore we are sometimes told that the whole thing is an astute manoeuvre by the governing class—a sort of “bread and circuses” business—to hold the unemployed down. though he continued to attribute an obsession with the need for control of the lower classes to the upper class. Granted.

perhaps as exactly as they possibly could. 1946a: 206).: 4.” Their entrapment is the result of the power grid of events—the kind of uncontrolled and unmanaged power that was of concern to Foucault. As they see it. It was the face of an ordinary fellow.” “is like the growth of a plant. Orwell tells us. and a basic human dignity. This romanticism inclined him toward a degree of optimism. strong and defiant. They are powerless because they are oblivious. In his traditional literary fashion. the football pools. Orwell. where common folk were fighting for equality and dignity. “The struggle of the working class. this fellow personifies Orwell’s Spanish experience. And it was also in Spain that he experienced what he called “equality in fact. In Spain. he fought for common decency his entire life and against fascism once he recognized its political presence. in the Spanish struggle against fascism. For there remains the inspiring moments he experienced in Spain. 1952: 47). . they have tinned salmon. And their powerlessness is not the product of deliberate oppression by a tyrannical upper class but the consequence of an “unconscious process. equality.” The political ideals he had formed in response to his battle for decency took concrete shape. It is tempting to think that in Spain Orwell’s romance with the lower class ran away with him. though in his second account of the man he adds innocence to the description (Ibid. Nonetheless. that he encounters the “crystal spirit. for he supposed the crystal spirit really is indomitable.” he tells us in “Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War. ready to insist upon respect. They are the victims of an indecency they cannot begin to recognize.The Price of Poverty 55 consciousness. 5 All this will seem familiar enough to students of Nineteen Eighty-Four. gambling. of course. Orwell’s account of the proles parrots almost exactly the view of the working poor he develops in Wigan Pier. But we move too quickly if we conclude that the lower classes simply factor out of Orwell’s political theory at this point. It was there. But there is little surprise in this. Orwell personifies this spirit by writing it into the face of an Italian militiaman he encountered early in his Spanish adventure. he fought against fascism and for common decency (Orwell. But Orwell also describes him as rather stupid and admits that if he was to retain his romantic first impression of the man he had best not see him again. and alcohol to meet their needs and fill up their few moments of leisure.” the indomitable spirit of the ordinary man to struggle for a more just and egalitarian social order. Orwell twice described the face as fierce and pathetic.

Winston’s faith in the proles. What good would have come from any attempt on his part to challenge the manipulation of the pigs? Orwell finally exorcises his romantic idealism regarding the political power of the proles in the struggle between Winston and O’Brien in Nineteen Eighty-Four.” whose nobility. once again. it lay in the proles. and after the romanticism he took from Spain began to wear off. Orwell supposes. their sheer numbers provided grounds for optimism. but it knows enough to keep pushing upwards towards the light. that such optimism was at best naïve. was misplaced—an element of his dementia—and O’Brien had little problem pointing this out to him. 1946a: 202). (Orwell. waiting perhaps for some catalyst to set it blossoming again. Winston himself had put the point clearly in the early passages of the text: But if there was hope. This proletarian fight for common decency will ebb and flow. it was when you looked at the human beings passing you on the pavement that it became an act of faith. POLITICS.56 ORWELL. Orwell’s many biographers and commentators make it clear that he remained the champion of the working poor throughout his life. and would remain. but it will continue. at least in his later works. The proles could participate in a revolution. There could be no spontaneous revolutionary combustion emerging from the ranks of the “blind and stupid. a bundle of . of course. The revolution inspired by Old Major fails. and one that Orwell’s own familiarity with these people could not support. You had to cling on to that. If properly inspired. But the point should not shroud from view the ambivalence Orwell had regarding the political clout of these people. a point that there is little reason to doubt. They were. and it will do this in the face of endless discouragements” (Orwell. his inclination to see them as a political force in their own right was just that—an act of faith. Benjamin the mule’s fatalism is perhaps understandable in this light. AND POWER The plant is blind and stupid. When you put it in words it sounded reasonable. for Orwell. but because of the stupidity of the lower animals. was lodged in the ability to endure a condition they should have recognized as unendurable. 1961: 73) Orwell’s romantic attachment to the lower class aside. But Orwell also recognized. The “lower animals” lacked the consciousness and insight to fully understand the meaning of Animalism. but first they had to be told about their plight. not chiefly because of the oligarchical character of the pigs. Evidence of this is quite up front in Animal Farm.

He knew them well enough to realize that one could not turn to them in hopes of halting the drift toward totalitarianism. There was much about these people Orwell elected to admire. that this contributed to the sadness of their predicament. The inner party makes no real effort to control the proles. no doubt with some justification. say. as they were. They are not the target of state oppression and control beyond the modest measures required to provide them with the “cheap palliatives” that satisfy their modest concerns—the “films. but the spark of revolutionary transformation necessary to set them off must come from without. Failing this revolutionary spark. Use of the masculine pronoun seems justified here because Orwell found that the vast majority of the tramps he encountered were men. above all. it is also a life without either love or sex. The point is foreshadowed in Coming Up for Air. The life of the tramp is not just a life without the things money can buy. ironically.The Price of Poverty 57 revolutionary potential thanks to their considerable numbers. it will be because some middle-class sorts have managed to reach them politically to inspire their support. when George Bowling notices that for chaps like him. football. in the French revolution. there is no need for this. It is with this in mind that readers should approach Goldstein’s book and Orwell’s brief historical narrative in Nineteen Eighty-Four. . They are the prisoners of a power grid far more effective than any petty tyrant could hope to be. The minions of the inner party have fathomed the political powerlessness of these people. to paraphrase a line from Benjamin the mule. Orwell appears to symbolize this shattering in the novel when the crystal paperweight Winston treasured is shattered upon his capture by the thought police. beer. Orwell may have elected to dress in the fashion of the ordinary worker and to champion their cause—a cause. Notes 1. He believed. If the proles are politically empowered. but he was not one of them. and. in Nineteen Eighty-Four. 1961: 61–2). 1961: 183. 1950: 177). 2. when fascism comes to England “it probably won’t make the slightest difference” (Orwell. Orwell leaves little doubt. about which they remained largely oblivious. There lives go on as they always have. that is to say badly. History ends in Nineteen Eighty-Four because the inner party has noticed this and taken steps to control the outer party so thoroughly that no revolutionary fervor will come from this quarter. about the political impotence of the working class proles. See Orwell. but he did not turn a blind eye to their political insignificance. gambling [that] filled up the horizons of their minds” (Orwell.

AND POWER 3. 2003: 192).58 ORWELL. There will be reason to explore this theme more thoroughly in later chapters. Cf.” 1946a: 210–51. 4. Orwell. POLITICS. the question of whether Orwell read Marx remains open. To fail to integrate political themes into one’s writing. 1980: 201). Orwell chided more than one writer for his/her apparent disinterest in politics. has unfortunate political consequences. Bowker. He is confident that Orwell had read the Communist Manifesto and rather supposes that he had read other materials as well Bowker. From what I have been able to determine. 5. Worry over the football pools accompanies Orwell’s notice that the poor of the north found considerable delight in gambling with what little money they had. on the other hand. if any at all (Crick. Orwell supposed. “Inside the Whale. Crick does not think he read much Marx. thinks Orwell had read at least some Marx. .

a life close to the earth. These structural concerns were of little interest to him. and Keep the Aspidistra Flying shows him tweaking the parlor socialists that he worried would abandon socialism when they learned the truth about the lower classes. supposing at times that socialism implied greater political centralization and apparently hoping at times that it might involve worker control and greater political decentralization of the sort favored by anarchists (Cf. Woodcock. and he valued simple thinking. But he remained ambivalent about what this might mean in practice. So. He valued a simple life. He cared about the plight of the poor. and the promise of a more decent world it advertised. and he wanted to do something about it. But the modern world Orwell saw on the socio-political horizon was hardly simple. but he wasn’t much of a fellow-traveler.4 Revolting Pigs Orwell may have been a confirmed socialist in his own mind. what kind of a socialist was Orwell? If we can learn something of his politics by thinking of him as a socialist. He devoted considerable literary energy to attacks on the socialist movement of his day. Yet this moral concern was hardly sufficient to make him a good socialist. and they play little or no role in his literary endeavors. and in fact there is reason to suppose that what it did was to make him a good liberal with a revisionist twist. He builds his own sense of anachronism into George Bowling in Coming Up for Air. 1966: 159–62). and offers 59 . What mattered to him was the morality associated with socialism. I doubt that we can make much progress toward understanding his political thought if we persist in thinking of him in these terms. thinking bereft of unnecessarily turgid and convoluted notions and slogans. It is not altogether inappropriate to think of Orwell as a simple man in an increasingly complicated world. however. Wigan Pier ends with Orwell brazenly lecturing his socialist colleagues on the proper fundamentals of socialism.

“The Socialist world is to be above all things an ordered world. Orwell’s sympathy for some idealized vision of democratic socialism seems sensible enough. Yet political empowerment of government to permit the required correction expands the potential for the abuse of political power. changes best understood in terms of political centralization. but it was more attractive than fascism.” and believed that this is the sort of thing that made “sensitive minds recoil” (Ibid. by the time he went north to Wigan. Given the nature of this dilemma. and Coming Up for Air is a quiet complaint against a future that seems both overly complex and completely unavoidable. that the world was teetering between socialism and fascism and that it was bound to go in one direction or the other. POLITICS. He held. which he thought was at best little more than “Socialism with the virtues left out” (Orwell. but he also understood that such a state might be unavoidable if economic injustice was to be averted. He worried that. his nineteenth century liberal sympathies sit awkwardly beside his twentieth century desire for the elimination of economic inequality. Orwell shared his concerns about the rise of a “beehive state” with classical liberals who naturally fear the emergence of a powerful centralized government. the world of the machine. an efficient world. It is not a world for lovers of simplicity. greater social complexity.: 189–90. and he had little use for any of the reshaping that he imagined would take place. the greater the likelihood of total government control becomes. but it cannot correct for market injustices. Modest and limited government is a good check against the abuse of political power. that central governments were growing in power and that the process of governing was moving in the direction of social management by a centralized political authority. But the more power government amasses in order to provide the required social management. Modernity would leave nothing alone. for Orwell. Orwell already saw political changes on the horizon. Orwell believed. These political ideals should inspire and animate the state regardless of the degree of . Socialism in this sense was not overly attractive to Orwell. Modernity. 1958: 219). including politics. and impending war come to symbolize modernity for Orwell. the need for government grows along with its responsibilities. would thoroughly reshape our lives.1 In a complex world. and centralization raised the specter of tyranny.60 ORWELL. Population explosion. Orwell’s italics). The proper antidote for this problem is to instill in the people an appreciation for those ideals necessary for the domestication of political power—the very ideals that define politically what it means to live decently. Both implied centralization. in Wigan Pier. He had noticed. AND POWER readers a character facing a reality characterized by increased mechanical sophistication and a terribly accelerated pace of life. In this sense.

Orwell’s italics). but in the grand tradition of liberalism. is someone who wishes “to see tyranny overthrown” (Ibid. he does derive his political ideals from an underlying moral philosophy that places great importance on the dignity and integrity of the independent human being. If we suppose that liberty and equality are what really mattered to him. It is worth emphasizing. but it seems safe to conclude that he could at least live with centralization if centralized government displayed a commitment to making liberty and equality realities in the political world. it is within the liberal tradition of political discourse. Orwell does not make much of the notion of individual rights. and the singular value that seems always to have hovered in the background of his political consciousness finally received an exact expression. In Spain. It was in Spain that Orwell thought he found a condition of “equality in fact. however. Underlying this view of the matter we find the twin ideals of justice and liberty. Orwell’s political lexicon took on an added sophistication. to be sure. His dedicated defense of basic human decency is testimony to this liberal inclination. the real socialist. 1 The portrait of Orwell as a liberal thinker requires considerable defense. Unlike most liberal spirits. for he never overtly embraced the idea of liberalism and apparently . Totalitarianism could be abated only if liberty and equality prevailed across the land. we can characterize his political thought as an effort to revitalize the floundering liberal tradition.: 221). at the same time.” and he quickly added the ideal of equality to his account of socialism. Liberty and equality thus became for him the conditions of justice and the ends for which genuine socialists are presumed to struggle. In Wigan Pier. to address the problem of profound economic inequality? To answer this. If they have an obvious historical political home. “Those are the words that have got to ring like a bugle across the world” (Ibid. he tells us.: 216. Orwell never explores in much detail whether liberty and equality are reconcilable with political centralization. So he faced a question that has become the focus of much contemporary theorizing on political life: how might one keep liberalism alive and enable it. he appealed rather idealistically to a fairly vague notion of democratic socialism.Revolting Pigs 61 centralization it displays. he explains what he means by socialism in normative terms. that the twin ideals of liberty and equality are hardly the sole province of socialism. But he also understood that centralization tends toward totalitarianism because of the hazards associated with locating political power in the hands of an elite few. or even anarchism (another ism with which Orwell flirted).

a reference he recants. When viewed against the background provided by liberal morality. Orwell bemoans increased political centralization. for the emergence of political centralization presses in the direction of totalitarianism. In one of his few specific comments about liberalism. he offered some evidence to suggest that he understood that the future of liberty and equality are tied to the liberal tradition.62 ORWELL. in short. Orwell’s political thought begins to take a reasonably precise shape. and you consequently can’t violate it in ways that impair military efficiency.2 The passage I have in mind appears in “Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War. The other is that so long as some parts of the earth remain unconquered. but he also recognizes it to be a feature of the modern world—a world Orwell considered distasteful in so many ways. behind your back. and totalitarianism is inconsistent with liberalism. is understood by Orwell to be something that matters to both the defense of decency and the liberal tradition. AND POWER had little sympathy for the self-proclaimed liberals of his day. in Nineteen Eighty-Four. His concern for the plight of the poor remains constant as his political thought develops. One is that however much you deny the truth. Nonetheless. he recognizes that the forces driving human development are taking us toward centralization. it is hardly fanciful. the truth goes on existing. His disinclination to move too close to liberalism was perhaps a result of the belief that it offered little solace for the working poor. at least in more contemporary terms. Truth. 1946a: 200) There will be occasion shortly to explore the meaning behind Orwell’s odd reference to military efficiency. the liberal tradition can be kept alive.” and goes as follows: Against that shifting phantasmagoric in which black may be white tomorrow and yesterday’s weather can be changed by decree. to classify Orwell as a liberal apologist. but it also goes on the back burner. Speaking through the voice of George Bowling in Coming Up for Air. (Orwell. there is some hope for truth. since classical liberals often seem comfortable with economic inequality. In any event. . POLITICS. As long as those parts of the earth presently under the spell of liberalism remain unconquered. presumably by the spirit of totalitarianism. speaking through O’Brien. as it were. the second defense of truth he introduces is what matters for present purposes. a claim that echoes the spirit of John Stuart Mill. there are in reality only two safeguards. though perhaps rather anachronistic.

not from Nazi Germany or even the Stalinist Soviet Union. is of course democratic socialism. but that does not lead him to look with disdain on the second. We know what he thought about socialism.: 77) The first account of democracy is curiously classical in character. 1950: 267). In a better world.Revolting Pigs 63 “There’s no way back to Lower Binfield. It means a form of society in which there is considerable respect for the individual. though he would also have to concede the need for some consciousness raising among the “common people” before such a democracy could hope to endure. but from within. he does undertake its defense in his wartime essay. speech.” Bowling says. How. The other is much vaguer but is more nearly what we mean when we speak of democracy in such a context as this. and this threatens liberal society with a turn toward totalitarianism—not from without. that he understands democracy in this sense to place political power in the hands of the common people. and political organization. for example. “you can’t put Jonah back into the whale” (Orwell. It is this rather than any definite political system that we mean by democracy when we contrast it with totalitarianism. in Orwell’s view. The best defense against this is to cultivate democracy in the second sense. a reasonable amount of freedom of thought. There he tells us that democracy admits of two common meanings. (Ibid. Orwell’s sympathies for the common people naturally inclined him to look with some favor on this first account of democracy. but Orwell remained irritatingly vague on what this involves. and what one might call a certain decency in the conduct of the government. and more clearly liberal. it is worth noticing. and it is worth quoting him at length on this issue in order to understand the meanings he has in mind: One is the primary sense of the word—a form of society in which power is in the hands of the common people. he lived in a world threatened by a totalitarian menace growing like a cancer in the land. account. the democracy that values “freedom . it involves a commitment to the twin liberal virtues of equality and liberty. Orwell would have surely found reason to stump for the first form of democracy against the second. can the liberal tradition survive as centralized states grow and governments become more powerful? The only alternative to totalitarianism. Modernity comes with a pace and a complexity that makes centralization inevitable. then. “Culture and Democracy” (Orwell. not just the people. But he did not live in this better world. 1942). But why is it democratic socialism that matters? While Orwell is generally rather quiet on the subject of democracy.

This is far from contradictory. But the socialist and anarchist thinkers who would expropriate his work for their own purposes also fail to appreciate the nuanced aspect of his political thought. to be sure.64 ORWELL. for they demonstrate the (very real) possibility of the erosion of liberalism and the final triumph of totalitarianism. and these push in a different direction. Part of liberalism needed revision. respect for the individual and all the rest of it. But part of liberalism also needed support and cultivation. Orwell was. and a consequent commitment to individual liberty. If he could condemn those elements of liberalism that supported a desperately inequitable distribution of social goods. he could also recognize in liberalism the grounds for a suspicion of state power. nor was he alone in noticing those values of the liberal tradition that need nurture and cultivation. Orwell was hardly alone in noticing the need for revisions in liberal thinking. and on the grounds that such a distribution was inconsistent with liberal ideals. Instead. These forces are responsible for the “hate world” that George Bowling recognizes to be on the horizon. that is the hallmark of classical liberalism. however. I want to say. even as he recognized their political impotence. and Orwell never really confronts this problem directly. But Orwell was aware that there are other socio-political forces at work in the world as well. POLITICS. These are the socio-political forces that we need to understand. The diabolical sage does not create totalitarianism. If bad people make totalitarianism a reality. this means that the best defense against totalitarianism is to cultivate liberalism. away from . it would have to be because the liberal spirit of suspicion of governmental power and the corresponding defense of individual liberties was kept alive.” Put in more distinctly doctrinal form. for if keeping totalitarianism at bay was possible. socio-political forces are at work to make people bad. the forces of socio-political life do. on Orwell’s accounting of things. he draws in words a portrait of the socio-political forces at work to erode liberal ideals and send the western world toward totalitarianism. But he also detested the totalitarian tendencies of his day. AND POWER of speech. But his voice most certainly lent a certain support to both movements. These forces work. The expropriation of his work by more conservative thinkers in order to enlist him as an opponent of Soviet communism has always rankled those who recognize his more leftist inclinations. Seeing Orwell as a liberal helps clarify a good deal of confusion that often surrounds his work. and in this Orwell belonged to a new and emerging liberal tradition—one that separates modern liberals from classical libertarians. Nothing in all this indicates how the valuable side of liberalism might be kept alive. a champion of the poor. independently of individual will.

for Animal Farm is a decidedly political novel with a plot that unravels around the complex and sensitive themes of power.3 But this account of Orwell’s intentions underestimates the political power of the story.Revolting Pigs 65 totalitarianism and toward liberalism. and the best way to begin is by taking a close look at what is perhaps his most famous and most successful novel. Orwell himself mentioned that the book was intended as a satire of this sort. The story Orwell tells in Animal Farm is well known. the book was written as. Orwell’s political world is a clash of forces. readers will find a work that identifies and highlights extraordinary political challenges confronting modern liberal states. control. a satire on the Russian revolution and the emergence of Stalin. I will consider first the traditional and altogether familiar reading of the story. peeling away its layers like the skin of an onion until one reaches its political heart (Cf. On this view. Readers familiar with the story will recall that the novel begins with a focus upon a group of animals that labor away on something called “Manor Farm” in the service of a human named Jones . The artistic savant might be up to this. He could not stand above the battle and retain any degree of artistic neutrality. and was intended to be. The best way to approach and read the book is to pare the story down. Animal Farm. and revolutionary hope. but this is hardly a position that a moralist would want to embrace. it seems appropriate to approach the story by offering a brief rehearsal of the flow of events portrayed in the novel. Bowker. Once its depths as a political novel are exposed. however. this was the political purpose that drove his political writing. and the political fate of much of the world hung in the balance. and the book continues to command a heavy readership even following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the eclipse of the cold war. and victory for either side is indeterminate. The political world would go in one of two possible directions— either to fascism (totalitarianism) or to democratic socialism (liberalism). He believed that he lived and worked in a pivotal historical moment. He wanted to marshal the forces pushing toward liberalism and contribute to their final victory. Nonetheless. So. 2 More needs to be said. but he also claimed that he intended it to be something more than this and hoped that it would also serve as a comment on revolution in general and on the perils that inevitably accompany revolutionary struggle. 2003: 311). to complete the picture of Orwell as a political liberal. or democratic socialism if one prefers.

sheep—mindless followers seemingly incapable of independent thought. and the principles of animalism are quickly adopted as the new governing ideals of the now renamed Animal Farm. and life went well for the animals in the absence of the tyrant man. and recognize man as the common enemy.66 ORWELL. The sheep are. Snowball and Napoleon begin to seize leadership of the farm. Clover the mare and Boxer. . The cat is duplicitous and self-serving. POLITICS.” is vain. While Jones lives well on the profits produced by the animals. the animals do not live all that well. Central to animalism is the idea that all animals should embrace each other as brothers and sisters and respect each other’s freedom. hardworking. “the pretty foolish white mare. quite simply. With Jones gone. provision for the animals had become abundant. Mollie. AND POWER who owns the farm. Jones does little work himself. spending his time commanding and directing the animals who do the work of the farm. and dedicated to the principles of animalism. readers are introduced to an aging boar named Old Major who is moved to entertain the other animals with a story about a strange dream he has had. Boxer in particular is a sympathetic character. driving Jones and his fellow humans from the farm. This vision of a more just social order quickly becomes a source of rapture and solace for the animals. and Squealer. As the book begins. Among the seven commandments that form the constitution and express the convictions behind animalism is the primary stipulation that “All animals are equal!” Orwell’s masterful description of the animals permits the reader to identify the all too human attributes of the various animals populating the farm. To display their commitment to animalism. and stupid. with the arguable exception of Old Major. Old Major tells his audience that he foresaw a world where man had vanished. They are sadly abused and exploited by Jones. are genuine. acknowledge one another as fellow animals. They should stop their petty internal squabbles. and inspired by Old Major’s story. egotistical. The spirit behind Old Major’s musings on animal equality is subtly and carefully woven into a distinctive political doctrine called “Animalism” by its primary architects. Soon an opportunity for rebellion presents itself and the animals swing into action. three pigs named Snowball. they vow to do all they can to bring this idyllic utopia to life on the farm. Two horses. a constitution of sorts is written to give full legal expression to the principles of animalism.4 The pigs are clever but unscrupulous. Napoleon. and the farm quickly takes the status of a metaphor for the economic exploitation and indecency that afflicts the life of the working poor under capitalist systems. who never lives to see the revolution he inspired take place.

though he is. the animals discover that the seven commandments of animalism have disappeared from the side of the barn where the constitution had been written. seize control of the farm. 1946b: 123). rather opposed to killing. and diminished rations again become their plight. exploitation. as we have seen. but he does not make any effort to expose this treachery (with the clear exception of his horror at seeing Boxer taken away to the knackers). Hard work. As the transformation from an egalitarian order to an oppressive totalitarian condition is completed. Benjamin is bright but cynical. The other animals soon find themselves in a condition worse than what they had experienced under farmer Jones. but a quick check of the constitution reveals that in fact it does say precisely what the pigs claim that it says and that their claimed privileges are really entitlements under the tenets of animalism. “All animals are equal. The novel concludes with a chilling scene.Revolting Pigs 67 a powerful but stupid beast of burden who seems to have stepped directly out of the coal mines of Wigan and who recalls the Italian militiaman Orwell notices during his time in Spain. The humans notice the success the pigs have had on this score. There is also Benjamin. begin to blend in with the old tyrants. preferring a complicit fatalism. Boxer is a devoted citizen of Animal Farm willing to do all he can to support the farm. From time to time the pigs claim privileges seemingly inconsistent with the principles of animalism. and soon pigs and humans recognize that they share a common predicament—the control of their workers. Peering through the farmhouse window and . and little work on the farm was done as a result. but some animals are more equal than others” (Orwell. Bozo the street artist from London. and content to notice that none of the animals “has ever seen a dead donkey. Now only one principle was to be found there.” The euphoria that accompanied the revolution and the banishment of farmer Jones inclined the animals to a life of leisure and indolence. and the new tyrants. of course. Snowball and Napoleon step into the power void and begin to organize the animals and get them back to work. but with the support and help of Squealer. and establish a little dictatorship with the pigs exercising what begins to look like totalitarian control. Unlike the other animals he can read. and the pigs slowly and cleverly transform the principles of animalism to suit and support their own totalitarian needs. and it said. now walking on two legs and upright. an attribute that enables him to grasp the treachery of the pigs. it turns out. The pigs reestablish commercial relations with the humans from neighboring farms. another sympathetic character who calls to mind. Napoleon manages to scapegoat Snowball.

POLITICS. Thanks to his familiarity with James Burnham’s reflections on what Burnham termed a managerial revolution. would be returned to Manor Farm. the pigs declared. for while the traditional reading is certainly accurate as far as it goes.68 ORWELL. Things get more interesting when we turn to a second and some may think rather cynical way to interpret the text that moves us some distance from Orwell’s own declared account of the work. and thereby to discredit.” The name of their farm. AND POWER watching the revelry joined by human and pig alike. once again. 1988: 81–112). its rightful name. I think this would do the work an injustice. 3 So then. The parallels between the events on Animal Farm and the Russian revolution are obvious enough. But to leave matters at this and suppose that this exhausts the political message Orwell built into the story would leave the novel as little more than an important period piece. we approach the novel in a fashion suggested by traditional elitist theory and explore it as a work that considers the evolutionary . The cycle of revolution to tyranny was complete and the animals had returned to the condition they had hoped to escape. is to suppose that Orwell was satirizing the Russian revolution and in the process demonstrating that genuine socialists should not look to the Soviet Union for political guidance. there is little doubt that Orwell understood and anticipated the political dynamic at work in this reading. it takes seriously a political dynamic he hoped to satirize. in Animal Farm. The work would have an enduring political message only insofar as it displays an evil that future socialist movements should want to avoid. and there is no reason to rehearse them here. as Orwell imagined it could in his essay on Dickens (Orwell. Rai. there is nonetheless considerable textual support for this interpretation. Suppose. things had become worse and the control of the pigs even more total than the control farmer Jones had exercised— thanks by and large to the new technologies of power derived by the pigs. this has been done to good effect already (Cf. then. 1946a: 64). From the euphoria of revolutionary hope there emerged the horror of totalitarian control. it remains a fairly superficial and unsatisfying account of Orwell’s story as a distinctively political novel. While I do not want to suggest that Orwell had this reading in mind when he wrote the piece. Change had not made things even slightly better. the animals notice all difference between pig and human begin to vanish. Instead. what political lesson does Orwell expect his readers to take from his fairy tale? The traditional response to these questions. It now became “impossible to say which was which.

must assume the responsibility to do the hard and demanding work modern societies require. engineers.” In Animal Farm. we might say that Orwell was worried about the “after-revolution. and the lives of the animals would have decayed rapidly. Happily. and the nature of this division is fixed by the need to organize and coordinate the socio-economic activities required to sustain the state. Ironically. the modicum of truth in the Platonic insight that social roles should be filled by those individuals most able to perform them well. and he goes to pains to explain why Bowling is worried less about the war and more about the “after-war. Of course. According to elitist theory. or some animal. If social life is to go well. the pigs stepped into the void and got things working again.5 On this account. reintroduces the need for political power. things on the farm would have collapsed quickly.” Can noble ideas like equality be sustained once the tyrants are run off? How might political necessity naturally erode those inspiring ideals that initially triggered the revolution by allowing the subjects of oppression to conceptualize their oppression as oppression? The return to normalcy requires a return to political organization and social management. and should not shroud from view. civil society requires a division of labor. and the animals might consider themselves lucky that the pigs were around and willing to undertake the burden of leadership on the farm. Boxer is a particularly important character in this regard because he does not shirk his duty. naïve musings . and with it the inevitable inequalities that arise from the existence of such power. Orwell has George Bowling recognize that war is coming. medical doctors. this reintroduces the Platonic realization that social order runs effectively only when everyone assumes a social role for which she or he is suited. Not everyone can be king. it is important to make sure that the more demanding social roles are filled by those individuals whose talents and abilities are best suited to manage them. this is to say. so to speak—and thus best suited to meet the intellectual demands faced by those who are asked to plan and manage social life. Liberal sympathies for human equality and the like cannot override.Revolting Pigs 69 political trend toward the need for central management in any society able to endure through time. the pigs are the thinkers—the Platonic rulers. and perhaps rather sadly. the return to normalcy. other roles must be filled as well. technicians—perhaps even dishwashers—and so forth. Part of the responsibility of leadership is to see that the work gets done. someone. and this means finding some animal to do it and making sure that the chosen animal does it. to put the point crudely. If the pigs had not stepped into the authority vacuum created by the revolution. because society also requires laborers. On Animal Farm. no work would have gotten done.

70 ORWELL. Because the demands of differing roles in society may vary. equality yields little more than indolence and torpor in the animals. the unequal division of milk should not have caused problems on a properly communal Animal Farm. The pigs must now subvert the revolutionary spirit in the name of good social order. ration of milk by arguing that milk is necessary for good thinking and their contribution to society requires them to be good thinkers (Orwell. justify their enlarged. From a Marxist viewpoint. Unequal distributions of social goods become problematic only where (1) these goods are relatively scarce. 1946b: 42). nothing gets done on the farm. for example. But with these values in place. POLITICS.” would seem both to legitimate and even require distributions of this sort. Concerns for a rigid equality of distribution under such circumstances may actually hinder the well-being of the community by denying to some members the full amount of some resource needed for them to do their job satisfactorily. and hence unequal. Since there is no textual evidence to think this is the case with regard to the animals’ milk ration. the pigs must transform the very values that led to their political ascendance. The rebellion/revolution has as its end the instantiation of a political order that brings these values to life in practice. and (2) the amount of some such good possessed by A doesn’t leave enough for B to satisfy B’s needs. To make social life function properly. . the pigs seize power and provide the centralized authority required to get things moving again. the resources necessary to make sure that those who occupy important roles can do their jobs well may need to be distributed in a manner that fails to meet some idealized egalitarian standard. People (and presumably animals) must have what they need to perform their social function effectively. unequal distributions of this sort are hardly problematic. Orwell’s pigs. such inequalities are not going to raise eyebrows. The animals on the farm are incited to rebellion because they are persuaded to embrace (albeit superficially) a value scheme that enables them to regard their current socio-political condition as oppressive. Recognizing the problem. The Elitist reading of Animal Farm suggests that Orwell was playing with an intriguing problem in the novel. But in a social condition where Marx’s “fetishism of commodities” (a Marxian jawbreaker Orwell never mentions) has been dialectically transcended. But the values of the rebellion/revolution now become impediments to their efforts. “To each according to his needs. AND POWER about equality and the like may well prove to be counterproductive to the realization of all this. because the ideals of the revolution are counterproductive to the afterrevolution. This sort of equality is an early casualty of swine rule on Animal Farm. The Marxist maxim.

we are back to a familiar problem—many are exploited so that a few can enjoy a good life. The predicament posed by the story. Control of the population now becomes a problem for postrevolutionary elites that must be resolved if social well-being is to be realized. And this creates a tension between rulers and ruled. a dilemma Orwell poses with admirable sophistication in the novel. How can the rulers make the necessary adjustments in political ideals to satisfy the requirements of political necessity without generating a second revolution? This. The inequality that bothered him. once one confronts the ongoing realities of socio-economic life. a predicament that matters to anyone who favors the revolutionary ideals of animalism. and the sorry cycle will begin all over again. This is hardly a condition that realizes the well-being of the community as a whole. of course. and are badly exploited in order to allow the pigs to flourish. This parodies Burnham’s cyclical theory of political change that Orwell reproduces. These are the processes that erode the revolutionary ideals. This is the dilemma of revolutionary hope. Orwell was hardly a strict economic egalitarian. If elites cannot manage the control problem. If they are not sufficiently astute to grasp the challenges posed by the afterrevolution. But the economic impoverishment and exploitation of the “lower animals” is only the most superficial of the concerns that seem to animate Orwell. But of course the animals are unable to understand any of this. straight-faced I think. after all. Needless to say. The elitist reading thus suggests the logic that inclines the pigs to chisel away at the revolutionary ideals of animalism. Instead. He supposed it important . establish order. the elitist reading takes the side of the pigs. Of course. egalitarian ideals are difficult to sustain. the “lower animals” are at least reflective enough to notice when the pigs are tinkering with their revolutionary ideals. and perhaps simply out of place. was only tangentially related to the maldistribution of social goods. Orwell. is to determine how one can have one’s revolutionary ideals and effective and stable social order at the same time. in Goldstein’s book in Nineteen Eighty-Four. the “lower animals” are worse off under the pigs than they were under farmer Jones. but then. favored these ideals and wanted to see them survive the after-revolution. so much the worse for revolutionary ideals. whose rule is the inevitable consequence of the need to get society going again. introduces the problem of control that Orwell has Mr.Revolting Pigs 71 On this view. get less in return. Pilkington recognize at the end of the story. of course. and this is the logic Orwell found troubling. on the elitist view. They work harder. and meet social needs. Animal Farm likely will have another revolution in its future.

The indecency associated with economic inequality mattered to Orwell chiefly because it was little more than a manifestation of the indecency linked to social inequality. as Orwell illustrates by having them turn into human-like creatures. or into animals more equal (i. the knowledge that your children will get a fair chance. Given the resultant inequality of social status. freedom from the haunting terror of unemployment. Why should ruling elites—understood in the sense of rule by those most able to rule wisely and effectively (think of Plato’s philosophical rulers here)—transform themselves. simply to not notice elite rule). on egalitarian grounds.72 ORWELL. Orwell. we can suppose he did not set the economic bar terribly high.. AND POWER for everyone to have enough stuff to live decently. What troubles about Animal Farm. and short enough working hours to leave you with a little energy when the day is done. He never says much about the level of economic well-being required for a decent life. (Orwell. since if it brings them a measure of happiness and security. The class/caste division that so bothered him was significantly indecent because of the presumed superiority of the upper caste.e. social inequality rather than strictly economic inequality that mattered most to him. a bath once a day. worthier) than the others. It even seems reasonable for elite rulers to make sure the workers live such economically decent lives. to the social condition created by the pigs even if this modest condition of economic decency was realized. along with all other genuine egalitarians. Enough to eat. and it seems reasonable to think this condition could be satisfied within the context of elite rule. But Orwell would still object. leaving the animal world behind and adopting a new and presumably improved species status. it is necessary to dwell a bit longer on the way elite rule generates the caste system so abhorrent to Orwell.” where he says: All that the working man demands is what these others would consider the indispensable minimum without which human life cannot be lived at all. after all. but from his few comments on the subject. His most developed comments in this regard seem to come from “Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War. clean linen reasonably often. and what constitutes the heart of the indecency that flows through the story. is the transformation of the pigs into social elites. they are likely to be more accepting of elite rule (or more likely. It was. in their own . would have grounds to complain even if the lower castes were allowed to live reasonably decent lives in terms of economic well-being. a roof that doesn’t leak. So. 1946a: 207–8) Satisfying these needs hardly demands much in the way of economic resources. POLITICS. And the pigs quickly become an upper caste.

they could still not overcome the mesmerizing power of power. requires a tyrant. for example. because they are not philosophers they do not know the good. The need to get society going again gives rise to a social distinction between the controllers and the controlled. and it will do so because it will come to want to institutionalize its position of privilege. The elite reading need not take us all the way to Kant. Accordingly. into superior persons/animals—elites in the social sense? The question invites a comparison with Plato’s analysis of political decay near the end of the Republic. We might even put Lord Acton’s concern in larger philosophical dress by supposing that the corrupting power of power is simply something beyond the abilities of human beings. is a product of the lack of moral knowledge in the ruling elite. or egoism. and the corresponding eclipse of egalitarianism. we might conclude that troubles emerged on Animal Farm because Napoleon and Squealer were morally flawed pigs. they still put it aside because they were inspired by baser motives—selfishness perhaps. but what one wants to know is why this must be the case. 1961: 780–5). Orwell wanted to say. he might be understood to be warning against allowing the revolutionary agenda to fall into the hands of morally flawed characters like Stalin. or sheer arrogance—to pursue power for itself and gain control of the farm. The problem. The explanation suggested by the elite reading involves the need to control lower animals who are inspired by revolutionary ideals that become counterproductive in the after-revolution. Perhaps power really does corrupt. for example. and therefore cannot act upon it. with Kant. If these pigs grasped the moral message of Old Major. . In the process the ruling elites confuse its class well-being with the well-being of the polity as a whole (Plato.Revolting Pigs 73 minds. If Orwell was just parodying the Russian revolution. We might say something stronger. and pigs. Tyranny. by retreating to Lord Acton and arguing that Orwell wanted to emphasize that power corrupts. that “Nothing straight can be constructed from such warped wood as that which man is made of ” (Kant. But there are other ways to think about the events that took place on Animal Farm. will decay into oligarchy because the elite class will attempt to solidify its political control and perpetuate itself. 1970: 46). as Plato saw it. Was Orwell making a similar point? The traditional reading would seem to invite this conclusion. Even if the pigs had the best of intentions and were reasonably solid moral characters. Napoleon was morally weak and succumbed to the power of power. on this reading. than moral failing. Timocracy (rule by able elites). but it does suggest that there is more to the emergence of social elites. Perhaps. and a tyrant is understood as a flawed moral character. Plato argued. While not morally bad. to avoid.

they are a caste unto themselves and eventually morph into a group of controllers with the characteristics typical of the controlling class—in this case.74 ORWELL. it indicates how the need to solidify their political control pushed the pigs toward the cultivation of power. that is. a formulation that takes on the character of a paradox. 4 The problem that emerges from the elitist reading can be given a typically Orwellian formulation. Society must be managed if things are to go well. the despot must commit patricide by killing the polity that spawned him.) The evolutionary trend of society. While the ideals of equality and justice might inspire the lower classes to rebel against their oppressors. The lower animals. they must become more . The sense of superiority that generates the caste system is the natural product of this adversarial relationship. if suitably inspired by some catalytic force. The difference here is of great importance. It does not. So the pigs no longer belong to the class of animals. and so the managers come to look with disdain on those who must be managed. Modernity drives society toward totalitarianism. In particular. The problem has become acute in complex modern society because here the need and demand for social management has become far greater than it was in simpler times. contra Burnham. The rise of an elite class erodes the ideal of equality by introducing social divisions that seem inevitably to harden into a caste system. the ability to sustain these ideals in the after-revolution is rendered problematic by existent socio-political forces. The elitist reading of Animal Farm described here is not entirely faithful to Burnham’s position in The Managerial Revolution (1941) and The Machiavellians (1943). (In Platonic terms. POLITICS. the humans. The elite class must now exercise the control necessary to counter the lingering effects of the revolutionary morality responsible for their emergence in the first place. the elite class must muster the political power required for effective control of the lower classes. are accordingly considered by the managers as part of the problem that must be dealt with if things are to go well on the farm. unable to understand any of this. The elite reading leaves us with a rather sad interpretation of the novel. If people are to avoid the collapse of revolutionary hope in the after-revolution. they must be made aware of the social forces that push in the direction of totalitarianism. in other words. and it introduces a point to which we shall return shortly. describe the pigs as creatures driven by some inexplicable desire to amass and sustain power. To sustain their control. Instead. is invariably toward totalitarianism. AND POWER a distinction that builds an adversarial element into the social fabric.

The paradox of the moralist and the revolutionary Orwell explored in his essay on Dickens is back before us (Cf. In both Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. People. choices that will ultimately determine whether humankind moves toward totalitarianism or sustains and further instantiates the ideals of liberalism. Orwell. We can make some headway on meeting the challenge posed by this paradox by exploring another possible interpretation of Animal Farm. This returns us to my earlier claim that Orwell is best regarded as a fairly typical liberal thinker. even if his self-proclaimed description of himself as a democratic socialist rather hides this from view. 1946a: 65). But how is such political change going to come about until people have been made morally stronger. this is to say. I want now to defend this characterization of Orwell’s political thought by exploring what might be called a liberal reading of Animal Farm. What is required. or even the one that the Bolsheviks had in mind. But this move means that Orwell’s revolution hardly resembles the one Marx had in mind. is a practical remedy—a political remedy. Orwell elected to dramatize these challenges and by doing so to illustrate and emphasize what was at stake in the political choices that human beings must face. in effect—that places primary emphasis upon the challenges. at least in principle. In the process. need to become morally stronger. This would seem to require systemic political change. Of course one way to understand Orwell’s political agenda in Animal Farm is to suppose that Orwell elected to purge his socialist revolution of Marxist trappings and to make it truly socialist as he understood this notion—or to bring equality to the forefront of the revolution and remove Marxist rhetoric from view. Perhaps the best way to make people morally stronger is to bring the ideals of revolutionary hope to life in society. The principles of animalism that lurk in Old Major’s musings resemble the liberal ideals of Locke more than the socialist bric-a-brac of Marx. this merely makes Orwell’s revolution .” The revolution was intended. Instead. “All animals are equal.Revolting Pigs 75 attuned to the political morality lying behind revolutionary hope in order to appreciate the threat modernity poses to it. I intend to suggest that what we might take to be Orwell’s modest theoretical response to his paradox is really a warning that the paradox is not capable of receiving a theoretical remedy. rather. for the underlying spirit of animalism is quite simply that. real and significant. it doesn’t follow that this is the revolutionary moment that really mattered to him. that human beings face in their political lives. to give practical expression to this ideal and to eliminate the embellishments of privilege associated with the animal’s domination by humans. While the Russian revolution supplied the practical details for Orwell’s story. or even that this is the revolution actually illustrated by the text.

and American revolutions had partly believed in their own phrases about the rights of man. English. the excesses of the French Revolution in particular come to mind when reading through Animal Farm. Orwell’s imagined revolution. The obvious template for the revolution in Animal Farm is the Russian revolution. The efforts of the animals on Manor Farm simply follow this revolutionary trend and seem. and he understood the sense of revolution that mattered to him to champion ideals that are at home in the liberal tradition. “The heirs of the French. but because the French . AND POWER resemble another and entirely different revolutionary moment. I do not wish to suggest by this that Orwell actually had the revolutions associated with the liberal tradition in mind as he wrote Animal Farm. If Locke put in place a spirit of equality premised upon a claim of natural human rights in order to justify the Glorious Revolution of 1688. equality before the law. freedom of speech. The satirical side of the story targets the Russian revolution. But Orwell did want to explore in the story a challenge to the phenomenon of revolution. Even a casual reading of the text is sufficient to notice that Old Major resembles Marx.76 ORWELL. appears on this view to mimic the socio-political revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that brought into being the liberal tradition of political discourse. This concern exposes Orwell’s liberal sympathies. and the like. As a biographical matter. ideals that get lost in the after-revolution. the American rebellion of 1776 against the Crown. Moreover. therefore. to belong to this genre of revolutionary spirit. Orwell makes a straightforward reference to this revolutionary moment. and had even allowed their conduct to be influenced by them to some extent” (Orwell. soon followed suit as their instigators took up arms in the name of liberty and equality to oppose the oppression of their ruling elites and assert their own right of selfdetermination. one explicitly inspired by an egalitarian ideal and a corresponding attack upon feudal privilege. POLITICS. 1961: 168). and of course the French Revolution of 1789. his story is not intended as a matter of artistic design to be a satire on liberal revolutions. but his hortatory rhetoric more closely approximates the inspiring prose of Thomas Paine than the dreary intellectual meanderings of Marx and Engels. and these sympathies come into plain view when we acknowledge the credibility of the liberal reading of the text. In Goldstein’s book. That Orwell understood the political events associated with the emergence of liberalism as a revolutionary moment is made clear in the text of Nineteen Eighty-Four. this is to say. not because the animals took to lopping off human heads.

” The revolution is now dead. it is curious that Orwell elected to name his pre-revolutionary farm “Manor Farm. but is not overly concerned with the why question. And the liberal spirit—the crystal spirit—has been all but eclipsed. and the name of the farm is returned to “Manor Farm. the shift in name from “Manor Farm” to “Animal Farm” suggests a shift from a feudal caste system (literally a species differentiation in the text) to an egalitarian socio-political arrangement. careful attention to the text should enable us to understand where things went wrong on Animal Farm.” The manor.” that must be kept alive if totalitarianism is to be avoided. of course. As with the traditional and elitist readings. and the liberal ideals associated with it have been perverted and distorted. Even more to the point. Animal Farm parodies the eclipse of the liberal tradition. we need not concern ourselves with the why of it. though they still receive lip service. The elitist reading offers an external account of why this has happened. So. the first and most obvious place to look for an explanation for the failure of the revolution is to explore the character of the revolting pigs. But there is little difference between the old and the new elites. however. So. The caste system is back in place. however. of course. Since equality is the only fundamental value of animalism. but it does not provide much of an account of how this has come about. oppressors resemble one another regardless of time or place. If we understand how it could happen. The novel itself. But this . the pigs morph into a kind of human form. we will also understand how it might be avoided. for a new elite—a new oligarchy/aristocracy—has emerged that simply replaces the old. is associated with a feudal lifestyle and with a caste system antithetical to liberal egalitarianism. The change of name back to “Manor Farm” is now entirely appropriate. offers a response to the how question. once the revolutionary euphoria had abated. on this reading it is the how that matters. the very tradition.Revolting Pigs 77 peasantry rather resembles the animals in their fervent embrace of ideals they could not fully comprehend. and this would be sufficient to meet Orwell’s political agenda. to a struggle for political power that eventually resulted in the triumphal emergence of Napoleon—the man. Napoleon’s shrewd maneuvering and lust for power seems to have spelled the doom of the revolution. according to the liberal reading of the text. This failure eventually underscored a leadership crisis which led. not the pig. If Orwell’s political purpose in the novel is to inspire a liberal revival—to help keep the liberal tradition alive—then the text should offer some clue about how this unhappy ending to the liberal revolution might be avoided. On the liberal reading. oppression is back in place. Orwell mused in “Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War.6 At novel’s end.

was a legitimating ideology that oppressors and oppressed alike could profess to share. and not the dogs. the animals supposed these governing ideals would endure through time and serve as the animating spirit of a better political life well into the future. With effective leadership. Such an ideology enables the oppressor to put a positive and justifying spin on his control and to persuade the oppressed of the necessity and legitimacy of his actions. Ironically. Much like the British in India. The irony and sobering warning inherent in Orwell’s story is to be found here. never believed that the revolutionary ideals were threatened by Napoleon—the pig. . the dogs proved an intimidating force. By writing down the principles of animalism. the other animals. Farmer Jones was a crude oppressor with little other than physical threats to work with. Boxer. Granted.78 ORWELL. What Jones lacked. demonstrated his ability to make short work of the dogs. In Spain he learned that it is possible to dominate and oppress without a monopoly of sheer force. Jones was a different animal—literally a different species—and not at all like the other animals on the farm. not the man. While Napoleon may not have been much at running things on the farm. after all. What Orwell took to be the emergent technologies of power make total domination possible by allowing oppressors to control the mind of the oppressed. but they alone were insufficient to overcome the power of the other animals. he was a shrewd manipulator of consciousness. the dogs proved an intimidating presence. and surely they had greater power at their disposal than what the dogs provided Napoleon and Squealer. the principles of animalism worked strikingly to his advantage. This. for example. But in the absence of effective leadership. Animal Farm was to be governed by a rule of principle and the basic norms of justice were to be in plain view for all to see and follow. the animals had defeated Jones and his cronies. and the practical meaning of this ideal was cemented in paint on the side of the barn. The principles of animalism provided the pigs with the necessary legitimating function. no animal could be above the law. was the source of his power. POLITICS. and what seems to have simply been unavailable to him. The distance engendered by this difference made it difficult if not impossible for the animals to identify with him and place their trust in him. AND POWER view of the matter should begin to seem much too simple. with the possible exception of Benjamin (who didn’t seem to care). and no doubt more to the point. Since all animals were equal. A different and perhaps more compelling explanation for the revolution’s eventual failure comes to light if we think about the lessons Orwell learned in Spain and Wigan.

is simply a mark of their political stupidity. they found an altered constitution and Squealer waiting to assure them that this is what the constitution says and what it has always said. The animals were vulnerable to this sort of manipulation because they could not read. and this is precisely what happens on Animal Farm. he took the political world at face value. the failure of the revolution is attributable not chiefly to the treachery of Napoleon. It is doubtful. Their illiteracy. The horizon of his mind remained close to home. believed what he was told. and in the kitchens of Paris. the events that transpired on Manor Farm that brought down Jones are best classified as a rebellion rather than as a revolution. There was no great change in the consciousness of the animals. Their assumption of privilege was easily justified simply by amending their little constitution. but to the inability of the animals to really comprehend what the revolution meant. how political elites could use political symbols as mechanisms of propaganda. Boxer was a powerful. Like the miners of Wigan. 5 According to the liberal reading. and industrious figure. and when they did. and trusted the leadership of his new government without really grasping the teachings of Old Major. but again like the miners. When a claim of privilege was made. for example. . and throughout the Second World War. they grasped them only as hortatory ideals rather than as practical maxims to be brought to life in the operation of Animal Farm. the animals would run to the barn to see if their constitution allowed such a thing. of Napoleon and Squealer. he did not really comprehend the political world around him. that the animals ever really understood or grasped the significance of the principles of animalism. on the streets of London. moreover. err hooves. Faced with this law-like justification.7 Orwell discovered the political gullibility and naïveté that he built into the animals in the dreadful conditions of Wigan. In this sense. The written expression of revolutionary ideals actually played into the crafty hands. of course. Their grasp of the ideal of equality remained superficial and uncertain. they were not “brought to consciousness” by the overthrow of Jones. This theme also reverberates through the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four and calls to mind Winston’s misplaced faith in the proles. all this has a liberal ring to it and conjures up the image of the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution complete with Bill of Rights. the animals could do little but accept the situation as legitimate under their governing ideals. But Orwell had noticed in Spain. But when put in these terms. then.Revolting Pigs 79 Needless to say. noble.

1942: 77–9). We are returned to the paradox of the moralist and the revolutionary. Logically the moralist really must come first. The symbols and ideals of political legitimacy are thus subtly distorted or transformed to support totalitarian control. Again from Orwell’s point of view. Russia (despite Lenin’s pleadings to the contrary) was not ready for communist transformation because the peasantry had not yet been proletariatized. to worship those very liberal ideals that are fading out of existence. to the emergence of a new caste system just as elitist and oppressive as the old feudal system that was undone by the revolution. from Orwell’s point of view. as it does on Animal Farm. are bound to fail if the masses cannot understand and sustain their animating ideals. it seems that no one has really noticed the resultant inequality and consequent betrayal of the egalitarian ideal. the need to revise and rearticulate the basic ideals of the liberal system became necessary as well. AND POWER Orwell’s story in Animal Farm again takes on a hint of fatalism and determinism.80 ORWELL. The liberal world thus decays toward totalitarianism even while it continues. and a dominant ideology will emerge that allows this elite to legitimate its position of privilege by hammering out an account of equality that supports its interests. and with this. The failure of the Russian revolution happened rapidly. the need for centralized management of social life increased. The new elite will work to control the government and sustain its position of privilege because it thinks its interests are coterminous with the interests of society as a whole. But something of an egalitarian spirit did infuse the public consciousness in those political settings where liberal ideals received political manifestation and took concrete form in the type of democratic system that Orwell valued (Orwell. And the masses are simply incapable of this. . and from a strictly Marxist point of view. we might suppose. POLITICS. Revolutions. expectedly. and none of those whose daily lives are removed from political thinking will notice the transformation. An economic system that legitimates material inequality remained in place and the inequalities it supported led. The elitist reading of Animal Farm displays some of the pressures that have pushed things in this direction. but the masses will likely remain tragically oblivious to their brand of moralizing. Yet with time and mounting internal and external pressures on government (of the sort chronicled in the elitist reading). the ideals of liberal egalitarianism have been rendered consistent with the privilege and superior position of the upper class. In the Marxist terms that Orwell so abhorred. We can draw out the fatalistic element of the novel a bit further if we suppose that Orwell compressed the story of the liberal revolution both in space and time.

Accordingly. Orwell would describe the mental process by which an idea was transformed into its opposite while still retaining its evocative meaning as something he called “doublethink. the challenge now is to manage the after-revolution. for the pigs are just players on the political stage driven by socio-political forces that push inexorably toward totalitarianism. but it was not the prospects of external military defeat that would undo liberalism. Rather. and I doubt that Orwell wanted to do this. just as it did on Animal Farm. Perhaps this has always been necessary. It isn’t possible to make people morally strong once and for all. External pressure from fascist (totalitarian) governments may hasten the process. it is necessary to cultivate revolutionary ideals in the after-revolution. Animal Farm could not be preserved by producing better pigs. It would be the internal erosion of liberal ideals that would signal the end of the liberal tradition (and concurrently the liberal revolution). But there are others Benjamin resembles as well. and if illiteracy is an . in fact. His beloved England had already had its revolution. Nor is there much reason to blame the collapse of Animal Farm on the other animals. Here I’m inclined to point a finger at Benjamin the donkey. I’ve noticed already that Benjamin resembles in important ways Bozo the screever. there must be a heavy someplace. Neither the elitist reading nor the liberal reading is intended to exonerate the pigs for the failure of the revolution. we need to affix some responsibility for the moral collapse on Animal Farm. it is the power of events that push liberal cultures toward something illiberal that is at the heart of the matter. 1958: 231). This places Orwell’s paradox in historical context. but for Orwell it had become more urgent with the rise of modernity. Benjamin was literate. we might take Benjamin to represent an entire class of characters that Orwell worried about. but taken together they do help readers understand the pigs a bit better. But if the story is to be read as a warning that will help us avoid the collapse of the liberal tradition. this is a continuous challenge that must be met by each succeeding generation. Like the pigs.Revolting Pigs 81 In Nineteen Eighty-Four. and I think this is where Orwell would want us to point our fingers. To keep the revolution alive. If we are not to make Orwell into a political fatalist—something entirely foreign to a moralist of his stripe. And some group must undertake the challenge and serve as the moral conscience of the community.” And he understood as early as Wigan Pier that if and when fascism (read totalitarianism) came to England it would come in “a slimy Anglicised form” (Orwell. it was not really the power that Napoleon exercised that poses the central problem in Animal Farm.

And the great tragedy. The future of the liberal revolution lies not with the proles. in tones that might have seemed appropriate to a converted Blimp. Benjamin is an enigmatic and oddly likable character. Notes 1. of extensive and disciplined nationalization of industries. is that these individuals are the very ones who can recognize what is happening and do something about it. Such things. but his silence on the plight of Animal Farm is deafening and cowardly. AND POWER indicator of stupidity in Orwell’s story. of course.82 ORWELL. but with the moralists. but only if the pen is put to use in the service of the very truth it must defend and the freedom it needs to survive. He struggled in both Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four to fire a warning shot about totalitarian doom for all to hear. The comment conjures up thoughts of Bozo. Orwell’s italics). 1966: 21). This makes Orwell into a revolutionary spirit in the fashion of Thomas Paine. someone must fight for decency. would not affect him—no one had ever seen a dead donkey. he said. the Rousseau of the after-revolution. but he was also largely detached from political events. one might say. But at other times—and here I felt his real inclinations were emerging—he seemed to envisage a decentralized society and workers’ control of industry—something rather like the Guild Socialist vision. it describes him as a liberal still fighting the revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in the after-revolution. They suppose that they will remain free to pursue their art. their thinking. fought for decency with all his might. 1968b: 132. and their writing. speaking of a young artist he had encountered. “The fallacy is to believe that under a dictatorial government you can be free inside” (Orwell. In an “As I Please” column Orwell wrote in 1944. and in this Orwell thought them quite mistaken. In a world that trends toward indecency. he supposed. of state control over wide sectors of social life. or decency doesn’t have a chance. . of course. with a great deal of room for worker initiative” (Woodcock. but it also reaches beyond Bozo to include those thinkers and literati who continue to pursue their muse thinking that political circumstances and events will not affect them. Orwell. Orwell might be heard to say. is greater than the power of propaganda. POLITICS. George Woodcock has described this tension in Orwell’s thought with admirable clarity. The power of the pen. It puts his moralism in context and makes him. “[T]here were occasions when he would speak. literacy is an indicator of education and intelligence. Benjamin was certainly intelligent enough to understand what was happening around him. They simply don’t understand or appreciate the implications of totalitarian control.

. There is something ironic. 1939. While Marx could not speculate on the moral order that would replace bourgeois morality. 4. However.Revolting Pigs 83 2. from the standpoint of political science. he might have noticed that Marx was no proponent of economic equality—a decidedly modern liberal notion. Had Orwell been more comfortable with Marx. But this hardly justifies the conclusion of a happy coincidence. see Mosca. about Orwell’s insistence in Wigan Pier that socialists abandon Marxist jawbreakers like dialectical materialism and endorse liberal ideals like liberty and justice. 2003: 308). the Supreme Court has come to provide this service in the United States. 5. we can and perhaps should note that Orwell was one of the first liberals to notice that liberal morality has room to challenge the justness of the distribution of social goods controlled by the vicissitudes of the capitalist market alone. 1966: 72–5). George Woodcock has masterfully detailed Orwell’s provocative use of animals throughout his fiction and notes that Orwell apparently rather disliked cats (Woodcock. See Newsinger. follows him throughout his fiction. the concerns associated with the ideals of justice. 1999: 117–8. and equality are simply the moral norms of bourgeois capitalism that would not live beyond the communist transformation. 1956. For the classic contributions to elite theory. See also Mills. liberty. he was confident that it would not be the morality of capitalism. for example. Pareto. 6. for there were other farms with different names in the region as well and Orwell specifically chose to take this particular name. But Orwell disliked rats more than this. Orwell is quoted to this effect by John Newsinger. This is precisely what socialists working in the shadow of Marx could not do. and Michels. and this particular animal. 1971). 1968. For Marx. For modern liberals working in the shadow of John Rawls. this view is now rather commonplace (Cf. but political stability is certainly enhanced if they do in fact have an institution that fulfills this political purpose. as the logic of dialectical materialism makes plain. Bowker has noticed that Orwell lived in close proximity to a farm in England actually named “Manor Farm” when he was working on the novel. that all constitutional regimes need an institution to play this legitimating role. ending in his strategic use of the animal in Nineteen Eighty-Four. then. 7. missing in Animal Farm. Rawls. 1959. It is not clear. No doubt the happy presence of this particular farm helped Orwell work a degree of consistency into his literary enterprise. Though as a consequence of political practice rather than constitutional design. 3. and the obvious presumption is that this is the source of the name (Bowker.

there must be an inclination or desire on the part of the upper class to want to exercise such power and to seize totalitarian control of society in order to cement 84 . Prior to the refinement of these technologies of power. But this. The second aspect of political decay that Orwell explores in Nineteen Eighty-Four involves something that I want to call the psychology of power. The existence of sophisticated technologies of power that make totalitarian control possible is hardly enough. Before any of this becomes worrisome. for the first time in history. The first of these involves a more thorough exploration of how totalitarian control might actually emerge in liberal political cultures than anything that can be found in Animal Farm. and he believed totalitarian control now to be a real possibility for the first time in human history. the control exercised by the upper class was invariably limited. to bring about the political decay Orwell feared. the upper class can manage the thorough and effective domination of the middle class. The scourge of political power continues to loom as the center piece of his concern.5 Technologies of Power The focus of Orwell’s political thought does not change substantially from Animal Farm to Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell believed he lived at a pivotal political moment in the history of the west because the techniques of control—what I want to call the technologies of power—developed by the upper class have achieved such a heightened sophistication that now. in its own right. Orwell supposed. The theme of failed political ideals remains constant in the second and far more elaborate work. and the threat it increasingly poses to simple decency drives his obsession about signaling the need to keep the liberal tradition alive. had changed with the coming of modernity. But Nineteen EightyFour delves more deeply into two key elements of the political decay Orwell feared.

We might read Winston’s predicament in the Ministry of Love. but an end in itself (Orwell. 1999: 129–39. 1966: 151). namely that power in Oceania has become its own end—not a means to some desired end.Technologies of Power 85 its position. as an exploration . Nonetheless. to make the horrors of Nineteen Eighty-Four a real possibility. for example. Orwell explores the emergent technologies of power in the little drama that details Winston’s cure at the able hands of O’Brien. Critics have sometimes complained that the confrontation between Winston and O’Brien is just so much silly nonsense and constitutes the weakest part of Nineteen EightyFour. His political theory is first of all a call to arms to defend against this possibility. only if his understanding of the technologies of power is accurate and his concerns about the psychology of power are sensible and believable. may seem. Orwell’s importance as a political thinker hangs on these two points. that the arguments O’Brien makes in the drama are “clearly insane. O’Brien beats Winston up physically. It is possible to interpret this drama in several ways. 1 In his traditional literary fashion. Together they make totalitarianism a real possibility and presage the final collapse of the liberal revolution. Newsinger. and emotionally. intellectually. and consequently to offer his posterity a real political warning and not just a scary story. So. the intellectual. and the emotional. see also. O’Brien. and his political theory more generally. at least on a superficial reading. Woodcock. Orwell had to explain how such a psychological transformation is both realistic and possible. John Newsinger claims. Orwell supposed that this psychological transformation is the real threat to a decent society and the real source of totalitarianism. but it is Winston’s intellectual defeat that is the most frightening and the most compelling at the same time. in turn. They are well founded. O’Brien’s defeat of Winston takes place on three separate levels: the physical. This seems not only desperately immoral. but also terribly silly. His portraiture of the technologies of power will concern me here. Winston Smith’s tormentor/savior. can be vindicated. and it is time now to see if his fear of totalitarianism. like an immoral beast. Orwell thought he saw both these conditions looming on the political horizon. But his political writings are of theoretical interest only if this call to arms is well founded. and I will turn to his review of the psychology of power in Chapter 6.” but I think this is well off target (Cf. But he explains with shocking clarity the defining feature of Oceania. for example. 1961: 217–21).

of a cultural context—that champions the independent individual. AND POWER of the fragility of decency. Criminals are ordinarily punished for their wrongdoing. decency spins around the integrity of the individual. of course. lived in a twentieth century world. as we shall see. Winston. exists independently of the individual and consequently has an incorrigibility that puts it beyond the control and manipulation of human beings. Constant. and O’Brien describes the sordid logic by which the individual is eclipsed. and his crime was thought crime. POLITICS. and events in the early part of this century began to illustrate that the nineteenth century belief in truth is becoming anachronistic. If Orwell had an emotional attachment to his nineteenth century vision of truth. So. and by the time he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four there is reason to suppose that had begun to think that an intellectual defense of this sense of truth was impossible. we should pay some attention to the structure that Orwell gives the confrontation. The spirit of decency is juxtaposed against the power of indecency. the nineteenth century liberal. is why O’Brien could defeat Winston intellectually. and he had to concede that truth was itself subject to power. something to be discovered independent of individual will. Logic (in the form of O’Brien) undermined his emotional attachment (in the person of Winston). was a thought criminal. and Mill. where punishment is understood as a form of moral atonement. On this reading.86 ORWELL. against the background of a world—or better. Truth. This judgment is made. and it finds abhorrent the kind of assault on the integrity and dignity of the independent individual that Orwell describes in Winston’s confrontation with O’Brien. be it historical or scientific. But Orwell does not put Winston’s predicament in these terms. . we can appreciate his belief that truth is something independent of individual inclination. The result is a perfectly indecent world when viewed from the vantage point supplied by the individualist morality at home in liberal thinking. But Orwell. This. If we emphasize that side of Orwell that makes him akin to a nineteenth century liberal (ala his account of Dickens). If Animal Farm is the story of a revolution gone wrong. This is a liberal world—the world shaped by the likes of Locke. the drama may also be read as an internal conversation that Orwell was having with himself. that truth was a dimension or aspect of power—and nothing more. Before turning to a consideration of the specific moves O’Brien makes in his defeat of Winston. of course. and indecency wins. he also appreciated the sense in which it was under attack by events in the twentieth century. But we might also understand the drama in terms of an inner tension that troubled Orwell. Here Orwell is at his best in shaking the conscience and exciting the moral angst of liberal spirits everywhere. Nineteen Eighty-Four is the story of a world gone wrong.

And it is pointless to punish deviants. The cure requires him to make Winston recognize and understand the error of his ways. it must be of your own free will” (Orwell. is an indication of the complete and total power of Big Brother. He tells Winston. Winston’s cure was not like this. “But we make the brain perfect.: 210). Winston was a deviant. of course. In the end. Accordingly. Dementia can be cured only by getting the deviant to recognize his insanity. To push a bit on the paradox lurking beneath all this. They need. for they haven’t done anything wrong deliberately. If someone capitulates to torture to make the pain stop and says he no longer believes X. to be cured. that the inner party will finally kill poor Winston. instead their illness has gotten the better of them. He has recognized his own insignificance in comparison with the collective. to be sure.“When finally you surrender to us. as we well know. He may hide the fact of this belief into the future if he thinks acting on it will bring about more pain. His own free will brought him to embrace the tyranny of Big Brother. And we can understand this to be true because Big Brother says so! If this sounds question begging. This. If Winston is seen as a latter day Don Quixote jousting at Oceania’s windmills. but first it will cure him. 1961: 210). Winston has returned to the “loving breast” of Big Brother. and to do this. does not really change the will. It was Julia who says in the novel. and he has admitted as much. And he has done so of his own free will. and O’Brien does not approach Winston as a moral agent who has done something wrong and for which he must take responsibility. This was the strategy. to be brought back to the norm. he will return to his belief in X as soon as the pain is gone.Technologies of Power 87 Big Brother is not intent upon punishing Winston. and the truth. O’Brien does not beat on Winston’s body so long and so hard that Winston would say or do anything to make the pain stop. the deviant must be exposed to himself so he can see and appreciate the foolishness that stands in front of him. O’Brien plays the role of the Knight of Mirrors. he suffered from a form of dementia. that O’Brien has been good to his word. it also has an inscrutable logic behind it. it turns out. is whatever Big Brother says it is. but he will also remain a quiet rebel and look for the opportunity to rip power away from his oppressors. therefore.” O’Brien says. . Orwell describes Winston’s ordeal in terms of a rehabilitation. Winston really did believe what Big Brother told him to believe. “before we blow it out” (Ibid. But pain. This would be a decidedly liberal approach to the problem. of the Spanish Inquisition. say. Instead. and is accordingly out of place in a thoroughly illiberal society. Winston must be brought to see the truth of the matter. O’Brien is straightforwardly clear on the matter. O’Brien proceeds in the manner of the psychologist. We know at novel’s end. It seems.

“You preferred to be a lunatic. . O’Brien beats Winston into submission because he really is a better metaphysician than Winston.” “You believe that reality is something objective. But the proof of this becomes clear only when we appreciate the various steps O’Brien makes in bringing about Winston’s cure. It seems that Syme. POLITICS. but Orwell tells us that it is really the source of his insanity. in effect. and his novel would be just another scary story. Orwell’s problem would not arise. Parsons. If this was not the case. one might conclude.: 239). existing in its own right. Winston’s dementia.” But Winston learns the lesson of totalitarian control.: 205). He undoubtedly supposed that most people would think that Winston is really the only sane person in the story. Orwell makes his case by turning his (and our) world on its head and illustrating that in such a world Winston is the one who is insane. He believed himself rather than the party line. And the point can be made believable by exploring the logic underlying the technologies of power that have emerged with modernity. AND POWER “They can’t get inside you. This is the point that must be made believable in order to vindicate Orwell’s political fears about totalitarianism. and the rest of the lot are the ones who are really insane. “a minority of one. though one might find a bit of sanity about Julia as well. “they could get inside you” (Ibid. external. . But it is overly simplistic to suppose that Orwell’s warning to us is that we should make sure that the inmates are securely locked away.” O’Brien tells Winston accusingly. if the inmates are allowed to gain power and run the asylum. . This is what happens.88 ORWELL. The construction Orwell gives to the confrontation between O’Brien and Winston will seem silly (albeit ghastly as well) to most readers. Winston thought his memory to be inviolable and that it provided insight into the way the world is that is more accurate than the stories and propaganda spread by the inner party. These technologies make it possible to reduce the individual in her/his own mind to an insignificant moment in a much larger narrative over which the solitary person has no effective control. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident . . But I tell you Winston that reality is not external” (Ibid. The basis for Winston’s dementia is to be found in his delusional misunderstanding of the relation of the independent individual to his or her world. They provide the means by which a liberal understanding of things can be eliminated and society transformed into the antithesis of the liberal ideal. O’Brien. This for many readers will be an indication of Winston’s sanity. is the product of a confused and indefensible epistemology.

It is helpful here to keep in mind the nature of the mental transformation O’Brien brings about. Since torture is a feature of the exercise of power. or rather. Perhaps this is so. O’Brien has been watching Winston for seven years. torture also figures importantly into the mechanics of Winston’s reprogramming. than dominate those who might threaten its position of privilege. The tragic irony. is all that it has to do. What the inner party wants to do is to exercise power. “is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing” (Ibid.” O’Brien says frighteningly. torture for O’Brien is an important aspect of the exercise of power.” we are told. O’Brien shapes Winston’s mind in two ways. but Winston’s torture also figures importantly into the logic of the story in two distinct ways. The inner party does nothing else. “The object of torture. “Power. His poor health and apparent pain inclined him. the argument goes. in fact.: 220). is that Winston poses no real threat to O’Brien or the inner party. a point that illustrates what it means for power to become an end in itself. Moreover. and wants to do nothing else. “is torture” (Ibid. this. first by generating his dementia and then by curing it. and planting clues and creating anomalies that Winston might notice in the hopes of getting him to think for himself a bit.Technologies of Power 89 2 The physical torture Winston is forced to endure is perhaps the most disturbing feature of O’Brien’s cure. Winston’s dementia looks a lot like liberal sanity. Winston’s thought crime is hardly of his own doing. the inner party must actually manufacture deviance in order to exercise the power necessary to correct it. This helps illustrate the complete indecency that pervades Oceania. O’Brien tortures because he can. Torture exemplifies the intoxication with power that gives purpose to the life of characters like O’Brien. First of all. He thinks for himself. Where control is so total. Why did Orwell dwell so meticulously on Winston’s physical suffering? Why did he have O’Brien put poor Winston through this excruciating pain? Some commentators have supposed that the torture passages are simply a reflection of Orwell’s own tortured physical state.: 217). O’Brien has choreographed the whole sordid affair just so that he can terrorize and reform Winston. it too is an end in itself. to explore the ravages of physical suffering. Nothing else matters to its members. of course. he has been enticed by . To make matters worse. Winston has become liberal in the classically Millian sense. Ironically.

is as foolish a character as he is noble. This is all Orwell means by thought crime. He illustrates it by means of Winston’s physical torture. but by cultivating it. He adopts a moral code and assumes a persona that simply has no place in his world. The parallels between Nineteen Eighty-Four and Don Quixote. self-determining. and Orwell tells us that Winston would have thought the sight was of “a man of sixty. instead. . of course. Winston’s thought crime is that he thinks he is an independent thinking being.” in this case. When he sees himself as he really is—a silly old fool wearing a shaving basin on his head—he is shocked out of his dementia. on this score. Personal significance is possible only once the individual links himself to the party and admits that it is the party that is eternal. this “noble and beautiful object of contemplation” has become little more than a self-obsessed lunatic. AND POWER O’Brien into thinking for himself. “It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves. and he meets his match in the Knight of Mirrors. properly understood. self-reflecting being—the sort of autonomous agent so valorized in much liberal thinking. O’Brien verbalizes all this. of course. After the physical erosion of Winston is complete. instead. the party lives forever. that is the locus of power. but his dedication to chivalry remains inspiring nonetheless. The individual standing alone. But in O’Brien’s Oceania. . 1951: 161).” The sight is appalling. are provocative. He has managed to develop a sense of himself as an independent. his true and most important thought crime is that he thinks he can think independently of Big Brother. The individual takes on significance only when he sees himself as a part of a larger and eternal whole. Quixote. POLITICS. O’Brien. suffering . The individual.90 ORWELL. It is the party.“Thinking for himself. His glorious dream is punctured by the stark reality of his physical appearance. to be sure. O’Brien argues. is hardly noble or beautiful. and in this case. ” (Mill. is but a cell belonging to a larger and greater organism. the individual is just a dependent and pathetic moment in a larger historical drama. . Yet his behavior is regarded by those around him quite simply as a form of madness that calls for a cure. Winston’s most explicit example of thought crime is not to be found in his realization that history is being manipulated by the inner party. Persons die. he has Winston “stand between the wings of the mirror. that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation . the organism is the party. means thinking thoughts inconsistent with the edicts of Big Brother. and calling it forth . Few have expressed the point more eloquently than John Stuart Mill. . acts the part of Winston’s Knight of Mirrors. but he goes one step further. not the solitary individual.

Winston can hardly deny the decay and destruction of his body. And Orwell must make this convincing if he is to persuade readers that the . “there can be much pride left in you” (Ibid. But O’Brien still tortures because he can. The degraded creature Winston saw in the mirror hardly resembled a “noble and beautiful object of contemplation. but a pathetic and insignificant decaying animal. if he can escape from his identity.” he said. “Alone—free—the individual is always defeated.” O’Brien tells Winston. But if he can make complete. a silly old fool he sees in the mirror. and O’Brien assures him that his mind is in a similar state of erosion. It has ascribed great value to a highly dependent and vulnerable creature. liberal sentimentality has simply made something of a category mistake. if he can merge himself in the Party so that he is the Party. because every human being is doomed to die. “you are falling to pieces. however.: 218. O’Brien robs Winston of his dignity by exposing his mortality to him and illustrating the ease with which Big Brother can reduce an alleged “noble and beautiful object of contemplation” to a bag of filth.: 225). So. This is the lesson Winston must learn to affect his cure. 3 While torture matters to the process of making Winston sane.Technologies of Power 91 from some malignant disease. the really crucial element of the process involves Winston’s intellectual defeat. It establishes only Winston’s physical dependency and the fragility of his existence. What are you? A bag of filth” (Orwell.” O’Brien sums the image up for Winston rather well. he tortures because he is one with the party and therefore all-powerful and immortal. he is crushed by the sight in the mirror. But the cure—the complete and devastating exercise of power for its own sake—is hardly complete with Winston’s physical destruction. which is the greatest of all failures. it is not just the individual. Emphasizing the frailty and dependence of the body is only a small step in the reconstruction of the mind. “You are rotting away. “I do not think. Inner party members achieve immortality by sublimating themselves to the collective.” O’Brien concludes.” Like Quixote before him. By locating nobility in the independent individual. and anyone who fails to notice the immortality of the collective—who persists in valuing the part over the whole—suffers from an arrogant dementia. He cures Winston of his dementia because he can. Orwell’s italics). because the point of power lies in exercising it. then he is allpowerful and immortal (Ibid. and torture is a necessary component of the lesson. but individualism that the party eradicates. 1961: 224). It is not. utter submission.“It must be so.

The world is as it is. Because of this. First. though the text of Nineteen Eighty-Four suggests that he reluctantly abandoned this epistemological outlook during the construction of the manuscript. is neither true nor false. while the second has to do with more epistemological matters. and in a manner characteristic of trends in contemporary philosophy that were just getting under way when Orwell wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four.: 205. POLITICS. It is only what we say about it that is true or false. To realize this end. it is important to notice a simple point that Orwell was only dimly aware of. Orwell’s italics). we should also understand that truth. only in the mind of the Party. Our statements of the world correspond to the way the world is because observation provides us with adequate reason to think we have gotten it right. The world itself.92 ORWELL. Second. raises a problem of validation. AND POWER horrors of Oceania are a real possibility and not just the mental meanderings of a terribly ill. This is no small challenge. “Reality exists in the human mind and nowhere else. it just is. and physically rather tortured. By way of prelude to the evaluation of O’Brien’s efforts to explain what one might call the intersubjectivity of truth. for Orwell must say something that will convince thoughtful readers that their basic assumptions about reality are misguided. not of the world. Whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth” (Ibid. writer. “Not in the individual mind which can make mistakes. How do we know if a particular proposition (or sentence) is either true or false? To what should we appeal. The first front involves the status of historical truth. we must have what we take to be adequate reason to believe it. thus understood. But of course this just pushes the problem back one step.” O’Brien says. a few quick philosophical comments are in order. if at all: Truth is a feature of sentences. Orwell must make good on a claim he puts in O’Brien’s mouth. this is to say. and powerfully. that 2 + 2 really could come to equal 5. Orwell bequeaths a kind of naïve realism to Winston. O’Brien works to persuade Winston of this on two separate fronts. the question asks. and in any case soon perishes. both of which mattered greatly to Orwell. and we are able to perceive it as it is. for now we need to think about what should count as an adequate reason. a view for which Orwell himself seems to have had some sympathy. . in order to conclude with confidence that what we say about the world should be accepted as true? To accept something as true. we can gain a truthful understanding of the world. According to naïve realism. by O’Brien. which is collective and immortal. the external world is directly accessible through independent individual observation. But this empiricism is rejected.

history. but the historical significance of the battle certainly would. the other.). however. was trust. It is tempting to find this a bit naïve. In a 1944 “As I Please” column. Here he links historical truth. the heart of his confusion results from his inclination to put historical facts on the same playing field with the interpretation of historical events. Orwell dwelt on the point in a manner that anticipates his reflections in Nineteen Eighty-Four. it would seem. even without winners. and so on” (Ibid. 87).Technologies of Power 93 The truth that initially mattered to Orwell. “A certain degree of truthfulness was possible as long as it was admitted that a fact may be true even if you don’t like it” (Ibid. Orwell came to doubt his belief in this sort of truth—and here I want to focus on historical truth—during his time fighting in the Spanish civil war.” he says. rather unremarkably. Truth became a casualty. for this too would be told by the winners. It was one of two casualties of war that Orwell noticed in Spain. evidential methods have never been terribly reliable when it comes to the interpretation of history. “A Nazi and a non-Nazi version of the present war would have no resemblance to one another. “It is probably true that the battle of Hastings was fought in 1066. is not just his failure to appreciate the fact that historical inquiry continues in a way that often brings recorded events into question in some way. that. and which of them finally gets into the history books will be decided not by evidential methods but on the battlefield” (Ibid. Orwell’s mistake. we are told. and such matters always reflect the vantage point of the storyteller. While even historical facts are hardly incorrigible. has always been written by the winners. that Columbus discovered America. had more to do with history than with epistemology. 88). or something like it. however. the interpretation of historical events always involves the telling of a story of some sort.. “Up to a fairly recent date. Orwell tells us. Now. because some people suddenly developed an interest in having the truth work in support of their political interests. “the major events recorded in the history books probably happened” (Orwell. that Henry VIII had six wives. the truth of this one has been placed in considerable doubt in more recent times. Similarly. for example. to the liberal tradition. And if we mean by “Columbus discovered America” that Columbus was the first European explorer to bump into the western hemisphere.. the date would not change. and the line between truth and propaganda has been blurred. however. that “History is written by the winners” (Ibid. Historical “facts” are always fungible. 1968b: 87). facts have come to serve the political interests of contesting parties.). Had William the Conqueror lost at Hastings. as we shall see. . This was because. And he concludes.

moreover. Telling the story of history might remain somewhat neutral if the story is told to record actual events rather than to create in the audience the viewpoint that serves the particular interests of the storytellers. the Battle of the Cowshed) in a way that served their particular interests. They got the animals to see things the way they wished them to be seen. because of developments in technology that allow for the expanded dissemination of information. will incline British storytellers to offer something closer to an objective record of historical events regarding the war than their adversaries would want to tell. There are two aspects of this point that could use a bit more consideration. The pigs politicized historical events (e. and control of the present is made possible by controlling the past.: 88). The stories we tell of our political histories are a source of national pride and encourage identification with the state to which we belong (Cf. history now matters more than it once did. POLITICS. British culture. Instead. “The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits ‘atrocities’ but that it attacks the concept of objective truth. and this legitimized Napoleon’s reign by sanctifying Napoleon as a heroic figure. 1997: 34–40).We know from Nineteen Eighty-Four that control of the future requires control of the present. he says. “In the last analysis our only claim to victory is that if we win the war we shall tell less lies about it than our adversaries” (Ibid. he seems to imply. AND POWER But Orwell can be made to seem less naïve if we think that some storytellers try as best they can to remain somewhat neutral. For one thing.94 ORWELL. If totalitarian regimes practice strategies of this sort. These two points establish a nexus between historical record and individual consciousness. Once again we might complain that Orwell is being politically naïve to think that history has not been used by political elites in the past for legitimizing purposes. The animals on Animal Farm were made alert to historical events after the pigs took control.). that Orwell does not suppose that the British would not tell lies about the Second World War in the event they are on the winning side. for example. it might seem that the difference . for example. it claims to control the past as well as the future” (Ibid. has for some time served political ends by facilitating a spirit of nationalism. For another thing. And with this. It is interesting. The past. Orwell links an increased inclination to eliminate historical objectivity to the totalitarian spirit. Miller..g. These stories. are invariably massaged to serve this desired end. from a political point of view. political elites have now come to recognize how the careful structuring and presentation of information (some call it spin control) can serve their political interests. yet there is little reason given in the text to think they cared much about this sort of thing under Jones.

to question or challenge these claims. government endorsed) account of the supposed event. No opposition or questioning of the official state line is permitted. And this is what Orwell saw changing under totalitarian regimes. History really is told by the winners. in a way not possible under liberal regimes. but with the cultural context in which these things happen. The telling of history in liberal cultures is always an uncertain affair.Technologies of Power 95 between “them” and “us” is largely a matter of degree. because more than one historian has noticed the event and attached historical significance to it. this is because so many historians are agreed on the story and continue to tell it. this is to say. work for themselves. though the actual significance of the event is left up in the air. and no one is around. We think George Washington crossed the Delaware to attack Trenton. Here we encounter official governmental claims about what is true. Historians. should they win. One is always telling a story and using the evidence on hand to make as compelling a case as possible. Historical truth was not fading out of the world as Orwell saw it but coming into the world. and to do so. It is always left open to review and reconsideration. A particular story is never promulgated as the “official story” by political elites. Nonetheless. But the transformation Orwell witnessed and feared has to do not with these pleonasms. of course.e. something Orwell might have been onto when he quips that the British “shall tell less lies” about the war than the Nazis. at least in liberal cultures there is an important sense in which history is never closed. I want to put his point in largely cultural terms. Sadly and somewhat atypically. While history is told by winners. people remain free to re-examine the evidentiary record and reach different conclusions. . but what matters is that there is no official (i. no governmental stand on the matter. and the way history is recorded really does matter in terms of fostering a spirit of nationalism necessary to sustain a unified polity. but never with getting it right—whatever this might mean. It is possible. But things are different in Orwell’s vision of totalitarianism. it is always concerned with making things more accurate or clearer. I want to exonerate Orwell on the charge of naïveté here. Recall that Winston Smith’s job was to re-write history to make it square with the needs and desires of the inner party. or able. there simply is no such thing as objectivity. and someone else may well come along and tell the story from an entirely different angle. Orwell puts his point rather poorly.. not for the government. The totalitarian regime brings historical truth into existence. If it has the status of truth. that Washington never made the trip. For when it comes to historical interpretation.

This does not mean that truth will fade out of the world. Put differently. the eclipse of the individual and the corresponding triumph of the welfare of the collective are at the heart of the totalitarianism he saw emerging in the west. and this enables political elites to diminish the significance of the individual in favor of an emphasis on the collective. and if this is accepted as true by collective mind. Truth. What we learn in Nineteen Eighty-Four is that the independent individual cannot stand against accepted dogma even if he has the inclination to question and think. the past. it would be true that this never really did happen. it means instead that it is the pursuit of truth that will fade out. as it is understood in liberal cultures. one hears only what the inner party wants one to hear. Without this. Capturing history permits greater control of individual consciousness. are allowed to do their studies and publish their findings. but the study of history. 1951: 171). Truth has not faded out of Orwell’s world. certainly has. and Orwell readily saw the political implications of this. Orwell concludes from his experiences in Spain that the political implications of capturing history have already occurred to political elites in totalitarian regimes. Objectivity is possible only when historians. Once people believed that . then this is precisely what happened. to reconsider. If what Big Brother says is accepted as truth. if the accepted belief is that Washington crossed the Delaware to attack Trenton. then it really is the truth because there is no independent standard of measure by which one might question the veracity or validity of Big Brother’s claims. truth is reduced to dogma. In Oceania this is not possible. albeit not through historical accuracy (whatever this means) but through political stipulation. To understand this. AND POWER History. An individual who failed to let go of his previous belief would be quite deranged. it is important to appreciate that it is not historical truth as such that mattered to Orwell but the practice of doubting and questioning in the fashion championed by John Stuart Mill. If perchance Big Brother comes along and says this never happened. Objectivity in this sense has nothing to do with historical truth and everything to do with the political neutrality of the historian. has been captured by the state because the state has become the official historian of the past and permits no independent inquiry. what matters is the inclination and ability to pursue the truth.96 ORWELL. And for Orwell. POLITICS. rethink. individual mind cannot stand against collective mind. is not the issue. The individual mind is helpless against the “despotism of custom” as Mill famously put it (Mill. This brings historical truth into being. with no personal stake in the story they tell. this is to say. and reexamine accepted belief.

But Orwell tells us that the only credible authority in Oceania is Big Brother. And why not? What good would thinking about whether Washington really crossed the Delaware do in an environment where everyone believed that he did. In fact. And by eliminating . And since Big Brother choreographed collective mind. the assault on memory is really an assault on independent thinking. He trusted his memory. This explains Winston’s predicament. however. they no longer bother to doubt their memories. Big Brother has managed to alter history so frequently that everyone (or most everyone) in Oceania’s outer party defers to Him. To stick with one’s memories in the face of evidence to the contrary really does constitute a form of egoism that borders on madness. We all know that history changes in this sense because we have seen it. Thus. The reason for this is that the totalitarian assault on historical truth is really designed to subvert the individual’s reliance upon her or his memory. and nobody really thinks that anything is being revised. the very madness that plagues poor Winston. The lone individual is lost amidst a sea of conformity. quite literally. To stand alone with one’s own memories and beliefs is madness. even when they are in possession of evidence to the contrary. The control of individual consciousness is achieved only when individuals believe what they are told. He failed to defer automatically to collective mind. they are accustomed to discovering a new reality each day. it becomes so only when everyone else (or nearly everyone else) does defer to Big Brother. Such checks require external evidence. he failed to defer to Big Brother.Technologies of Power 97 Columbus discovered America. it is memory that must be mistaken. which in Oceania is understood as a form of egoism. that history changes only when credible authorities advance solid evidence that people have gotten things wrong in the past and provide reasons for their revisions. and if this evidence conflicts with memory. in favor of blind adherence to the party line. Memory is frail and uncertain. It may be objected. but now people tend to believe that Leif Erickson beat Columbus to it. This occurs when individuals are conditioned to trust neither their memories nor their senses. This would hardly be problematic in itself of course. Further. by shaping collective mind Big Brother eliminates what would now be considered the myth of individual mind. Questioning and thinking has been abandoned. What sense would it make to keep on thinking that it was Columbus if everyone else settles on Leif Erickson? This might seem like a fairly trivial point. and people have no way to check on the validity of their memories. and he believed he had evidence that contradicted an official edict of Big Brother. to be sure. and when they concede their fallibility when confronted with the claims of collective mind.

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individual mind, Big Brother also undermines any ability an individual might have to question and challenge His authority. His control is total once he has eclipsed the individual.

4
Of course, Big Brother’s assault on truth does not end with the capture of history; it extends even more deeply into epistemological matters. This introduces the second phase of O’Brien’s intellectual victory over Winston. Orwell thought to defend the integrity of the individual by resorting finally to what we might call (with apologies to Isaiah Berlin) the inner citadel— the sanctuary of the mind where personal understanding holds court free from societal meddling (Cf. Berlin, 1969: 135–9). This defense rests upon the belief that individual mind can directly apprehend at least some truths, and thus can have knowledge of at least some things that cannot be manipulated or overridden by outside forces. Some truths, we are asked to suppose, are directly accessible. This returns us to Winston’s naïve realism, and to his conviction that individual mind has a status independent of social mind. It also introduces Orwell’s growing understanding that this bit of philosophical fantasy could no longer be sustained in a manner that preserved individual integrity from emergent forces of intellectual control. The force of O’Brien’s arguments against Winston on this score depends on two separate insights, one fairly pedestrian and the other subtly philosophical. Suppose we begin with the pedestrian insight and ask how it is that O’Brien got Winston to admit that 2 + 2 could equal 5, or 3, or whatever Big Brother said it equaled. This will sound particularly crazy to many who think that mathematical truths are simply impervious to political tinkering. However, it is also commonly understood that such things are not impervious to mathematical tinkering. 2 + 2 equals 4 in base 10, for example, or even base 6, but what if we switch to base 3? We take it as given that Orwell was working with base ten, but if Big Brother continuously changes base, He can also change the sum of 2 + 2. And since digits are arbitrary signifiers, Big Brother could also control the sum of 2 + 2 by continuously changing the digit used to designate the sum. If individuals cannot trust their memories, and for reasons already discussed with regard to the matter of historical truth, why should they not simply believe the official pronouncements of Big Brother? If everyone says 2 + 2 equals 5, then that is the sum of 2 + 2. Once again, individual memory cannot stand against social convention. But this isn’t the kind of tinkering O’Brien employs, though he certainly could have. Instead, he tortures Winston to the point that the pain interferes

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with his senses, and Winston can no longer accurately count the fingers he holds up. The example is crude, but it makes an important point. How do we learn to recognize things within our field of vision as things of a certain sort? How, that is, do we learn to conceptualize what it is that we see—to make sense of William James’s “blooming, buzzing Confusion”? As philosophers from Wittgenstein forward have noticed, this is the job of language. To learn a language is to learn to make sense of the world in a certain way, viz., the way made possible by the language we learn. Seeing, as Wittgenstein put it, is always seeing as (Wittgenstein, 1958: 202–4). And as our language changes, what we see changes right along with it. To put the point obscurely, when our language changes, our world changes also (Cf. Kuhn, 1962: 110–20). O’Brien defeats Winston’s realism, then, by making Winston uncertain of what his senses are reporting to him. Moreover, this sort of thing is more commonplace than we might ordinarily notice. At one point not too long ago, Pluto was a planet; now it apparently has become an asteroid. While the object out in space has not changed (as far as we know), it is no longer the same thing that it once was! I was hardly aware that when I looked at a fire I was watching rapid oxidation until I was told this was what I was watching. Before I was told this, one could say, I had no idea what a fire was, even though I could use the word reasonably efficiently. But I still had no idea of what my senses were really reporting to me; that is, until I was told about it. Another culture may look at a fire and see a god dancing, and if this is how this form of life understands fire, this is in fact what fire is—and not just “for them” because the “for them” is not part of their meaning of fire. This, of course, is where the empiricist wants to object and insist that our scientifically informed way of seeing and understanding is more accurate than this other, perhaps primitive, culture. But this is where the simple point about the inability to trust our senses bleeds into the more philosophical point, because insisting that our way of seeing is the correct way of seeing is precisely what we cannot do. We can’t do this because we can’t get outside our own conceptualization to see the world as it really is. Our conceptualizations precede our observations; our theories empower our understandings. So much then for the naïve realism that mattered initially to Winston, and apparently to Orwell at one point. We learn to see (as) only by learning language, for it is our language that presents our world to us, and when linguistic usage changes, what we see (literally what there is to be seen) changes along with it. Consequently, if one can control language/reality, one can control individual thought. Orwell’s astute awareness of this is best displayed in his subtle and creative use of newspeak. By changing language,

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Big Brother is able to alter what can be thought; the possibility of revolution can be eliminated by erasing the salient concepts from the language. “If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality” (Orwell, 1961: 177). The required dislocation is achieved by continually revising language. Winston, of course, warred against the revisions, both historical and linguistic, of Big Brother. He supposed his own understanding of things to be more valid, more accurate, than the pronouncements and manipulations of the inner party. He failed to grasp the underlying philosophical insight, an insight only beginning to emerge (or reemerge) during Orwell’s day, that individuals are instances of the culture to which they belong and the language they happen to speak. Winston supposed he was his own authority on both history and reality; he trusted himself—his memory and his senses—against the onslaught of Big Brother. This is the source of his madness and the evidence of his egoism. It was also the heart of his individualism, and his cure required him to surrender this individualism, to recognize that individual mind could not stand independent of group mind. Once one accepts this, one can master the subtleties of doublethink, for doublethink is nothing more than admitting that one’s own thoughts don’t matter if and when they stand in conflict with the official and authoritative pronouncements of Big Brother. There is nothing terribly insidious about the philosophy that O’Brien espouses; in fact, just the opposite is the case. O’Brien defeats Winston because he is a good metaphysician and Winston is not. But this does not make O’Brien into a diabolical beast, and if we want to think of him this way it is because of the way he puts his philosophical understanding to work and not because of the understanding itself. Recognizing the sense in which human beings are socially configured creatures hardly poses any threat to individualism in itself, but it does introduce a strategy for control of the independent individual. It provides a mechanism for the exercise of power only, a way of controlling others by capturing their thoughts. This enables Big Brother to direct and manipulate the minds of those He wishes to control in order to realize whatever ulterior purposes He may have. There is, of course, reason to quibble with the practicality of the control that Orwell attributes to Big Brother. Language is a terribly textured and complex compilation of thought possibilities and options, and as Wittgenstein understood it, it is tightly linked to the way people live, to their “form of life” as Wittgenstein put it, that is both constituted by and reflected in language (Wittgenstein, 1958: 88). To control this would require a complete reconstruction of what people do, how they live, and the way they go on

5 Winston’s defeat is not yet complete. “Reality exists in the human mind. If his thoughts are not his own. this meant confronting rats. The party matters because the party. this is to say. “Can you not understand. if his individualism cannot be defended by appeal to the sanctity of the mind. he does not embrace Big Brother. however. It seems like a practical impossibility to revise social life. his emotions are still his own.Technologies of Power 101 with life. so completely. because he is fallible. The individual does not matter. on this score. Even though he capitulates to O’Brien’s metaphysics. They understand that struggling against the dictates of Big Brother is a form of thought crime. But this reasonably tolerable point is quickly transformed into a defense of collectivism. and hence social mind. and nowhere else. 1961: 205). where the worst thing in the world awaited him—in Winston’s case (and apparently Orwell’s). It was O’Brien speaking. The proles do not need to have their thoughts altered because they do not think. is the willing victim of its own oppression and remains oblivious to the nature of this oppression because its members tend to link their own importance to their membership in the party. But this is not the challenge that the inner party has set for itself. it is not hard to get them to submit to the dictates of social mind. but it could just as easily have been Hitler—or perhaps Schopenhauer. something eternal and all-powerful— the party. then. Individuals are but moments in the life of something that matters beyond the finite individual. The inner party need not attempt such a magnificent challenge because the proles are no real threat to them. The continual reconstruction of reality the inner party pursues through its tinkering with newspeak is aimed at the outer party members who already seem quite taken with party ideology. because O’Brien’s intellectual victory over Winston does not exhaust the steps necessary for his cure. his hatred of Big Brother and his love for Julia are still his own.” O’Brien tells Winston (Orwell. is eternal. . and finite. the individual is lost amidst social mind. frail. The outer party. Because they have already bought into the party line. instead he expresses his hatred of Big Brother. But this confusion lasted only as long as it took O’Brien to send Winston to Room 101. Because they are no threat to the inner party they are allowed to be free and remain largely oblivious to inner party manipulations. Once again. and only the party.: 217). Winston. that the individual is only a cell? The weariness of the cell is the vigor of the organism” (Ibid.

to stand against Big Brother as Winston did. Big Brother had spotted his tragic weakness and jumped on it. it would have to be here. and it proved stronger than both his hate for Big Brother and his love for Julia. and here Winston really was powerless against O’Brien. And this is where we all must go to test the courage of our convictions. Big Brother did not control by means of crude threats against the body. The solitary individual has no alternative standard of measure. the story illustrates the extraordinary potential for totalitarian control brought into the world by the new technologies of power. His fear was turned against him. no bastion of the self that remained free from the totalitarian reach of Big Brother. And he quickly did it. and while Orwell never made them explicitly. the woman he allegedly loved to save himself. of course. If Winston was to get the best of O’Brien.. Once the cage was affixed to Winston’s face and the hungry rats were ready to converge upon him. So. He has gone beyond the traditional strategy of coercion. but it is a crucial element of the warning he wished to issue to his present and his posterity. a willful rejection of truth. The political point of the story rides with the latter aspect. as we shall see. both historical and epistemological. So. But a few preliminary remarks are in order at this point. the independent individual is powerless to stand against the manipulation that its capture makes possible. really can be captured.e. Big Brother’s edicts are true because His authority is the standard of truth that determines the understanding of social mind. and once it is captured.102 ORWELL. he knew what he had to do. What this means for the fate of the liberalism that mattered to Orwell remains to be seen. And this. O’Brien defeats Winston intellectually because he out-reasons him. entirely possible. the new technologies of power now available make totalitarian control. His emotions were now under Big Brother’s control. they had indeed gotten inside him. he gives up Julia. is exactly how we think of dementia. while the literary point Orwell wished to make lies with the former. is not the most chilling aspect of Orwell’s story. What should we make of Winston’s failed joust with O’Brien? By way of exploring this question. He has captured the mind and in the process eliminated the individual. From a theoretical point of view. to doubt his edicts. POLITICS. Truth. The results disappoint. This. they follow rather . i. I want to suggest that there is reason to keep the dramatic aspect of Orwell’s story separate from its theoretical aspect. Sanity really is statistical. He knew what O’Brien wanted and expected him to do. AND POWER In Room 101 Winston met his worst fears. and the corresponding eclipse of the individual as this notion is understood in the liberal tradition. Now there was nothing left of poor Winston. involves only a willful rejection of social mind.

Orwell left open. I think. and I suspect this is a realization that had begun to dawn on Orwell. he must come to embrace Big Brother of his own free will (Ibid. Liberalism depends upon the valorization of the independent individual as a being capable of independent thought and action. Let me leave this matter for Chapter 6 and turn now to the dramatic and literary side of the equation. This leads to a thought that tragically escapes Winston. The new inquisition does not torture the body in order to coerce false confessions out of its victim. So the question that emerges from his political thought at this point is whether his theory offers any indication of how liberalism might survive the erosion of its nineteenth century epistemological foundations. In vindicating O’Brien’s arguments against Winston. The first move involves what we might call the Cartesian reply to O’Brien. I have suggested that the theoretical foundations for this eclipse have merit.). two moves Winston could have taken to defend himself against O’Brien. but he cannot make Winston embrace the conclusion. instead it converts its victim by capturing “his inner mind” (Ibid. the philosophical erosion of this epistemology would leave liberalism in trouble. he must also recognize and respect Winston as a reasoning being. But this is the very capacity he hopes to control. and consequently. Here then is the irony: O’Brien can lead Winston to the desired conclusion. To be cured of his dementia. Winston’s defeat invites readers to see if they might do better against O’Brien than Winston. an invitation Orwell almost certainly intended readers to take. and his failure to make either move suggests his final weakness as a character. if persons are the dependent social beings O’Brien describes. The key issue is this: If liberalism as a political doctrine is thought to depend upon an underlying epistemology of the sort associated with realism. what is left to valorize? The independent individual has been demystified by Big Brother and O’Brien. So. Just as the psychoanalyst cannot cure her patient by making . Understanding the technologies of power that O’Brien employs could thus be a source of empowerment for Winston.: 210). If O’Brien must out-reason Winston in order to defeat him. he must recognize and accept his own intellectual defeat. and he must rely upon Winston’s ability as a reasoning being to get the job done. the individualism underlying liberalism has been eclipsed. If this metaphysical understanding of the individual cannot be sustained. a glimmer of independence remains within the individual that would seem to stand beyond Big Brother’s control. Winston must actually understand O’Brien’s arguments and accept them because the force of reason requires this.Technologies of Power 103 straightforwardly from his political thought. Recall that O’Brien insists that when Winston capitulates.

Had he been stronger emotionally. On one hand. and he would have frustrated O’Brien’s exercise of power. They can only get inside you.). but only if the individual is intellectually and emotionally up to the challenge. POLITICS. AND POWER the patient accept her interpretation of things. of course. If individual mind goes. and the recognition of this fact counts against the total control of the individual that Big Brother hoped to achieve. As Patrick Reilly aptly puts it.104 ORWELL. this will matter more than life itself. But if O’Brien treats Winston like a computer that needs to be reprogrammed. Winston lacked the self-discipline to manage his own fear. but he well knew that he was dead anyway. “Winston does not believe in his values strongly enough to die for them” (Reilly. if you let them in. one merely does away with it instead. he would have recognized (as he did) what O’Brien was up to and then elected to let the rats do him in. that Winston has a will to capture. in other words. Big Brother’s agenda is self-defeating because Winston could reasonably decide to remain unreasonable. He would have been dead. One cannot control free will by making determinist arguments. So it seems that the integrity of the individual can be sustained in a confrontation with totalitarian power. preferring unreason to reason. and the sense of power O’Brien treasures is correspondingly diminished. Now his dementia would remain incurable. it is always possible for Winston to refuse to let this happen. to be sure. he insists that individual mind does not exist. O’Brien could not make good on his boast of making “the brain perfect before we blow it out” (Ibid. so does free will. Winston had to do this himself. it turns out. it is merely an individuated aspect of social or collective mind controlled by Big Brother. And he would have defied Big Brother by not permitting them to get inside him. He could have rejected reasoning illogically in favor of unreason. Second. And if one values one’s individuality strongly enough. The problem here is that O’Brien moves back and forth between a conceptual divide. steadfastly reject O’Brien’s arguments for no good reason. In this sense. He could. (I call it this because I suspect it is the reply Orwell might have been inclined to offer. This is no small challenge. 1986: 54). . O’Brien could not make Winston accept Big Brother. there was also available to Winston what I will call an Orwellian reply. But Winston sadly failed to notice this possibility. as he does.) Winston simply lacked the courage of his convictions. he cannot insist that Winston must embrace Big Brother of his own free will. but Orwell viewed it as the last bastion of the defense of individualism in an increasingly managed social world. But if O’Brien concedes.

Technologies of Power 105 If Winston was the last man in Europe. but his failure demonstrates how it is possible to stand up against this sort of thing. Ingle. he concedes that his victory over himself is complete. But he also knew that his health was failing. The totality of Winston’s capitulation becomes apparent when. This is some indication that he planned to keep on living and working. Things had gone too far wrong for any of this. perhaps it is not overly fanciful to suppose that Orwell was willing to risk a fate that the protagonist of his novel. Winston’s dramatic struggle reduces to a question of how firmly he wanted to retain his convictions as well as to a question about how thoroughly he really understood them. he could manage neither the wisdom nor the courage required to defend himself against his tormentor. He could. 1993: 91). That he intended to write other novels is apparent (Cf. And because he did not fully understand them. and in so many ways his alterego. Crick. Winston’s lone rebellion against Big Brother would not have weakened the control of the inner party or sparked any revolutionary opposition to Big Brother. The confrontation in the Ministry of Love thus signals two crucial points. lacked the character to face. and he placed great importance on finishing what was to become his last novel. So. Winston lacked the strength of character to stand up against O’Brien’s physical and intellectual pounding. 1980: 379–99. He wanted above all else to present his message to the world—a message of hope wrapped around a dire warning of what the future might hold if we are not careful. Winston’s fate was irrelevant to this larger concern. There is considerable speculation among Orwell’s biographers on whether his decision to stay in the Hebrides to finish his manuscript rather than seek medical help for his worsening tuberculosis constituted a form of suicide. ironically. have managed a real victory over himself had he accepted the rats and clung to his individuality just a little bit harder. First the political point: technologies of power now exist that make totalitarian control entirely possible. with tears of love for Big Brother flowing down his cheeks. Europe was already doomed. Second the dramatic point: even under such dire circumstances the solitary individual is not completely powerless if powerlessness involves the surrender of one’s sense of individual dignity. .

“The immediate advantages of falsifying the past. We are not interested in the good of others. “were obvious. at least partially. The WHY of it all. constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler” (Ibid. It is inexplicable because it seems terribly odd to think of power as an end in itself. was why anyone would want to control the past—in effect to control reality—in the first place. “always there will be the intoxication of power. “I understand HOW: I do not understand WHY” (Orwell. He even understood that his questioning of Big Brother’s edicts might be a sign of lunacy. that to hold a belief all alone was to be a lunatic—that insanity is statistical. we are interested solely in power” (Ibid. But why? O’Brien’s explanation of party motives remains both rather inexplicable and largely incomplete. because what readers should really want to know at this point is how power 106 . was simply power itself. “The object of power. Winston understood the advantage that comes with altering the past and more generally with “reality control. he writes in his infamous diary. for Winston in the Ministry of Love. The mystery would be resolved.: 220). but the ultimate motive was mysterious” (Ibid.” O’Brien chillingly and somewhat obscurely tells Winston.). The explanation seems incomplete. “is power” (Ibid.” Orwell says.” as the point was put in newspeak. however. Orwell’s italics). and he understood. “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake.).6 God Is Power1 Early in Winston’s rebellion against Big Brother. the power that moved Big Brother.: 217). as O’Brien would later emphasize. on the other hand. 1961: 68. What he did not understand. as something people might actually want for its own sake and not instrumentally as a means to some other desired good. The answer to Winston’s most troubling question is given by O’Brien who tells Winston. Orwell here has O’Brien explain to Winston and the rest of us that.

God Is Power 107 came to be an end in itself. they offer perhaps a more perspicacious insight into the human condition than anything present in their more popular Enlightenment views on human understanding. immediately or obviously understandable as weapons of reality control. once again. we must try to understand why he thought this could happen. Power on the postmodern view is more an . one traditional and one (at the risk of a slight anachronism) rather postmodern in nature. and the nature of reality. would have little theoretical interest. groups. or in Orwell’s case. 1 It is important to notice at the outset that there are really two distinct senses of power at play in Orwell’s political thought. They are the product of some rather benign historical and philosophical insights on the nature of human understanding. It involves the ability of some to control events. it becomes easier to recognize the path we should take. Orwell’s curious explanation. and Winston does not think to ask. that it is even possible to make sense of this. for once we know the path that we should avoid. O’Brien does not think to explain this to Winston. such as it would then be. But this is hardly the place to engage these philosophical matters. Yet this is the ultimate political question that emerges from Orwell’s novel. of course. and realize desired ends. and Orwell’s political thought. human inquiry. if not probable. the possibility of power becoming an end in itself must be explained. is that power has become its own end. assuming. If we cannot find in the text some reason to think power can become its own end. but little else. the ideas underlying these technologies simply raise some challenging questions for the traditional Enlightenment understanding of truth. With the required explanation. If the novel is to be read as a warning. that these insights might be put to use by some lot of people (the high in Goldstein’s jargon) for the purpose of reality control. Power on the traditional view is an attribute of persons. Nineteen Eighty-Four would provide readers with a scary story. So to make sense of Orwell’s political message. and not just as a scary story. Such insights are not. comes the possibility of an antidote. parties. The technologies of power discussed in the previous chapter are hardly diabolical in their own right. and regarded for the moment as philosophical insights. or why these ideas were transformed by this lot of people into technologies of power. They display what we might regard today as postmodern doubt about the hubristic claims of Enlightenment thinking. however. rather. determine outcomes. of course. What should concern us here is why Orwell thought it possible.

i. The inner party does not solidify and refine its power in order to promote its own interests. Any group of people powerful enough to protect the polity is also powerful enough to rob the polity to suit its own needs and satisfy its own wants. determines outlooks. The most obvious example of traditional power is the power held by the political sovereign. It looks like Orwell’s Oceania has failed to realize this end. This power is a necessary feature of civil society. 1972: 156). it seems altogether necessary if social life is to go well. and this makes Orwell’s political concerns all the more perplexing. and Orwell might be understood to be suggesting. The second or institutional sense of power that is present in Orwell’s political thought is importantly different than this because it is not an attribute of persons. It configures individual consciousness. Inner party members are not interested in luxury. the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed. AND POWER attribute of social institutions and/or systems of belief. “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men. and in the next place oblige it to control itself ” (Madison. This explains why Foucault understood power as an aspect of knowledge and knowledge as . it does not do so by making it easy for the powerful to give way to temptation. resolve disputes. As Foucault describes it. but by giving power to the sovereign (government). “power [in this latter sense] is no longer substantially identified with an individual who possesses or exercises it by right of birth. Instead. that Lord Acton was right to worry about the corrupting power of power. Yet this merely returns us to the paradox of power noted at the outset: while we cannot do without this power in modern society. in fact. as with Lord Acton. Ideally. 1961: 322). This. for the sovereign is now well positioned to serve his own ends rather than the public good. Such power is hardly problematic by itself. once again. But this conclusion is made problematic by the fact that power in Orwell’s Oceania has become an end in itself. control the individual tendency toward predation. Someone must be empowered to keep the peace. it becomes a machinery that no one owns” (Foucault. and manage the manifold problems that arise in the course of social life. political power. It is an external force that works on all persons and shapes individual consciousness and understanding. introduces the classic problem with which political theorists have historically wrestled. defend the polity from outside interference. society creates a potential threat to the public good. political power should serve the public good. If power corrupts for Orwell. they are interested solely in power. it functions as a narcotic in its own right.108 ORWELL.e. James Madison put the point as succinctly as anyone. it is terribly difficult to see how we can manage to live satisfactorily with it.. POLITICS. of course. and sets desired ends.

Institutionalized power. and such struggles are in evidence in Nineteen Eighty-Four. so to speak. It manipulates in its own right without serving any human master. it would seem. and the struggle of power to control body remains firmly entrenched. with inner party members. Inner party manipulation of the outer party is made possible. even though this sort of thing is forbidden by party dogma. By controlling what Foucault would refer to as “knowledges” the inner party controls the outer party. Winston’s struggles against Big Brother offer a clear example. including some. this situation might seem to be in clear evidence in the text of Nineteen Eighty-Four. on the other hand. But Orwell’s vision of the human condition does seem to hint at a world in which power works its will on humankind. Flory. Julia. Life goes on behind the scenes. who tells us that “there are no relations of power without resistances” (Foucault. just like the rest of us. and these new technologies simply make the exercise of traditional power all the more insidious. At a fairly pedestrian level. has had a number of sexual liaisons. They do not question because they cannot question. individually as well as collectively. sometimes hopelessly but also sometimes to gain a modicum of control over their lives of the sort that Foucault seems to have thought largely impossible. None of this should be taken to imply that Orwell anticipated Foucault or a Foucaultian vision of human life where people are mere marionettes jerked around by supervening power relations that their bodies struggle against. as we have seen. and people struggle against it. 1972: 142). since there is no law in Oceania) on display in the novel. for example. by the refined inner party grasp of the technologies of power. because they cannot do otherwise. We can put this issue aside for the moment. Outer party members are caught up in a power grid that determines their being and defines their understanding. struggles . But this doesn’t quite get to the exact operation of institutional power in the novel because the knowledges in question are deliberately manipulated and massaged by the inner party. The body struggles against the conformity institutional power imposes upon it. That Orwell had some rather inchoate sense of this sort of institutional power is evident from the stories he tells in several of his earlier novels. They take their world as it is. controls all elements of the population and cannot be the subject of control by any of them. generally with only middling success. and notice another aspect of this power described by Foucault. it stands beyond human hands. But there is also a manifest lawlessness (of sorts. in Burmese Days. and they typically fight against these circumstances in ways that always involve some form of failure.God Is Power 109 an aspect of power. however. His characters are invariably caught in social circumstances that no one really controls.

Ironically. The most intriguing aspect of Comstock’s struggle.110 ORWELL. There is a parallel of some importance here between Comstock and Winston Smith. and “those things” are simply the prerequisites of living a proper middle-class life. is at the heart of his undoing—he goes all the way. thus suggesting that cleverness is stronger than virtue in the struggles of life. Indeed. and in large measure because his own body won’t allow it. But be this as it may. The Europeans struggle to keep their club free of natives. Both characters are re-made by story’s end. Burmese Days is a lovely illustration of institutional power struggles—and here the literary world might simply have a more astute eye for the human condition than much modern philosophy. Comstock’s capitulation is an illustration of institutionalized power. When he finally surrenders to the relentless forces that press in upon him—and it would seem his own conventional sense of propriety. and no one emerges as very successful by tale’s end. his failure in this regard may be taken to suggest that deceit is not nearly as rewarding as virtue after all. Poor Gordon Comstock wars unrelentingly against the money god. and no one succeeds in any substantial measure. Veraswami and have him admitted to the European club without success. He is the victim of an institutionalized power that he cannot hope to overcome. again without success. Only the deceitful U Po Kyin looks like he realizes his desired outcome. Living decently demands money. is his complete capitulation. whose independent efforts to control this dynamic always fall a bit. Flory seeks to defend the interests of his friend Dr. But he too fails in the sense that he dies before he can make amends for his numerous infelicities as required by his religion. Both Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Coming Up for Air follow this general theme. AND POWER against his role of sahib without success. however. POLITICS. short. just as his body wars against his principled stand at the very same time. all characters in the drama pursue ends in opposition to each other. for all the players in the novel are struggling against the entrenched background of institutional restraint to realize their desired ends. At the same time that he struggles to live a virtuous life—a life devoted to artistic accomplishment—he also wants all those things that money makes possible. and given the significance of his religious beliefs. Comstock’s disdain for the mindless pursuit of wealth in favor of more noble ends is honorable in its own right. it may be necessary to compromise one’s ambitions and ideals. But it is a war he cannot win. The social dynamic Orwell creates in the story controls the characters. the power of social force to shape . and to make the money one needs. Instead. and sometimes tragically. though in Comstock’s case there is no Big Brother to force his capitulation. or the conventional sense of propriety that has shaped his soul.

it would seem. to a time when he could enjoy commonplace pleasures like having the time to go fishing. Bowling is caught on life’s treadmill but has little interest in the life of a rebel. and he sees. is the most interesting of Orwell’s characters on this score. Winston could have beaten O’Brien. What could have possessed him to think that the Lower Binfield of his youth would remain untouched by social force? He wanted a vacation from his social world and learned instead that it is a place one cannot vacate.e. The story’s ending thus seems inevitable. at least in a fairly middling sense and though it would have been a most pyrrhic victory. Perhaps. a force one cannot . however. Bowling’s quest for a quiet moment. and he cannot imagine anyway of stopping the triumph of madness. he really embraces the aspidistra he once loathed.God Is Power 111 the horizon of his mind and drive away his demons. for a little time-out from life. socio-political forces at work in the world that portend worse things to come. a person in control of the new technologies of power). George Bowling. for the interests of the body are properly satisfied only according to the dictates and strictures of social life. by attempting to escape to his past. if Keep the Aspidistra Flying could have ended any other way. The pace and complexity of social life have increased in ways he finds disconcerting. of course. But Comstock’s predicament was unlike Winston’s. Comstock objected to the way his world worked. Is it possible to imagine that Comstock would win his battle with the money god? Was he. as so many critics have supposed. and his rebellion simply meant that he was denied those things his body wanted. is innocent enough. Against the shaping and molding force of social mind. But he learns the lesson also taught by Thomas Wolfe: you can’t go home again. He seeks shelter. Comstock’s capitulation was not just a matter of sour grapes. or a momentary reprieve. One might profitably wonder. it seems. Comstock had no chance. albeit dimly. because we cannot stop being human. is far harder to struggle against than the former. we cannot avoid the structuring and configuring force of institutional power. His world. He does not yearn for something better or more noble. the protagonist of Coming Up for Air. just another one of Orwell’s failed characters. And the latter. But it is also rather foolish and naïve.. for Winston was confronted by a powerful person (i. Yet he has memories of what seems to him to have been a more decent time. is going increasingly mad. while Comstock was confronted with the power that emanates from social life and serves no master. a character who tragically lacked the inner strength necessary to sustain his own convictions? I’m not inclined to read the story this way.

should it continue to seek and exercise power for its own sake? If power-seeking is an . has completely broken the power of the middle. He is trapped in a world that seems to be going crazy. He would not be believed. If Orwell had some sense of institutional power shaping individual lives—a disembodied power that shapes us all and is shaped by no one—as his earlier fiction suggests. it doesn’t follow that Orwell believed. and there is no point in fighting against any of this.” as a tale of idiocy without a storyteller. has found problems with the cover story he fabricates to hide his time-out from her. and this is a place Orwell refused to go. for even (perhaps especially) Big Brother is also its pawn—a product of the push it has exerted on the world. the new managerial elite. ala Bowling. Why. it may make some sense to look for it again in Nineteen Eighty-Four. otherwise. For while Orwell seems to have had an artistic appreciation for the sort of power Foucault’s more historical analysis describes. Once Hilde. his wife. he wanted to resist this power and thought it possible to do so (a possibility only dimly present in Foucault’s later writings). he is at least resigned to his predicament. then. 2 Let me return now to the “Why?” question and see if we can make sense out of Orwell’s claim in Nineteen Eighty-Four that power has become an end in itself. that it was pointless and useless to struggle against it. however. if he cannot vacate his world for a moment. Instead. and there is nothing that he. can do about it. One way to explain this is to think that Orwell was merely borrowing from James Burnham’s misguided reading of Machiavelli and supposing that human political history is an unending saga of class conflict with the middle class seeking the power necessary to depose the high and take its place. This is a form of power more insidious than anything Big Brother could imagine. Life marches on—not so much a “tale told by an idiot. Our actions are interpreted and understood by social mind regardless of our true motives. because the new high. But again there is reason to insert a cautionary note here. Nineteen Eighty-Four really would have been a prediction about the future and not a warning about a condition we should want desperately to avoid. This view makes little sense in the context of Nineteen Eighty-Four. POLITICS. AND POWER escape.112 ORWELL. Bowling is trapped in an unhappy marriage and an unfulfilling job. or anyone else. Yet he accepts his fate and his discovery with a degree of equanimity. To think otherwise would again make Orwell into a fatalist and determinist. he knows there is no reason to protest her suspicions about an affair and tell her the truth.

The name of Thomas Hobbes. that ceaseth only in death” (Hobbes. might be elicited in support of this view.” But it hardly does justice to O’Brien’s motives. however. and they no longer have anything to fear from it. not Machiavelli. constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler” (Orwell. But this is not the predicament of the inner party in Nineteen EightyFour. Where one’s future is insecure. the middle will ceaselessly seek power in order to unseat the high and take over the top spot. “[I] put for a general inclination of all mankind.. And the inner party has dedicated itself to making sure this will not happen. 1961: 220). and there is reason to wonder about what could possibly trigger this sort of thing. Hobbes supposed that the desire for power never ceases in a state of nature because one cannot be sure when one has sufficient power to procure all the things he or she might want or need. inner party elites have actually achieved this end. If power is suddenly to become an end in itself. thus power becomes its own end. Thanks to their mastery of the new technologies of power. But this still seems to be an inadequate explanation of the inner party lust for power. Hobbes famously declared. Another way to explain what Orwell was up to is to claim that he thought human beings are simply creatures that are psychologically disposed to seek power. it must be significantly reconceptualized. It does permit us to think that the inner party seeks power in order to sustain and secure its desire for power. The inner party seeks power in order to have the power necessary to sustain its position of privilege come what may. if we suppose the inner party can never be completely secure in its power. willing to question the authority of Big Brother and inclined to incite others to stand against Him. But even Hobbes does not suppose that this desire for power follows because power is an end in itself. Their control of the outer party is complete. We learn from Goldstein’s book that the inner party has figured out the basic cycle of political history. But still. Always there might be some deviant around. 1950: 64). with the end given by the interests of the classes in conflict. someone like Winston.God Is Power 113 inevitable consequence of class conflict. the inner . This makes sense of O’Brien’s claim that “the object of power is power. it must be viewed as a means to an end. Given this possibility. After all. a perpetual and restless desire of power after power. Rather. “always there will be the intoxication of power. the inner party must always seek power in order to identify would-be revolutionaries and dispense with them. We might try to sustain a Hobbesian account of power in the face of O’Brien’s remarks. viz. one will seek all the power one can get in order to make one’s future as secure as possible.

the enemy of society. equally prevalent in all ages.114 ORWELL.: 221). (Orwell. POLITICS. and he does so for the sole purpose of crushing him. since for present purposes it is sufficient to note that Orwell did not think of the . But O’Brien explains. 1968c: 249) Orwell does not exactly follow this question up either. All they really want to do is stamp on their helpless and humiliated victims with their boots. AND POWER party could have spotted Winston as a deviant and simply killed him. It suggests that Orwell supposed human beings could find no greater pleasure in life than torturing helpless elements of their own species and that this is the most dominant instinct human beings happen to possess. He carefully leads Winston into thought crime. as I think it has. without apparent evidence or justification. the contention that the lust for power that he believed growing in his own age is not a natural instinct. or even Lord Acton for that matter. in the sense of being biologically necessary. This is why the future will be little more than “a boot stamping on a human face—forever” (Ibid.: 220). Recall that O’Brien cultivates Winston’s dementia. In a 1946. but curiously enough the desire for power seems to be taken for granted as a natural instinct. This may seem to return us to a psychological disposition. They seek power in order to exercise it. than drunkenness or gambling. like the desire for food. so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again” (Ibid. never followed up—there might occasionally be a bit of good news on the front page of your morning paper. This has often been pointed out. And if it has reached new levels of lunacy in our own age. This suggests that O’Brien is simply a demonic beast after all. “The heretic. But there is no reason to press this issue here. “As I Please” column. and we might question why he dismisses. Actually it is no more natural. he offers some salient observations on the pursuit of power that deserve to be quoted in full: The desire for pure power seems to be much more dominant than the desire for wealth. but the disposition now attributed to the inner party—if not to humankind more generally—is far more insidious than anything imagined by Hobbes. and the inner party is little more than a cabal of these beasts. But Orwell explicitly rejects such a view. then the question becomes: What is the special quality in modern life that makes a major human motive out of the impulse to bully others? If we could answer that question—seldom asked. will always be there. it did not have to “cure” him before ridding itself of whatever threat Winston might have posed.

again like Orwell. But the middle has done this largely in order to enlist the low to their side and get their assistance in bringing down the high. The new motivating logic of the inner party is aptly described in Goldstein’s book. requires people to be re-educated in a manner that cultivates a sympathetic appreciation for others. this is to say. History is driven by the jealousies between the high and middle classes. Thus it turns its attention to power in order to secure its position. in a social order that has enabled. and it is altogether conscious of the inevitable threat posed by the low. a vicious self-love to dominate over humankind’s more sympathetic instincts. “The Party is not concerned with perpetuating its blood . Rousseau. was not overly interested in detailing the causes of this corruption. and it is a politics of conflict and conquest. and consequently. Whatever has caused O’Brien to see exercising power (and hence torturing others) as an end in itself. or rather. He has been brought to this by some power other than his own. for Rousseau. Something like this. Only the low lack the ambitions and jealousies that characterize class conflict between the high and the middle. if not encouraged. But because the low are politically inert (and for reasons discussed previously). Even though the middle might actually believe their moral protestations after a fashion. In defense of this. the middle has succeeded in tapping into the low’s sense of decency and giving it a political expression.God Is Power 115 lust for power that he parodies in O’Brien as a natural instinct. As Orwell tells it. but he does locate them in society. and it is here that some attention to the notion of institutional power might help us out. it is not built into his nature as a human being. Let me try to make some sense of this by calling Rousseau back onto center stage. Here we find the official inner party account of the politics of the human condition. these beliefs do not endure because once they become the new high. is also going on in Orwell. for like Orwell. In the past. they will then seek exclusively to defend their position of privilege against a newly emergent middle. has produced selfish and egoistic beings. It does not want to become yet another victim of revolutionary transformation. Rousseau supposed he lived in a corrupt age. they are powerless to inject any moral message into the class conflict that dominates relations between the high and middle. So we are left to speculate about why power has become its own end. we need only turn once again to Goldstein’s book. Society. the new high that has emerged after the Second World War has discerned the natural flow of political history and set about to sustain its position by refining and imposing new technologies of power on the middle. and the way back to a more noble path. it is only among the low that some semblance of decency is to be found. I think.

Who wields power is not important. all that matters is power because power is the only thing left in the culture for the inner . AND POWER but with perpetuating itself. Even selfish concerns like wealth and luxury no longer matter. The ideals of the liberal revolution now matter only as tools in the exercise of the new technologies of power. in effect. and so the party seeks power in order to remain in power. We still cannot understand why O’Brien must torture and humiliate Winston rather than simply killing him. 1961: 173). then. and thus to end history if history is understood as the story of revolutionary political transformation. and they are dismissed as mere means to an end that the inner party has now achieved. Only the truly powerful can remain in power. made the world an indecent place because it has supposed that the world is an indecent place. its focus is now on its need to triumph in an adversarial environment rather than on more noble matters. because social force has carried it to its ultimate expression of control. Accordingly. POLITICS. The inner party’s obsession with the power necessary to sustain its position has left its members with nothing to value. it has taught itself to see society in terms of ongoing conflict instead of mutual cooperation. the ideals and norms of a previous era have atrophied to the point that nothing is left of them. it is all that they have to do. The world of Oceania has gone wrong. It has supposed that the lesson of history is a saga of inter-class conflict. and nothing I have said so far explains why the future should be a boot stamping on a human face forever. they have no further meaning as moral norms in their own right. other than power. however. And nothing else of the culture that preceded it remains. To this end. provided that the hierarchical structure remains always the same” (Orwell. But of course. the only aim of the party is its own perpetuation—or the perpetuation of its position of political dominance. It has come to believe in its own need for absolute power in order to achieve total control of the outer party.116 ORWELL. The egalitarian concerns of the liberal revolution that preceded its rule have no place in such a world. it must completely dominate the consciousness of the outer party. this is just a restatement of Hobbes. and with time this has become its only objective. The point in need of emphasis. with nothing of importance. The aim of the new oligarchy is thus to sustain itself. The inner party’s new objective is control. So. we return to the idea that the object of power is power. To do this. and it wants to protect itself against its possible future demise. It has. it has refined and exercised the new technologies of power to completely control the consciousness of its natural political enemy: the outer party. It is all that matters. is that the inner party is itself shaped by its own reading of political history.

but what should they do now? In his vision of Oceania. no other ends. power is all. The managers that make up the new upper class come to believe that society depends upon them. The logic behind this process has already been explored in the elitist reading of Animal Farm. power has manifest itself perfectly in the world. he began by transposing the concepts in question. and their position of privilege is coterminous with the well-being of society. If we follow suit we might understand Winston to be saying that power is God.God Is Power 117 party to value. So its members have nothing to do but exercise it. But he wrote. And so there is nothing more for O’Brien to do than to exercise power. “God is Power” instead. power has become its own end. The party is eternal and all-powerful—God-like virtues to be sure. Orwell puts an answer to this question. And there is nothing else left—no other gods. and readers might be reminded that when O’Brien explained the party phrase “Freedom is Slavery” to Winston. it is his only purpose in life because no other purposes are available to him. because it is the only thing left. Thus he lives to torture and to prey upon those poor souls in the outer party that he can entice into thought crime. however. work to control the middle which would undo things and send society back toward chaos. This sorry state did not develop as a matter of diabolical design. it is simply a place where we might end up if we are not careful and if we fail to pay attention to the logical implications of the ideas that exert power over us. “God is Power” (Ibid. and the inner party is left with only its power. In Hegelian terms (terms Orwell would not have much understood). Shortly after his cure. quite simply. The pigs manage control of the lower animals on the farm for reasons that should now be fairly clear.” because he has learned that the party is both omniscient and omnipotent. They must. Power has become its own end because the culture has become thoroughly bankrupt. and the culture has become bankrupt because the inner party’s reading of history has led its members to think society is only an ongoing struggle between the high and the middle. The power necessary to control the middle became so important that it eclipsed all else. but as a product of the inner party’s reading of history. The pigs manage to achieve this control. therefore. Nothing is left to temper the spirit and inspire a sense of human decency. All other ends have atrophied and faded into history. He might have written. Winston writes in the diary that had been returned to him. Power is eternal and unconquerable. This is the final lesson he learned from O’Brien. “God is the Party. There is nothing left for the managers to do but exercise the power they have amassed for themselves. Oceania is not a place anyone would deliberately design. no other values that matter.: 228). .

To leave matters at this. it only serves itself. it would seem to be that the proles remain unscathed by any of this. 3 Only one thing matters in the society Orwell fabricates in Nineteen EightyFour: power. rather. In Oceania. noble or otherwise. he embraced the party line. His consciousness was itself shaped by the understandings and knowledges that he imparted to Winston. O’Brien. we are led to suppose. the mythic visage that represents the consciousness of Oceania. POLITICS. can hardly be regarded simply as a sadistic and insensitive beast. and torment is merely a tool of his tutelage. But with the limitations that confine the horizons of their minds clearly in front of us. They are not necessarily bad characters or diabolical sages working for selfish reasons to achieve desperately immoral and inhuman ends. Their moral sense might remain intact. would mean that while Nineteen EightyFour would certainly be more than just a scary story. He is more tutor than tormentor. and no thought to the contrary remains to oppose it. doing what he was supposed to do. for power is abused only when it serves some end it is not intended or expected to serve. The characters at play are caught in a web of conceptualizations and understandings that incline them to make certain apparently logical moves. Like a good party member. This is the dominant cultural standard in Oceania. but they are incapable of harnessing this sense and turning it to political action. Big Brother. this can be seen as small solace indeed. creatures caught in the grips of understandings that push them in what Orwell thought to be dangerous and terribly inhuman directions. even a priest. AND POWER If there is solace to be found in the world Orwell has described. exerted his power over O’Brien as thoroughly as O’Brien exerted his power over Winston. They are. Taken together. however. anxious to explain and persuade rather than to punish” (Orwell. there are no ends for power to serve. it would still lack .118 ORWELL. and as much the puppet in all this as poor Winston. “He had the air of a doctor. He does not revel in Winston’s torture and does not seem to experience pleasure by imposing pain on Winston. then. Orwell gives O’Brien a curious countenance as he begins Winston’s cure. 1961: 203). Institutional power is at work here. a teacher. just doing his job. however. Consequently. Orwell describes in Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four a plausible logic that drives political development in spite of the specific concerns and intentions of individual actors. this is a place where power cannot be abused. He was.

1961: 163). but when one was designing a gun or an airplane they had to make four” (Orwell. in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In Chapter 5. even here truth becomes simply a matter of whatever Big Brother says it is. or religion. behind your back. But it is the ethical implications of all this that really troubled Orwell. “there is no such thing as military necessity” (Ibid. and if Big Brother controls social mind. If the story presents a plausible account of a society gone wrong. and expect. what we should want to know is what might be done to avoid this sorry predicament. and it would provide some clues about how such a world could come about. it will be recalled. Military efficiency mattered to Orwell at the time he wrote “Looking Back” because he supposed that some truths must be respected in order to marshal the military strength necessary to win wars and defeat enemies. for when war is perpetual. But what readers should want. as it were. pragmatically. then Big Brother is the source of truth. no one really has an interest in winning. and you consequently can’t violate it in ways that impair military efficiency. 1946a: 200). Basic truths must be observed. In philosophy. in the end. or ethics. if the idea of truth as something objective and apprehensible to independent . Raising this point invites readers to flash back to some of Orwell’s comments in “Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War. for example. and came up with two strategies to prevent this from happening.). and during the preparation of Nineteen EightyFour. Orwell appears ready to let go of this epistemology. or politics. Yet Orwell also seems to have recognized that new and emergent philosophical insights were reshaping our understanding of truth.God Is Power 119 a clear political significance. or something like it. Orwell seems to have given up on the first strategy. As Orwell puts it in Nineteen Eighty-Four.” Orwell says. I raised a question about whether liberalism depends upon an empiricist epistemology. “One is that however much you deny the truth.” There. Orwell worried about how to prevent truth from fading out of the world. two and two might make five. from Orwell at this point is some indication of how Oceania might be avoided. the truth goes on existing. “Physical facts could not be ignored. the liberal tradition can be kept alive” (Orwell. The other is that so long as some parts of the earth remain unconquered. and to fight against this is lunacy. in order to build effective war materials. The novel would certainly introduce readers to a world we should want to avoid. “When war is continuous. If reality is a condition of social mind. Shortly after writing this. It matters little. But the inner party’s discovery that “War is Peace” put an end to this particular need for truth. Consequently.

But this war-time epiphany sits awkwardly beside Orwell’s . in a world where nothing is prohibited. And I suggest that this failure to develop a totalitarian mental atmosphere. work to support the liberal culture in which the notion of decency. he was far less inclined to abandon the belief in decency that he almost grudgingly at last connected with the liberal tradition. 1942: 89) The bit of optimism present in this passage is premised upon the belief that English culture is likely to change and move toward collectivist ends only if Great Britain is defeated by the totalitarian menace that threatened it during the Second World War. This is the sense of decency that has disappeared from life in Oceania. “Culture and Democracy. as Orwell understood it. But if Orwell was willing to abandon an objectivist sense of truth. To sustain decency and defend against the possibility of totalitarian tyranny. This loss of decency is what enables O’Brien to think that he is doing the right thing in exercising power over Winston in order to cure him and return him to the “loving breast” of Big Brother. as he appears to do in Nineteen Eighty-Four. anything is possible. is embedded. even when the material conditions for it exist. To paraphrase Nietzsche. Orwell’s most explicit articulation of this view is offered in his 1942 essay. is a sign that provided we can avoid conquest from without. AND POWER individuals is exposed as wrongheaded.120 ORWELL.: 93). and must be cultivated and nurtured accordingly. We can excuse Orwell’s questionable history— the individual first got on the map in the early or mid-part of the seventeenth century—and still appreciate his point. in other words. Decency. What matters is whether this signals a commitment to some form of collectivism (Orwell’s oligarchical collectivism) that erodes or undermines human decency. one had to nurture the liberal tradition. POLITICS. Orwell had no doubts that this menace was inimical to English culture. “Why is it that everything we mean by culture is menaced by totalitarianism? Because totalitarianism menaces the existence of the individual. which indicates respect for the independent individual in her/his own right. (Orwell. and the last four or five hundred years have put the individual so emphatically on the map that it is hard for us to imagine him off it again” (Ibid. our society will not lose touch with certain habits and values which have been its mark for hundreds of years.” There he says: Hardly anybody lies awake quivering with rage and hatred because somebody a little further down the street is committing ‘deviations’. is a cultural artifact of the liberal tradition. albeit imperfectly. One must.

(Orwell. richer.God Is Power 121 pre-war understanding that if and when fascism/totalitarianism comes to England. The point is also echoed in Wigan Pier. and there were the weak. handsomer. more popular. 1946a: 36) This is the picture of a culture already well along the way toward Oceania. Orwell’s essay. it will come in the form of “the lion and the unicorn instead of the swastika” (Orwell. a point and place where one might hope basic liberal values and the spirit of decency are cultivated in the youth of the country. we see again the ugly face of institutional power working against the cultivation of basic cultural ideals. and it can take people to places where they would otherwise not want to go if they are not very. very careful. Such Were the Joys. more elegant. Instead. getting the better of them in every way. as I argued above. where Orwell worries openly about the likelihood that the upper-class socialists will head toward fascism once they really get to know the lower classes. who deserved to lose and always did lose. stronger. “Such. So this optimism was properly tempered (even in “Culture and Democracy”) with the awareness that cultures can change from within and not just by means of military imposition from without. making them suffer pain. is the message of Animal Farm when it is read as a story about the collapse and failure of the liberal revolution. bullying them. everlastingly. and the weak were accordingly suppressed: Virtue consisted in winning: it consisted in being bigger. What matters is that the work is a story about early education. making them look foolish. Recall that Orwell claims in this work that life was characterized as a struggle that was always won by the strong and powerful. The felt need on the part of the upper class to control the lower classes is still something that could drive political elites toward totalitarianism even in liberal cultures. who deserved to win and always did win. works according to its own logic. This. It is a picture of a culture that has already moved some distance from liberal values and ideals—a culture that has lost contact with itself. Life was hierarchical and whatever happened was right. Orwell was sensitive to the social pressures that pushed England toward totalitarianism through the erosion of cultural values. Cyprians hardly matters here. 1958: 231). more unscrupulous than other people—in dominating them.” takes on added significance in this regard. There were the strong. But this is hardly what Orwell tells us transpires in places like Crossgates. Whether the story is an accurate portrait of Orwell’s early education at St. once again. Institutional power. “I lived .

122 ORWELL. So. . Orwell’s conservative radicalism and his accompanying radical conservatism both make perfect sense when placed against the background of his liberal concerns—his concerns for simple decency. 1942: 97). is still a work in progress.: 40). POLITICS. brought a new aristocracy into being—the new caste system he so abhorred. 2005: 71–118). accepting the law of the stronger and avenging their own humiliations by passing them down to someone smaller” (Ibid. He worked to do this by insisting that if liberalism is to survive in England. then. There was reason. gregarious animals. To inspire such a political movement he had to call the ideals and principles of this revolution to mind in order to demonstrate how liberal cultures had pressed back toward privilege and away from equality (in fact). in fact. But the privileges of the propertied had. and his corresponding lifelong commitment to something he called socialism seems in actuality to be little more than a call to complete the liberal revolution.Woodcock. in Orwell’s judgment. “One must conclude therefore that though our democracy is bound to change—can. for Orwell to temper his enthusiasm about defending liberal cultures against external totalitarian threats by noticing the great need also to defend the liberal culture from within. the rather familiar claim that Orwell’s political thought is riddled with contradiction—the charge that Orwell was both conservative and radical—is simply off-target (Cf. only survive by turning into Socialism— all that we mean by culture is inextricably bound up with democratic values” (Orwell. This involves a rededication to liberal ends in the face of liberal failings and compromises. questioning nothing. it will need to change.” by returning to a familiar theme. It succeeded in bringing an element of egalitarian domesticity into being only by compromising on the thorny problem of private property rather than insisting on more egalitarian ends (Cf. He wanted to complete the attack on privilege in order to promote and instantiate the political decency to which the liberal tradition once aspired. 1966: 159–62). The liberal revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Orwell’s attack on privilege. Dunn. it requires a reaffirmation of the end of equality and a stronger appreciation of what this means in practice. AND POWER in a world of boys. This is not a matter of advancing to the past but a question of returning to the ideals of the past to conserve them and at the same time to develop them more fully in the present. He closes his essay “Culture and Democracy. most conspicuous in The Road to Wigan Pier. he seems to say. This new presence constituted its own internal threat to the liberal spirit by revitalizing the ongoing struggle between the classes.

1961: 218). This satire is best displayed in the three key principles of the party: “War is Peace. power has indeed become God. So only within the party does the solitary individual become free from the boundaries of nature.” has already been mentioned. .” “Freedom is Slavery.God Is Power 123 4 Orwell’s fears about the decay and decline of liberal culture are outlined in their most frightening form in Animal Farm. The animals were unable to sustain their noble vision of an egalitarian society because they never really understood what this meant. The party need for the slogan.” and “Ignorance is Strength.” also makes perfect sense. the Enlightenment goal of achieving an accurate understanding of the natural world is no longer necessary. and in a world where such things can be made to make perfect sense. the elites of the three imperial powers that have arisen in the world Orwell imagines in Nineteen EightyFour have more in common than in opposition. Like the pigs and humans in Animal Farm. he cannot escape his inevitable fate—death. by becoming one with the party. Fighting an eternal war works as a valuable mechanism of social control and helps resolve the problem of controlling the lower classes. “Freedom is Slavery. It resolves the problem of the need for an independent truth of some sort. As with the previous slogan. this one serves the specific interests of the party elite. Orwell’s presentation of the same theme is somewhat more satirical in Nineteen Eighty-Four.they were easy fodder for manipulation by the pigs. eternal warfare helps secure peace for the elites of each empire without any need for the truth otherwise required for military efficiency. O’Brien rather straightforwardly explains why the second slogan. The practical need for scientific and mathematical truth is eliminated if such matters are of little practical use. But readers soon learn that they have a terrible logic. whose cynicism suggests that he never really embraced the ideals of animalism with much conviction. both serve the ends of party power. all three look like direct contradictions and would seem to qualify as gibberish only. The party slave is free from the limitations of his own individuality (Orwell. In a world where power matters rather than progress. “War is Peace.” On their face. He or she becomes a part of a greater unit and one that will live forever. But by submitting to the party. the individual becomes immortal. both are held in reverence by those very individuals they work to suppress. Alone the individual faces a tragic predicament. So.Accordingly. Ironically. but still disturbing. with the notable exception of Benjamin.

and taken together all three demonstrate the logic of domination that prevails in Oceania. all three slogans are clearly nonsensical. he illustrates the dangers that await liberal cultures if and when the concepts that articulate their basic ideals become empty vessels into which anything can be poured. that strange social force that configures us without our really noticing.124 ORWELL. Orwell warns. But the second slogan disturbs for a different and slightly more sinister reason. Orwell frequently chided fellow writers for failing to take politics seriously. AND POWER But of the three slogans.” that is the most disturbing and diabolical. Stephen Ingle has suggested that Orwell also wrote to take the intellectuals of his day to task.. Part of what disturbs is that common understandings and simple meanings could be so easily stood on their head without eliciting even a whimper from the general public. The ignorance of the proles obviously serves the interests of the party by rendering them politically impotent in just the way the animals of Animal Farm were rendered impotent by their stupidity. 1961: 308). He wrote. 1993: 92–5). of course. was also a political viewpoint. especially by members of the inner party. and it is no doubt disturbing—as Orwell surely intended—to discover that they have a sordid logic about them. the liberal spirit has been exhausted. He wrote from a fear that institutional power.2 If writers turn away from politics. i. it is the third. When this is done and believed. POLITICS. Writing. So then. In Nineteen Eighty-Four. and there is undoubtedly a kernel of truth in this (Ingle. as a classic liberal. this he well knew. in Animal Farm. “Ignorance is Strength. moreover. then. . Orwell wrote to keep liberal political culture alive. Nothing remains of the liberal culture that is the only defense against the possibility of this very thing happening.e.” It is again apparent. To say that freedom is slavery is to take one of the basic values of liberalism and render it absurd. is perhaps the most necessary element of the public education required to keep the political culture alive. as someone who believes that through understanding and awareness human beings can still exercise a strong control over their destiny in spite of the ravages of institutional power. was taking us in directions he considered dangerous. that this slogan too works to the interest of the inner party. This is the condition that makes the two previous slogans effective. Viewed against the background of our cultural understanding. about the foolishness of relying on “parchment barriers against the encroaching spirit of power” (Madison. So the inner party need only condition the outer party members in order to sustain its position of privilege by cultivating in them the spirit of “protective stupidity. they fail to help popularize the political ideals of their culture. Its meaning is simple: the ignorance of the people is the strength of the party. especially political writing.

but this only gets to the surface of the matter. The honesty Orwell builds into O’Brien is intended largely for dramatic effect. But his artistic style has also obscured the power of his political insight. It would be a great irony indeed if Orwell’s later fiction comes with time only to serve as entertainment for the proles. But little solace comes with the appreciation of this point. This is the fiction that . he has managed to reach a far larger audience than more overtly political thinkers are able to reach. There is little reason to think that the ruling elites in a decayed political culture will display the overt honesty and insight that Orwell bestows upon O’Brien and admit that power has become its own end. Because he wrote in the manner of the artist. and in any event. to inspire political thinking. his message belongs to political theory. even while the fiction that political power merely serves liberal ends remains in place. Orwell managed both to popularize and obscure his political thought.God Is Power 125 But I think there is reason to say something more general than this. that chisels away at liberal culture. He wrote in the great liberal tradition of John Stuart Mill to defend those who would be “different and exemplary” against the “despotism of custom. If art was his medium. He wrote for everyone willing to read and to think. For the demise of decency and the corresponding erosion of a commitment to the integrity of the individual remains real. I want to say. if it is read as just another scary story while political thinking decays in the fashion he anticipates in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The marriage works only if someone makes the effort to point to the political theory lying within the art—and this has been the primary reason for writing this book about Orwell’s book. particularly in his last two novels. by emphasizing the drama of the story at the expense of the political argument worth thinking about. or that Orwell supposed that it was a real possibility. 5 By using art as his medium. But writers cannot control the future of their works. He also wrote in defense of decency and in support of a culture that was imperiled both from within and from without. Orwell wanted to be an artist as much as he wanted to think about politics. He wrote to keep alive an intelligentsia that could serve as the keepers of the culture in and for their community. with all its apparent horror. he tells us. It is unlikely that Oceania is a real political possibility.” which sounds like another way to conceptualize institutional power. Orwell wrote. from a sense of injustice and to expose some lie. and in the process to defend the establishment of a free and unfettered press. it is the only way Orwell had to expose the political dynamic. He wrote.

or we can do something in the belief that if we try we just might have a degree of success—Pascal secularized. would require us to free ourselves from this determinism long enough to grasp the truth of the matter as independent thinking things. but decency. It is. of the sort that many critics have ascribed to Foucault. Postmodern logic cuts back against the charge of determinism on this score. But this is also a bit of knowledge that we do not need to have. that drives him. And we cannot know whether we are capable of this.126 ORWELL. Orwell’s sensitivity for institutional power. because it is not epistemology. by endorsing a bit of Orwellian skepticism and reconciling it with a bit of equally Orwellian optimism. AND POWER Orwell’s fiction is designed to expose—the great lie that lies behind all the other little lies he notices. of institutional power. why should he not adopt a more fatalist or determinist stance on politics. we lose nothing. Orwell’s warning and his writing are testimony to the choice he wanted to make—to the choice he made. them instead of simply being driven by them. but only what we should do. for us to stand outside the social forces at work on us long enough to control and direct them? If the Enlightenment sense of truth that seems to underlie and legitimate liberal optimism about human control of the future is exposed as just so much philosophical nonsense. This is a choice we must make in ignorance because we cannot know whether it is possible to control our destinies. It is not what we can do that matters in the end. For to know that determinism is true and that we are simply the puppets of social force. How is it possible. the only choice that is available to the moralist. if we are right. seems inconsistent with his apparent conviction that his warning about the dangers facing liberal culture might actually serve their desired remedial end. But still we have a choice. If Orwell appreciated the force of institutional power. or we can take up the pen and struggle against it. on Orwell’s behalf. If we are wrong. one trouble still remains. we might think to ask Orwell at this point. We can never know that we are standing outside the forces of social control to direct. why should we think it possible to harness the forces associated with institutional power? I will answer this. or redirect. we may be able to direct ourselves toward a better reality—a reality that looks . still we must face something like Pascal’s wager. POLITICS. if you will. We can sit back and let social force take us where it will. of course. as I have called it. so we are left with agnosticism as the only possible conclusion that makes any sense here. and this is really the only sensible choice to make. We can either do nothing on the grounds that we cannot escape the social forces that shape and configure us. We have a choice. Of course.

Cf. Sustaining a faith in the human ability to build a better future need not be done with confidence in the power of reason. if by this we mean that the postmodernist is someone who rejects the ability of human reason to craft a better future. “The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude” (Orwell. and the liberalism that underlies it. it can be done just as well with a sense of doubt or even an element of irony. Orwell. 1961: 228. Orwell was no postmodernist. more sufficiently. and principles we presently find noble and endearing. the values. and anyone who shares and appreciates his moral instincts. But Orwell was also not one to go down without a fight. postmodernism is more a call to intellectual modesty inspired by the rejection of Enlightenment arrogance. Notes 1. But I see no reason why the postmodernist must go to such excesses. . beliefs.God Is Power 127 better than our present one because it reflects and displays more thoroughly. would certainly want to join his fight. 1946a: 313). 2.

and this might explain why they still command an audience. especially Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. they still trouble. Stories about the threat political power poses to the ideals of liberty and equality are thus particularly scary for liberal spirits. But the question I’m raising is intended to ask if there is something about his political theory that continues to matter. suggest why we should continue to pay attention to his political thought. These two works in particular have had a good shelf life. Orwell saw to this. if I’m right. for the liberalism they applaud has not yet faded from the historical stage. I believe this is so. Most everyone enjoys a scary story. Both are scary and haunting stories. a suspicion that remains in place even while centralized political power in polities with liberal pedigrees continues to be on the increase. In exploring this issue I’m not interested in the sociological conclusion that Orwell endures because readers find something of continued pertinence in his political thought.7 Orwell into the Future Orwell endures. Liberalism breeds suspicion about political power. Getting clear on this requires a critical assessment of the contemporary relevance of his work as a contribution to political theory. and while this hardly explains why Orwell endures. and it is difficult to separate the two. and it is to this that I now turn. I’m interested instead in whether we should find something in his political thought that is still worth thinking about. They still entertain. 128 . it does. But they may also endure for a more overtly political reason. although it isn’t altogether clear why. So the question becomes: does Orwell endure because of his art or because of his politics? Probably it is a bit of both. His stories. are still read.

we must remain ever vigilant if we are to live successfully with it. And as Orwell might say. cannot make choices for us. If we do not continuously cultivate these ideals and the decency they promote. His warning. and government is now a more present force in our daily lives. and the result is not pretty. drive modern societies toward the erosion of decency and the resultant triumph of totalitarianism. it can serve the human good in important and altogether necessary ways. But if we cannot live without this power. Seen in the fashion recommended by Orwell. We need political power. The simple time before the First World War that elicited nostalgia from George Bowling. the arrogance of power is a constant threat to decency. the ravages of what I have called institutional power. We cannot—the point is worth emphasizing— live without this power. like philosophers. Orwell naturally leaves this choice predicament to his posterity. this is not such a platitude as it sounds. as well as Orwell—a time when much less was required in the nature of social management—is gone forever. and this is perhaps more true today than it was when Orwell wrote. it may well become the only good—an end unto itself. and thus we must place a value upon it. To do so we must keep the moral sense inherent in this vision constantly before us and continuously remind ourselves what it demands of us. they can only assess the costs and benefits associated with the choices we must confront. Social forces. The Orwell I have discussed above is perhaps best regarded as the author of a terribly complicated and sophisticated morality play. Artists. Properly domesticated. is intended to alert liberal cultures to the very real dangers inherent in political power. Social forces press in the direction of oligarchy or totalitarianism—these are much the same thing for Orwell. The decency that liberalism demands of us is always and invariably endangered by political power.Orwell into the Future 129 1 The warning Orwell issued in Nineteen Eighty-Four is bound to remain important as long as liberal political cultures continue to exist. and then it threatens all else that liberal spirits hold sacred. we will likely lose them. The antidote to this hopeless fate that I have teased out of Orwell’s last fictive efforts involves a rededication to the fundamental values of liberal culture. after all. But if it is not effectively domesticated. It is not easy to adapt a seventeenth century vision of politics to the needs and demands of the twenty-first century. and to combat these forces we need to be attentive to the dangers these forces pose and make careful choices accordingly. .

the liberalism Orwell quietly valued involves more than a moral vision that encourages respect for the independent individual. it merely invites us to acknowledge that civil association is a cooperative endeavor rather than an ongoing conflict between competing social and economic interests. Orwell was on to the contradiction evident here as we see in. As the elitist reading of Animal Farm illustrates. as Orwell would have it).” when he says of his school days. this might at some point place managers in conflict with the managed when and if the managers think their right to rule is questioned by the managed. But its simplicity is obscured by two crucial factors that are not clearly distinguished in Orwell’s thinking. that is. Governments need the power necessary to manage social life effectively. It also emphasizes individual initiative and development and generally permits this process to take place in what turns out to be a competitive environment where the victor gets the spoils. suggests that he understood correctly that a choice between increased political power and decency is not necessarily a zero-sum game. the managers might find it necessary to subvert liberal ideals . The trick. or in more contemporary jargon toward either a revised liberalism or a suffocating totalitarianism. “Such. and the logic of cooperation it encourages. from within. that things were heading either toward oligarchy or toward democratic socialism. AND POWER Orwell’s own conviction that change was coming. The economic theory that has attached itself to liberalism sits awkwardly beside the moral theory that is also housed there. The trick is to accept that political power is necessary and still configure it according to the demands and dictates of liberal morality. But increased governmental power does not necessarily imply totalitarianism. The road to Oceania may be paved with relatively benign (albeit paternalistic) intentions. is to find a way to reconcile the demands of social management with ends supplied by our cultural convictions and commitments—to make government serve all elements of society by promoting cultural ideals rather than allowing government to work as an agent of control to the advantage of the powerful and the corresponding disadvantage of the powerless. if we mean by totalitarianism a political obsession with power that overwhelms and undermines all sense of decency in society (or in the upper classes. First. which is impossible” (Orwell. In the face of opposition. POLITICS. which involves the logic of management itself. This contradiction thus threatens liberal morality. 1946a: 31). Managers think they know best and suppose that their insider’s wisdom justifies their exercise of authority.130 ORWELL. Such Were the Joys. you were bidden to be at once a Christian and a success. This does not seem like such a radical thought. “Broadly. This contradiction is complicated by the second factor.

This. The view of political conflict offered in Goldstein’s book suggests that the inner party came to see civil association in terms of class conflict rather than in terms of social cooperation. the reasons for its actions are not entirely clear in the text. in any event. but the ends sought by managerial control are strikingly . In the second instance. Its wisdom. Hanging in the balance.Orwell into the Future 131 in the name of what they consider to be the best interest of the society as a whole. They seek control because they know what is best. Unfortunately. Once success is achieved. its professional insight. this time from without as the logic of social management works to erode liberal values. the contradiction between being a Christian and being a success might be settled in favor of being a success. the decay of liberal morality is driven by the second factor. the new managerial elite replaces liberal morality with its own sense of what is in the best interest of society. Liberal morality is again threatened. They are not driven by the historic sense of class conflict Orwell builds into Goldstein’s book. Governmental power necessarily increases to meet the demands of social management in both possibilities. Power as a means is transformed into an end unto itself because it is all that matters to the combatants. On this view. and the new managers must achieve control of society in order to protect people from themselves and their own ignorance. victims of the competitive struggle. of course. The pursuit of success in a competitive environment (or what is viewed as a competitive environment) may incline the competitors to seek power as the means to success. their professionalism is the source of their elitism and the force that erodes liberal egalitarianism. They are driven instead by a new logic—what we might call the logic of bureaucratic parentalism. Liberal morality decays because it eventually becomes an impediment to the control new bureaucratic elites think they must exercise in the name of social well-being. These threats to liberal morality permit us to understand Orwell’s belief that either of two futures is possible: oligarchy or democracy. is what matters. and it acted to preserve its position accordingly. is the reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four articulated above. there is nothing left for the victors but the exercise of power. liberal morality is not displaced by the corrosive effects of traditional class divisions and jealousies because the new managers are not like the old aristocracies. is the explanation for why power might possibly become an end in itself. In the first instance. but on my interpretation. Christian ethics and liberal morality are accordingly displaced. The class struggle which characterizes the fight for success inclines the emergent dominant class to value only that which is necessary for victory in what is regarded as an essentially agonistic social environment.

In the other. it is easy to suppose that Orwell’s fears have been averted and his warning heeded with reasonable success. but we can do this only by acknowledging and resolving the twin evils that threaten the final success of this revolution. If we don’t preserve and develop liberalism. . Orwell invites us to appreciate how far there is yet to go in realizing the ends of the liberal revolution. has given us a lot to think about. the year. and perhaps continue to face. we will likely get totalitarianism. is accurately crafted. In one. This explains why it is possible to find both radical and conservative elements in Orwell’s political thought. as long as the revolution that mattered to him remains incomplete. is the road to Oceania. If we are to avoid Oceania. AND POWER different in the two possibilities. we may miss the reality of the threat Orwell worked to warn us about. and deserves to endure. his work endures. however. it is difficult to deny that it is not a great book—far more than just a scary story. The need for social management coupled with the triumph of liberalism’s egalitarian morality would take us to democratic socialism. Both these ends are required by a rededication to liberal culture. management involves the control of some by others because this is considered necessary in order to achieve social wellbeing as this is understood by managerial elites. Whether we agree with this or not. and from a political point of view. the point should not be taken lightly. This. and Big Brother seems to be nowhere in sight. and all that this simple notion implies from a moral and political point of view. this warning and call to arms is not effectively illustrated. Now that 1984. we must both conserve our sense of decency. we might want to ask if the choice predicament Orwell supposed we faced. Orwell. Perhaps Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a great novel. But viewed politically. the political thinker. Power is cultivated in the latter condition in order to enable the powerful to preserve their management status against those whose foolishness would jeopardize good social order. 2 But read with the hindsight that over fifty years affords. predatory control is unnecessary because people have come to appreciate that society is a cooperative enterprise where each lives to contribute to the well-being of all. If. Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four are George Orwell’s perhaps hyperbolic dramatization of what awaits us if we do not complete the revolution. is long gone. POLITICS. and all share a concern for the well-being of each—this is but a simple description of what social cooperation means. needless to say. and bring its demands to life more fully in our political future.132 ORWELL.

wrote a chilling portrait of human struggle against unspeakable evil. Stoker’s novel places people in an environment where they must compete against evil in order to preserve their humanity. a creature that not only lives off the blood of its victims but also brings them under its supreme power. they must marshal the resources at their disposal to defeat a powerful and cunning foe. Shelley worried in familiar biblical fashion about the human dedication to a soulless science. Dracula (1992). for even today— perhaps especially today—moralists like Orwell and Rousseau might find something on the political horizon to worry about. But first I must introduce two earlier works of fiction which should help illustrate the differences between Orwell’s novel and the stories told by Huxley and Zamyatin. but their stories have strikingly different villains. is the creation of a monster and the corresponding possibility that humankind will unleash upon itself an evil it is ultimately unable to control. no longer informed by a sense of morality.1 Stoker. for the vampire takes both the blood and the will of its victims and expands its empire only by doing so.Orwell into the Future 133 But we should not embrace this conclusion too quickly. on the other hand. and Bram Stoker’s minor classic. The two novels I have in mind are Mary Shelley’s popular. and to do so. not living and not dead. He imagined a predatory beast. Both Shelley and Stoker wrote morality plays. chart . the official exemplifications of Rationality unchained. In particular. I want to explore this matter circumspectly by engaging initially in a bit of amateurish literary critique. What fate awaits human beings if they place their future in the hands of a science that eschews all moral bounds? What happens when the pursuit of knowledge. Defeating this foul beast is the only way that humanity can hope to preserve its freedom. the vampire has become something decidedly inhuman. Once human. I want to juxtapose Orwell’s mission in Nineteen Eighty-Four with two other dystopian novels with which Orwell’s novel is often compared and whose company it is often supposed to share: Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. The human struggle to defeat the vampire is a classic conflict between decency and power. Both Huxley’s Brave New World. They anticipate social worlds where science and math. drives human development? The result. Frankenstein (1969). that feeds off human beings and in the process brings them into his world and places them under his power. The vampire is a predatory villain that lives off human blood and is driven to subvert humanity by preying upon it. and Zamyatin’s We are stories in the tradition of Shelley’s Frankenstein. of course.

not Rationality. It is a vampire story. In Orwell’s novel. So. Orwell tells us a great deal about how his vampire class came into existence. it is discarded as a useless myth and replaced by the agents of Reason: science and math. a closeness to nature.134 ORWELL. it has been eclipsed. To defeat the vampire. but to an icy. like the vampire. deformed. but the omnipresent Deity here is Power. it has been. As George Bowling laments. This too is a sort of pantheism. Yet Nineteen Eighty-Four is not an attempt to expose and embarrass the inhuman face of Rationality. is to see the vampire as it really is. however the path charted leads not to Heaven in any recognizable sense. For Huxley and Zamyatin. POLITICS. the vampire is an ugly. disgusting creature. modernity is bringing forth a technological sophistication that comes with a price. recognition is a problem in its own right—perhaps the chief problem in combating the vampire. it belongs to the genre of Stoker’s Dracula. He too worried about an unchained science and technology and the greater complexity and pace of life that it introduces into the human condition. the vampire has powers at its disposal that make it a potent foe. put to the service of politics. to bring them into its domain and subject them to its will and way of life. for the vampire is able to take many familiar and commonplace forms. or as Orwell laments through Bowling. The inner party preys upon the outer party. It is sometimes fashionable in the vampire stories that have followed Stoker to portray the vampire as a kind of tragic victim. coupled with emergent technologies of power brought the vampire into being. in a tragic sense. lost amidst the dim and whirl of machinery is simplicity. Orwell was no apostle of Reason in this sense. instead. Nor has morality been transcended. The disenchantment that a scientific and technological age has brought upon us has morphed into a re-enchantment with Reason and given birth to a new pantheism with Rationality and its siblings as the omnipresent Deity. The great challenge. he tells us how the play of politics. politics has not been transcended. however. but its greatest power lies with its unbelievability. And we might think of O’Brien in these terms as well. To be sure. It is not a novel in the tradition of Shelley’s Frankenstein. one must first recognize it and appreciate its power. He seems at times to be as much a victim of institutional power as Winston is . and the appreciation of simple pleasures like the leisure of fishing. To combat the vampire. AND POWER the parameters of life. capturing the will of its individual members in order. They fulfill in horrific ways the Enlightenment faith that Reason. can chart a path to Heaven on earth. soulless Hell. seen as it really is. it doesn’t take much to abhor the vampire. one must understand that it is present and acknowledge the threat. Such worlds have little place for morality. Seen as it really is.

are able to recognize them. Today the lands that were to comprise Oceania are safe and comfortable within the confines of a lively liberal tradition. And it introduces another reason to think his political theory remains of contemporary value. He has been made into a monster. . 3 Put metaphorically. the key question about the contemporary pertinence of Orwell’s political thought involves asking whether his story still enables us to recognize the vampire. Orwell describes a hideous world and exaggerates the horror of Oceania in order to unmask the vampire. would do well to reflect upon the fact that Orwell deliberately crafted a dystopia that remained highly legitimate in the minds of its citizenry. Or so it might seem. This “new aristocracy” was composed of “bureaucrats. Here it is worthwhile recalling who constituted the inner party and why institutional power worked its will on these characters to the extent that they were led to impose their political will on outer party members. saw it coming and no one. save Winston. Those who feel confident in this conclusion. become our world. His template is the totalitarianism he knew in the early part of the twentieth century. this too is part of Orwell’s warning. Of course Orwell’s warning about the need to be ever vigilant in the face of the corrosive effects of institutional power remains pertinent. Orwell remains pertinent as well. scientists. and just might. The true nature of the vampire is difficult to discern. and wish to thank Orwell for his timely warning (which just might have helped). he has lost his humanity as we see in his efforts to strip Winston of his humanity and transform him into a living dead creature. again save Winston. government remains constrained both by legal restraints and by a vigilant citizenry. recognized its presence. and have found the collective social will to defend our liberal tradition against them. and so.Orwell into the Future 135 a victim of his power. Orwell unmasks the vampire and enables us to see it as it really is. No one in the story. technicians. we recognized the specter of the vampire and took the necessary steps to stop it short. And we might today reply confidently to Orwell that we noticed the trend and defeated it. There are no O’Briens among us. There still seem to be vampires out there—the specter of international terrorism in the wake of 9/11 is now frequently parodied in this fashion— but we are on to them. But the spirit of liberty remains in place. He unmasks the world of the vampire and shows how easily it can. His story is an effort at recognition. this is the crucial first step in alerting us to the danger of the vampire.

1961: 169). of course. and control become the new ends of civil association. These are the new masters of traditional power and the new puppets of institutional power at the same time. and professional politicians” (Orwell. Teachers. Of the various definitions of a professional. these are the characters who will be driven to manage and control life in Oceania. Professionals viewed in this sense may be imagined as something like a new aristocracy. it is a collection of job descriptions usually presumed to serve the public under a liberal political scheme. sociologists. And managed it must be! The more complex and technical our new world becomes. Organization. rationality. the list contains job descriptions that involve more than just public service. coordination. are Orwell’s new vampires. and sociologists (social scientists) add their expertise to the mix in ways necessary to manage and control this new social order. It seems like it should be Rationality that is the monster lurking behind the heavy reliance modern society places upon them. the greater becomes the need for a community of managers to make sure things go well in society. POLITICS. it would seem.2 These. and efficiency. It is an interesting collection of characters and. But Orwell does not fall in line with . journalists. the one I want to emphasize at the moment involves the notion of authority associated with a particular trade or calling by virtue of the level of learning and sophistication that has become attached to it and that is presumed to be necessary to pursue it effectively. they are the new controllers of social life and guardians of social well-being. technicians. AND POWER trade-union organizers. not a group that one would ordinarily think to be politically focused or ambitious. publicity experts. to dramatize the sense of betrayal that invariably lurks within Orwell’s socialist inclinations). perhaps. The complexity and sophistication of modern society that Orwell foresaw and abhorred make such job descriptions necessary if modern society is to be properly managed.136 ORWELL. Again with the possible exception of trade union organizers (included. For the most part. This is the world of the bureaucrat and the scientist. But they also may be taken as the high priests of a new and emerging social order. But why should we also think that they threaten to become our new vampires? This motley list of professionals looks like it should naturally thrust us back into the genre of fiction inspired by Shelley. teachers. and orderliness emerge as the new values and ideals of the civil enterprise. with the exception of professional politicians and perhaps trade union organizers. for the descriptions listed also qualify as professions and the people who occupy them as professionals. the latter an expert in technical sophistication and the former a master of management.

The new managers merely trigger an old conflict. He elected to think of this group as a class in its own right and to suppose that it would also come to regard itself in these traditional political terms.Orwell into the Future 137 Huxley and Zamyatin even here because he attributes a political consciousness to his collection of professionals that is really quite foreign to their professional natures. Those who know what is best will not likely think those they must serve with their knowledge are their equals for very long. but the high priests of science and reason can easily begin to think of themselves as a class apart. he never really explains the “birth” of the vampire and the corresponding “death” of the public servant. The new managerial class that has arisen may have presumptions toward public service. class interests continue to drive historical change. The erosion of liberal morality. The elite reading of Animal Farm explains why pigs and humans alike continually face the problem of controlling the lower classes. This new class is out to displace the remnants of the capitalist aristocracy—the capitalist and the shareholder—and place itself in a position of social preeminence. Orwell has told us what has happened to bring about Oceania and he has indicated why it has happened. But what sense can we make of this? Institutional power is of course at work here. At the heart of decency lives the great liberal virtue of equality.3 But he never explores very deeply the psychology of the required transformation. at least until some new high manages to amass the power necessary to put an end to the process. So for Orwell. and more curiously. is a product of the arrogance of the new managers. They pay attention to political history. It is the same old political world that classic liberals worked to render somewhat more benign and decent. the new managerial class introduces a new threat on the social horizon. But he does not walk us through the process by which the public servant becomes the . but what are the social forces that overwhelm this new class of managers? Orwell wanted to emphasize that the modern world is neither very new nor very brave. it is the same old political world only with new technologies of power that substantially change the nature of class conflict and hostility. They have no need for moral concerns—no need for decency—they have science and reason on their side. this is the group likely to become our new vampires rather than our new saviors. they see themselves—or come at some point to see themselves—as an aristocracy with interests that set them in opposition to the classes beneath them. Base and selfish motives unite with self-confidence in the new wisdom to drive the emergent managerial elite in search of power. we might hypothesize. but they are still just vampires in professional clothing.

Nurse Ratched has constructed a thoroughly managed and perfectly controlled. existence for the Acutes that is largely premised upon their acceptance of her authority. Big Nurse is real. The book. Big Brother has given way to Big Nurse. and orderly in the ward before the arrival of McMurphy. for the most part. AND POWER public’s predator. Unlike Big Brother.) The setting is the state mental institution of Oregon. if somewhat artificial. it is a distinctively American novel that captures and explores what is perhaps the central paradox of American political culture. and its author had little apparent interest in politics. I want to say something about yet another novel that may help shed a bit of light on the issue at hand. of course. or is there a new source of institutional power that has emerged on the historical stage? Orwell’s vampire story invites us to ask if he saw accurately the true source of the vampires he warned us about. but it is an extremely good one. He is a roguish. In Kesey’s story. But McMurphy quickly introduces his own particular brand of mayhem into the ward. Unable or unwilling to make their own way in life. It offered much to inspire the rebellious spirit of a generation. POLITICS.138 ORWELL. The inhabitants of the institution (characters no doubt informed by Kesey’s experience while working in a mental ward during his days in graduate school) are divided into two groups: the Chronics and the Acutes. (This time the Irishman is on the other side of the struggle. or “Big Nurse. 4 By way of exploring this issue further. Things are calm. He supposed that the social forces that drive institutional power are the old and familiar ones associated with class conflict. tranquil. The Acutes are by far the most interesting group because they are in the ward. and she exhibits a loving care and concern for the welfare of her charges. located in Salem. 1962). It is not a political novel. It first appeared in America in the early 1960s and quickly developed something of a cult following among the youthful readers of that day. It may not be a great novel either. voluntarily.” as she is called. and Winston Smith has given way to an entirely different sort of deviant: Randall Patrick McMurphy. and he is in the ward because he thinks an . But was he right to think in these largely historical terms. they have chosen to live in the ward and submit themselves to the care and guidance of Nurse Ratched. and in some ways. is Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Kesey. fun-loving sort who has had more than one brush with the law. She knows what is best for the Acutes and lovingly cares for them because they cannot care for themselves.

but there is something endearing about his struggle and tragic about his defeat. With her authority challenged and her hold over the ward slipping away. however. he is a sociopath. however. It is a vampire story with a twist. The Acutes are enthused and inspired by McMurphy’s bold defiance of Big Nurse and rather charmed by his free spirit. independent. and take advantage of anyone and everyone he can. was a foregone conclusion. Big Nurse resorts eventually to the power at her disposal. leave the ward and take charge of their own lives. but McMurphy commands a following and begins a real revolution. They take to him and follow his lead without really thinking or caring about the chaos he introduces into the ward. It is not long before McMurphy is locked in a death struggle with Big Nurse. though he must make the ultimate sacrifice to do so. Viewed as a model of American individualism. or do they forget McMurphy in the end and return to the loving care of Big Nurse? Read as a Christ’s tale—a favorite reading of many literary critics—we might suppose that McMurphy succeeds in saving the Acutes from the clutches of Big Nurse. his life is a history of cheating. and hostile to authority.Orwell into the Future 139 insanity plea to a criminal charge can get him out of doing hard time. self-reliant. disregard authority. He is a Pied Piper of anarchy and his charisma soon erodes Big Nurse’s control of her charges. as another vampire story. and McMurphy is finally rendered docile by means of a lobotomy. we might say he is a deviant. McMurphy is a typical character of the American frontier. it changes according to the way readers elect to view him. in rendering him undead by cutting his will out of his body. He is simply incapable of living amicably with others. stealing. a lunatic. Though the technologies of power at Nurse Ratched’s disposal are fairly primitive by O’Brien’s standards. and the battle of wills between the two is curiously reminiscent of Winston’s struggle against O’Brien. and everyone knew it. McMurphy was overmatched. and barroom brawls. In many ways. and perhaps his appeal to readers is understandable in these terms. a minority of one because he elects to live by his own rules. the outcome of the conflict is similarly a foregone conclusion. Winston was a lone rebel. She does so in order to prevent McMurphy from robbing her of the wills of the Acutes that she has . like Winston’s. In Orwellian terms. who manage a modest rebellion against Big Nurse because of her treatment of McMurphy. So his character is chameleon-like. in a fashion. he is ungovernable. In the more contemporary jargon of social science. brash. Yet McMurphy is a greater threat to Nurse Ratched than Winston was to Big Brother. His fate. because the vampire in this book fails to capture McMurphy’s will. of course. I prefer to read the book. though she succeeds. The book ends on an ambivalent note: do the Acutes.

at least prior to McMurphy’s arrival. The doctors in Kesey’s book have little actual power. McMurphy would breathe a bit of life back into the Acutes. She has the required training and expertise—the foundation of her authority—necessary to get the job done. in turn. POLITICS. of course. mental and physical.140 ORWELL. In her case. But Nurse Ratched was neither so diabolical nor so evidently self-aware. of course. but she is accepted as an authority figure by the Acutes because she has the expertise and character to provide them with the personal guidance they cannot manage for themselves. and they concede. though we should bear in mind that the mostly passive Acutes are fairly willing victims of the vampire. power has merged with authority. she is the perfect embodiment of imperium. McMurphy’s rebellion. live quiet. this. if things are to go well. O’Brien exercised power for its own sake because there was nothing else for him to do. of their patients. belongs to the new professional class—a nurse by training but in reality a bureaucrat clad in white. Nurse Ratched. they obey nonetheless because a life of managed care is preferable to the burden of independence. No other values or norms remained to inspire in him a more humane and sociable behavior. Big Nurse has the power of the institution at her disposal. but the care of the patients is not in their hands. only the vapid exercise of power remained as a reason for living. The obsession with power was the antidote to class conflict. and the forces that brought this surrender about will likely return as the memory of McMurphy fades. Has power become its own end in Kesey’s story as Orwell supposes it has in Nineteen Eighty-Four? I believe it has. Their behavior may reasonably be described as childlike. that she knows best. the ward must be managed. while they often grumble over Nurse Ratched’s decisions. but managed and unchallenging lives thanks to the loving guidance and nurturing of Big Nurse. though the dynamic on display in Kesey’s novel differs importantly from the self-conscious obsession with power for its own sake that O’Brien documents. They are responsible for the health. we might say. AND POWER already captured. But Big Nurse does not render . Just as Winston finally embraces Big Brother of his own will. This belongs to Nurse Ratched who assumes the role of governor. The Acutes must be managed. and with the conflict vanquished. comfortable. is a substantial challenge to Big Nurse’s authority. docile. the Acutes have similarly surrendered to Big Nurse. though it doesn’t seem that he makes them independent so much as he makes them dependent upon him. is her calling. Orwell’s vampires are a different breed of undead than Kesey’s vampires. She is responsible for the care of those in her ward. The Acutes.

the predation is much the same. and she must preserve her authority because she is convinced she knows what is best for those subject to her care.Orwell into the Future 141 McMurphy undead because she fears he is a threat to her power. It is easy to spot the vampire when it says. Yet if the motivation differs. “The object of torture is torture. the threat posed by Kesey’s vampire is much the same. Orwell elected to emphasize the horror of the vampire. She acts in what she considers the best interest of the ward. and so she must act to prevent the spread of his deviance. The care she pursues now defines for her what is good for her charges. just as in O’Brien’s world there can be only two kinds of people: the powerful and the powerless. and the vampire is not without resources of its own. but what she doesn’t notice is that she also needs the Acutes. to unmask it and reveal it in all its true ugliness. this is a vampire that acts because she firmly believes she knows what is best for others and must accordingly protect them against themselves. a conclusion rooted in her own sense of authoritativeness. So she cultivates the power necessary to make sure that she is able to be a caregiver. This is not a vampire that acts from purely selfish or egotistical motives. McMurphy is a subversive who endangers the well-being of those under her care. She is a caregiver. In her world there can be only two kinds of people: the caretakers and the cared for. But more than her job depends upon her patients. She is the expert on what is best for the Acutes. A nurse without any patients has nothing to do. and in the face of rebellion. though she recognizes him as a threat to her authority. This is a crucial step in the warning he wished to issue. He made O’Brien morally hideous so we could see the vampire for what it is.” but much harder to recognize it when it insists that. While Kesey’s vampire is not exactly Orwell’s vampire. “The object of care is care.” . Big Nurse must consolidate her power in order to preserve her authority. She concludes instead that he must be dealt with because he is a threat to the ward. she must dominate the rebels in order to save them. the more her sense of authoritativeness requires her to expand her power to preserve her imperium. Part of its strength comes from its ability to appear attractive and alluring to its intended victims. The more challenges are brought against her authority/power. It is not easy to unmask the vampire because its unmasking must be believable. she also depends upon them because her character has merged with her function and she is what she does. But Orwell’s hyperbole may both underestimate and misrepresent the vampires he wanted to call to our attention. and this means she must work to make sure that others need her care. She captures the wills of the Acutes not because she needs them but because she thinks they need her.

Here the consolidation of power is not driven by a desire to defend private interests but by the belief that the consolidation of power is required in order to promote the public interest. they are carried along by social forces they cannot even begin to comprehend. and second.142 ORWELL. Kesey invites us to wonder if this new elite might actually break from the traditional political concern with the consolidation of elite power for the defense of its own interests and seek power instead because it is convinced that the care of the polity is in its hands. But Orwell still needed to make his vampires recognizable. This is why I have elected to read Nineteen Eighty-Four against the background of elite theory and to emphasize the institutional power I see at work on O’Brien and his inner party colleagues. the willing puppets of social mind. This is why the “WHY” question matters so much to his political thought. while Kesey’s managers now see things in terms of the caregivers and the cared for. he speaks as if some people seek power simply because they are scoundrels. and are hungry for more power and more prestige” (Orwell. But Orwell’s managers can only see their political world in the traditional terms of class conflict. But this may actually misrepresent the vampires that emerge with the rise of the new managerial and technological elite. . But this makes little sense if he cannot explain their hunger. They are the products of their age and behave accordingly. AND POWER The trend toward totalitarianism/oligarchy that Orwell feared depends. The crucial difference between these two portraits of the vampire is illustrated by the mindset of the new elite. It would seek power and once in power proceed to consolidate its power by means of the new technologies at its disposal. of course. both O’Brien and Nurse Ratched cannot do otherwise. and his literary zeal to expose the vampire inclined him to suppose that the new managerial class he saw on the horizon would function in some fairly traditional ways. “middling people who feel themselves cramped by a system that is still partly aristocratic. But two responses are possible. In his more phlegmatic moods. POLITICS. Orwell relies upon the first reason to explain the drive toward totalitarianism. Orwell wondered why some people bully others. some bully others because they want to for some selfish reason. on the inclination of some to seek power to the point where power becomes an end in itself. since we must still wonder why the upper classes develop this hunger. some bully others because they think they are really helping them. though he never put a satisfactory reply to his query. 1968c: 178). To write this hunger into class conflict also makes little sense. Institutional power is on display in both cases of course. First. while the struggle between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy in Kesey’s novel illustrates the second. Like Stoker’s vampire.

and even became rather hot from time to time—thus incurring the wrath of large numbers of America’s youth in the 1960s. it is probably the doctors who provide needed medical service but do so at the behest of the managers charged with making sure things run smoothly in the ward. what matters is that Orwell saw vampires in the future. But doing so comes with a risk. the United States has been constantly at war. This hardly matters. 5 We might begin to ponder this by noticing that there are evident features of recent American political history that mimic certain features of life in Orwell’s Oceania. If there is a middle class in Kesey’s story.” The so-called cold war between western states. Unlike Orwell’s proles.Orwell into the Future 143 This also explains why Kesey’s Acutes do not fall outside the political landscape in the way the proles did for Orwell. instead they are the carefully monitored targets of care. the reason is because Kesey saw more clearly than Orwell the nature of the institutional power at work in society. To evaluate Orwell’s contemporary importance. we need only consider the way his political thought helps us see if the vampires he feared and hoped to call to our attention are actually walking among us. they are the happy (albeit indolent) children of the new elite. for example. of course. chiefly the United States. But western “victory” in the cold war was quickly accompanied by a new global war on terrorism . If Orwell’s vampires do not look like our vampires. Perhaps he simply didn’t see the new vampires clearly. his warning may actually make little sense to us. it would seem. Since the close of the Second World War. or perhaps he did not know how to model the new vampires in his fiction. just as Oceania was constantly at war. Thus Kesey’s ward is a much friendlier and more comfortable place than Orwell’s Oceania. they are not free. Yet this is hardly reason to dismiss Orwell’s political thought as irrelevant today. but it is no less hostile to the freedom of those in need of management and certainly no less dismissive of basic human equality. perhaps he couldn’t think that political power could be separated from the phenomenon of class. to make Oceania a recognizably horrible place in order to alert us to the threat on the horizon—in order to point out the vampires among us. The Acutes are not the forgotten flotsam of society (this lot falls to the poor Chronics). Orwell needed. And if they look to us now more like Big Nurse than Big Brother. to beat on the metaphor a bit longer. The defeat of fascism in the Second World War quickly gave way to a seemingly eternal struggle between what was billed as the forces of good against the “evil empire. and communism turned out not to be endless.

An old joke from the . Careers were destroyed. The Patriot Act—no doubt a name that would have brought a wry smile to Orwell’s face—dramatically extends government authority to limit what were once considered inviolable civil liberties in the name of national defense. POLITICS. lives shattered. to protect us. whatever that means—by curtailing the spirit of democracy at home and ravaging homes abroad in search of alien terrorists. to fight in the open and by the Marquess of Queensbury rules. and even with a change in the political party presently occupying the executive office. The cold war saw the birth of the communist witch hunt as the federal government sought to identify the enemy among us. is once again authorized in the name of protecting the citizenry from an unscrupulous and merciless foe. The notion of terrorism. the caretaker state must resort to greater prying and surveillance. All this. has been reworked and distorted to identify a collection of zealots willing to attack innocents in order to subvert good order and achieve their radical ends. Americans needed protection from the purveyors of subversive ideas which might lead innocent citizens from the straight and narrow and grow the seeds of sedition. and liberty ignored as the government worked tirelessly to protect us from the deviants in our midst.144 ORWELL. Governmental snooping. but they might as well have. The pursuit of internal intrusions into the liberty of citizens has again surfaced in the wake of 9/11 and the declaration of a new world war—this time one against global terrorism and Islamic radicalism. of course. Those labeled terrorists are invariably outgunned by the minions of the caretaker state and so they hide and wait their opportunity to strike—nothing new here. in the name of the defense of liberty. for the external enemy was ruthless. Once again American politicians have declared the need to make the world safe for democracy—now even taking a greater step and working to make the world more democratic. People did not disappear and fade from existence as in Orwell’s Oceania. Guile and camouflage offer the logical strategy. AND POWER that continues apace as I write. In both cases. and for good reason. It did so. relentless. So. and cunning. concerns for national security shifted citizen relations with government and brought about greater intrusion into personal lives and increased intolerance toward dissident voices. mind you. to combat groups whose members refuse. which came into existence during the French Revolution to signal the terrible acts of control and intimidation undertaken by the new government. moreover. It is easy enough to notice that institutional power is again at work in all this. greatly facilitated by new technologies that make Orwell’s telescreens seem horribly obsolete.

When the elitism of the new caretakers has eclipsed all semblance of equality. for example. it is perhaps fair to say. What then of democracy? It hardly matters that it is Big Nurse and not Big Brother behind all this. And O’Brien. that has been traditionally suspicious of governmental power. only the need to torture endures. to guess where the line will go. civil liberties are ordinarily considered to be of great value. But O’Brien still exemplifies . was really a bit of both. But few blinked when the caretaker state insisted on the need for expanded authority in order to defend the land from an unknown external threat. And something very much like Orwell’s protective stupidity (“crimestop”) will leave everyone fairly happy. no public political discussion mounted on the propriety of this extension of governmental authority. But what seems surprising is that the dispute was never engaged. is hardly disputed. His insistence that the inner party exercises power for its own sake. suggests the latter view. the caretaker state will still champion itself as a paragon of democracy.Orwell into the Future 145 Vietnam era had it that Americans might have to destroy the village in order to save it. it is reasonably easy. for example. is not only the apparent triumph of “newspeak” in the caretaker state. At the very least one might expect a democratic polity to decide for itself where it wants the line between liberty and security to be drawn.4 What troubles is the relative ease with which the caretaker state expands its imperium in the name of managing national (or international) crises. No vestige of caregiving remains in Orwell’s Oceania. and in a country. The whimpers from the American Civil Liberties Union. No national colloquy followed either its introduction or its passage. There is obvious irony in this. it would seem. it should be remembered. for civil liberties are intended to protect citizens from the excesses of governmental power. That the Patriot Act compromised civil liberties. What troubles. When the caretaker state assumes the authority to draw that line. The threat to the liberal revolution is much the same. like the United States. Even when there is nothing left of freedom to preserve. Decency can be as imperiled by caregivers as it can be by power-drunk tyrants. to preserve freedom it seems we must eliminate it. that it has no more noble motives. Whether it was a necessary and appropriate response to the threat identified in the wake of 9/11 is rather disputable. fell on largely deaf citizen ears. and when its subjects (the notion of citizen makes little sense under these circumstances) permit this to happen. even if one hasn’t read Orwell. the caretaker state will still justify its control in the name of preserving freedom—freedom. really is in danger of becoming a kind of slavery. A modern version would seem to apply to the caretaker state.

And the forces that drove them introduced a new and perhaps even more sinister threat to the moral end of human decency. and will likely always remain. AND POWER something of the spirit of the caregiver. to be sure. This is what we should expect from a moralist with the courage to turn to political thinking. if it ever was. 6 These remarks are merely suggestive and hardly exhaustive. In this sense. but because of the power of the warning he issued. Orwell could not thoroughly grasp the new vampires on the horizon or fully understand the new threat modernity was bringing against the still nascent and unfulfilled liberal dream of equality in fact. POLITICS.146 ORWELL. however. he at least grasped their implications thoroughly enough to understand the threat they posed to the moral perspective they endanger. there is reason to pay tribute to Orwell as the father of contemporary apocalyptic thinking. but in Nineteen Eighty-Four he made them morally ugly anyway because he wanted us to see them as he feared they would be. a work in progress. Perhaps. seemed to Orwell to be drifting away from their heritage. but there is little need to belabor the point further (Cf. He saw certain sociopolitical forces looming on the horizon. the states of the west. He wants Winston to understand the logic that powers Oceania. Wolin. once reasonably liberal in both spirit and design. enough has been said to conclude that there is reason to put George Orwell in the vanguard of what might be called those apocalyptic political thinkers who warned their posterity of the totalitarian implications of the caretaker state. he nonetheless seemed to recognize that the defeat of fascism hardly marked the end of the totalitarian threat in the west. If Orwell’s sense of totalitarianism was informed by fascist arrogance and Stalinist brutality. Caregiving in Oceania is no longer a motive that drives the inner party. For all his foresight. He understood that the great liberal revolution might be over even before it had been completed— that this revolution is. Driven by institutional power. and if he did not see them clearly enough to model them effectively in his fiction. 2008). John. but he does reveal to us what we might call the horrible visage of . not because of the prescience of his forecast. It wouldn’t do to wrap Orwell too thoroughly in the garb of St. and he adopts the visage of the tutor in the process. Fascist war-mongering and Stalinist paranoia were little more than variants of a trend that threatened liberal societies independently of Nazism or communism. but O’Brien still cares about the job of curing Winston. He knew they would not come in the guise of Nazi thugs.

for the vestigial elements of both democratic institutions and democratic spirit remain. Orwell’s infatuation with the lower class enabled him to notice the greatest challenge a viable democracy must overcome: the ambivalence and limited mental horizons of the working poor. This state would seem to deserve the title “Leviathan. The managers of Leviathan impose their vision of the public interest from the top down and sell it to Leviathan’s subjects. it is merely managed. increased technological. he still had a general idea of what it would look like. This is the job of Big Nurse. though by no means entirely. the public interest is no longer shaped by public discussion and allowed to bubble up out of the concerns and desires of the people. The emergence of Big Brother is largely. The key political features of Oceania.” because there is a sense in which it does rule as king “of all the children of pride. Correspondingly. the drift is toward political management of public affairs by appropriately trained professionals. I do not mean by this that Leviathan has eclipsed democracy. it is because they are unable to grasp the world as it has become.”5 Not only is this new state all-powerful. swear to their freedom and believe in their equality. they have lost all sense of the past. albeit put forward hyperbolically for dramatic effect. and a basic equality in the distribution of key political resources. The drift of political practice is away from full citizen participation. Under Leviathan. political institutions responsive to the concerns of the people. (i) A chief feature of Leviathan is its fundamentally undemocratic nature. mirror with scary accuracy the basic elements of Leviathan. features that can also be found in Orwell’s Oceania. particularly wealth. and live contented lives under the imperial management of Big Government. But the Acutes don’t govern the ward. There are at least five features of Leviathan worth noting. scientific. as illustrated by the political impotence of the people subject to its rule. Like Orwell’s proles. if in fact they ever had any. If Orwell could not see Leviathan clearly. Democracy is not lost in Leviathan. and it might be worthwhile to say a bit about each. it also reduces its citizens to the status of children to be cared for because they cannot care for themselves. open and unfettered public discourse and deliberation. If these childlike creatures retain an element of pride in themselves. a consequence of the obliviousness .Orwell into the Future 147 the new Leviathan—something I have been referring to as the caretaker state. and rule by a collection of managers devoted to the practices and values of management. and economic sophistication.

one suspects Big Brother would win—even without fixing the election. POLITICS. It is just here. it remains far from clear exactly how they could hope to get along without him. they cannot serve as an effective check against the power of an emergent Leviathan. AND POWER of the great bulk of ordinary workers who sustain society and receive precious little in return. however. If an open election was held in Oceania. it must be viewed as the difficulty associated with inspiring the people somehow to make the managers of Leviathan their servants rather than their masters. Orwell expresses his own frustrations about a political future he cannot prevent. could do about it. The people need their managers. like the limited concerns of the Acutes. the need for political management shifts away from the local community and toward centralized authority. and consequently. becomes a spectacle for such folk. and it is this need that underwrites the authority of Leviathan. As social affairs become increasingly complex. They cannot affect their political environment because they lack the consciousness to do so. for he was sensitive enough to notice the social change that brings Leviathan into being and also prescient enough to appreciate that there was nothing that he. In Coming Up for Air.148 ORWELL. but even if he convinces readers that the Acutes have found the courage to leave the ward and strike out on their own. The limited horizons of the proles. like professional athletics. (ii) The second feature of Leviathan Orwell foresaw is understandable enough once the need for social management is acknowledged. are characteristic of ordinary people trying to live ordinary lives and find a moment of joy amidst the swirl of global events. Perhaps. that Orwell’s warning ends. for the new managers . as the network of economic and technological relations continues to grow. Politics. George Bowling is more interesting in this regard. and they are left behind as mere spectators as historical events unfold on a scale well beyond their comprehension. or anyone else. Leviathan—centralized social management—was coming largely because it is an inevitable response to the ever increasing trend toward complexity in modern life. Leviathan is the inevitable result of the need for management on a vast social scale. we must still wonder how long solitary individuals can hope to sustain themselves when confronted by the awesome power of the combine. The challenge to democracy that Orwell foresaw cannot involve turning back the clock to a simpler time. for even if the proles should awaken to appreciate the ugliness of Big Brother. of course. Kesey has McMurphy inspire the Acutes to take back their lives and defy the dogged management of Big Nurse.

Leviathan finds ways to resupply itself with needed elites. and the possessors of imperium become the new emperors with an inclination to understand themselves in these very terms. and consequently. but elected to make them appear more overtly demonic than. Knowledge (authoritativeness). of course. We may quibble. to control events on a national. The elite class/caste controls the resources necessary for the training of future controllers. i. But they do so in the name of the . But the resources necessary to become a controller. this is to say. it separates the able and the ambitious from the rest of the population in order to cultivate the perpetuation of the managerial class. if not global scale. Big nurse is distinguishable from the Acutes thanks to her sparkling white uniform and her smug self-confidence. when some suppose it is their calling to rule—this is what their training and expertise have equipped them for—and others accept the view that they are to be ruled because this is where their best interest lies. has been the constant and eternal enemy of democracy. and in this it is quite distinct from democratic theory which supposes that the ruled should have a hand in ruling themselves.. This is the view of Kesey’s Acutes. Like Orwell’s inner party. The peculiarity of Nineteen Eighty-Four is that the inner party controls only the outer party. In the fashion of Huxley. it is power. It is a meritocracy composed of those with the necessary ability and proper training to rule. Orwell details the elite status of his vampires. of course. with just how meritocratic Leviathan really is. Kesey noticed something different. the inner party. The elite are differentiated from their subjects within Leviathan not by birth but by talent and training. Elite theory traditionally presumes that some are fit to rule and others suited only to be ruled.e. to achieve imperium.Orwell into the Future 149 form an elite with a natural tendency to develop a self-conscious awareness of themselves as such. and it does so by making outer party members think they are part of the controllers. the managerial class/caste that emerges with Leviathan is not hereditary. but not exactly of Orwell’s proles. Leviathan displays a distinctively familiar upper-class bias. for the proles are politically insignificant. the new elite is defined in terms of it social role and the particular expertise necessary for the fulfillment of this role. then. as Foucault observed. say. Leviathan becomes elitist. Orwell’s vampires don’t prey upon the proles. the controllers of Huxley’s Brave New World. his vampires control everyone subject to their authority—everyone. Elitism. of course. who lack even this modest amount of imagination. outside the managerial elite. Knowledge and power are fused in modern imperium. are perhaps less significant under Leviathan than the psychology of control itself. Here Kesey’s vampires seem more descriptive of Leviathan than Orwell’s inner party. is not a power resource.

The childlike proles were beneath party contempt. Power is an aspect of imperium. Big Nurse must . But at this point we may think Orwell was a bit ahead of the game. The velvet comes off when the Acutes pull against the yoke. but it is the way of parentalism. and may even become thankful for the expertise of their managers. Orwell’s proles couldn’t see the political reality of their situation. the managers do not expect them to know what is best for society. The well-managed society is one where things go as the managers think they should. It took only one rebellious sociopath to throw Nurse Ratched’s tranquil ward into near chaos. and it is the acceptance of this on the part of the controlled—their fait accompli—that is the most distinguishing feature of the new Leviathan. But Kesey’s Acutes were not like this. it is the way of Leviathan. Because they were no threat to the inner party. POLITICS. Their yoke of oppression. The controllers of Animal Farm recognized the need to control the lower animals even though they were not the least bit rebellious. The aim of management is orderliness and tranquility. made necessary because subjects may be reluctant to accept those decisions that managerial elites believe to be in their best interest. The psychological shift from liberalism to Leviathan lies behind the elite’s obsession with power. The subjects of Leviathan will also see things as outside their control. Bowling could see the political reality of his situation but believed things were out of his control. (iii) Of course the velvet does not guarantee that the yoke will be entirely comfortable. Rebellious children must be dealt with. this is how the public interest is to be realized. Even Orwell’s lower animals questioned the claimed privileges of the pigs. It isn’t always pleasant.150 ORWELL. if we can speak in these terms. Sometimes they must be made to accept the decisions of those with authority. Such rebellion is a threat to management and to the managerial class. and for reasons already noticed. AND POWER public good. Here we meet the dark side of imperium. and the third feature of Leviathan comes into view when it is not. and no amount of velvet can change this. they proved to be potentially rebellious children not always willing or inclined to follow the loving commands of their manager. and this is something the managers cannot accept. in the name of the good of those controlled. they virtually controlled themselves. Leviathan demands that the managers monopolize power in the name of control. Consequently. the horizon of their minds was too limited. at least has a velvet lining. But elite rule remains inconsistent with equality. Here again Orwell’s vampires differ from the new vampires of Leviathan.

Orwell put his faith in the freedom of speech and press to defend against the minions of thought control. for if freedom can become slavery. Certainty is not dead here. Orwell aptly illustrates the impotence of his own appeal to the freedom of speech and press. and where the institutions of Leviathan shroud their actions in secrecy. it seems altogether possible to reconcile thought control with freedom of speech and press. Subjects are told only what they need to know. and the like. thought control. Mustafa Mond. the control of understanding and thinking is not difficult. the ugly side of the new vampire becomes evident only when the wills it seeks to control attempt to assert a bit of independence. Orwell describes a Leviathan that has been around for quite some time. Huxley was not so cynical—or at least not cynical in quite this way. His imagination might have failed him in this regard. Democracy is sometimes unruly and always agonistic. Huxley’s controller in Brave New World. both are convinced that they know best. To turn Orwell right side up. Madison’s “parchment barriers” will not do much to defend liberty if the spirit of liberty is lost amidst the citizenry. This is the world of newspeak. It is their authority. and of course power is an element of imperium. Leviathan will have none of it. In Nineteen Eighty-Four.Orwell into the Future 151 terminate the threat posed by McMurphy. historical revision. The inner party seeks to control the outer party because it perceives the outer party as a historical threat to its position of privilege. that justifies their exercise of imperium. Both are true to their elitism. In a place and at a time where spin control is a practiced art. In Animal Farm. Imperium thus becomes an end in itself for Leviathan. The controllers can control effectively and efficiently thanks to the strategic manipulation of information. Both grasp imperium because both understand it to be necessary for a properly and effectively managed society. and the same can be said for Kesey. the emergence of new technologies of power are necessary to sustain it. . where misinformation and disinformation are the norm. that they have the proper ability and training to rule. and Nurse Ratched are alike in this regard. Power has become its own end because it is the only thing the new vampires have to value in a world where liberal ideals have decayed. (iv) The image of the velvet yoke also introduces the fourth feature of Leviathan anticipated by Orwell. where justifications for elite actions change rapidly as circumstances require. not their class interests. While the new psychology of power (imperium) brings Leviathan into being. it is merely manufactured. political truth enters the world with the rise of Leviathan.

The individual has been transformed under Leviathan into a deviant. Freedom. As Mill observed in the middle of the nineteenth century. even while the vast majority of the American public is politically apathetic and disengaged. and the eclipse of political meaning is but a strategy in the process. find one’s niche. Freedom is now the freedom to do what one should according to the controllers of Leviathan. The aim. like equality. Yet freedom matters little in a place where. Here one must fit in. conformity is manufactured and then enforced. Yet this puts things badly. As Sheldon Wolin has recently illustrated with his usual insight. The controllers of Leviathan master the strategic use of political symbols and manufacture legitimacy by exploiting the values and principles of the culture they have transcended. and meet expectations. for it suggests a deliberate game-plan on the part of the controllers. Kesey did not have a hard time making McMurphy a champion of individuality. is control—that is. matters in a culture that values individuality. or in some instances obfuscating. Americans are repeatedly told that their land is the greatest of democracies.” but it has become whatever Leviathan says it is. if a society loses its sense of eccentricity. democracy in America is an increasingly managed affair (Wolin. a key strategy of imperium. that . of course.152 ORWELL. dovetails nicely into the fifth and final feature of Leviathan imagined by Orwell: the eclipse of political meaning. for the combine shapes and processes and spits out endless bundles of stuff that are indistinguishable from one another. but it was this very trait that cost him is freedom and eventually his mind. POLITICS. and at a time when. Leviathan is hardly so foolish as to openly insist that “Freedom is Slavery. key political notions and ideals. It supposes that the elites of Leviathan are purposely manipulating political meaning and understanding for some self-serving end. effective social management. Americans continue to pay homage to their country as a “land of the free” without ever giving much thought to what this means. freedom still stirs the heart of the vast number of Leviathan’s subjects who could not hope to make conceptual sense of it. but individuality has little place in a tightly controlled environment. This involves the reconstruction of political culture through a process of redefining. it cannot hope to reclaim it. AND POWER (v) The control of information and understanding. But increasingly the freedom Americans value seems limited to doing those things the controllers consider permissible. Kesey’s imagery of the combine works to good effect here. Yet paraded before the people as an ideal. 2008).

He would have us complete a revolution begun over three hundred years ago and reclaim our past by doing so. it would seem. the apocalyptic political thinker. George Orwell described himself best when he described Charles Dickens. however. politics moves out of the hands of the people and into the waiting arms of the new vampires. with his revelation and his warning firmly in hand. that Orwell was no conspiracy theorist. and so the cycle of social change drives us ever nearer Leviathan. Of course there is no returning to the nineteenth century. Leviathan. of course. I have argued above. but we are not there yet. was a product of social force for Orwell. The social world has moved in the direction of complexity. and the political purpose that inspired his writing involved the defense of a morality that places the notion of simple human decency at its center. and science pave the way for ever more complexity. but along the way we find George Orwell. in the form of Oceania. for the liberal spirit—Orwell’s crystal spirit—has not yet faded out of the world. and science. But increased bureaucracy. by a plea. Orwell understood that collective political self-consciousness is the only defense against institutional power and the encroaching Leviathan. backed. Perhaps ironically. His political thought is a call to consciousness. One need only appreciate the workings of institutional power. He was a nineteenth century liberal. and the management of a complex social world gives rise to an increasing reliance upon bureaucracy. But Orwell invites us to think about how . technology. 7 The path of political development. technology. In spite of his reservations about the political consciousness of the workers. he would have us collectively strive to exercise a degree of control over ourselves and our future and stand up to the forces of institutional power/control. Politics moves beyond the community and toward the institutions of state imperium. the simplicity Orwell treasured is a casualty of modernity as he well knew. notions he believed—rightly or wrongly—to dwell in the hearts of the ordinary workers. We are perhaps closer to Leviathan today than we were in Orwell’s day. He would have us reclaim the meaning of our most cherished liberal notions. and no one needs to be such a theorist in order to grasp the steady approach of Leviathan. He is an antiquarian thinker whose sense of decency was shaped by what he imagined to be an imperiled revolution. is toward Leviathan.Orwell into the Future 153 there is some grand conspiracy at work behind the scene designed to dupe the poor unsuspecting masses.

like the bombing of the ROTC building at the University of Wisconsin. Cf. But for those sufficiently inspired to worry about this sort of thing. AND POWER decency might be kept alive in an era of complexity. 2. 1943). technicians. and his invitation was issued with an element of urgency. Hobbes. POLITICS.G. Imagine. 5. received several formulations by Orwell. Would this not today qualify as a form of domestic terrorism and send chills down the spine of many Americans who have been told to worry about the subversive threat terrorists of all strips pose? It is worth noticing how quickly terrorists have become the new communists. Orwell indicates he believes Burnham right to notice that the trend in recent years is toward an oligarchy with the elite leaders composed of “scientists. for he also understood that decency itself was a likely victim of complexity. he shared Shelley’s concern for a soulless science and the deification of rationality. technicians. but Wells was in many ways the antithesis of Shelley. Notes 1. 1968c: 178). Orwell was a great admirer of H. teachers. [and] professional politicians” (Orwell. (1968c: 160–81). 3. journalists broadcasters. Cf. James Burnham. Wells.154 ORWELL. of course. and bureaucrats. Who can say what might take its place. Orwell’s political writings will continue to endure. (1941. . 4. (1950: 209). but without decency the prospects would not seem to be good. Orwell. See also. The list. While I think Orwell’s work belongs more to the genre of Stoker than Shelley. for example. seemingly inspired by Burnham’s Machiavellians. bureaucrats. some of the events that took place on college campuses during the 1960s.” Later he describes Burnham’s new managerial class as composed of “scientists. In one of his essays on Burnham for example.

London: Little. M. The Diminished Self: Orwell and the Loss of Freedom. 1958. Victory or Vested Interest. 1941. R. Co. Burnham. New York: Macmillan Press. trans. CO: Paradigm Publishers. George Orwell: Into the Twenty-First Century. Gordon. Williams. 1965. New York: John Day. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.. Crick. —. 1967. —. Flathman. 2005. trans. Connolly. New York: Pantheon Books. Soper. 1977. New York: W. Aldershot: Ashgate. 1943. Co. I. G. The Managerial Revolution. Garson. T. On Fairness. Carr. Laski. R. 1969. Mepham. Cole. 1942. J. Authority. 1973. Cleveland. NJ: PrenticeHall Inc. Who Rules America? Englewood Cliffs. G. 2004. 2003. Sutherland.Bibliography Arendt. Boston. J. 1980. Brown and Co. 1972. C. Power and Politics in the United States. George Orwell: A Life. George Orwell. and J. L. ed. Heath. The Machiavellians: Defenders of Freedom. The Origins of Totalitarianism. London: George Routledge & Sons. 155 . Knowledge/Power: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972–1977. Brown and Co. H. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. G. Berlin. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Orwell. H. M. 2000. London: Oxford University Press. MA: Little. eds. J. Foucault. Concepts in Social and Political Philosophy. MA: D. New York: Pantheon Books. Norton & Co. G. Dunn. Bowker. Rodden. M. New York: John Day. C. Gordon. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Howard. G. A Sheridan.C. OH: Meridian Books. 1987. and F. 1977. Cushman. Lexington. B. C.W. Marshall. and K. trans. Domhoff. —. New York: Vintage Books. Four Essays on Liberty. Boulder. Democracy: A History.

George Orwell: A Political Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1976. M. G. 1970. A.” Political Quarterly XXXII. 1962. Hegel. George Orwell: The Road to 1984. Homage to Oceania: The Prophetic Vision of George Orwell. New York: Routledge. ed. 1975. Princeton. Norton & Co. M. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. The Limits of Liberalism. 1992. Milton Keynes: Open University Press. 1890–1920. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. 1950. See Meyers. The Prince. Lewis. T. 1984. 2006. ed. R. The Social and Political Thought of George Orwell: A Reassessment. N. Lief. Laslett. Hunter. ed. S. Brave New World. 1969. ed. Hollis. Ingle. Two Treatises of Government. Laski. CA: University of California Press. Madison. Kant. 1993. NJ: Princeton University Press. On Social Facts. K.. New York: Penguin Books.W. Lustig. New York: W. 1961. J. London: Hollis and Carter. 1952. L. Berkeley. 1932. Columbus. Inc. Kant’s Political Writings. 1982. Reiss. P. Leviathan. Knox. 1960. Policy. 1961. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. —. London: Heinemann. Huxley.156 BIBLIOGRAPHY Gerber. Review of The Road to Wigan Pier. A Study of George Orwell: The Man and His Works. Locke. I. 1964. 1969. “1984: A Burnhamite Fantasy. . 1984. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Oakeshott. J. H. Jay.. L. C. A. Kesey. Hamilton. and the Crisis of Public Authority. T. The Philosophy of Right. A. 1962. 1981. Machiavelli. and J. The End of Liberalism: Ideology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The Federalist Papers. trans. New York: New York University Press. M. P. Hobbes. London: Oxford University Press. R. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. T. T. H. George Orwell: The Critical Heritage. Lowi. Corporate Liberalism: The Origins of Modern American Political Theory. Gilbert. OH: The Ohio State University Press. New York: Harper & Row. Maddison. trans. Gilbert. 71–9. Kuhn. New York: Hendricks House. New York: New American Library. George Orwell: The Search for a Voice.

Utilitarianism.W. Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Political Parties. —. R. Meyers. 1956. J. 1961. 1968a. J. New York: E. Private Power and American Democracy. 1958. Martin’s Press. C. Nineteen Eighty-Four. Angus. vol. Orwell and I. —. 1933. New York: Harcourt Brace & World. 1968c. New York: Harcourt Brace & World. Keep the Aspidistra Flying. 1997. —. — 1936. Homage to Catalonia. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. —. Angus. vol. 1966. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1975a. Paul. 1952. Culture and Democracy. San Diego: Harcourt. —. Inc. 1946a.Bibliography 157 Madison. E. Orwell: The Critical Heritage. 1950. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1961. Orwell and I. See Hamilton. An Age Like This 1920–1940. Burmese Days. A Collection of Essays. 1939. . New York: Harcourt Brace. —. Angus. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. and Representative Government. 1. Miller. H. Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. —. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. On Nationality. G. A Clergyman’s Daughter. 1968. Mills. Inc. Michels. ed. New York: St. —. As I Please 1943–1945. Newsinger. See Cole. —. In Front of Your Nose 1945–1950. New York: W. Norton & Co. Dutton. Orwell. —. The Road to Wigan Pier. Inc. 1999. The Power Elite. Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation. 1968b. The Ruling Class. 2000. V. New York: Vintage Books. A Reader’s Guide to George Orwell. Down and Out in Paris and London. Kahn. London: Oxford University Press. 1962. McConnell. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Orwell’s Politics. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. NH: Ayers Co. Inc. G. New York: McGraw-Hill. ed. Animal Farm. 1935. The Collected Essays. —. Liberty. ed. The Collected Essays. J. —. New York: Harcourt Brace & World. 1951. Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. S.P. trans. S. 1975b. The Collected Essays. trans. 1942. 3. Mill. & World. London: Thames & Hudson. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. D. G. Orwell and I. 1959. 1946b. Inc. New York. Paul and C. —. & Co. S. Salem. vol. In Victory or Vested Interest. —. S. New York: Harcourt Brace. Pareto. Mosca. ed. Coming Up for Air. The Rise and Fall of Elites. New York: Dover Publications. 4.

F. MA: Harvard University Press. Sheldon. Lawrence. 1977. 1958. P. Philosophical Investigation. New York: Harper & Row. —. 1988. Watkins. M. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rousseau. 1979. Walzer. J. New York: Pantheon Books. B. 1975. Winch. and ed. Rawls. Cambridge. American Bureaucracy. New York: HarperCollins. The Construction of Social Reality. trans. 1992. Wolin. trans. George Orwell: The Age’s Adversary. The Reveries of a Solitary Walker. 1970. Emile. The Collected Dialogues. . Spheres of Justice. Frankenstein. S. 1971. or the Modern Prometheus. ed. Tocqueville. New York: W. A. Norton & Co. V. L. 1986a. ed. 1958. Cairns. Democracy in American. Searle. J. 1981.158 BIBLIOGRAPHY Plato. France.. Shelley. and ed. Steinhoff. New York: Penguin Books. Rai. trans. Orwell and the Politics of Dispair. P. New York: St. A Theory of Justice.W. trans. Madison. Princeton. The First and Second Discourses and Essay on the Origin of Language. New York: Penguin Books. MI: University of Michigan Press. Anscombe. 1991. P. —. NY: Anchor Books. A Bloom. G. 1961. A. 2008. E. G. 1986b. Mayer. 1986. NJ: Princeton University Press. M. New York: Basic Books. Gourevitch. WI: University of Wisconsin Press. 1969. New York: Macmillan. The Idea of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy. Stoker. Dracula. W. New York: Basic Books. Reiss. Ann Arbor. 1974. M. Garden City. P. 1969. trans. London: Oxford University Press. Wittgenstein. George Orwell and the Origins of 1984. Political Wriitings. Orwell: The Authorized Biography. H. ed. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Martin’s Press. J-J. Kant’s Political Writings. 1995. Hamilton and H. Woll. trans. Reilly. —. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. New York: Free Press. J.

Montreal: Black Rose Books. 1972.Bibliography 159 Woodcock. Scranton. Young. New York: HarperCollins. The Politics of Affluence. Y. Mirra Ginsburg. 1966. J. Zamyatin. G. The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell. 1968. trans. PA: Chandler Publishing Co. We. .

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31. 32 Foucault. John 122 egalitarianism 20. 122. 66. 83 bureaucratic parentalism 131 Burke. Victor 39 Hegel. 147–9. 122. Sir Isaiah 98 Blair. 64 Aristotle 11 authority 136. 130. 65. 5. 146 fetishism of commodities 34 fraternity 11. 128. 61. 132 Dickens. 57. James 13. 143. 77. 69. 137. 28–9. 68. 81. 151 of thought 63 see also liberty French revolution 11. 63. 58. 55. George Bowker. 137 and socialism 32–3. 121. 112. Cyril 36 Constant. 63. 148 coercion 102 cold war 65 Connolly. 61. 145. 149 freedom 28–9. 55. A. 105 crystal spirit 38. 60. 35. 152 of the press 125. 83. 131. 86. 128. 131 elitism 68–72. Eric 14 see also Orwell. 12 Hitler. 60. G. 35.Index American revolution 11. 70–3. Edmund 16 Burnham. Jeremy 3 Berlin. 71. 76. 149–50 empiricism 92 Engels. 151 Bentham.W. 66. 68. 75 spirit of 76. 75. 55. 138–40. 76 amour proper 31 anarchism 61. 74. 75. 79–80 Eton 18. 36 fascism 14. 144 Glorious Revolution of 1688 76 Gollancz. 145. 146 and liberalism 62. 137 caretaker state 142–7 centralization of politics 60–3. 36. 39. 133. Gordon 3. 58. 34–6. 82. 65. 31–3. 80. 151 and slavery 123–4 of speech 63. 122. 63. 69. 36. 153 Don Quixote 90 doublethink 81. 108–9. Benjamin 86 Crick. 41. 76 equality 12. 74. 154 capitalism 38. 29. 151 and the new aristocracy 135–8. 55. 126. Charles 27–30. 143. F. 65.F. Michel 4. 100 Dunn. 153 democracy 33. 33–4. 8. 76–7. 55. Bernard 5. 76. 112. 38. 131. 143. 151–2 democratic socialism 32–4. 150 in fact 33. 145. 144–5. 101 161 .

W. I. 151 Mann. 152 Ingle. 20–3. S. 78 Kant. 89–90. 85. 135. J. 104.” 63. 61. 62. George in Burma 21. 25. 59 works. 77. 86. 18–20. 130 and truth 93. Thomas 9. T. 75 “Culture and Democracy. 88. 137 and totalitarianism 64–5. 115 Madison. 38. 26 Hobbes. 61. 62–3. 134. 124. 107. James 108. 146. 33. 65. problem of 43. 67.162 INDEX Locke. 75–6. M. David 94 Mills. 150 and decency 120. F. 151 and security 145 see also freedom Lief. 17. 46. Thomas 1 Marx. 83 Napoleon. 106. Ken 138. 154 Hollis. Karl 12. 108. 58. 53. R. 137. J. 83 modernity 60. 76–7. 124. 91 Huxley. John 75–6. 46. 148. 55. 82 and capitalism 66 in Oceania 89 and politics 27 of poverty 48. 129 end of 81. 133.” 58 “Looking Back on the Spanish Civil War. 75–82. 100. 15 . 75–6. 23–5 and Eric Blair 14 as liberal 61. 30. 49. 76. William 99 Joyce. 50. 127–8. 31. 121. 62. 120 and morality 130–2. 149. 86. 147. 122 life of 2.” 20. 111. 145 Nietzsche. 144. 39. 86. 41. 140–3. 55 power of 86 and social inequality 72 individual will 8. 125. 64. 84. James 1 justice 11. 96. 79. 139. 130 “Why I Write. G. 152 Miller.S. 99 leisure. 55–7. Such Were the Joys. Christopher 15 horizon of consciousness (of the mind) 42. 120 oppression 12–13. 114 Maddison. C. 50. 118. Lord John) 9. 74. 61–4. 73. 95–6. 151 newspeak 99. 48.” 38. 134 Leviathan 147–53 authority of 148 see also caretaker state liberalism 59–62. Robert 83 Mill. 37. 151–2 Kuhn. 151 imperialism 14 and British presence in India 21 indecency 18. 128. 122. 101. 119 “Shooting an Elephant. 150 see also social horizon human dignity 33. 36. 125. 101 Orwell. 124 James. 105 as moralist 17–35 and political thinking 49. 133–4 individualism 91. 85.” 18. 116. 105. 153 moral realism 17 Mosca. 74. 83. 72. 69. 83 meritocracy 149 Michels. 73 Kesey. (Dalberg-Acton. 70. Aldous 3. 25–6. 119 liberty 11. 48–9. 81. 120–2 “Inside the Whale. 146 as socialist 34. (the man) 77 nationalism 94–5 Nazi Germany 63 Newsinger. 102. 80.” 27–8. 68. 113–14. 85. essays and stories “Charles Dickens. 84. 62.” 23–5 “Such. 86 Lord Acton. 88 and individualism 103.

84–5. 51. 137. 35. 115. 126 Patriot Act 144–5 Plato 69. 107. 151 institutional 113–28. problem of 6. danger of 133–4. 94. 110 Coming Up for Air 57. 136. Mary 133–4. 30. novels and books Animal Farm 32. 109. 98–9. 130. 51–5. 83 postmodern doubt 107. 87–92. 110–11. 68. 105–7. 85. 81. 119–20. 53. 74. 55–7 Keep the Aspidistra Flying 39. 96. 108. 59–1. 45. 132 O’Brien and Winston’s confrontation 4. 126–7 poverty 12. 29. 30–6. 131 as a great book 1–3. 121 Schopenhauer. 56. 82 Pareto. 111–12. 124–5. 77 Burmese Days 21–5. V. 32. 101 science. 55–7 as social and political problem 39 power arrogance of 129. 89. 76. Thomas 76. 104 Rousseau. 69. 103 Reilly. 82. Cyprians 18. 62. 75–6 St. 136. 128. 134. A. 150 and authority 140–1 as end in itself 7–9. 134–8. 142–3. 39. 123–4. 149 and Goldstein’s book 10–13. 83. 49. 81. 10–12. 62. 106. 121 traditional reading of 65–8. 112 as satire 35. J-J. 17 racism 21–3 Rai. 14–15. 109. 73 political conflict 11 political history 11 political legitimacy 3. 125. 60. 47 see also horizon of consciousness social mind 8. 154 Shelley. 78. 62. 46. 69. 12. 140. 16–17. 154 Rawls. 26. 132 and the after-revolution 70–1. 83 Pascal. 110–11 Nineteen Eighty-Four 28. 133. 73. 151 technologies of 8–10. V. 75. 71. 52–3.Index works. 51 and Orwell’s political thought 37–57 and powerlessness 40–3. P. 27. 123 story of 3–5. 46–8. 68. 98–105 and political development 118 purpose of 5–7. 56–7. 129. 77. A. 148 Down and Out in Paris and London 39–46. 84–102. 9. 27. 151 Pritchett. 84–7. 57. 142 and individual mind 94–8 . 116. 23. 81–2 elite reading of 68–74. 146. 20. 48–9. 80. 146. B. 131. 154 social horizon 42. 119. 51. 14. 53 Homage to Catalonia 32. 112–17. 47. 152 political meaning 152–3 163 political power. 59. 153 and knowledge 149 modern and postmodern 107–9 natural instinct for 114–15 psychology of 9–10. 85. 76. 121 Paine. 94. 113. 71. 129 see also power political progress 27–8 political science 12. 40. 117. 64. 137 liberal reading of 75–9. John 83 realism 92. 136–7. 68 rationality 134. 100–2. 33–4. 133 Russian revolution 65. 113 and torture 89–91 as vampire story 134–42 The Road to Wigan Pier 29. 128. 80–1.S. 59–60.

97 truth 62. 142. 154 Wittgenstein. 107. 119–20.D. 122 and equality 32–3. 102. 150 Warburg. 60. 140–3. Yevgeny 3. Fredric 5 Wellington 18 Wells. 132.164 socialism 32. 120 unreason 4. 86. 89–90. 144. 59–61. 114. 73. 33–4. 17 thought crime 86. 85. 88. 133–4. Sheldon 146. 64. 104 unsocial sociability 17 vampires recognition of 141–2 threat of 133–7. 57. 68 Stalin. 135 source of 85 and truth 94–5 trust 93. 154 INDEX and language 99 political 151 scientific 98–101 tyranny 12. 65. 59. H. 74–7. 129. 82. L. 37 see also democratic socialism Soviet communism 64 Soviet Union 63. 146 Steinhoff. 61–5. 81. 137 technology 134 terrorism 135. George 36. Joseph 65. 73. 99–100 Wolfe. 82–3. 5. 13–14. 120–1. 154 Thoreau. Bram 133–4. 26. 92. 101. W. 152 Woodcock. 123 historical 93–8 intersubjectivity of 98–101 . 15. 117 timocracy 73 totalitarianism 6–7. 122 Zamyatin.G. 15 Stoker. Thomas 111 Wolin. H.

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