George Orwell Explains Why He Wrote ‘1984’ in Letter to Reader

Pic: BNUJ (PD)

Pic: BNUJ (PD)

I’ve often wondered what Orwell would think about our current surveillance state. In this letter, the author addresses whether totalitarianism is on the rise.

Via Open Culture:

Most of the twentieth century’s notable men of letters — i.e., writers of books, of essays, of reportage — seem also to have, literally, written a great deal of letters. Sometimes their correspondence reflects and shapes their “real” written work; sometimes it appears collected in book form itself. Both hold true in the case of George Orwell, a volume of whose letters, edited by Peter Davison, came out last year. In it we find this missive, also published in full at The Daily Beast, sent in 1944 to one Noel Willmett, who had asked “whether totalitarianism, leader-worship etc. are really on the up-grade” given “that they are not apparently growing in [England] and the USA”:

I must say I believe, or fear, that taking the world as a whole these things are on the increase. Hitler, no doubt, will soon disappear, but only at the expense of strengthening (a) Stalin, (b) the Anglo-American millionaires and (c) all sorts of petty fuhrers of the type of de Gaulle. All the national movements everywhere, even those that originate in resistance to German domination, seem to take non-democratic forms, to group themselves round some superhuman fuhrer (Hitler, Stalin, Salazar, Franco, Gandhi, De Valera are all varying examples) and to adopt the theory that the end justifies the means. Everywhere the world movement seems to be in the direction of centralised economies which can be made to ‘work’ in an economic sense but which are not democratically organised and which tend to establish a caste system. With this go the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible fuhrer. Already history has in a sense ceased to exist, ie. there is no such thing as a history of our own times which could be universally accepted, and the exact sciences are endangered as soon as military necessity ceases to keep people up to the mark. Hitler can say that the Jews started the war, and if he survives that will become official history. He can’t say that two and two are five, because for the purposes of, say, ballistics they have to make four. But if the sort of world that I am afraid of arrives, a world of two or three great superstates which are unable to conquer one another, two and two could become five if the fuhrer wished it. That, so far as I can see, is the direction in which we are actually moving, though, of course, the process is reversible.

8 Comments on "George Orwell Explains Why He Wrote ‘1984’ in Letter to Reader"

  1. Damien Quinn | Jan 10, 2014 at 6:08 am |

    Turns out he was right, we developed a socio-political system in which perceived personality is most valued, as well as the surveillance, the superpowers, the eternally popular unwinnable wars, the doublespeak and the propaganda machines.

    Not even Orwell could have foreseen that the outcome of such nightmarishly distopian developments would be a slight rise in the overall level of cynicism and the popularity of X-Factor.

    • Rhoid Rager | Jan 10, 2014 at 7:48 am |

      Simply imagine how rich he might have become to have patented all those ideas!

    • People thought dystopia would be either/or Orwell and Huxley. Looks like they were both right.

  2. Johnrambo1 | Jan 10, 2014 at 9:52 am |

    The USA is now in a Cold War with itself. The only thing holding back the tide of the oligarchy in congress’ march toward a psycho-pharmaceutical fascist police state, a kind of “psychic dictatorship” if you will, is the massive amount of stock piling of arms and munitions by the American citizenry. Even the slightest brake down in order would trigger MASSIVE disorganized and organized blow back to the state. Why else would the state being arming the police with drones, tanks machine guns and futuristic body armor? A new consensus with ruling class must be reached or one day, one small incident could trigger a full on societal break down. And unless the rich like livening in gilded cages they can never leave unless they own jet helicopters and private armed security forces this will be VERY bad for western civilization as a whole. We are already functioning on fumes as a whole. Read the new book “rise of the urban guerrilla”.

    • gustave courbet | Jan 12, 2014 at 2:04 am |

      While I agree that the state of the world is dire and getting worse, I would argue that elite interests that assert control over socioeconomic and political systems aren’t as concerned about America’s guns as you might think. They are perfectly happy to continue the trends toward general debtor-ship and economic control. The build up of the police/surveillance state is due to a confluence of several factors, from the continued economic subsidization of the MIC, to the drug war/prison industrial complex, to the historical trend that shifts societies towards authoritarianism as weapon systems get more complex and expensive. While still representing a threat to the state monopoly on lethal force, American gun ownership pales in comparison to weapon systems that the state (and states around the world) are developing. And this trend will only continue if political change doesn’t alter the expenditure of our resources. I am a 2nd amendment supporter, but I don’t think guns will remain as meaningful as they were at the end of the 18th century when citizen militias had weapon parity with national armies. The first amendment remains the most dangerous right that authoritarian interests fear, and it is our only real hope in reforming civil society, our economy, and government.

  3. Your reading comfort is our priority; go ahead now…

    • Matt Staggs | Jan 16, 2014 at 9:57 am |

      I’ll be organizing a Skype Hangout therapy session for the benefit of those who are still reeling from the effects of the [WARNING: TRIGGER WORD] typo.

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