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On Its 70th Anniversary, Nineteen Eighty-Four Still Feels Important and Inspiring

Nineteen Eighty-Four is divided into three parts, the second of which is structured around Winston Smith’s love affair with Julia, a co-worker at the Ministry of Truth. Their romance begins with Smith offering Julia the sort of smooth talk that would send any woman’s heart aflutter: “I’m thirty-nine years old. I’ve got a wife that I can’t get rid of. I’ve got varicose veins. I’ve got five false teeth.”

Moments later, he seals the deal by telling Julia that she’d always been in his thoughts. “I hated the first sight of you,” he tells her. “I wanted to rape you and then murder you afterwards. Two weeks ago, I thought seriously of smashing your head in with a cobblestone.” Naturally, Julia is seduced. Several pages later, Winston “pressed her down upon the grass, among the fallen bluebells.” It is a symptom of George Orwell’s genius that, taken in context, this sequence makes perfect sense.

In his life, Orwell seems to have been somewhat mortified by the sex act. And one can almost see him squirming slightly as he wrote this scene out during the late 1940s, when he was holed up on the Scottish island of Jura, already suffering from the lung disease that would kill him shortly after the book’s publication. Yet prig that he was, Orwell understood the human sex instinct quite well. He knew that the fantasies we act out among the bluebells often emerge from life’s jealousies and agonies. For Smith and Julia, sex is an escape from the loneliness they suffer in a world of lies. So even the most grotesque truths serve as aphrodisiacs.

“You like doing this? I don’t mean simply me: I mean the thing itself?” asks Winston.

“I adore it,” answers Julia.

“This was above all what he wanted to hear. Not merely the love of one person but the animal instinct, the simple undifferentiated desire: that was the force that would tear the Party to pieces…Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act.”

The mechanics of their lovemaking—Winston doesn’t get things right on the first try, though Julia shows herself a model of patience—betrays something fundamental about Nineteen-Eighty Four: Winton Smith (whom I will always picture as John Hurt in the 35-year-old film adaptation) isn’t a hero, but an anti-hero, corrupted morally as much as physically by the diseased world around him. After an air raid in a prole neighbourhood, he kicks a human hand into the gutter as if it were a football. He succumbs to the Two-Minute Hate, enthusiastically doctors the past on behalf of a totalitarian regime he despises, and daydreams casually about rape and murder. Much of the book consists of Winston’s own selfish and even childish reveries. In fact, the stark confessional style of these passages is one of the aspects of Nineteen Eighty-Four I found compelling when I first read it as a child. Never before, and never since, had I read any author who’d read back to me my own petty internal narrative so perfectly.

Nineteen-Eighty Four, whose first publication took place 70 years ago today, is itself a sort of anti-novel, one that undermines its own dramatic tension in a way that might now be described as postmodern. At every juncture, Winston reminds us that his story will have no happy ending, that all will end in anguish and betrayal. Even O’Brien—the party enforcer and spy who would seem to have every reason to fill Winston’s head with false hope—tells him: “You will work for a while, you will be caught, you will confess, and then you will die…There is no possibility that any perceptible change will happen within our own lifetime. We are the dead. Our only true life is in the future. We shall take part in it as handfuls of dust and splinters and bone.”

Long before most, Orwell realized that totalitarian cults all tend to co-opt the idea of a Christian heaven that stands in glittering, celestial contrast to the grubby lives of those who labour to open its gates. But behind the real gates are Snowball’s glue factory. And among the torture racks of Room 101, one finds something worse. “Everybody always confesses. You can’t help it. They torture you,” says Julia. Even in the throes of first love, neither she nor Smith delude themselves on this point. But it would be wrong to call the book’s ending genuinely sad or tragic—since tragedy can’t exist in the absence of an individual, heroic spirit that, under Big Brother, is completely extinguished.

One might conceive an alternative version of Nineteen Eighty-Four in which Smith emerges heroic, true love prevails, and Orwell’s dark, moody atmospherics are replaced with the primary colours of an action adventure. But we don’t have to use our imagination, because that novel, titled We, already exists, having been written a century ago by Russian satirist Yevgeny Zamyatin. In fact, the plots of the two books are so similar that Zamyatin might have called out Orwell for plagiarism if he hadn’t died before Nineteen Eighty-Four was published.

Unlike Zamyatin, who’d made a career in science fiction, Orwell never had demonstrated much interest in technology for technology’s sake. And I doubt that he would have been able to construct the technical elements of the Nineteen-Eighty Four world without relying on Zamyatin’s pulp fiction. In this regard, we all owe a great debt to a Russian literature professor named Gleb Struve (1898-1985), who introduced Orwell to We long after Zamyatin’s death. In a thank-you note to Struve, dated February 7, 1944, Orwell wrote: “I know very little about Russian literature and I hope your book will fill up some of the many gaps in my knowledge. It has already roused my interest in Zamyatin’s We, which I had not heard of before. I am interested in that kind of book, and even keep making notes for one myself that may get written sooner or later.” (He also adds that “I am writing a little squib which might amuse you when it comes out, but it is so not OK politically that I don’t feel certain in advance that anyone will publish it.” That “squib” was Animal Farm.)

In We, the protagonist is D-503, who, like everyone else, lives in a glass apartment building that is constantly spied upon by the Bureau of Guardians (thought police). In time, he is seduced by I-330 (Julia), who takes him to the Ancient House (Mr. Charrington’s store) and introduces him to the secretive Mephi (The Brotherhood). True to Zamyatin’s sci-fi roots, his D-503 is a scientist tasked with building a spaceship so that the One State (the Party) can conquer other planets. Having no interest in rockets and ray guns, Orwell instead put his own protagonist at the heart of the MiniTrue propaganda apparatus, which allowed him to draw (loosely) on his experience as a wartime propagandist at the BBC.

Cover of the first edition.

The first edition of We appeared in 1924—a quarter century before Nineteen Eighty-Four. And the technological changes that took place between the publication of the two books are evident in their plot details. Radio became a mass medium in the 1920s. Television as we know it was invented in the 1930s. World War II ushered in widespread adoption of wireless communication technologies. (When the war began, non-German tank crews typically would communicate with flags—a practice that had become completely obsolete by the time the war ended.) And so Orwell replaced Zamyatin’s glass architecture (which itself can be traced to Jeremy Bentham’s 18th-century Panopticon penitentiary concept) with the Telescreen, an electric device that both broadcasts and records sound and video. In light of today’s proliferation of CCTV cameras, facial-recognition software and other surveillance technologies, Orwell seems extraordinarily prescient.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was written to warn readers about the intelligentsia’s weakness for totalitarian doctrines (especially communism), not as a set of real predictions about what the world of the future would look like. Nevertheless, it’s still impressive to see how many details Orwell got right. One thing he didn’t see coming, however, was the emergence of the internet in general, and social-media technology more specifically—which (for now) permits citizens to self-organize outside the direct observation of authorities. In the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, “rebellion meant a look in the eyes, an inflexion of the voice; at the most an occasional whispered word”—because the Party monopolizes mass communication, all of which must pass through the Ministry of Truth. The internet, by contrast, allows dissidents to self-organize on a massive scale without using any one centralized node.

And yet even on this score, the warnings of Nineteen Eighty-Four have been vindicated by human nature, which hasn’t changed a bit over the last 70 years. Orwell knew that most of us—and even more so, our children—require little encouragement to rat one another out if we perceive some moral or ideological lapse.

One of the most important minor characters in Nineteen Eighty-Four is Parsons, an unflappably dumb and jingoistic Party apparatchik who lives in the same building with his phlegmatic wife and terrifying children, of whom he is immensely proud. “Mischievous little beggars they are, both of them, but talk about keenness!” Parsons tells Smith over lunch. “All they think about is the Spies, and the war, of course. D’you know what that little girl of mine did last Saturday, when her troop was on a hike out Berkhamsted way? She got two other girls to go with her, slipped off from the hike, and spent the whole afternoon following a strange man. They kept on his tail for two hours, right through the woods, and then, when they got into Amersham, handed him over to the patrols.” If a living Orwell were shown the vicious mobbing campaigns that pop up every day on Twitter and Facebook (with no explicit state encouragement whatsoever), he’d find this crowdsourced totalitarian spirit completely familiar, even if the underlying technology seemed alien.

Orwell also would be somewhat mystified by the type of subjects that now attract the most aggressive forms of thought and speech control. In that 1944 letter to Struve in which he confessed that Animal Farm was “not OK politically,” Orwell was alluding to his satirical treatment of Marxist orthodoxies, which, in various forms, constituted the woke dogma of his era. But in 2019, you can say anything you like about capitalism and communism, for the real locus of social panic among anti-liberal revolutionaries now is skin colour, sexuality and gender identity. The whole point of (pre-Stalinist) communism was to erase ethnic and even national distinctions by subsuming all of mankind into one vast egalitarian brotherhood—the complete ideological opposite of today’s progressive obsession with skin tone, customized pronouns and cultural appropriation.

I also think Orwell would have found today’s left to be absurdly delicate. Orwell was a socialist who cared about the real material conditions of the working class. His reporting took him from the slums of Europe to the depths of Britain’s coal mines. He risked his life fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War, and got shot in the throat. In that age, this is simply what it meant to be a committed leftist. And it is amusing to think how he would respond if told that his opinions amounted to “violence,” or that Winston Smith’s rape fantasies made readers feel “unsafe.”

The first editions of Orwell’s books were published between 1933 and 1949, a period during which the antique class divisions of English society were under assault from mass-retail capitalism and total war. In his writing, he lampooned the intensely class-conscious Anglo-Indian world into which he’d been born, and exhibited a keen eye for the inane rituals required to sustain class hierarchies. In one of the untitled “As I Please” columns Orwell wrote for The Tribune, he wrote of his lodgings at Portobello Road, which he described as then being “hardly a fashionable quarter”:

The landlady had been lady’s maid to some woman of title and had a good opinion of herself. One day something went wrong with the front door and [we] were all locked out of the house…It was evident that we should have to get in by an upper window, and as there was a jobbing builder next door, I suggested borrowing a ladder from him. My landlady looked somewhat uncomfortable. “I wouldn’t like to do that,” she said finally. “You see, we don’t know him. We’ve been here fourteen years, and we’ve always taken care not to know the people on either side of us. It wouldn’t do, not in a neighbourhood like this. If you once begin talking to them, they get familiar, you see.” So we had to borrow a ladder from a relative of her husband’s, and carry it nearly a mile with great labour and discomfort.

Some leftist intellectuals of Orwell’s time made a show of adopting proletarian language, dress and customs, and lionized the working class as capitalism’s beaten down martyrs who would one day rise up to redeem their societies. The most vocal elements of modern leftist movements, by contrast, betray an attitude of complete contempt for working-class ideas and values, since poor people often vote for the “wrong” politicians, and freely flout the social-media-enforced taboos. A modern leftist wouldn’t avoid the “jobbing builder” next door because he was poor, but because he had a Trump bumper sticker on his F-150.

And yet, it’s also possible that Orwell might find these modern progressive attitudes to be no more hypocritical than those he observed in his own age. In his book Road to Wigan Pier, Orwell described how uninterested real working-class people were in the esoteric Marxist gibberish that formed the basis of daily debate among leftist intellectuals. One of the great challenges faced by socialists, Orwell realized, is that the intellectuals who want to lead socialist movements are fundamentally ignorant, and even contemptuous, of working-class attitudes.

In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the people of Oceania are divided between Party members (“knowledge workers” as we would now call them), who comprise about 15 percent of the society and are rigidly bound in every aspect of their lives; and the “proles,” who account for the other 85 percent, and who are allowed to do whatever they please so long as it doesn’t threaten state security. In Marxist mythology, capitalists use vicious schemes to keep the working classes oppressed. But in Orwell’s fictional world, all that’s required to keep the masses quiescent is a steady stream of pornography, gory movies and military propaganda.

One of my favourite scenes in Nineteen Eighty-Four—which I find impossible to disassociate from my image of Orwell doing his real-life research for Wigan Pier in Lancashire and Yorkshire—has Smith visiting a prole tavern and questioning an old man about his memories of the old days, hoping to tap into a well of ancient prole wisdom and moral fortitude that perhaps might fuel some future uprising. “If there is hope,” Smith had written in an early journal entry, “it lies in the proles.”

But when Smith does get the chance to loosen up the man’s tongue with a few pints, the fellow merely lets loose with a stream of sentimental nonsense.

“You must have seen great changes since you were a young man,” says Smith earnestly as the conversation begins.

“The beer was better,” the man replies after careful consideration. “And cheaper! When I was a young man, mild beer—wallop we used to call it—was fourpence a pint. That was before the war, of course.”

“Which war was that?” says Winston.

“It’s all wars…’Ere’s wishing you the very best of ‘ealth!”

Eventually, Winston leaves in frustration, disgusted by these beaten-down husks who “remembered a million useless things, a quarrel with a workmate, a hunt for a lost bicycle pump, the expression on a long-dead sister’s face, the swirls of dust on a windy morning”—but have no interest in their own liberation.

Orwell’s portrayal of the proles in Nineteen Eighty-Four can easily be misread as class snobbery. However, the butt of the joke in this scene is Smith, not the elderly prole who scored a free night of drinking in exchange for a few half-remembered stories. There is also an element of real envy that creeps into Winston’s inner monologue when he observes the careless freedoms that proles exercise.

About halfway through the book, there is a haunting scene in which Winston hears someone singing outside Mr. Charrington’s shop:

A monstrous woman, solid as a Norman pillar, with brawny red forearms and a sacking apron strapped about her middle, was stumping to and fro between a washtub and a clothes line, pegging out a series of square white things which Winston recognized as babies’ diapers. Whenever her mouth was not corked with clothes pegs she was singing in a powerful contralto: It was only an ‘opeless fancy / It passed like an Ipril dye / But a look an’ a word an’ the dreams they stirred! / They ‘ave stolen my ‘eart awye! The tune had been haunting London for weeks past. It was one of countless similar songs published for the benefit of the proles by a sub-section of the Music Department. The words of these songs were composed without any human intervention whatever on an instrument known as a versificator. But the woman sang so tunefully as to turn the dreadful rubbish into an almost pleasant sound. He could hear the woman singing and the scrape of her shoes on the flagstones, and the cries of the children in the street, and somewhere in the far distance a faint roar of traffic, and yet the room seemed curiously silent, thanks to the absence of a telescreen.

The scene channels Winston’s intermingled attitude of condescension and awe. As a party member, he is fully aware that the song is a mass-produced opiate whose function is to keep the proles distracted. Yet this woman also exhibits a careless freedom that Smith will never have.

This is not just a meditation on escapism that Orwell is offering us. Smith realizes that it is this sentimental spirit—along with lust, gluttony, greed and the parochial attachments of settled family life—that operate as the necessary ballast of any happy and authentic human society, which is why Oceania’s overlords (as with the leaders of any real-world totalitarian cult) try to extinguish these elements from the private lives of Party members. Nineteen Eighty-Four typically is read as a send-up of communism. But it’s really a send-up of any totalizing system of thought that seeks to perfect humanity through the ruthless application of an ideological program.

* * *

I went through my most serious Orwell phase in the summer of 1994, just before heading off to law school. I decided I was going to read everything the man had ever written, down to his surviving personal correspondence and obscure early novels. By proceeding chronologically, I was able to see how his early ideological convictions bent, and then broke, under the weight of personal experience and journalistic observation. When theory conflicted with fact, he chose fact.

Just as Smith is an anti-hero and Nineteen Eighty-Four is an anti-novel, Orwell was an anti-prophet. His main message was that we should beware of any doctrine that instructs us to ignore our five senses, betray common sense, or adopt the view that “whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’” (to quote a line from his essay Notes on Nationalism). And he never shied away from examining his own prejudices and insecurities. Indeed he fetishized them. The first lines of his essay on Salvador Dali, Benefits of Clergy, remain some of the most brilliant words I’ve ever seen committed to print: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”

By the time that summer was over, I’d come to realize that my career in law would be very short. I now knew that what I really wanted to do in life was become a writer who, like Orwell, combined the tools of journalism and literature to expose ideological movements I saw as a dangerous. On my best days, when I manage to publish something that might pass for a fourth-rate version of one of Orwell’s first drafts, I imagine this project to be noble, perhaps even heroic. Which, as Orwell would be the first to tell me, is a delusion.

“All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery,” he declared in the last paragraph of his essay Why I Write. “[It] is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”

I think every human is born with that demon inside of us. And it is only a question of whether the demon awakens that determines who becomes a writer. My own slumbering teenage demon popped open one eyelid when a middle-school teacher assigned me Animal Farm, then the other when we read Nineteen-Eighty Four. By the time I’d finished Orwell’s collected works, the demon was upright on four paws, prowling my brain in a way that demanded full-time attention. On this 70th anniversary of the publication of Orwell’s masterpiece, I’m grateful not only because the author gave our society an entire language to describe the symptoms of totalitarianism—but also because he inspired me, and countless other writers, to embrace the “horrible, exhausting struggle” that gives life meaning.

Jonathan Kay is Canadian Editor of Quillette. Follow him online at @jonkay.


  1. Geary Johansen says

    When I was in my twenties I read ‘Keep the Aspidistra Flying’ and promptly loaned it to a friend. The interesting thing was that, whilst I ultimately took the tale in an essentially positive light, with the main character having achieved a modicum of happiness (even if he did sell out or give up his artistic pretensions), my friend chose to focus instead on the iniquities of ‘The Money God’. An interesting psychological test built into the novel.

    Orwell had so much to teach us about ourselves and our societies. When I was growing up, it seemed that only politicians and media types of a certain ilk had to choose their words carefully, expending effort to give no offence and, as a consequence, saying nothing of substance or worth. But now, of course it’s all of us who have to watch our words in public, as though as Stephen Fry so eloquently put it in the Monk debates, the Stasi is always listening.

    Orwell knew instinctively that in the absence of a spiritual framework to our lives (except perhaps for those actively engaged in improving the human condition, through scientific progress), that we would always throw up new and harmful ideologies, with the new religion of grievance studies only the most recent of a host of pernicious doctrines, with resentment at their heart. I blame the post-war liberal consensus- consumerism may well have won the battle against communism- but with their fixation on Isaiah Berlin, and his analogy of the nun and the mother applied to cross-cultural interactions, they did us a grave disservice in attempting to strip away spiritual beliefs and replace them with consumerism. Perhaps a better approach would have been to focus on the commonalities that under gird all faiths and most cultures, encouraging them to adopt the key enlightenment technologies in whole or in part, as they saw fit (and have done).

    I wonder what Orwell would have made of the most recent iteration of postmodernism, intersectional feminism. I imagine he would have been alarmed, but not surprised. It really is a new religion- I was recently amused to see a social justice warrior complaining that someone was undermining their narrative with empirical facts. What troubles me most is that they, like the socialists before them seem, to operate under the assumption of the lump fallacy and imagine that if they simply eject white people from their own businesses, as seen in the recent Quillette article on knitting circles, then someone from a marginalised group will simply move into the space and be successful at running a thriving, small business. The level of ignorance that this betrays is astounding. Not everything in life is as easy as being a social influencer. Just because you can wear a lab coat, if doesn’t make you a scientist. And if they really wanted to increase the number of college and university lecturers from marginalised groups, then they should lobby government to make graduate years free for those from marginalised groups who make the grade.

    What Orwell understood were the preoccupations that framed civilisation. At least with religion, the moral framework at it’s foundation increased social cohesion within society, whilst requiring the consent and participation of the powerful, to break the dam of outwardly manifested resentment masquerading as aggression, such as when Pope Urban II launched the crusades. Postmodernism has no such dam or barrier built-in, all it takes is one resentful activist to denounce you. With intersectional feminism, offence can be taken, without being given- the simple act of silence on certain subjects sufficient to launch all out offensives on Twitter.

    But the really, really dangerous thing, the thing that threatens the well being, lives and livelihoods of the very black and brown people around the world that intersectionality purports to serve, is the direction all this is likely to take. Collectively, North America and Europe still account for 60% of the world’s economy. If, through either the Luddite tendencies baked-in to the authoritarian left or the dark green environmentalism’s rejection of capitalism, with an envisioned return to small-scale farming, they actually manage to dismantle the Western Patriarchy, then people in the developing world really will end up despising us. Not because of America’s troubled history with race and indigenous peoples, or Europe’s colonial past, but because we will have yanked the ladder of prosperity away right at the moment that they are finally ascending it. The Chinese already have a word for it ‘Baizuo’- it means white liberal.

    • Ray Andrews says

      @Geary Johansen

      Baizuo. Thanks. This edited from Wikipedia:

      Baizuo … is a derogatory Chinese neologism used to refer to Western liberal elites … the term is defined as referring to those who are hypocritically obsessed with political correctness in order to satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority motivated from an ignorant and arrogant Western-centric worldview who pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours.

      A related term is shèngmǔ … literally “holy mother”, title for the mother of an emperor, a sarcastic reference to those whose political opinions are guided by emotions and a hypocritical show of selflessness and empathy, represented by celebrities.

      So Ben Affleck is a shèngmǔ!

      • mirrormere says

        I have no problem culturally appropriating Baizuo!

    • David of Kirkland says

      No, if America declines, the fortunes of India, China and perhaps Russia will increase. We may not win that battle anyway as AI and other technologies dominate the future and they have the most to gain.

      • dirk says

        I wonder whether the youth in Russia knows as much about that great dystopian example WE , as we in the west know about Orwell!
        I wonder, I wonder, I’m sure they don’t.
        BTW, I have a copy of WE on my book shelf (largely unread), Animal Farm also, but no 1984 of Orwell.

        • dirk says

          And, probably unknown by most here, there exists also an utopian novel playing in 1984, with the title – Journey of my brother Alexej in the land of peasant utopia-, of the Russian agronomist and philosopher Chayanov, also in my possession. That one I spelled out in details, it’s really an interesting novel, and ,not impossible, not only an utopia, but once a future reality (as was his 1921 foresight in it that Germany would take back Saarland in a future war).

          • dirk says

            What I said about Zamyatin’s acceptance is not true for his WE, but yes for his other quite extensive literary work for the sovjets early 1920s. Sorry.

        • Tim says

          @dirk I believe Zamyatin’s We is a part of school curriculum in Russia.
          Besides most families hold a memory of life during Soviets passed over from generation to generation.

          • dirk says

            Thanks Tim, so that WE has a rather dynamic history, accepted first for some time,then forbidden and Zamyatin ousted (but not executed, good for him, Chayanov was executed for his utopia in 1937, though even this is not sure), and since 1990 then again part of the curriculum? Would like to know more about it, and how it is received by the youngsters now. Not like Orwell’s, I fear.

      • Geary Johansen says

        @ David of Kirkland

        The first factor that allows a nations fortunes to rise, is the ability to grow agricultural surpluses and find markets to sell them.

        The unlimited (almost) demand for clothing and textiles allows fortunes to skyrocket- as the newfound wealth from this cheap (comparatively) labour, circulates through the hosting nations economy.

        Just because the fortunes of America and the West fail, it doesn’t necessarily follow that others will rise. It’s about stable and sustained markets for goods, especially in an age where our financial system are interlinked (although I see that Chinese investment in overseas properties in the West has declined, so perhaps all those actuaries that the west has trained know something that we don’t…).

        Your point on China is well-taken as at least some of the disaster that would befall their economy through the loss of Western markets, could be offset by regearing their economy to the pacific rim and further expanding into Africa, but India would face an existential crisis, in that they are set to become the worlds single biggest importer of agricultural goods- and the collapse of American agriculture that would surely follow a broader American economic collapse, would leave their situation precarious, let alone leave the world vulnerable to the age old problem of cyclical famine, that we thought we’d left behind.

        Not exactly a great scenario…

  2. Ray Andrews says

    “then the other eyelines when we read”

    Typo? Should that not be ‘eyelid’?

    “But it’s really a send-up of any totalizing system of thought that seeks to perfect humanity”

    It’s been a long time, but as I recall O’Brien was careful to point out to Smith that the difference between The Party and all previous tyrannies was that The Party — or the Inner Party anyway — completely understood itself to be entirely evil. It was pointedly not trying to perfect humanity but was instead successfully maximizing itself precisely because it had no illusions as to either human nature or its own intentions. Like a successful disease it existed because it was good at existing and being good at existing means understanding the world without delusion. This is easier for viruses and bacteria because they don’t think, they merely succeed (or not), but they exploit us with no delusions, nor do they want us to improve, they like us just the way we are. Thus The Party pointedly kept it’s slaves as imperfect as possible.

  3. Elton H says

    “Orwell was an anti-prophet. His main message was that we should beware of any doctrine that instructs us to ignore our five senses, betray common sense, or adopt the view that “whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’” (to quote a line from his essay Notes on Nationalism).”

    the current “right wing populism” in the West is basically the above. It’s labeled as “right wing” because the politicians who recognize the issues are those on the right wing, and the Left is more than happy to label it as a “right wing” movement to scare its voters from agreeing with it. The masses are waking up to the excesses of limitless immigration issues, transgender movement, social justice, crime issues, homelessness, radical Left thuggery, income redistribution, among other things. The average people have recognized the elites who have been preaching at them about these issues are lying to them and have either no solutions or are making matters worse. The Leftist elites are using scare tactics to try to keep their voters in line because they have nothing else to offer.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      “The average people have recognized the elites who have been preaching at them about these issues are lying to them and have either no solutions or are making matters worse.”

      You just described our political elites perfectly. Unfortunately – and very stupidly – you seem to think this is a phenomenon of the left. This mistake makes you a useful idiot to the very people you seem so threatened by.

      • Cruz says

        Once again a Nakatomi Plaza comment detracts from the conversation. It must require effort to be so wrong all the time.

  4. Kauf Buch says

    I’d hardly say today’s Left is “delicate”…with the exception of the Leftist sheep of Orwell’s screaming audience watching the 2-Minute-Hate screen (cue the pussy-hat crowd).

    The Left that matters – the Goolags, FaceBulag, YouTulag, Twatter – like Big Brother, hardly “permits citizens to self-organize.” That was just a ruse to lure the unsuspecting into the pen, before closing the gates.

    The challenge will be for our (American) government to regulate, break up or open to legal liability (i.e. remove the protections they currently enjoy) these titans of technology before “permanent” damage is done.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Step one: increase government control on communication to protect us from others. Good idea that one….

      • Kauf Buch says

        Oh, doesn’t Davy of Kirky imagine himself to be the oh-so-CLEVER one!

        Think of breaking up Ma Bell, or earlier monopolies, sonny.
        Furthermore, you think the radical Left Hi-Tech billionaires in charge
        would look over our interests better?

        Judging by their track record to-date…um OH HAIL NO.

        Have fun living in your imaginary libertarian la la land where everyone is always sooo perfect and responsible, Davy of Kirky. The rest of us will “slog through” that check-and-balance Constitutional Republic we were blessed to be born under.

        • Jack B. Nimble says

          @K B

          Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, etc. are mostly defending the status quo–protecting their profits and monopolies and fighting off government regulation. In the unlikely event that E. Warren wins the Democratic presidential nomination, for example, I would expect these companies to go all in [at least in their political contributions] to defeating her and electing more conservatives to Congress. Here’s the reason:

          Not sure how fighting Big Government regulation counts as radical Leftism.

          • Kauf Buch says

            TO JBN

            That Warren piece you linked to is a laughable head-fake.
            (THINK : Obama’s on-the-campaign-trail bleatings about stopping illegal immigration VERSUS his actual practice)

            In your nightmare scenario, a Pres-Warren would be the first to look the other way, as her private-sector Public Relations team (Goolag…etc.) shut down more and more conservative voices. Though a hack, Fauxcahontas IS a radical Leftist, and knows what to portray in public as a disguise for her actual Marxist agenda.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @K B

            My scenario was Warren winning the Democratic nomination, which I consider unlikely. I predicted that, in that unlikely event, corporate America would work strenuously to defeat her AND elect anti-regulation conservatives to Congress.

            Corporate leaders won’t take the risk of assuming that Warren’s positions are all fake. Instead, they will look at these position papers and others:

            It’s Time to Reduce Corporate Influence at the Pentagon

            My plan to provide comprehensive debt relief to Puerto Rico

            I’m calling for something truly transformational: Universal free public college and cancellation of student loan debt

            My plan for public lands [ Source: ]

            Big tech, holders of Puerto Rican or student debt, Pentagon contractors and mining and ranching interests in the West will make sure that Warren’s anti-corporate campaign goes nowhere.

    • Heike says

      Imagine my open-mouthed astonishment as I watched the Two Minutes Hate re-enacted over and over after Trump won. It was literally the same as in the novel, except it went on far past two minutes.

  5. EK says

    The time was November 1968 to June 1969. The place was Ft. Rucker, Alabama. The characters were Spec. 5 Goldstein, Spec. 5 O’Brien and Spec, 4 Aaronson (That is literally true, we were in the same instructor class). We were all UH-1 crew chiefs just back from Vietnam with lots of Air Medals, two Purple Hearts, one DFC and one Bronze Star between us. For the remainder of our enlistments, we were going to be instructors to a new crop of UH-1 crew chiefs bound for Vietnam.

    We recalled the Chestnut Tree Cafe and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and informally agreed that our trainees would know that there was nothing good going on over there. Eighteen months later were we out in the streets with the VVAW. In my opinion, the US was lost when Nixon was re-elected.

  6. Bogos says

    “Resistance is Futile” is the motto of all you neo-liberals, just as it was for that poor sod George.

  7. David of Kirkland says

    “The internet, by contrast, allows dissidents to self-organize on a massive scale without using any one centralized node.” Tell this to China and the T Square massacre “fact.”
    Internet-based organization is fully open to surveillance and quick determination of location and identity, plus it’s fully documented for sending dissidents to prison.

    • Peter from Oz says

      If only Orwell had lived, I’m sure that his friend, the greater novelist Anthony Powell, would have helped him move further towards toryism. The same road was followed by Malcolm Muggeridge and Paul Johnson, who started out as clever if skeptical supporters of the left, but eventually moved to the right as they experienced more of life.
      1984 is truly an anagram of 1948, and warns against the idiocies of the Attlee Labour government’s enthusiasm for applying political solutions to social problems. The Attlee government was, as Orwell saw, the worst that Britain ever had. It’s legacy lasted until 1979, when the Tories finally had the courage to stop the rot.
      I highly recommend Powell’s series of novels called “A Dance tot he Music of Time”. Whilst the books in the series do not deal directly in political matters, they do show up many of the idiocies of the left during the 20th century, through great portrayals of some of the sorts of leftists that thrived in Britain during those years. Some of Orwell’s characteristics appear in the character of the “Red Earl” Lord Warminster, whilst the “villain” of the whole series, Kenneth Widmerpool, is the archetypal left wing businessman, out for his own power at any cost.

      • Charlie says

        Good points. What people today ignore is that Orwell understood it was the character of the left wing upper middle class which attracted them to Marxism. In the 1920s and 1930s , Public School were very tough ,cold baths, corporal punishment, rugby, boxing, cross country runs, rowing and cricket. Sport was a religion and intellectuals despised. The tough ones thrived, many going into the armed forces( Colonel Blimps as Orwell called them ) or working overseas, especially in engineering. The public school system wanted practical, physically tough, physically courageous and patriotic types: Marxists lacked all these qualities Feeble types such as Blunt hated sport ( he hated Marlborough )and were attracted to Marxism as a form of revenge on their spartan upbringing. The Marxism of British upper middle class Marxists is nothing more than revenge on those type who thrived at spartan at British Public Schools. The likes of Blunt, Philby, Auden , Isherwood, Burgess, Cairncross, P Toynbee, Maclean, Hobsbawm never spent any time in the slums and evaded combat ; C Attlee worked in the East End slums and fought at Gallipoli. The Labour Party up to the 1950s was inspired by the practical Christian ethos of the Methodists and Baptists( people such as Prime Minister Callaghan were preachers and Sunday School teachers ) who wanted to improve the quality of lives of the poor, not instigate class war.

        When one looks at WW2, one could volunteer for combat and if one passed the selection tests one could do what one wanted. Very few middle class Marxists volunteered for combat and hardly any served in the Commandos whereas the boxing rugby playing rowing public school types of officer thrived .

        The working class respected practical, physically tough, physically brave and common decency ; qualities completely lacking in the sly, deceitful, impractical, physically feeble, cowardly and treacherous Marxist middle class. In fact in 1940, while members of the pansy left such as Isherwood and Auden fled to the USA, it was considered that Orwell would be the only left wing intellectual would fight.

        In “Road to Wigan Pier ” Orwell observes a women cleaning the front step and unblocking a pipe ; she looks fourty but is probably only 25 years of age. Orwell believed socialism should be built upon the common decency of the ordinary people in order to improve their quality of lives. Orwell respected practical honest hardworking people and despised effete sly impractical intellectuals.

        If one reads Orwell’s collected writing from 1927 to 1950, one can see how is understanding of the character of middle class intellectuals evolves.

    • dirk says

      Tian an Men square massacre is this month now 30 yrs ago, and commemorated widely in the west, Taiwan and Hongkong, not in China Mainland. And I wonder whether it is allowed to twitter about it there on the internet. Young Chinese don’t even know what happened there, but even if? Would it impress them very much, with a few 100 massacred against the millions in the Cultural Revolution? China, where all trade unions are falling under the Ministry of Propaganda (almost same as in 1984). Would a 1984,(better, a 2084) be possible in China? Or not even that in literary, thus imaginary form?? With the spread of AI and individual monitoring, chances such novels are ever written there are getting smaller and smaller. No, the Western Baizuo are from now on the big enemy. And the economy is growing through the ceilings.

      • dirk says

        Some after thought: could it be that Orwell’s 1984 in China is not read as a dystopia, but rather as an utopia (imagine the literature teacher English there, explaining 1984 to the youngsters, listening obediently and in silence).

  8. El Uro says

    Nikita Khrushchev was removed from power October 14, 1964. The next day at school in history class, the teacher asked us to take pens, to open the history textbook on page N and to black out his face in the photo, where he was standing next to Gagarin.
    I was not a dissident. I was 11 years old, a curious boy who loved to read. But so far I remember what I was thinking at that moment: “History is something that you have no right to erase”.
    Now I am 65 years old. And with horror I see that the left, like zombies, rise from their graves here, in the homeland of freedom.

  9. says

    This was a fantastic article, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It makes me realise how much I missed in the book when I read it as a youth. I also agree 1984 is still one of the most relevant books for this century, as it was for the last.

    • gda53 says

      Maybe it has some connection with the classic Upton Sinclair quote:

      “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

      In this case more along the lines of “It is difficult to get a man to always write honestly, when his salary depends on his not doing so”

  10. Jean Levant says

    “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.”

    Why? Why should something disgraceful be more trusty than something good or beautiful? It’s another trick of the mind and especially the kind of downbeat mindset like Orwell’s. Bias does exist on the downbeat side as well on the upbeat, on the vicious side as well on the virtuous. One can find pride or boasting even in the worst acts or thoughts, so the fact that you report some bad actions or thoughts of your own is not a proof of your reliability, its’ just an indication of your mood or your deep tendency.
    That said, it’s a very good article.

  11. White heterosexual male says

    Tired of Americans obsession with a third-rate book

    • Max Dublin says

      Kay is Canadian and the book is first-rate so you’re wrong on both accounts. Wonder what you would consider first-rate in this genre.

  12. Rod says

    Thanks again, Mr. Kay. Lovely essay. Keep fighting the good centrist fight.

    • M Heeton says

      Really fine writing, I agree. Thank you JK.

  13. Klaus C. says

    Orwell was a contradiction in many ways – an arch-conservative who identified as a socialist, a constantly chattering member of the chattering classes who looked down upon other chatterers, an effeminate man who nonetheless felt threatened by homosexuals.

    His writing seems tedious and dated now but has become such an omnipresent cliche – “it’s like 1984!” – that the chatterers will be chattering about it for some time to come.

    • warforthewest says

      Klaus C. – Would you mind sharing your politics with us? I find criticisms such as your’s usually emanate from hardcore Marxists, amirite?

      • Klaus C. says

        No you’re wrong, and I find that parroted accusations of “Marxism” usually come from the alt-right, amirite?

        I’m a left-of-centre old-fashioned liberal, both less conservative and less left-wing than Orwell (and less contradictory).

        • Left of center isn’t “liberal”. The classical liberal order was abandoned by the Left by the middle of the 19th century, do try and keep up. There is nothing liberal about being at Lefist, in fact one cannot co-exist with the other.

    • Charlie says

      Orwell was not effeminate , he criticised the pansy left – Auden and Isherwood. He respected those who undertook hard manual labour, were practical, physically tough courageous and respected British culture. He was an intellectual who criticised left wing intellectuals and by 1942 had more time for the patriotic, physically tough “Colonel Blimps ” who were fighting than the effete Left who did not. He disliked homosexuals as he considered them degenerate and many did not fight in WW2, Isherwood and Auden for example. Orwell was a keen gardener, owned a small holding and then a croft in Scotland .

      When the various intellectuals considered who would fight if Britain was invaded , Orwell was considered the only one who would. Orwell was a keen member of the Home Guard and believed in passing on the street fighting techniques he had learned In Spain where he was shot in the throat.

      Orwell live a life of spartan simplicity and earned very little money until he late 1930s.

      Orwell lived a life in many ways like the Methodist labour Party members of the 19th century- spartan, practical ,austere, down to earth yet he was well travelled , spoke seven languages ( Latin and Greek included ), had been a policeman in Burma ( in those days it was an officers rank ) . The closest person to Orwell was M Muggeridge . The increase in material comforts post WW2 and the lack of war make the modern world very different to Orwell’s. There is no left wing writer today who has Orwell’s classical scholarship and leadership experience as an officer.

      What Orwell understood was that character shaped political beliefs of the left wing middle class, not experience . Orwell perceived the resentment of their inadequacy of the left wing middle class which made them Marxist, not compassion for the poor.

      • dirk says

        May I guess Charlie? You are not American or Canadian, but purely British or Sottish, am I right?

  14. warforthewest says

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

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

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

    If I didn’t want to bow down, what would I do? Who would I fight? What changes would need to be wrought? When I seriously consider these questions the answers that I come to terrify me. I see nothing stopping the Left from its menace, not even Donald Trump. Trump certainly rode a wave of anti-leftism, a feral, reflexive impulse but the critique it rests on is insufficient.

    Trump has brought something crucial to light though. That is the advent of “fake news” or more directly said, the use of mass propaganda to support the Left’s “big lie” politics. You can’t simple disagree with Trump, no, you have to believe he’s a fascist destroying the rights of all minorities and winking at white supremacy. And it just goes on and on like that, and at it’s very core, it’s a “big lie” a la Hitler and Goebbels. The Russian collusion scheme showcased just how willingly a global cabal of govt LE/IC hacks and “journalists” collaborated to deliver falsehoods as truths. The Rachel Maddow show can easily be seen as a version of “Two Minutes of Hate” (the extended version).

    What does my conscience call me to do? What is my duty as one who wishes to preserve the classical liberal order of American society and who knows it’s up to free men to do so, not some remote “leader”? What am I willing to do? What is sufficient? Be very careful if you go down this rabbit hole with me as you will quickly come to some very sobering conclusions about the horrific future we face no matter what choice I make.

    • Nakatomi Plaza says

      Most of our mass media is owned by corporate conglomerates. Fox News is, of course, the quintessential propaganda outlet, but I guess that doesn’t concern you. Our government has been run by the right – the increasingly reactionary right, by the way – for close to twenty years. They’ve held the presidency for 12 of the past twenty years, a legislative majority most of that time, and they now have control of the SCOTUS. And you’re fucking stupid enough to compare the left to Hitler because of Rachel Maddow or some such hysterical nonsense?

      So, what in hell are you talking about? What do you think you’re fighting exactly?

      • Morgan Foster says

        @Nakatomi Plaza

        Chicago, Los Angeles, Baltimore, New York City … all “run by the increasingly reactionary right?”

        • Morgan – Note I’ve challenged Nakatomi to debate this live on my YouTube channel. Let’s see if he has the guts to actually face me live. I’ll destroy him. This is a very common rhetorical gambit by the left and it’s easily defeated by discussing issues and policies in detail. My guess is that when it comes details and actual policy he’s a dipshit.

          • dirk says

            @warftw: if you think you can destroy somebody on his opinions or on certain facts important for you (and not for him), you must be a retarded one ( of which, of course, very many of them people dwell on blogs and sites, in this holy anonymous cyber time).

      • @Nakatomi – Lol, truly. Carry on, your ignorance is only matched by your arrogance. Also, I’m happy to debate you live on this and show you up for the imbecile you are. Just let me know here how to reach out on email and we’ll set it up. You can show the world just how crazy I am. I dare you to try – do you have the guts to put your money where your mouth is? I’ll stream it from my YouTube channel and post it unedited.

        Your move, loudmouth.

    • Socratic Privilege says

      “The Rachel Maddow show can easily be seen as a version of “Two Minutes of Hate” (the extended version).

      What does my conscience call me to do? What is my duty as one who wishes to preserve the classical liberal order of American society and who knows it’s up to free men to do so, not some remote “leader”? What am I willing to do? What is sufficient? Be very careful if you go down this rabbit hole with me as you will quickly come to some very sobering conclusions about the horrific future we face no matter what choice I make.”

      Reply to the above:
      Are you picking up the Rachel Maddow show via an antenna from a broadcast, or are you paying for a package that includes it, such as via cable TV? If you are paying for a package that includes it, then you should switch to a package that doesn’t include it.

      Did you know that RT (formerly known as “Russia Today”) pays cable companies for every subscriber to it? For most channels, the content provider is paid by the cable company. When there are one million subscribers, a mere ten cents per month paid by RT to your cable company would give your cable company $100,000 per month from that one source of revenue.

      Unless you are creating content and able to get the attention of a lot of people who watch the Rachel Maddow show, there’s nothing for you to gain by having anything to do with it. Don’t waste your time watching it. If there are advertisers paying to advertise on her show, then it’s best to not see any of those advertisements. Don’t support — with your time or money — what you oppose.

      If you wouldn’t support an obscure, struggling periodical or TV show that is — in your opinion — garbage, then why would you support what seems to be popular and that is — in your opinion — garbage? It takes some research to see how much money is spent on marketing and spent to create an appearance of being “mainstream” or “popular.”

      Keep in mind that marketing doesn’t merely help create initial popularity, but is also done to maintain popularity that may otherwise be rapidly lost. You might directly see some marketing for a movie, but you don’t see the big picture of how much is spent on marketing a movie, unless you do research, such as via something like IMDbPro. (IMDb is “Internet Movie Database” and the “Pro” part indicates that it’s for industry professionals to get information and network.) Ignore the marketing, and have enough self-discipline to avoid being influenced by friends, relatives, or neighbors who have been conned by the marketing.

  15. Geary Johansen says

    @ warforthewest

    Keen observation on people who don’t like Orwell. His opening sentence in 1984 is what writers everywhere strive towards. Unlike Alan Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’, Orwell actually delivered on the killer opening line and created a work that will stand as a warning of the dangers of totalitarianism, propaganda and creating a society based on classed-based resentment for all time. Perhaps the most illuminating theme that runs through the novel, as a continuation of ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, is the observation that once the Party achieves power, prior to the events depicted in the novel, the needs of the proletariat and indeed the proles themselves, become an irrelevancy. This is certainly borne out by the history of the Soviet Union.

    Although I do not necessarily agree with everything that Jordan Peterson says, his description of the Somerville experiment and lessons the left took from its failure are extremely elucidating. The idea that one should never study a programme that you are introducing, in case the data proves that the programme fails is mind blowing. A chief benefit of charter schools (and free schools in the UK) should not be to argue over which structure is better- because structure is largely an irrelevancy. The aim should be to study what the common methodologies and practices are, amongst those charters that consistently perform in the top 5 – 10%, like the Michaela Community School in London, or Success Academy in New York. That’s how you could improve education for kids everywhere in the West- by allowing the charter sector to cross-pollinate it’s best and most innovative ideas back into public school system. But, of course, to do so would be tantamount to admitting that many of the structural disparities experienced by marginalised groups can be lain at the foot of a broken progressive education system.

    The reason why I am a heterodox, rather than a conservative, is because I actually do believe that government can and should play a role. They just have to stick to areas that the market can’t supply, either because there is no profit or because poor people have no agency within the market. You just need to remove the threat of redundancy inherent to public sector workers becoming more efficient and productive, and replace it with the promise of working in a more useful and satisfying jobs. One way this could work is with an almo providing high empathy public workers with motivational training to get economically inactive young people into work. Quite often the reason why people in their twenties stay in their parents basements or spare rooms, is because they lack confidence, are suffering from poor morale or simple don’t understand how increasing personal value works in a market system. Believe it not many of them haven’t come across the idea that just because you take a job working in a bar or as a barista, it doesn’t mean you’ll stay one for the rest of your life! When it comes to welfare, this would be a far better way of getting people into work than threatening to remove their welfare- fear may be a force multiplier in war, but it’s a crappy motivator when it comes to the incentive to work or human productivity. Getting people into work would not only grow revenue, or at least reduce economic transfers, but also increase public/private interactions, with the best public workers migrating to the private sector, gradually reducing head count.

    This may sound Utopian, but I believe in essence it’s more incrementalist. If you aren’t spending any more money on government, why not re-allocate PSW’s into more productive work, trying out ideas on a small scale, first. Ask the people what services they would like to see and which government bureaucracies or intrusions they most resent.

    On the subject of the media, I think the age of liberal bias manufacturing consent for social progress is over. Partly because of the fact that they have run out of rights-based issues that can easily be fixed by changing the law. Journalists just don’t get that they only have to be seen to deceive, inveigle or obfuscate once, and people will never believe them again. To be fair I think that in most, but not all, instances they are operating under subconscious selection bias. Plus, because liberals tend to see things in social terms and conservatives in economic terms, they see the MAGA hat as a clan hood, rather than the genuine desire for secure jobs that it embodies. The real disconnect comes from liberals not seeing that conservatives feel the same way about government, as they do about big business.

    • I see things very differently from you. Example: The left has achieved total domination of the socio-political space. They are not losing anywhere institutionally or culturally. This is easily verified by opinion data based on age and the mainstreaming of hardcore socialist and SJW values. Gender fluidity being imposed on all institutions of society now. I’m a corporate executive and I recently had to do a “training” on how not to offend “transgender” people who might work for me, among many other things.

      What’s most notable about their victory is they continue to progress their agenda whether they hold the reins of formal political power or not. The primary institutions the Left has won over are education and newsmedia.

      It is funny though that after the fed govt has destroyed education at all levels in our society, you still support government education. Does it not occur to you that education suffers simply from all the problems of any govt run entity? Domination by political concerns is what always happens to govt institutions – it’s axiomatic that this will happen. Low innovation, vast inefficiencies, growing bureaucracy, this is a feature of govt institutions, not a bug. They cannot ever be avoided no matter the people involved. Eventually you get “regulatory capture” as we have in education at all levels now, with “educators” running the govt agencies supposedly supervising the educators running this completely broken system.

      My mom was an English teacher, ran a dept actually. Sis is a teacher, I respect teachers. But public education has been a disaster for our society and it’s only getting worse, not better.

      Private education is superior in every way. And in today’s world, we already subsidize education for poor people so funding them ins’t a problem. We spend vast sums on bureaucrats and administration that when properly eliminated by competitive forces will bring down the overall cost of education.

      But of course, what most miss is the actual purpose of public education today. It’s daycare for families with two ‘career oriented’ parents. It’s daycare for single mothers. If you are interested, take a look at the Head Start program and the studies of it. For 20 years it consistently showed no lasting, meaningful effect on outcomes for children socially or intellectually but that was how the activists justified it. Instead of saying, hmmm, the data says this doesn’t work, let’s stop wasting billions on it, they just pressed on. Arguing idiotically in ways that are insane – anything to keep these programs. In fact many activists want to expand it to younger children. Why? Cuz it’s free daycare for low income, mostly minority participants in the program. It’s more social services for single mothers.

      • Brett Hilder says

        warforthewest. I agree with your position. I am a businessman too and the encroachment of bureacracy which is effectively unaccountable to anyone, I have first hand experience with in it’s most corrupt form.
        I attacked this government ‘authority’ (the Australian Skills Quality Authority) pretty savagely and relentlessly for three years and forced various laws to change and the abolition of four federal bureaucracies. Interestingly, it was the new right of centre government that did the hard yards on reform not the left wing so-called progressives.

        1984 is the most accurate and compelling work of fiction in human history. In second place is daylight.

      • Charlie says

        Geary Johansen and warforthewest. I agree with your comments . What I think is ignored is that since WW2 there has been a massive increase in post 16 years of age education which means standards have been lowered. Orwell was King’s Scholar at Eton which meant a very rigorous exam had to be passed at the age of 12 or 13 years of age requiring a very high level of Latin, Greek, French, Maths, History, English .

        When it comes to arts/humanities, since 1945 an intellectual proletariat IP)has been created as the historian G M Trevelyan has said. The IP lacks the scholastic skill to read classics, Asiatic languages, engineering , maths, medicine at top universities but can cope with degrees such as cultural studies, gender studies, media studies , etc at very poor universities. They consider themselves intellectually and morally superior to blue collar workers yet have a massive inferiority complex to the classic scholar or engineer. These types lack the intellect to teach Latin , Greek, Languages, Maths, Science to top universities but can produce mediocre arts educated children. The modern government controlled education system is a free masonary of the mediocre, resentful and spiteful: consequentially they are emotionally attracted to Marxism.

        If one looks at the top British Public Schools, the headteachers are often very impressive
        for example Tolkein went to King Edward the VIth where a recent former head master John Claughton obtained a degree in Greats and played first class cricket and wrote the following books
        Herodotus and the Persian Wars (Greece and Rome: Texts and Contexts)
        Aristophanes: Clouds (Cambridge Translations from Greek Drama).

        At Dulwich College , David Emms , served in the Parachute Artillery in WW2, read languages at Oxford and played rugby for Eastern Counties.

        Marxism is emotional, as Muggeridge said ” It is an urban religion for people who have a grudge against their fellow man and civilisation “.

        Some one once said the French Revolution was caused un-employed lawyers. The SJWs are mediocre physically and mentally, intellectual proletariat with a grudge against tough practical blue collar types and physically tough bright graduates with degrees in subjects such as classics, maths, medicine, engineering, numerical sciences because they are inferior in their practical use to society. A good plumber is essential to civilisation as is a good engineer; someone with a degree in cultural studies from a poor university is of no practical use. A Roman said ” Our temples are the roads, aquaducts and sewers “. What left wing middle class type has designed, built or maintained any of these structures ? Orwell respected those who did.

  16. Pingback: On Its 70th Anniversary, 1984 Still Feels Important and Inspiring – The winds are changing

  17. I think Brave New World and the Movie Wall-E are a better description of where we are heading.

    • Jeremy Ashford says

      I see Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged being played out as we chatter.

  18. hunterson7 says

    In light of the Sprint towards tyranny the lefties are making, it is useful to reflect on the pillars of Oceania, the Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Love and Ministry of Peace.
    We have the Google, (Gulag) operating the memory hole. The New York Times is the official newspaper for the Party, CNN runs the updated 24 x7 hates – 2 minute hates just aren’t enough. FB, not quite certain but Orwell would’ve known.
    Antifa, Anti First Amendment, is the street force of the Ministry of Love.
    Not quite certain about Mini Peace, but the new age is young.

    • a bee ee? says

      You left out the Junior Anti-Sex League = #MeToo, #TimesUp, trigger warnings, microaggressions, toxic masculinity, etc. etc. etc.

  19. Pingback: On Its 70th Anniversary, Nineteen Eighty-Four Still Feels Important… | Dr. Roy Schestowitz (罗伊)

  20. The novel was, of course, a colossal disappointment, a long build-up to a completely ludicrous reveal. A totalitarian state motivated at its core by naked sadism would obviously collapse in short order, and anyone who accuses their political enemies of aspiring to become—let alone actually being—the Inner Party is an intellectual sloth. As deserving of ridicule as I believe the woke crowd to be, they are not a giant gang of psychopaths motivated by a desire to stomp on the face of humanity forever. What Nineteen Eighty Four does is take some—admittedly quite troubling—emergent phenomena of Western culture and anthropomorphize them, in the style of The Protocols. Cathartic in a way, but thoroughly unimpressive as a serious attempt at understanding.

    It would be nice if we could move past this silly book.

    • Fuzzy Headed Mang says

      @Jesse Stalin ruled Russia from 1922 to 1952… this was the leader 1984 was built on. That’s 30 years, and the state didn’t collapse after his death. I agree that the woke crowd are not a giant gang of psychopaths… some of the worst things have been done by people intending to do good….. George W. Bush, for example, wanted to bring democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan…. Lyndon B. Johnson wanted to stop communism in Viet Nam, the Khmer Rouge wanted a pure peasant class to triumph over decadence. The Social Justice people in North America want only to do good. I am not comparing them to Stalin, but you could even say Stalin put in harsh laws during World War 2 simply to save Russia from German occupation. And this would be correct. He acted for the greater good. Check out another Orwell book “Animal Farm.” He was a great writer.

      • @Fuzzy

        Perhaps I was a bit harsh. The Bond-villain-esque speech at the end just always struck me as a huge cop-out. A totalitarian regime can certainly be captured by psychopaths, but not for very long, and not in a way that gets the entire ruling elite on board with a long-term program of senseless brutality.

        The length of Stalin’s reign was really quite impressive.

        • Fuzzy Headed Many says

          @Jesse: I also bring you Mao Zedong 1949-1959 as leader of China, and as Leader of the Communist party and behind the scenes leader til his death in 1976. He led several policies which resulted in ongoing senseless brutality. We also see the ongoing Kim dynasty in North Korea. The Kims have ruled for decades. Re: psychopaths not ruling for very long.. Depending on your definition of psychopath….indeed, one aspect of psychopathy is the inability to plan…. however, there are many people who compartmentalize. They can act extremely brutally on the job, for example, and be truly loving family men. Selective psychopathy. The fictional Tony Soprano comes to mind. Or the generals of World War 1 who sent their men directly into machine gun fire on the Somme. Have to re read 1984 re: Bondish speech.

  21. Robert Hadley says

    Mr. Kay: What evidence can you adduce that Orwell “seems to have been somewhat mortified by the sex act”?

  22. johnhenry says

    I remember reading a piece by Jonathan Kay around 8-9 years ago about the decrepit state of bridges in Montreal, and thinking how I’d never have looked for an article about bridges in Montreal (my birthplace) but was glad I did. He writes almost as good as his mother does, or used to.

  23. johnhenry says

    Robert Hadley: Eric Blair (as he then was) was a scholarship admittee at Eton, later known as the Homoterm in remembrance of the proclivities practiced there, and where he was a student of Steven Runciman – the homosexual who wrote some bad books about the Crusades – and also a near classmate of other homosexuals such as communist Guy Burgess and Scott-Douglas-Montague, or was it Douglas-Scott-Montague? I think, or like to think that Orwell was mortified by such people.

  24. OpenMindsListen says

    “some of the most brilliant words I’ve ever seen committed to print: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful”.”

    The Judaeo-Christian biblical writings are a collection of writings, often autobiographical in nature, wherein people have documented, for all time, the despicable failures and most vile actions of its leading characters. Furthermore, it gives the most comprehensive, reliable description and explanation of the human condition ever, printed or otherwise.

    It is the most controversial, most published, and most banned book the world has ever known.

    It is also prophetic: This world will eventually fall under one political system, likely after a serious war (I’m no bible scholar but I think that’s how it goes), and this system will cut off the buying (food) power of, and eventually kill, dissidents. The, eventually, singular-head of the system will be worshiped as a god, as he will seem to have supernatural abilities. He will have a high-priest-type pal who is his second in command. There will be a small group of leaders but these will clearly not be in control of anything other than what the ‘big guy’ allows. Major war will follow and Israel, at first protected, will be a central focus of attack. Big bad loses to Jesus Christ at His return. Amen.

    Why does this matter?

  25. b396863 says

    Thank you. Your moving essay directly influenced me do two things: finally register a commenting account for Quillette, and get the non-fiction works of George Orwell. Being a life-long fan of both Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm, I feel somewhat embarrassed about not coming up with the idea earlier.

    • dirk says

      People naming themselves by numbers (as consequently done by Zamyatin), yes, indeed should read dystopias, but in these dystopias it is satire, with a deep meaning.

      • b396863 says

        Weird, huh? Am I the Zodiac Killer? A math freak? Or am I making a bold statement? Alternatively, it could be a newly minted account based off a randomly generated email, and I simply didn’t have it in me to pick up a good public display name at 3 o’clock in the morning. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Thanks for the laugh, though.

        • dirk says

          The hero of Zamyatin was D-503, fell in love with I-330, romantic love, in the meantime (after 1000 yrs) overcome and ousted, just like hunger, long live the numbering, btw, every number was allowed to have sex with every other number, though, with a permit from the Bureau of Sexual Acts (after laboratory examination of the hormonal situation). Really fun, that WE from Zamyatin, and by far superior to those other dystopias (highly plagiarising) of Orwell and Huxley, read it!! ( of course, nobody will, that’s how it is in this world).

  26. b396863 says

    I gave WE an honest try. I really did. Couldn’t force myself to get through. From what I can tell from my admittedly limited experience, there was nothing superior about it at all. It seems confusing, poorly structured, and downright weird. And yes, while there are some undeniable superficial similarities between the two, WE has none of that gripping, sophisticated and convincing dark tone of its spiritual successor. It may be the first, but it’s definitely far from being the best. Which is probably the main reason it’s so obscure to begin with. Taken on its merits alone, Nineteen Eighty-Four is simply a superior work of literature in every regard.

    Sorry to contradict you in such a blunt fashion, but I thought I’d give a fair warning to the people who may get the wrong impression about the quality of that book and the amount of “plagiarism” involved. The most popular review of the book on GoodReads calls Orwell a “poser”, a “punk” and a “thief”, and after taking a closer look at the source material, my first reaction was nothing but incredulous laughter.

    P.S. As a side note, the novel really is about a nameless and faceless “Number”—which seems to describe us anonymous online posters rather well. I may stick with my randomly generated name after all.

    • dirk says

      I’m just now on page 64, Dutch translation, b396863, and picked it up just because of the above article, my God, why did I never read it earlier? it’s just great, how will it end with his love for I-330? I,m spell bound. The evaluation as the best of the 3 dystopias is not mine, but of a certain Jurgen Ruhle in Literatur und Revolution. But I finish now, quickly back to We,page 64.

  27. Brett Hilder says

    After reading The Lord Of The Rings for the first time, all other books seemed hollow and colourless. Several months in purgatory followed and then it was the year 1984. I had promised myself that I would wait until 1984 to read the book that made the year famous. The Cold War cast a massive existential shadow over the world but I was still optimistic, young and confused by reality. I was 20 and looking back the contrast between the two books in style and genre must have done eclectic things to my brain and my mind. I’ll have to try and figure out what they were; it might give me a clue to my current state and an understanding of why I have done the things I have. Or it might have done nothing more than give me a heads-up for later life.

    Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote ‘We’ during the first years of European communism and my guess is that some of what he saw went into the book. Watching a docco on the Nazis following one about Stalinist communism demonstrated the common abuses of power used to subjugate the peoples of both nations.

    Orwell wrote his great work with a better understanding of both totalitarian forms of government so I would argue that much of the precision and detail in 1984 was likely drawn from what he knew of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. On top of that he fought against Franco’s nationalists in the Spanish civil war and saw the oppression of the people by the communists as well. He worked at the BBC on propaganda which must also have informed his thinking and writing; there is nothing so compelling as the first-hand experiences of life.

    It is easy, as a writer in the ‘Weekend Australian’ did, to take a single point of view and argue that Orwell’s 1984 was largely drawn from ‘We’ but it looks far less convincing when you consider Orwell’s life and the events that must have shaped his views and ideas. The ‘Australian’/’Weekend Australian’ newspaper is a centre-right publication but still has plenty of left wing writers, particularly in the ‘Review’ lift-out.

    1984 remains the most clear, most incisive and detailed work of fiction I have ever read. It is vivid to the point of pain and reads as utterly authentic in every word and in all its imagery. I believe he wove the reality of communism and Nazism into a brilliant work of fiction better than any other and in so doing left the world with the archetypal warning for all future generations. The skill, the craft and the compelling nature of his writing is flawless. If it was not all of these things, it would not have the brutal relevance it has to this day nor would anyone bother to read it.

    • dirk says

      I wonder whether the 3 dystopias ever have been compared point by point by literature scholars, would be a nice endeavour.
      relevant here is, among others, to realise that Zamyatin’s WE is east, the other western. Where one of his numbers says” I am a genius, so don’t need to obey to the law”, every Russian immediately thinks on Raskolonikov, and understands what he means better than westerners. And so, without a doubt, there are many more small and bigger differences.

      His preoccupation with hunger (think of Ukrain), with the color yellow (=orthodox), his freedom=criminality, his allegation of irony, and so there are many more details, cultural feats, geographical identities.

      Also, the defense of Huxley and Orwell on allegations of journalists that they plagiarised Zamyatin quite a lot, rather weak defense often, I think!

      • Brett Hilder says

        Agreed. I would like to see these 3 dystopias compared by literature scholars too, and your point makes me think I would also like to see this comparison made by scholars of political science.
        Journalists tend to write in order to gain attention and that, in their minds comes from either being sensational or jumping on the latest bandwagon.

        • dirk says

          In the meantime, Brett, found out that the comparison has been made by scholars, interesting conclusion: dystopias written under totalitarian regimes (We and Ayn Rand’s Anthem) utilize positive reinforcement in the end, dystopias from western spheres (Orwell and Huxley) utilize positive punishment for rebellion and anti-totalitarian behaviour. Very interesting study fields indeed! I,m flabbergasted!

          Interesting also as I now think: also other works with a quite negative world view like Kafkas die Verwandlung and the Catcher in the Rye end with a positive outlook , in the tramway, ” their daughter, at the end of the trip, stood up first and stretched her young body”. Nice!

          • dirk says

            correct: -written under- change into -written or conceived under-, Rand wrote her dystopia in US but it was the workout of an early idea during her sovjet time.

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