Given the current political scene, George Orwell’s work has re-emerged into prominence. His novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, was originally published in 1949, when the world faced the rising threat of Soviet totalitarianism. Today, almost seventy years later, the perceived threat is closer to home, and Orwell’s novel has skyrocketed onto Amazon’s bestseller list.
In a 1974 interview for the New York Review of Books, the prescient Hannah Arendt said that totalitarianism begins first in contempt for what you have. The second step is the notion that “Things must change—no matter how, Anything is better than what we have.” Enter Trump.
One of the themes of Nineteen Eighty-Four is the connection between political purpose and the abuse of language. The government of Oceania wields language like a weapon to control the thought of the populace. It trumpets slogans like “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” Our government does not purvey falsehoods; it conveys “alternative facts”…no, wait, does that mean Falsehood is Truth?
Winston, the protagonist of Nineteen Eighty-Four, works for the Ministry of Truth, where he rewrites old newspaper articles to obliterate any facts inconvenient to the current geopolitical scene. Hmm. Sounds like fake news, no? According to Orwell’s narrator, “The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.” Now just how large was that inaugural crowd?
In his essay “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell contends that political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful . . . and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” He elaborates:
“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. . . . Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers [or maybe maintaining the integrity of our borders?].”
He continues: “In our age . . . politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.”
The similarities between Orwell’s 1984 dystopia and Trump’s 2017 America chill the soul. It’s logical, then, that people feel compelled to revisit Orwell for an understanding of what’s happening to our beloved country.