George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four Redux
By Pedro Blas González
Beginning in the early twentieth century, Bolshevism’s incessant propaganda and disinformation campaigns have made it next to impossible, even for thoughtful persons, to separate appearance from reality and truth from deception. In order for Bolshevism’s ploy that “a lie repeated over and over becomes truth” and Lenin’s “the Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them” to gain traction, Marxist artifice had to be repackaged and sold to Western intellectuals.
How did Bolshevism’s sinister form of deception eventually come to rule postmodern man? There are several reasons. For one, the rate of technological development in the twentieth century enabled Bolshevism to turn time-proven despotism into a state-controlled machinery of censorship and murder. Bolshevism harnessed developing technologies and used these to advance its brave new world of psychological terror and state-driven violence.
Technological development is a natural offspring of man’s sense of awe and wonder, imagination and ingenuity. From the Pre-Socratics to Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have reflected on the question of innovation and what constitutes material progress. The problem is that technological development confronts man with a fundamental paradox: while awe and wonder can result in new technological discoveries, these subsequently often serve to stymie imagination and spiritual development through complacency. The kind of idleness that complacency ushers is labeled a capitalist bourgeois value by Bolshevism.
Human history demonstrates that progress comes in temporal spirals of advancement, setbacks, and retraction, not linear progress. This is why Parmenides refers to truth (alētheia, ἀλήθεια) as revealing/unrevealing. For ancient Greek philosophers, alētheia uncovers the structure of human reality, making it the opposite of illusion. In other words, knowledge does not come from idleness, but from proactive engagement with human reality. This is a difficult task that requires discipline and patience, for truth, Parmenides informs us, does not prostitute itself to the highest bidder. Yet the manipulation of truth is profitable for social-political movements that aim to reduce human reality to appearance. This is a stratagem that eradicates man’s ability to embrace reality as resistance to the will, and the attainment of truth the reward of taking the road less traveled.
Socrates realized that reason presents thinkers with understanding of human reality as revelation. As the end result of reflection, the terms of revelation are not dictated by the thinker. Instead, reason delivers the thinker to understanding, regardless of how unsavory the findings. Dialectical progression—in the form of thesis-antithesis-synthesis—is one of the mechanisms of truth that demand cognitive appropriation of the structure of reality. Plato, along with other ancient Greek philosophers, discovered that essence manifests itself as form. To uncover essence requires cohesion between thought and human reality. This entails that thinkers should respect the essential and objective (formal) architectonic of human reality.
Instead of sincere appropriation of human reality, Marxist dialectics, which is in effect a vile sophistry, violates and deforms reality through manipulating the adherence of reason to reality. The correlation that reason can come to have with reality demonstrates that man’s encounter with moral and spiritual essences creates well-adjusted individuals.
Marxist dialectical materialism ignores man’s metaphysical and existential grasp of qualitative phenomenon. Rather, Marxists sell dialectical materialism as wordy, smart-sounding talk about class warfare as their theoretical vehicle for social-political power. In actuality, dialectical materialism is a modern and postmodern form of sophism that defames and vulgarizes human reality for social-political gain. Marxism’s power over anguished people who cannot accept human reality on its own terms is rooted in Marxism’s declaration of war on reality. Sophism always disguises itself in the appearance of smartness, which in itself is another manner of cultivating appearances.
Bolshevism turned the idea of human progress on its head. Instead of the quest to alleviate the ravages of disease, backbreaking labor, and man’s quest for leisure, through moral/spiritual and cultural enlightenment, Bolshevism’s rancorous use of dialectical calisthenics consumes man’s capacity for contentment by converting the human person into a perverter of human reality for ideological reasons. Marxism paves the road to social-political and economic damnation through the fabrication of the one-party state.
Positivism in the Twentieth Century
The twentieth century proved to be a time in human history when positivism harvested the human psyche to turn it on itself. Positivism, in its many variants, is the hallmark of philosophical materialism, which promotes the objectification of man through the extinction of metaphysical and religious sensibility. Positivism’s anti-metaphysical stance aims to annihilate man’s ability to uncover qualitative essence: the foundation of man’s lived-experience and wellbeing. An anti-metaphysical age is what Auguste Comte, the father of positivism, refers to as the final stage of “the law of three stages.” Comte argues that the final stage of human history is the positive stage.
The detrimental effect that positivism has had on the human person beginning, say, in 1900, is unprecedented. Positivism attempts to forge a world that is ruled by the many offshoots of philosophical materialism: biologism, physicalism, and scientism, to name a few. Whatever form positivism takes, whether in morals, cultural, or social-political, the result is always reductionism. In order to achieve its quest for reductionism of human existence to a base material process, positivism must first impair man’s metaphysical sensibility, including the cultivation of beauty, moral values, and religious beliefs. Indolence and the lure of material comfort, Comte understood, would do the bidding for positivism. Comte was confident that a positive age would eventually annihilate man’s reminiscence of the past, individually and collectively.
Only by erasing man’s sense of self, his sense of history, which is the essence of the human person, can hollow man come to embrace the atomistic demands of a sterile positive age. One way to achieve this unprecedented deleterious milestone in human history is through the coerced forgetfulness that is the badge of collectivism.
George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Bible of Bolshevism for a Postmodern Age
Arguably, no other book has better explained Bolshevism’s newfangled techniques of psychological terror, social-political oppression, and subterfuge than Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Orwell was a keen observer of the human psyche and how it can be easily manipulated for political power by savvy radical opportunists. By the time Nineteen Eighty-Four was published in 1949, Orwell had witnessed at least half a century of Marxist insurrections, social-political machination, and disinformation campaigns that targeted man’s ability to make sense of baleful human reality. Orwell understood the totalitarian impulse—to use Jean-François Revel’s phrase—dating back to Marx and Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Bakunin’s prediction that the goal of communism was to become a one-party totalitarian state over the proletariat, and not of the proletariat. Orwell makes it clear in Nineteen Eighty-Four that the latter is Big Brother’s sole purpose.
Re-reading Nineteen Eighty-Four after many years of having read it, I am more astonished today than ever before of the anthropological sophistication and complexity of this masterful work. I marvel at the idea that several generations ago high school students were assigned the book as required reading and were expected to understand the intricate pathology of totalitarian social-political terror. Lamentably, not only are books like Nineteen Eighty-Four censored today in universities, students lack the historical and social-political astuteness and the historical acumen to comprehend the real-world horror of Bolshevik, and more recently Maoist, totalitarianism.
Besides being beautifully written, Nineteen Eighty-Four takes discerning readers on a claustrophobic tour of the loss of liberty in a sadistic society that is governed by tyrannical psychopaths.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has given the world memorable words and phrases—the overused and little understood Big Brother, along with Newspeak (the opposite of Oldspeak and Oldthink), Crimethink (thoughtcrime), which is related to Thinkpol (Thought Police), and Doublethink.
The purpose of the politically expedient and sinister reworking of everyday language is political control through the destruction of thought. Annihilation of independent thought is the aim of Bolshevism. In Nineteen Eighty-Four people are conditioned through re-education campaigns that create the thoughtless automatons of Big Brother’s well-oiled collectivism. The narrator reminds us, “But the special function of certain Newspeak words, of which Oldthink was one, was not so much to express meanings as to destroy them.”
Restructuring common language to reflect the violence that totalitarianism does to man’s perception of reality, through the austerity and banality of Newspeak, is consistent with Comte’s positive age.
Nineteen Eighty-Four has an Appendix entitled “The Principles of Newspeak.” It is not a common practice for novels to have an appendix. The appendix augments some of the terms that Orwell emphasizes. Including an appendix adds a touch of literary acuteness, yet it is not a gratuitous literary convention. The in-depth, essayistic nature of the appendix suggests that the author had more to say about the collectivist nightmare that is Nineteen Eighty-Four. Orwell did not want to bog down the novel with what may seem to some readers as superfluous explanation.
The appendix explains the three different vocabularies that the residents of the demonic world in Nineteen Eighty-Four must learn to navigate, as a matter of life and death.
The A vocabulary includes words about everyday life, like eating, drinking, and working. The B vocabulary has been constructed for the sole purpose of control through social-political power, which is the heart and soul of Nineteen Eighty Four’s Bolshevism. The B vocabulary necessitates that readers first understand the aims of Big Brother and the masterminds behind the dystopian world that is Nineteen Eighty-Four. Examples of these words include goodthink, a word that means political orthodoxy, and bellyfeel, which denotes blind acceptance of Big Brother’s mandates. Winston is told by his torturers that he is a non-person:
We shall crush you down to the point from which there is no coming back. Things will happen to you from which there is no coming back. Things will happen to you from which you could not recover, if you lived a thousand years. Never again will you be capable of ordinary human feeling. Everything will be dead inside you. Never again will you be capable of love, or friendship, or joy of living, or laughter, or curiosity, or courage, or integrity. You will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.
The C vocabulary is reserved for scientific and technological terms. It is significant that the C vocabulary is stripped of “undesirable meanings.” Presumably, Big Brother views science as an activity performed by automatons, robotic entities that do not feel the need to place science in perspective by subjecting it to moral or metaphysical analysis. The latter results, not in science, but blind and weaponized scientism.
The three vocabularies are structured to fine tune the human psyche to accept state censorship. Another word for this is conditioning through re-education. However, people still need to maneuver through daily life, even in a brutal and draconian totalitarian state. Given this reality, the three vocabularies remind citizens in Nineteen Eighty-Four that, while remaining busy with the aspects of daily life that the three vocabularies mandate, their psyche must not deviate from the restricted confines of government directives. The three vocabularies corral human life into abiding by Big Brother’s severe control, creating the illusion that reality is fully contained within the scope of the three vocabularies.
Mass coercion through the regulation of language, Orwell observes, equates to mind control over self-identity, memories, history, and an individual’s past. This is one of the tenants of psychological terror and oppression. Orwell offers readers poignant examples of social-political oppression and the human psyche.
Despotism’s New Clothes
Bolshevism transformed despotism into a bold, intellectualized form of totalitarianism that man had never witnessed. Bolshevism took advantage of technological advancements in firearms, aviation, and other forms of transportation and coupled this with the explosion of new media in the West that could be used to launch disinformation campaigns. This altered despotism into systematic physical and psychological terror that solidifies its quest for social-political power through intellectual and rationalized deformation of reality.
Dating back to Adam Weishaupt, the Comte de Mirabeau, Marx, and Lenin, revolutionary messianism has packaged the limitless perfection of man as the long-awaited utopia that is just around the corner. But not quite yet.… First comes the eradication of the individual, independent thinkers, and the classical liberal embrace of liberty that stands in the way.
Bolshevism understands that appearance and reality can be made interchangeable and malleable, depending on the purpose of its newfangled despotism’s quest for social-political control: A readily becomes B, and B becomes A on demand. This is dialectical materialism in action.
From Marx’s pact with the devil, that human reality must be made to serve the interest of its deformers, Bolshevism saw untold possibilities for social-political power. Before Bolshevism can be sold as a messianic Shangri-la, human reality must be turned into the enemy of the people. This is one reason why after the rise and execution of Bolshevik despotism, in its many guises dating back to 1900, this form of totalitarianism has become the darling of leftist elitism, of the liberal bourgeoisie, circa 2022.
The Heuristic Lessons of Nineteen Eighty-Four
Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four not only became a reality in the twentieth century, but has become the dominant form of oppression in liberal Western democracies. In our time, self-possessed elitist despots have taken advantage of developments in electronic media to propagate Bolshevism’s quest for social-political power. While despotism is a regrettable aspect of human beings, Bolshevism has become ingrained in the psyche of adherents of the here-and-now through coercion and disinformation campaigns.
Questions abound as to why Western liberal democracies have not only ignored Bolshevism’s crimes against humanity, but have embraced this form of rationalized murder and psychological terror: Thomas Pynchon, in his foreword to Nineteen Eighty-Four, tells us that “Orwell was amused at those of his colleagues on the Left who lived in terror of being termed bourgeois.” One answer to this is that the novel is downplayed by leftist Western intellectuals because it goes against the grain of their proposed sophomoric utopia that trades liberty for alleged security from human reality.
Lamentably, one way to lessen the impact of a work like Nineteen Eighty-Four is to over-intellectualize the novel. The latter technique effectively turns real-world events into the abstract and theoretical fetish of university seminars and conferences.
Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, Warning to the West, and many other works, including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, spell out the horrors of Bolshevism and its threat to liberal democracies. In addition to Solzhenitsyn, Camus’s The Rebel, Milosz’s The Captive Mind, and Jorge Edwards’s Persona Non Grata (1973), winner of the Cervantes Prize, showcase the real-world terror of Bolshevism.
Orwell presented readers with a vivid picture of Bolshevism up to the time of the novel’s publication. He effectively extrapolated Bolshevism’s ability to deform human reality in the miasma of social-political confusion and ignorance that postmodernity ushered.
Nineteen Eighty-Four is as much about Winston Smith’s zest for freedom and Big Brother’s sadistic social-political control as it is about erasing the past, gaslighting personal memories, and the censure of language in order to rule over a sheepish, brutally oppressed populace: “Winston could not even remember at what date the party itself had come into existence. He did not believe he had ever heard the word Ingsoc before 1960, but it was possible that in its Oldspeak form—‘English socialism,’ that is to say—it had been current earlier. Everything melted into mist.”
Pedro Blas González is a professor of philosophy at Barry University.