George Orwell died in 1950 at the age of
Few people seem to know that during 1946 and 1947 Orwell systematically
contemplated the future of the atomic age. This was before writing
"Nineteen Eighty-Four," his work of fantasy fiction. Like
a researcher at
Rand or the British Secret Service, he drew up three alternate scenarios
about the future of the world.
Scenario one may be called "preemptive
strike." Orwell called it "preventive war." This
scenario was based upon the fact that in 1945 the Americans had
the atomic bomb and the Russians did not. Moreover, he believed
the Russians probably would not be nuclear armed for five years
- or at the other limits ten. Therefore, the Americans might "fly"
through the so-called "window of vulnerability. This was a
possibility, but Orwell concluded it would solve nothing. It might
eliminate Russia as a threat, but it would lead to new empires,
fresh rivalries, new wars, and more atomic bombs. Besides a preemptive
attack would not be easily committed by any country that retains
any trace of democracy." Orwell concluded that this scenario
would be "the least likely outcome" of the three he contemplated.
Scenario two is more familiar. It envisioned
atomic war returning the planet to the Stone Age. Those who perceive
Orwell lacking in humor should stop for a moment to hear the name
he gave the scenario: Whiz! Go the rockets, wallop! Go the bombs."
What the scenario foresaw was that the United States, the Soviet
Union, and several other countries would all acquire atomic bombs
inevitably leading to global atomic war in which the major industrial
centers would be pulverized - probably beyond repair.
Even if any one state or group of states
emerged the victor, it would probably be unable to rebuild the machine
civilization anew. The remaining world population would be a few
hundred million human beings
living away from population center. They would be subsistence farmers,
and they and the world would be devoid of culture. For friends of
technology it paints a grim scenario. But Orwell saw this too as
a less-likely scenario than the third, which was so clearly described
in his book, "Nineteen Eighty-Four."
Orwell's Real Fear
In order to understand scenario three, we
must consider Orwell's attitude towards intellectuals. He did not
like them. Although he graduated from Eton, a prestigious preparatory
school in England, he did not go on to college. Instead, he was
posted to the British Imperial Police in Burma. Upon his return
to Britain he avoided urban intellectuals. Even when reporting the
conditions of the unemployed in the industrial north of England,
Orwell could not resist taking a jab at the intellectuals, mostly
on the left. In his report, "The Road to Wigand Pier, such
gems of Orwellian disdain for the left practically elbow each other
in the text.
One of Orwell's choice intellectualisms goes like this: "that
dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded
fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking to the smell of progress.
He had especial disdain for those he called "tract writers"
and "fuzzy-haired intellectuals in pullover sweaters."
It was particularly communist fellow travelers, the effect, and
generally ineffectual socialists, the believers and disbelievers
in Marx who received his ridicule. His criticism of the left culminated
in his fairy tale, "Animal Farm," about the Russian revolution.
"Nineteen Eighty-Four" is simply
a fantasy in which the intellectuals turn totalitarian and take
over the world. By 1984 the heirs of the '30s fuzzy-haired intellectuals,
the type who were earnestly "seeking love" and "Searching
for truth" would take over. They were the ones who affected
the poverty of peasants, wor sandals,
and proclaimed that when they came to power there would be "peace
and plenty" for all. Orwell
noticed that during the war in the early '40s a change came over
the intellectuals with whom he worked.
He saw the intellectuals in the British
ministries acquiring totalitarian tendencies.
They wrote bloody good propaganda. They advised Whitehall. Prime
Ministers read their memos. They had indeed come a long way - from
water-in-your-beer Bohemian cafes to Number 10 Downing Street. After
World War II with their rucksacks safely sowed in the cloakrooms
of government ministries, they joined the government. Government
careers beckoned, and room was made for them to share, as Richard
Rees put it, in "the enormous power of the technological bureaucracy."
Scenario three envisioned the descendants
of the '30s liberalscontrolling power via the expedient of "continuous
war." After World War II ended, Orwell said "the fear
inspired by the atomic bomb and other weapons
yet to come (is) so great that everyone refrains from using them."
This would necessitate a tacit agreement by the two or three great
super states never to use the atomic bomb against each other and
to divide the world into separate "zones of influence."
With this external threat to stability removed,
in every state a world view would arise. Also, the kind of beliefs
that concentrate administrative power into fewer and fewer hands
would be nurtured. Then, under the pretense of a Cold War threat
from its enemies, the leadership of each state would sever its ties
with the outside world and set up a political atmosphere that would
eliminate any possibility of internal
1984's Satiric Target
Undoubtedly, "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
is a satire of totalitarian intellectuals - not the socialist and
the communists he had "burned" in earlier books nor the
right wing intellectual he had "buried" in Burma. It was
directed toward the intelligent men he had worked with during World
War II, the men who were capable of dreaming up a Thought Police,
Doublethink, Newspeak, mutable history. It was the new breed of
tough intellectuals descended from the meek intellectuals of the
'30s who Orwell lambasted in "Nineteen Eighty-Four."
"How do I know that "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is spoof
on the heirs of the '30s liberals , the Fabian Socialists in Britain?
By the evidence that Orwell was 'greening' the
Anglo establishment. In "Nineteen Eighty-Four," the establishment
calls the state Oceania, a utopian name. They seek a tribal family
identity and find it under Big Brother's aegis. But it is the names
of the ministries that are a dead giveaway to what Orwell meant:
the Ministry of Peace...it wages war; the Ministry of Plenty...it
breeds scarcities; the Ministry of
Truth...it tells lies; and the Ministry of Love...it dispenses hate.
Is not this what the '30s liberals promised when they came to power:
a government of Love and Truth and Peace and Plenty?
So now we know what Orwell meant in "Nineteen Eighty-Four."
The breakdown of Western democracies
He foresaw the breakdown of Western democracies
inside of 40 years. The danger would lie in liberal and socialist
governments, and they necessity to prepare for total war with the
Soviet Union. As a result of the war there would be a world of hard
problems to be faced by the super states. It would be in their best
interest to trumpet the dangers of the "enemies'" new
weapons, and how rival states armed with them were the chief threat
to world peace.
But behind this unifying tension adept minds were
at work formulating a new society. These leaders represented a tougher
kind of intelligence than was customarily found among postwar leaders
of the western democracies. Given 20 years to centralize power,
a lingering Cold War, and the failure of nerve, these new leaders
drawn from the ranks of the heirs of the '30s liberals, would build
a unified world that was socially, politically and economically
More than 23 million copies of Orwell's fantasy
have been sold in England and America. A large number of readers
regard the novel as a warning against communism or a fascist takeover
of government. Yet this is not what Orwell meant.
"Nineteen Eighty-Four" is a premeditated,
rational warning against the seeds of totalitarian thought that
Orwell believed could be widespread in the English-speaking world
in the '80s. Orwell's plan was to write his anticipations in the
form of a naturalistic novel, rather than to submit a list of predictions
to a book of collected readings or to a national newspaper. Nonetheless,
if we judged by the success of the predictions, it is quite an accurate
warning and forecast of totalitarian tendencies
in open societies such as ours.
The burden of proof has now shifted to those ho
deny Orwell. The economy, the failures of the technological bureaucracy,
increasing Global inequity , Global food and water shortages, increasing
competition amongst Nations for scarce Resources ,the increasing
power of transnational companies , the cultivation of consumerism,
The power of the military industrial complex and the p pharmaceutical
industry , peak oil - all suggest that Orwell is entitled to his
crackly last laugh.
Do I believe that "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
has come to America? I will give a safe, diplomatic answer, one
I read in a recent "People's Almanac." Two authors asked
rhetorically in an essay how close was "Nineteen Eighty-Four."
Their answer: "Orwell's '1984' is just around the corner -
in more ways than one." Looking ahead to what lies in store
for us all, I see no reason to disagree.
I would like to thank the distinguished Fabian
Socialist Bernard Crick who touched on the true origins of "1984"
in George Orwell: A Life and who provided me many insights. His
book also stimulated me to write a manuscript on how "1984"
may also be a blistering satire on Fabian Socialism. We can say
that it is the Fabian socialists under Bernard Crick were the subjects
of satire in many ways in "1984."