A new look at the Orwellian classic piques our interest.
Jonathan Kay revisists George Orwell’s 1984 on its 70th Anniversary and argues that Orwell’s look at the human attraction to totalitarian thinking is still essential reading.
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.