Category Archives: propaganda

Orwell explains 1984

Read Orwell on Orwell as he clarifies the meaning of ‘1984’.

Following is an excerpt from a letter from George Orwell to Dwight Macdonald, written in December 1946, soon after the publication of Animal Farm in the US. According to the editor of the letters, Peter Davison, who also supplied the footnotes, Macdonald wrote Orwell that

anti-Stalinist intellectuals of his acquaintance claimed that the parable of Animal Farm meant that revolution always ended badly for the underdog, “hence to hell with it and hail the status quo.” He himself read the book as applying solely to Russia and not making any larger statement about the philosophy of revolution. “I’ve been impressed with how many leftists I know make this criticism quite independently of each other—impressed because it didn’t occur to me when reading the book and still doesn’t seem correct to me. Which view would you say comes closer to you own intentions?”

Orwell’s reply will appear in George Orwell: Life in Letters, to be published by Liveright in August.


Re. your query about Animal Farm. Of course I intended it primarily as a satire on the Russian revolution. But I did mean it to have a wider application in so much that I meant that that kind of revolution (violent conspiratorial revolution, led by unconsciously power-hungry people) can only lead to a change of masters. I meant the moral to be that revolutions only effect a radical improvement when the masses are alert and know how to chuck out their leaders as soon as the latter have done their job. The turning-point of the story was supposed to be when the pigs kept the milk and apples for themselves (Kronstadt).1 If the other animals had had the sense to put their foot down then, it would have been all right. If people think I am defending the status quo, that is, I think, because they have grown pessimistic and assume that there is no alternative except dictatorship orlaissez-faire capitalism. In the case of Trotskyists, there is the added complication that they feel responsible for events in the USSR up to about 1926 and have to assume that a sudden degeneration took place about that date. Whereas I think the whole process was foreseeable—and was foreseen by a few people, eg. Bertrand Russell—from the very nature of the Bolshevik party. What I was trying to say was, “You can’t have a revolution unless you make it for yourself; there is no such thing as a benevolent dictat[or]ship.2

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How much can we reasonably expect…

How much can we reasonably expect from citizens who live busy lives, who must depend on distant sources for crucial information about the world where they live, and whose preparation for interpreting information is necessarily limited by time, skill, and training?</

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It Goes Without Saying

I offer two perspectives on great writers. One man thinks that some writers have taken for granted some of their subject and that without knowing it, they have crafted a line of thought that doesn’t literally reflect all that they have in mind. Thus, for example, Josef Pieper writes, “In this seemingly innocent situation, which in its turn is largely taken for granted, there lies the most important and the peculiar difficulty of all textual interpretations: namely, that in a passage to be elucidated certain notions remain unexpressed because they were self-evident to the author, whereas they are in no way self-evident to the man who is interpreting the text.”

The second perspective on great writers is that, far from having gaps in the track, the writer actually has constructed two tracks of thought within his text. Leo Strauss wrote about this in ‘Persecution and the Art of Writing’. In it, he teaches that all the great philosophers since Plato have written a text that the masses will accept in a straightforward manner- the exoteric track- while the greatest of minds will find the intentional glitches within the text. They will search deeper and find what ony the bright ones were supposed to find, namely the esoteric, or hidden, meaning.

Two views. One view describes man as always reaching for intellectual communion, for sharing what one knows as best as he is able, and still finding inherent obstacles. (Pieper’s view can be further read about in ‘The Silence of St. Thomas’.) The other view describes man as intentionally veiling his knowledge, and thus (if knowledge is power) limiting the persons of power to only the select few. This view also suggests a cynical view of truth and of humanity.

Consider this. The truth will set you free. So don’t bear false witness about that truth. Rather, do what you can to elucidate it. Try to say it faithfully as best as you know, even if in your trying, because of an inadequate grasp on the truth or on communication skills, some of what you see goes without saying.

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