Eric Arthur Blair (1903-1950) was an English essayist, journalist, social activist, and novelist. He is better known by his pen name, George Orwell. He is generally considered to be one of the greatest and most influential writers of his generation, and perhaps the whole 20th century. Asides from the quality of his writing (both literary and journalistic), his concern for social injustice, commitment to equality and liberty, opposition to totalitarianism, and his willingness to take unfashionable, contrarian, and controversial stances, contributed to his stature.
Politically, he advocated “democratic socialism” (and he would today be called a libertarian socialist), which he contrasted with the authoritarian communism, especially in its totalitarian guise in the USSR, which was the dominant model of left wing thought at the time. As a socialist who was committed to individual freedom, and who was willing to openly criticise and reject the Soviet model, he contrasted with a large portion of the leftist intelligentsia of the time.
He is best known for his novels 1984 and Animal Farm, both of which explore the dystopian conclusions of totalitarian societies, and the ways that the language of socialism could be used to justify tyrannical and inegalitarian systems. His illustration of totalitarianism was so powerful that the word “Orwellian” is now used to describe such societies and practises. Other significant works include Homage to Catalonia (his firsthand account of the Spanish Civil War, where he fought for the Anarchists) and Down and Out in London and Paris.
1) The fallacy is to believe that under a dictatorial government you can be free inside. Quite a number of people console themselves with this thought, now that totalitarianism in one form or another is visibly on the up-grade in every part of the world. Out in the street the loudspeakers bellow, the flags flutter from the rooftops, the police with their tommy-guns prowl to and fro, the face of the Leader, four feet wide, glares from every hoarding; but up in the attics the secret enemies of the regime can record their thoughts in perfect freedom.
“As I Please,” Tribune (28 April 1944)
2) If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
Original preface to Animal Farm (1945)
3) By “nationalism” I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled “good” or “bad.” But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By “patriotism” I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.
Notes on Nationalism (1945)
4) There is no crime, absolutely none, that cannot be condoned when ‘our’ side commits it.
Notes on Nationalism (1945)
5) A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible. But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened. Then, again, every major change in policy demands a corresponding change of doctrine and a revaluation of prominent historical figures.
The Prevention of Literature (1946)
6) Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.
“The Freedom Defence Committee” in “The Socialist Leader” (18 September 1948)
7) The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.
Letter to Malcolm Muggeridge (4 December 1948)
8) Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.
9) The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.
10) Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.