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(14,147 posts)
1. "It is impossible to found a civilization on fear and hatred and cruelty. It would never endure."
Mon Oct 28, 2013, 04:39 PM
Oct 2013

That is, at one point, Winston's reply to O'Brien, and is probably what Orwell believed.

In June, John Crowley gave a talk at MoMA on The Future as Parable. From about 8 minutes in up to about 20 minutes in he talked about Orwell's 1984.

A short excerpt from what he said:


Here is another. In 1946, as he was conceiving 1984, George Orwell reviewed the writings of an American political philosopher and futurologist named James Burnham, whose work had made a deep impression on him. Burnham began his political life a Trotskyite and went on to become an editor of the National Review. In 1940, he published The Managerial Revolution, which foresaw the coming of a new order in human political and economic organization. Capitalism would soon disappear, but socialism wouldn’t replace it. Instead, Burnham said, a managerial class of bureaucrats and technocrats and administrators was evolving that would replace both the old-fashioned business owner/entrepreneur and electoral politics. Private property would disappear but wouldn’t be replaced by common ownership; the managers would make all decisions, distribute all wealth, retain all power. The rest of humanity would subsist as dependents, happily enough, controlled by propaganda. Meanwhile the clusters of small states, democratic or tyrannical or whatever, would vanish, to be replaced by a few huge combines — America, Europe plus western Asia, the Pacific East, the Soviet sphere. These would be continuously at war, though never able to dominate all the others. A kind of stasis would probably eventuate and last from then on, or at least for a very long time.

In Burnham’s vision, as Orwell describes it, the only engine of history is the struggle for power: “All historical changes finally boil down to the replacement of one ruling class by another.” Talk about utopia or “the classless society” is bullshit (“humbug,” Orwell calls it). “It is clear that Burnham is fascinated by the spectacle of power,” says Orwell. “There is a note of unmistakable relish over the cruelty and wickedness of the processes that are being discussed.”


The question Burnham ought to ask but never does, Orwell says, is why this lust for power became the ruling human passion just at the time when the rule of the many by the few, which might once have been necessary to survival and the expansion of human culture, has become unnecessary. Orwell predicts, astutely, that “the Russian régime will either democratise itself, or it will perish. The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”

If that’s his reasoned opinion about Burnham’s dream, then why did he write a book warning of its possibility? In 1984, dystopianism has arisen whole — “expanded” and “crystallising” — and conquered the world in just the forty years since the end of the Nazi empire, and apparently it seems set to last, a boot stamping on a human face, forever. But it won’t and can’t. The only possibility was that Orwell was building a Burnham world precisely in order to contradict him by going further than even Burnham could. 1984 is not a warning, much less a prediction, but a parable. It doesn’t mean what it seems at first to mean, just as the parables of Jesus don’t mean what they seem at first to mean.


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