The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Orwell, Obama, and Totalitarianism

Reading
many of George Orwell’s essays leaves one with the impression that he was an
integrated man, that is, his mind was steadfastly anchored to reason and
reality. It wasn’t. His prescient essays on totalitarianism may lead one to believe
that he was 100% rational and had no chinks in his intellectual armor. He
wasn’t, and the chinks are evident.
The
most visible chink in Orwell’s intellectual armor was his steadfast belief in
the beneficent advantages of socialism, while at the same time he detested
communism. Communism, he wrote, is but totalitarianism by another name. Totalitarianism,
or Communism, embraces the totality of an individual’s existence, from what he
pays for necessities to his social relationships to what goes on in his mind. Orwell
observed this totality in Stalin’s Russia, also in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and,
to a lesser extent, in Mussolini’s Fascist Italy.  
Stalin
and Hitler were the inevitable heirs to every wistful vision from time
immemorial that men could be organized into benign collectives, communes, or
“cooperatives” to corral and control the selfish nature of men to
live their own lives for their own reasons. We could begin with the ethics of
St. Augustine or Marcus Aurelius, but would need to go back to Plato. Among the
minor contributors to the ideal of a collectivist paradise were Auguste Comte
and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.
Along came Karl Marx who distilled all those wishes into a system which reduced
individuals into mere insensate atoms of an impersonal evolution towards perfect,
stateless, selfless socialism. Or,
stateless communism.
Orwell
never grasped that his ideal, “stateless socialism,” is a
contradiction in terms. Socialism cannot be imposed on men except by force. And
whether the force compels men to accept socialized medicine, or the
redistribution of their private wealth to alleviate state-caused poverty, or
mandated florescent light bulbs, or any other altruistic scheme that shackles
men together and compels them to become dependent on fiat law and legislated
extortion, it must be employed by the agency of a state. A “mixed
economy” of economic and even social controls, must, if not opposed and
corrected, lead to total regulation
and control.
The
ideal of a “classless society” might have been reached by undisturbed
tribes in the most inaccessible reaches of the Amazon jungle, but even they
have their pecking orders. In any industrialized or semi-industrialized
society, under socialism, classes emerge defined by how much loot one gang can
accumulate, extort, or seize from another. Ayn Rand dramatized the progress
from “socialism” to totalitarianism in We the Living and Atlas
Shrugged
.
What
Orwell failed to observe and conclude is that socialism must lead by degrees and stealthy, almost unnoticeable increments
to totalitarianism. That totalitarianism could be of the Nazi (National
Socialist) or Soviet brand. Socialism introduces the dry rot of expanding
controls into an individual’s life. Sooner or later the house will collapse on
the individual’s head, and when he emerges ragged and bruised from the rubble
of his rights and liberties, he will find himself in the stark landscape of
totalitarianism. Socialism is tyranny without the iconic “leader” or
figurehead.
Orwell
caricatured Stalin’s Communism in his fabulist novel, Animal Farm (1945). As an online student study
guide
describes the novel and its author’s position:
Though people on the right tended to conflate
socialism and communism, they are in fact completely different things—one
Orwell supported, and the other he abhorred. In fact, as anyone who’s read Animal Farm
should understand, Orwell saw Soviet-style communism as a profound betrayal of
true socialist values.
I
have read Animal Farm, am not of the
“right,” and don’t conflate the two systems. Both Orwell and the
study guide are wrong. Socialism and communism are not two “completely
different things”; they are the same thing, differing only in the scale of
control over an individual. One is partial, one is total. Under socialism, the
government takes a large percentage of your income and wealth and you are free
to work harder and create more wealth to be extorted from you. Under communism,
the government pays you a paltry allowance, you have no wealth, and you work
harder where and when the government says.
Stalin
did not “betray” socialism or its “true” values. He carried
its principles to their logical end. Had it not been Stalin, it would have been
someone else.  
However,
Orwell’s insights into the ends and means of totalitarianism are nearly
nonpareil. Alone, and far better than Aldus Huxley and other Western writers
who penned dystopian novels (excepting a very few), Orwell established the
terms by which anyone for decades has discussed totalitarianism, and especially
the suppression of freedom of speech. By anyone, I include anyone on the Left and the Right who advocates wholesale or
just a “little bit” of socialism, and also anyone who doesn’t quite fit
into that artificial and deceptive political calibration. He established the
terms of the issue, and also its lexicon.
What
I will focus on here is Orwell’s essay, “The Prevention of
Literature,”* in which he telegraphs the theme and content of his
dystopian novel, Nineteen
Eighty-Four
, published in London by Secker & Warburg in June 1949. He
wrote the essay for an anti-communist publication, Polemic, in January 1946. He
finished the novel in December 1948. It was his last literary effort. He died
of tuberculosis in January 1950.
Orwell’s
statements about totalitarianism can be taken out of his context because they
are true statements, not contingent on his prejudices against Stalinism, Nazism,
and capitalism.
Here
is one instance:
The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states
is not, as is sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient of the same nature as
military deception. It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that
would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces had
ceased to be necessary…. (p. 258)
Yes,
mendacity is integral to totalitarianism. We have had a sample of it in Barack
Obama’s two administrations. From TARP to Obamacare to Benghazi and now an
off-and-on-and-off Syrian intervention, all the country has been fed is a
continuing stream of lies, fabrications, and falsehoods. Obama gave away his
hand early on when he boasted that his term in office would be the “most
transparent” in our history.
On
that faux transparency, even liberal journalists are beginning to remove the rose-dyed
gauze from their eyes. In March, The Washington
Post
reminded Obama:
The day after his inauguration, President Obama
promised a new era of “openness in government.” “We will work together to
ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public
participation, and collaboration,” he wrote in one
of his first memos
to federal agencies. “Openness will strengthen our
democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”
But the reality has not matched the President’s
rhetoric.
Reality
has never matched Obama’s rhetoric.
Obama’s reality has the ethereal substance of the words that scroll up on his
Teleprompters. No, we don’t yet have concentration camps, but we do have the
makings of a secret police, and have had them for a while. It has only just
been revealed that the NSA can know virtually all we do and say and refer the
information to the appropriate authorities if there are grounds to suspect a
threat to national security. Such as my writing these words.
Orwell:
A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its
ruling class, 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….(p.
259)
This
is true. In Soviet Russia, that was the case with Lenin, Stalin and their
successors. They were a theocracy whose wisdom and authority were not to be
questioned. For example, Leon Trotsky, once hailed as a hero of the Soviet
Union, was later declared a pariah because he, too, charged Stalin with
“betraying” true socialist values. He was exiled, and later murdered
in Mexico on Stalin’s orders. 
However,
Barack Obama has never portrayed himself as “infallible.” He is too
much the community organizing pragmatist. His hubris is of a lower order. If
one thing fails to advance his socialist agenda, then he will try another and
count on the news media to help Americans forget the first attempt ever
happened. He has never admitted error. He is literally shameless. His
hand-picked press agents inside and outside the White House go into action when
he is obliged to back-pedal on issues or fabricate a false aura of success or
triumph.
Orwell:
The friends of totalitarianism in this country [in
Britain, in addition to America] usually tend to argue that since absolute
truth is not attainable, the big lie is no worse than a little lie. It is
pointed out that all historical records are biased and inaccurate, or, on the
other hand, that modern physics has proved that what seems to us the real world
is an illusion, so that to believe in the evidence of one’s senses is simply
vulgar philistinism….(p. 259)
Or,
as outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
put it when pressed for a truth: What difference does it make, the size or
enormity of a lie or the bungled rush to dismiss and disguise the truth?
Immanuel Kant, who devoted countless brain-cracking paragraphs to proving that
absolute truth is unattainable, is an enabler of totalitarianism and its habit
of remaking reality to suit the inconvenience or embarrassment of the moment.
Lenin, Stalin, Mao, the Perons, for example, were his un-entertaining apprentice
masters of illusion. Add Obama and every single one of his political appointees
from Day One of his tenure to the present. They are all cut from the cloth of
totalitarianism. Every day one can hear their canine whines of discomfort.
Orwell:
 A totalitarian
society which succeeded in perpetuating itself would probably set up a
schizophrenic system of thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in
everyday life and in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the
politician, the historian, and the sociologist. (p. 259)
And
the modern journalist. If “common sense” – or the honest
acknowledgement of the evidence of one’s senses, and the willingness to say
that a rock is a rock and that a man is a crook or a power-luster who is doing
one harm – were as ubiquitous as Orwell and other writers assumed, Barack Obama
would never have been reelected after his first term. The schizophrenia we are
faced with today sits undisturbed in the minds of those who voted and
campaigned for him again after the scurrilous
opaqueness and venal character of his first term were open to scrutiny by all.
Obama’s
schizophrenia, however, is not a disability which otherwise would disqualify
him from any political office. It is an asset in a political culture which
regularly dismisses or derogates “common sense” and rewards him with
plaudits and encouragement. “Common sense,” to Obama and his
choirboys inside and outside of the White House, is merely a symptom of vulgar
philistinism, and can be brushed off as class or even racial prejudice.
Orwell:
Totalitarianism…does not so much promise an age of
faith as an age of schizophrenia. A society becomes totalitarian when its
structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has
lost its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud. (p. 263)
Obama
and his administration have clung to power by force and fraud. Obama’s tenure in office is flagrantly and transparently
artificial, and its character is permitting the country to creep even closer to
totalitarianism. But, we mustn’t blame him for everything. The groundwork was
laid for him by consecutive presidencies and Congresses going back to the
late19th century. He is not squandering an inheritance, but leveraging it in
conformance to an agenda to “remake” the country once and for all
into a minimum security prison whose inmates are hired out to labor in government-approved
and subsidized enterprises. That would make his agenda fascist in means and ends.
Or
just as totalitarian as communism.
Orwell:
Political writing in our time consists almost entirely
of prefabricated phrases bolted together like the pieces of a child’s Meccano
set. It is the unavoidable result of self-censorship. To write in plain,
vigorous language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly one
cannot be politically orthodox. (pp. 262-263)
I
think that quotation, penned by Orwell long before the term “political
correctness
” – the  euphemism
for liberal, collectivist political orthodoxy, which gained currency in American
political writing much to the discomfort of the politically orthodox – succinctly
describes the obsequious and fawning nature of modern journalism when the
subject is Obama, the welfare state, immigration, Islam, and national security.
The term originated, appropriately enough, in debates between socialists and
hardline communists and found its way into late 20th century comic
books, punditry, and political discussions.  
Finally,
here is a potpourri of Orwell’s thoughts on the importance of defending freedom
of thought and expression:
Some…of the English scientists who speak so
enthusiastically of the opportunities enjoyed by scientists in Russia are
capable of understanding this [how some Soviet writers surrender their freedom
of expression for lump cash bribes]. But their reflection appears to be:
“Writers are persecuted in Russia. So what? I am not a writer.” They do
not see that any attack on
intellectual liberty, and on the concept of objective truth, threatens in the
long run every department of thought….(p. 268)
So long as physical reality cannot be altogether ignored,
so long as two and two have to make four when you are, for example, drawing the
blueprint of an aeroplane, the scientist has his function, and can even be
allowed a measure of liberty. His awakening will come later, when the totalitarian
state is firmly established….(p. 269)
…[I]t is his job to develop some kind of solidarity
with his literary colleagues and not regard it as a matter of indifference when
writers are silenced or driven to suicide, and newspapers systematically
falsified….(p. 269)
At present we know only that the imagination, like
certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity. Any writer or journalist who
denies that fact – and nearly all the current praise of the Soviet Union contains
or implies such a denial – is, in effect, demanding his own destruction. (p.
269)
And
what we are witnessing today – and have been witnessing for the better part of
half a century – is the Blob-like
progress of statism and totalitarianism in America, aided and abetted by a
succession of presidents, Congresses, journalists, and a goodly portion of the American
electorate. Totalitarians are not noted for their gratitude. Modern
journalists, and many writers in other realms of “imagination” who
approve of that direction, are also inviting their own inevitable destruction.
And
Steve McQueen isn’t here anymore to help them think of a way out.
*George
Orwell, “The Prevention of Literature,” in All Art is Propaganda: Critical Essays, Compiled by George Packer.  New York: Mariner-Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(2008), pp. 253-269.

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1 Comment

  1. Edward Cline

    I might have added another observation that Orwell did not make: Socialist states do no "wither away," as Marx predicted. They become entrenched and stick around for a long, long time.

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