How ‘1984’ Has Become a How-to Manual

Commentary In “The Principles of Newspeak,” the appendix to “1984,” George Orwell reports that it was expected that Newspeak “would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English, as we should call it) by about the year 2050.” It’s 2021 now.  How are we doing? The purpose of Newspeak, remember, was to alter reality in order to bring it into conformity with a particular political ideology. It also, Orwell explains, made “all other modes of thought impossible.” How did it do this?  Partly by the invention of new words, but “chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.” Consider the word “free.” The word was  still present in the vocabulary of Newspeak, but  only in its privative sense, e.g., “This dog is free from lice” or “This field is free from weeds.” Expunged was “free” or “freedom” in any positive sense. “It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless.” The dissemination of Newspeak was central to the political metabolism of the world Orwell documents because the control of language was such an important tool in the larger project to control history. Central to that project was the insight that he who controls the past controls the future, and what is the past except the construct we impose upon those plastic entities we call facts? When we look around our own culture and contemplate the fate of words like “man” and “woman” to say nothing of words like “liberal,” “fascist,” “justice,” or “democracy,” I suspect that the custodians of Newspeak would nod approvingly at our progress. Congratulations: the year 2050 is less than 30 years away and we’re already more than half way to our goal. It is important to recognize, however, that there are many ways to skin a cat (not that I want to give Anthony “Michael Vick”  Fauci any ideas). The construction of Newspeak is a powerful weapon for the enforcement of political conformity, but obviously it takes time. Orwell limned its essentials back decades ago and we haven’t yet, despite noticeable progress, especially in institutions of higher indoctrination (also called “universities”), achieved its full flowering. We can applaud progress on other fronts. The formulation of  The 1619 Project by The New York Times, for example, through which the history of the United States is reformulated as a racialist passion play, stands out. The whole phenomenon of “Black Lives Matter” worked in perfect synergy with the architects of the 1619 Project. The Times’s initiative brought rewriting of history to the curriculum, while Black Lives Matter staged a nationwide series of workshops to bring the concepts down to earth, so to speak, burning buildings to the ground and toppling statues of dead white guys who, if not actually racist, might have been and so deserved to be shoved into the oubliette of progress. The United States really is making progress on all these fronts, as the widespread dissemination of the teachings of “critical race theory” in schools as well as the corporate world and through government shows. Still, the Chinese, here as in so many walks of modern life, are the real pioneers. We’re bumbling along with intermittent censorship by Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Google, but the Chinese instituted a full-fledged “social credit system” that explicitly reduces political and social rights to the status of state-controlled privileges that are extended or withheld by an enfranchised elite. No halfway measures there. Like the Earl of Stafford, the motto of the Chinese is “Thorough.” Want to ride a bus, board an airplane, hold a job, use the internet, open a bank account?  Then you had better wise up and get with the program.  Jen Psaki could learn a thing or two from the Chinese. Even as I write, the Chinese are working to bring the past into conformity with the future, which they are busy preparing for themselves and the rest of the world. “Top Chinese Communist Party officials,” we read,  “are set to consider a key resolution that would leave President Xi Jinping’s mark on the party’s 100 years of history.” Xi’s “resolution on history” will be the third such in the hundred-year history of Communist China, after similar directives issued by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. Put in abstract terms, the purpose of the resolution is to formulate “an official historical narrative and set out a direction for future policy.” In practical terms, its purpose is to consolidate power and eliminate rival narratives, as well as rival personages. The new resolution will establish “Xi’s core position and authority,” placing him alongside Mao as a charismatic revolutionary leader. What about the scores of millions murdered by Mao? Silly question. That is not part of the narrative

How ‘1984’ Has Become a How-to Manual

Commentary

In “The Principles of Newspeak,” the appendix to “1984,” George Orwell reports that it was expected that Newspeak “would have finally superseded Oldspeak (or Standard English, as we should call it) by about the year 2050.”

It’s 2021 now.  How are we doing?

The purpose of Newspeak, remember, was to alter reality in order to bring it into conformity with a particular political ideology.

It also, Orwell explains, made “all other modes of thought impossible.”

How did it do this?  Partly by the invention of new words, but “chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.”

Consider the word “free.”

The word was  still present in the vocabulary of Newspeak, but  only in its privative sense, e.g., “This dog is free from lice” or “This field is free from weeds.”

Expunged was “free” or “freedom” in any positive sense. “It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless.”

The dissemination of Newspeak was central to the political metabolism of the world Orwell documents because the control of language was such an important tool in the larger project to control history.

Central to that project was the insight that he who controls the past controls the future, and what is the past except the construct we impose upon those plastic entities we call facts?

When we look around our own culture and contemplate the fate of words like “man” and “woman” to say nothing of words like “liberal,” “fascist,” “justice,” or “democracy,” I suspect that the custodians of Newspeak would nod approvingly at our progress.

Congratulations: the year 2050 is less than 30 years away and we’re already more than half way to our goal.

It is important to recognize, however, that there are many ways to skin a cat (not that I want to give Anthony “Michael Vick”  Fauci any ideas).

The construction of Newspeak is a powerful weapon for the enforcement of political conformity, but obviously it takes time.

Orwell limned its essentials back decades ago and we haven’t yet, despite noticeable progress, especially in institutions of higher indoctrination (also called “universities”), achieved its full flowering.

We can applaud progress on other fronts. The formulation of  The 1619 Project by The New York Times, for example, through which the history of the United States is reformulated as a racialist passion play, stands out.

The whole phenomenon of “Black Lives Matter” worked in perfect synergy with the architects of the 1619 Project.

The Times’s initiative brought rewriting of history to the curriculum, while Black Lives Matter staged a nationwide series of workshops to bring the concepts down to earth, so to speak, burning buildings to the ground and toppling statues of dead white guys who, if not actually racist, might have been and so deserved to be shoved into the oubliette of progress.

The United States really is making progress on all these fronts, as the widespread dissemination of the teachings of “critical race theory” in schools as well as the corporate world and through government shows.

Still, the Chinese, here as in so many walks of modern life, are the real pioneers.

We’re bumbling along with intermittent censorship by Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Google, but the Chinese instituted a full-fledged “social credit system” that explicitly reduces political and social rights to the status of state-controlled privileges that are extended or withheld by an enfranchised elite.

No halfway measures there. Like the Earl of Stafford, the motto of the Chinese is “Thorough.”

Want to ride a bus, board an airplane, hold a job, use the internet, open a bank account?  Then you had better wise up and get with the program.  Jen Psaki could learn a thing or two from the Chinese.

Even as I write, the Chinese are working to bring the past into conformity with the future, which they are busy preparing for themselves and the rest of the world.

“Top Chinese Communist Party officials,” we read,  “are set to consider a key resolution that would leave President Xi Jinping’s mark on the party’s 100 years of history.”

Xi’s “resolution on history” will be the third such in the hundred-year history of Communist China, after similar directives issued by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Put in abstract terms, the purpose of the resolution is to formulate “an official historical narrative and set out a direction for future policy.”

In practical terms, its purpose is to consolidate power and eliminate rival narratives, as well as rival personages.

The new resolution will establish “Xi’s core position and authority,” placing him alongside Mao as a charismatic revolutionary leader.

What about the scores of millions murdered by Mao?

Silly question. That is not part of the narrative. Therefore it doesn’t exist.

The news reports outlining this new “resolution on history” note that “past resolutions on history have not only reshaped power structures within China, but have had extensive effects on the world beyond as well.”

It is too early, perhaps, to say what the effect of Xi’s new initiative will be.

But it seems clear that, whether or not he has read Orwell, Xi is an able student of the teaching Orwell described.

The irony, of course, is that Orwell regarded “1984” as a warning.  Xi, like our own masters, seem to regard it as a how-to manual.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were deeply impressed by another acolyte at the renegade Church of Orwell, the “community organizer” Saul Alinsky.

In his book “Rules for Radicals,” Alinsky notes that “He who controls the language controls the masses.”

Orwell couldn’t have put it any more clearly.

It’s a thought that has the Xi Jinping mark of approval. What more can you ask for?

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Roger Kimball

Follow

Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “Who Rules? Sovereignty, Nationalism, and the Fate of Freedom in the 21st Century.”