An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Philosophy: I wax philosophical, and many times violently politico-philosophical. If you can stand the heat, here’s the kitchen: enjoy your stay . . .

Tafel :: philosophy :: political

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Meaning of 1984

Mood: Discovering

George Orwell’s 1984 has never struck me as a positive book at all. Not to say that I don’t like it — on the contrary, it’s one of my favorite politico-philosophical works — but I never quite understood what it advocated: I only saw that it deprecated collectivism and exposed the roots of collectivistic philosophies. Now I see it: the point of 1984 is that a productive and free society cannot help but be luxurious and self-governing.

. . . an all-round increase in wealth threatened the destruction — indeed, in some sense was the destruction — of a hierarchical society. In a world ini which everyone worked short hours, had enough to eat, lived in a house with a bathroom and a refrigerator, and possessed a motorcar or even an airplane, the most obvious and perhaps the most important form of inequality would already have disappeared. If it once became general, wealth would confer no distinction. It was possible, no doubt, to imagine a society in which wealth, in the sense of personal possessions and luxuries, should be evenly distributed, while power remained in the hands of a small privileged caste. But in practice such a society could not long remain stable. For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves: and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.

— George Orwell, 1984, chapter IX

You see, it’s not collectivism which is going to eliminate Marx’s class warfare. In the end, collectivism of some sort (“Oligarchial Collectivism” was the name Orwell gave to Ingsoc, the collectivist society forming the basis of 1984.) is necessary to preserve that class warfare for the benefit of the ruling class.

While the Capitalist (“Das Kapital” of Marx fame) is usually set up by proponents of collectivism as the guilty ruling class (usually attempting to oppress the working class by some nefarious means, such as employing them), it is shortly discovered in any country which plunges too deeply into these waters that the instigators of the change are the very ones who set themselves up to benefit as the new ruling class.