Sunday, October 31, 2010

Orwell’s Opposition to Totalitarianism

Early Thinking about Totalitarianism
Orwell's extensive reading and experience had prepared him, for the rise of totalitarianism in the world and the uses that the dictators would make of their power. The Italian example had been there under Mussolini since 1919. In the 1930's, however, the Soviet Union and Germans began to develop in dangerous ways which reminded Orwell of the hierarchical absolutism of the Roman Catholic Church.
He noted particularly their pyramidal structure and the emergence of a new ruling caste to direct it. Such political systems, he thought, might become permanent and universal. He believed that the attempt to establish the dictatorship of the proletariat would end in a rule by a select class of people, enforcing their will through terrorism. The Russian Communists had thus, in Orwell's view, developed into a permanent ruling caste or oligarchy. A caste-system joined to a collectivist economy was what he also saw taking shape in Germany. Thus he found that the two regimes (Communism, in Soviet Russia, and Nazism in Germany), having started from opposite ends, had rapidly evolved towards the same system—a form of oligarchical collectivism. The phrase "oligarchical collectivism" was first used by Orwell for these two totalitarian States in 1940. Thus eight years before the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell had summarized the structure of the totalitarian State as if later appeared in his novel. It is noteworthy that the book written by Goldstein in this novel is called "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism". Several causes sharpened Orwell conception of what the totalitarian State might be like. The worst possibility he imagined was that the great powers would arm themselves with atomic weapons which they would be afraid of using. In an article which he wrote in 1947 he thus summed up the power-structure that was to appear in 1984: "It would mean the division of the world among two or three vast super-States, unable to conquer one another and unable to be overthrown by any internal rebellion. In all probability their structure would be hierarchic with a semi-divine caste at the top and outright slavery at the bottom." Such a slave State, Orwell had written, had every chance of becoming permanent. As early as 1939 Orwell had felt that men's minds might be so manipulated as to guarantee their total submission for all time. He had then written: "The terrifying thing about modern dictatorships is that they are something entirely unprecedented. Their end cannot be foreseen. In the past every tyranny was sooner or later overthrown, or at least resisted because of human nature which as a matter of course desired liberty. But we cannot be at all certain that human nature is constant. It may be possible to produce a breed of men who do not wish for liberty."
Comparison with the Roman Catholic Church
It would not be wrong to say that Orwell had the Roman Catholic Church firmly in his mind when he depicted the totalitarian State in Nineteen Eighty-Four. The Roman Catholic Church can claim something like permanence because it is an institution which is centuries old. Orwell had a dislike for the Roman Catholic Church because of its despotic character. The influence of the Roman Catholic Church, he believed, had always been against freedom of thought and speech, against human equality and against any form of society wanting to promote earthly happiness. It is for this reason that we find a great resemblance between the Catholic Church and Orwell's picture of the totalitarian State in Animal Farm as well as in Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Points of Close Resemblance
The Roman Catholic Church is organized in the shape of a pyramid. At the top is a leader who is believed to derive his powers directly from God. Beneath that leader is the class of intellectuals and bureaucrats arranged in a hierarchy. Further down the pyramid are the large numbers of those who execute the church policy: they are the teachers, the priests, and the nuns. The rest of the structure is occupied by the multitudes of followers who obey the orders and instructions which they receive from above. This structure of the Catholic Church has lasted a long time and may continue indefinitely. Orwell felt that the ruling class in the Soviet Union would likewise continue unaltered from generation to generation.  There are   other points of resemblance too. The Catholic Church has   always forbidden   dissent  and  persecuted heretics.  (Heretics are those who oppose  established religious  or political ideas). Orwell believed that the Catholic Church  repressed and distorted the sexual instinct. In Nineteen Eighty-Four we observe a close parallel between the Catholic Church and the political system of which Winston finds himself a slave and against which he rebels. O'Brien, for example, calls Julia's torture and confession a classic case of conversion.  Winston's chat with O'Brien is  solemnized by the drinking of wine. (In the Roman Catholic Church drinking wine in the course of certain ceremonies is a sacred ritual). Then there is that    woman who at the end of the "Two Minutes Hate Programme”, goes into a sort of religious ecstasy when she sees  the portrait of Big Brother. Next, the questions asked by O'Brien in his interrogation   of Winston are  called "a sort of catechism". When O'Brien recruits Winston for service in the Brotherhood, he says to him: "Our  only true life is in the future." Here O'Brien speaks as if he were promising Winston salvation   in another world. After Winston  has   been   tortured, and his belief in Big Brother restored, he is back in the Ministry of Love,   "with   everything  forgiven,   his soul white as snow".   The very term "Big Brother" is used ironically to   imply a tender concern for the younger children who need a guide and protector.
The Possibility of the Permanence of Totalitarianism
As early as 1937, Orwell had begun to see a new kind of totalitarian State emerging. The Roman Catholic Church was in his eyes enough proof that such a State had a good chance of becoming permanent. By 1940 Orwell had named the new system, "Oligarchical Collectivism". Thus, when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four he made use of the knowledge and speculation which had been stored in his mind over a long time to produce his picture of the totalitarian system prevalent in the State of Oceania. In any case, he had already written Animal Farm in which he had demonstrated how the Revolution aiming at liberation and freedom had been betrayed and how the arms and- principles behind that Revolution had been distorted and twisted in order to pave the way for the emergence of a ruthless dictatorship.

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