review of George Orwell’s
Eight-Four appeared in the September 1949 issue of Frank
recent years, many writers have given us their vision of the coming
collectivist future. At the turn of the century, neither Edward
Bellamy nor H. G. Wells suspected that the collectivist societies
of their dreams were so close at hand. As collectivism sprouted
following World War I, many keen observers felt that there was
a big difference between the idyllic Edens pictured by Bellamy
and Wells and the actual conditions of the various “waves of the
among these revised forecasts of the world of the future were
Aldous Huxley’s Brave
New World and Ayn Rand’s Anthem.
Both of their future worlds, evil as they were, had saving graces.
Huxley’s future was spiritually dead, but at least the masses
were happy; Ayn Rand’s dictators were timid, stupid men who permitted
a renascent individualist to escape from the strangling collectivist
world and begin life anew.
Orwell’s collectivist Utopia has plugged all the loopholes. There
is no hope at all for the individual or for humanity, and so the
effect on the reader is devastating. Orwell’s future is run by
a Party whose job is the total exercise of Power, and it goes
about its job with diabolic efficiency and ingenuity. The Party
represents itself as the embodiment of the principles of Ingsoc,
or English Socialism. These principles turn out to be: blind,
unquestioning obedience to the Party, and equally blind hatred
of any person or group the Party proclaims as its enemy. These
emotions are the only ones permitted to anybody; all others, such
as personal and family love, are systematically stamped out.
ideas are of course treasonable and subversive – the only persons
permitted to live are those who unthinkingly parrot the Party
Line. Any man with a bent for independent thought is subtly encouraged
in his heresy by the Thought Police. Then, when he has come to
realize the nature of the regime and hates it thoroughly, the
Ministry of Love takes over and, via the most horrible forms of
torture, burns out of him any spark of human dignity. Finally,
the heretic goes to his slaughter convinced of the goodness of
his persecutors. He dies loving the Party and its mythical leader,
Big Brother. Not even martyrdom is permitted in the inferno of
accomplish its purpose of destroying the human mind and heart,
the Party uses: constant propaganda, inducing all to love Big
Brother and hate his enemies; the destruction of truth by continually
altering historical records to conform to the ever-changing Party
Line – thus history is destroyed and all truth flows from the Party;
the destruction of language to make it impossible to think independent
thoughts – by confusing the meaning of words and by introducing
a new gibberish-language; and the destruction of logic by a process
known as doublethink defined as the capacity to hold in one’s
mind two contradictory beliefs at the same time.
significant method that the Party uses to remain in power is to
contrive to keep its country always at war with some other country.
The other countries are also run by similar parties, though each
have different names. By the process of doublethink every loyal
Party member believes that his part will ultimately conquer the
world, yet also recognizes that all the countries tacitly engage
in a war that never becomes too “hot.” Thus, each Party has an
excuse to starve and terrorize its subjects in the name of military
necessity, while its ruler remains secure from any wartime disaster.
understand how,” said Winston Smith, the pathetic heretic of Nineteen
Eight-Four, “but I don’t understand why.” Why does the Party
do all this? One of its leaders explains:
Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested
in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. We are
different from all the oligarchies of the past in that we know
what we are doing. All the others were cowards and hypocrites.
They never had the courage to recognize their motives. We know
that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing
it. Power is not a means; it is an end. The object of persecution
is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of
power is power. How does one man assert his power over another?
By making him suffer. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure
that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting
pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces
and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.
In our world, there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph,
and self-abasement – a world of fear and treachery and torment.
If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on
a human face – forever.”
collectivist world of the future is doubtless a nightmare – but
is it merely a dream?
N. Rothbard (1926–1995), the founder of modern libertarianism
and the dean of the Austrian School of economics, was the author
Ethics of Liberty and For
a New Liberty and many
other books and articles. He was also academic vice president
of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and the Center for Libertarian
Studies, and the editor – with Lew Rockwell – of The