Orwell's allegorical critique of Stalinism in 1984 is often used in capitalist nations as a poignant literary attack on Communism and other collectivist economic and political systems. The argument often follows the lines of "This is socialism, and as you can see, it doesn't work and just leads to oppression. We're in a nice capitalist democracy, therefore we are better off." But is that conclusion the truth?
Orwell didn't just intend 1984 as an attack on communism or socialism; instead it is both an attack and a rather prophetic warning against any authoritarian structure, including the authoritarian structure of capitalist democracies. Often we do not equate "democracy" with totalitarianism, but thanks to the manipulation of language, we can have both "democracy" and a corrupt and oppressive regime simultaneously. How? Through the wonders of Orwell's newspeak and doublethink.
This is not newspeak exactly as Orwell portrayed it (a open attempt at centralized modification of language), but more in the form of what Orwell warned about in his essay Language and Politics. The subtle debasing of words has allowed the powerful in democratic nations to successfully install a system which is blatantly counter-democratic in its behavior and yet is masked by twisted language.
"Democracy" means, to many Americans, a system in which they choose their own leaders, voice their opinions to representatives in government, and human rights and freedoms are respected by the state. But in practice, "democracy," when applied abroad by the United States, means subjugating native peoples to the will of American corporations, and in the process, the destruction...
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...s ideas of Newspeak and doublethink. Those who think America is far from the totalitarian world of 1984 are actually dead wrong. It is 1984 today in many respects; the only difference is that the leaders have done a much better job of covering up their wrongdoing. It could be said that Orwell was the prophet and Chomsky is the messiah of our current "democratic" state.
Chomsky, Noam. Profit Over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order. New York: Seven Stories Press, 1999.
Chomsky, Noam. The Chomsky Trilogy (The Prosperous Few And the Restless Many (1994), Secrets, Lies and Democracy (1994), and What Uncle Sam Really Wants (1992) ). Tucson, AZ: Odonian Press/Seven Stories Press, 1999.
(available in e-text from the Noam Chomsky Archive: http://www.zmag.org/chomsky/index.cfm)
Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1949.
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