Beyond Totalitarianism

Despite parallels in the world in which Orwell lived, Nineteen Eighty-Four is not just an attack on the evils of the past and present, any more than it is a prediction of thirty five years into the future. It is a twisted fantasy, a thought experiment on the logical (and illogical) possibilities of terror, oppression, fear and lies. The world Orwell presents is a world beyond totalitarianism in the conventional sense. As O'Brien observes: " the twentieth century, there were the totalitarians, as they were called. There were the German Nazis and the Russian Communists." Here Orwell is marking out Ingsoc as its own animal, a new more terrifying kind of oppression that is not simply interested in controlling what people do and say, but in what people think and feel, and in what people are: "The command of the old despotism was "Thou shalt not." The command of the totalitarians was "Thou shalt." Our command is Thou art."

As Winston is tortured and terrified by O'Brien, he learns that the object of the Party is not to simply destroy the people who oppose it, but to destroy the very essence of opposition itself. Previous attempts at oppression, such as the Spanish Inquisition have failed in their attempts because they created martyrs. Says O'Brien: 'Men were dying because they would not abandon their true beliefs. Naturally all the glory belonged to the victim and all the shame to the Inquisitor... We do not make mistakes of that kind... When you finally surrender to us, it must be of your own free will. We do not destroy the heretic because he resists us: so long as he resists us we never destroy him... it is intolerable to us that an erroneous thought should exist anywhere in the world, however secret and powerless it may be... we make the brain perfect before we blow it out... We do not merely destroy our enemies, we change them.'

The totalitarianism of the Party is essentially about the Obliteration of the Self. It is no coincidence that this is the name of the political and philosophical system upheld in Eastasia - Worldwide neo-totalitarianism appears essential for the mutually antagonistic survival of each. And within each power, each individual must be absorbed into the eternal collective consciousness of the Party: 'What happens to you here is forever... we shall crush you down to the point from which there is no coming back... you will be hollow. We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.'

This is the essential truth behind the party slogan 'Freedom is Slavery' and its converse, Slavery is Freedom: 'If [the human being] can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself in the Party, so that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal.' When Winston asks himself why the Party wishes to do this, he supposes that it might all be justified for the good of the people. But Orwell's innovation in his invented totalitarianism is that it is not an argument of the means justifying the end, but the abolition of the end itself:

'The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power... We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing... The German Nazis and Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to reconsider their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution, the object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.'

And power must be constantly energising itself by inflicting its might on the powerless: 'Always at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever.' And O'Brien brings Winston to realise his place within the continuation of power. Throughout the seven years that Winston imagined he was quietly rebelling, he was in fact being silently nurtured in his heresy, just so that he could be cleansed and destroyed to sustain the Party: 'The face will always be there to be stamped upon. The heretic, the enemy of society will always be there, so that he can he defeated, and humiliated over and over again...' This can also be seen to refer to the state of constant war and the eternal enemy Goldstein.

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