Tuesday, March 5, 2013

George Orwell and 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'

George Orwell's dystopian novel 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' has made waves ever since it was first published in 1949.  In today's Big-Brother-ridden world, where political correctness has taken over the bureaucracies that dominate our interaction with government, it's right up there with Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged' as a paradigm for everything that's wrong with our society.

What many people don't understand is how 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' came to be written.  Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War on the Republican side, chronicling his adventures in 'Homage to Catalonia'.  Originally a Socialist and a Communist sympathizer, his experiences there made him a firm anti-Stalinist.  His profound suspicion of Leftist 'group-think' was a formative experience and a major contributor to his later work.

The BBC (ironically, itself allegedly a bastion of Leftist group-think!) has just published a very interesting article about the influences that led Orwell to write 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' and influenced the book's themes and development.  It takes into account his post-Spanish-Civil-War experiences.  I was less familiar with some of them.  For example:

His many book reviews also reveal much about his political influences, but one name, James Burnham, stands out.

An ex-communist, Burnham's 1941 book, The Managerial Revolution, filled Orwell with both horror and fascination.

In the book, he found two of the crucial elements of his novel: a world ruled by three super-states, and the idea that the overlords of the future would not be demagogues or democrats, but managers and bureaucrats.

Two events were to bring Burnham's dark prophecy to some kind of fruition. First, in 1943, at the Tehran Conference, Marshal Stalin, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met to discuss the world after the war.

Orwell saw the beginnings of a Burnham-style carve-up of the globe into superpowers and told friends that this was what initially set him going on the novel.

Less than two years later, the Americans dropped atom bombs on Japan. In an essay for Tribune magazine called You and the Atomic Bomb, Orwell argued that the A-Bomb threatened to bring into being Burnham's world of super states governed by totalitarian hierarchies of managers.

There's more at the link.  For those interested in this classic of dystopian literature, it makes very interesting reading - and Burnham's description of 'The Managerial Revolution' is chilling indeed!


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