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GEORGE ORWELL


MEET THE REAL GEORGE ORWELL: George Orwell (1903-1949) was the pen name of an English author named Eric Blair, best known for his "negative utopia", 1984. Mr. Orwell grew up in India and served for a time with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He began writing his novels and essays after migrating to Europe, where he became a socialist. In spite of socialist leanings, Orwell hated its contemporary expression in Soviet Communism. The inconsistency didnít seem to bother him. His attitude toward a tyrannical government is best summed up in his famous expression, "Big Brother is watching you." He was obviously pessimistic about mankindís capability of escaping that penetrating gaze. "All animals are equal," he wryly observed in Animal Farm, "but some animals are more equal than others." George Orwell apparently worked himself to death, dying at the relatively young age of 47 of a neglected lung condition.

Historical context. For centuries, the moral fiber of the Russian people had atrophied under the sway of a passive and pietistic Orthodox Church. Finally, in 1917 the Bolshevik Revolution established a Communist dictatorship that dominated Russia and threatened the world with nuclear destruction for the better part of the 20th Century. George Orwell, although a socialist, hated Communism and the ingratiating manner in which the Western press papered over its bloody repression. Intellectuals often justified the heavy hand of statism under the guise that a centralized economy, even one directed by an individual strong man is necessarily the most efficient. As Babylon in the days of Habbakuk, the Soviet Empire proved to be a rod of discipline in the hand of God. Animal Farm and 1984 were broadside attacks on both the hypocrisy and the brutality.

Summary of Orwell's teaching. Orwell envisioned a world in which the power of government to monitor and control the individual has grown all-pervasive. In Orwell's futuristic world (Oceania), advances in technology permit every move to be monitored by ubiquitous video devices. "Big Brother is Watching" is the ever-present byword by which men live. Winston, the hero of the story, spends his days revising history at his office in the "Ministry of Truth", where inconvenient facts are dispatched down the "memory hole". An obliging media leads the brainwashed masses in daily "hate rituals" against Big Brother's enemies.

Implications for subsequent history. 1984 has come and gone, and certainly elements of Orwell's vision are with us today. Although the Communist regime that he so effectively pilloried collapsed under its own weight in 1991, centralization remains the dominant feature of government. The computer rather than the video camera arms bureaucracy with the power to monitor and control vast populations. Textbooks are revised and a pliant media subtly filters and reinterprets reality in terms of the state.

However, it may be Aldous Huxley's vision of the future that presents the more effective and hence the most dangerous mode of social control. "Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance" (50).

Such methods hearken back at least as far as the Roman Emperor Nero, who found the formula of "bread and circuses" as a means of pacifying the masses equally effective as his strong-arm tactics. Nero maintained a superficial popularity by offering free corn from the Imperial granaries and free (though brutally degrading) entertainment in the arena.

Biblical analysis. It has been well said that men who refuse to be ruled by God will be ruled by tyrants. When men refuse to rule themselves according to God's revelation, God always applies the rod of discipline. While discipline is not pleasant and in some cases may be very severe, it is often the means God uses to chastise and purify His people (Hab. 1:4-6). For a social commentary even bleaker than 1984, turn to Deuteronomy 28 in the Old Testament. There social disaster is presented in all its horror as the necessary price of rebellion from God. It includes such horrors as unalleviated pestilence, famine, war, interminable wandering, slavery, persecution and women eating their own babies. Whether we experience a positive utopia or a negative utopia hinges on our obedience to the laws of our Creator.

Corrective or Prescriptive Actions: Too much of the intellectual response to Communism was focused on "anti-Communism", not enough on repentance and reformation of Western society in terms of biblical law. Submission to and application of the law of God is the only and ultimate antidote for all such repressive regimes and conspiracies.