Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Aldous Huxley and George Orwell

The Mike Wallace Interviewwith Aldous HuxleyMay 18, 1958
Wallace: This is Aldous Huxley, a man haunted by a vision of hell of earth. A searing social critic, Mr. Huxley, twenty-seven years ago, wrote "Brave New World," a novel that predicted that some day the entire world would live under a frightful dictatorship. Today Mr. Huxley says that his fictional world of horror is probably just around the corner for all of us. We'll find out why, in a moment.
Good evening. I'm Mike Wallace. Tonight's guest, Aldous Huxley, is a man of letters as disturbing as he is distinguished. Born in England, now a resident of California, Mr. Huxley has written some of the most electric novels and social criticism of this century. He's just finished a series of essays called "Enemies of Freedom," in which he outlines and defines some of the threats to our freedom in the United States; and Mr. Huxley, right off the bat, let me ask you this: as you see it, who and what are the enemies of freedom here in the United States?
Huxley: Well, I don't think you can say who in the United States, I don't think there are any sinister persons deliberately trying to rob people of their freedom. But I do think, first of all, that there are a number of impersonal forces which are pushing in the direction of less and less freedom, and I also think that there are a number of technological devices which anybody who wishes to use can use to accelerate this process of going away from freedom, of imposing control.
Wallace: Well, what are these forces and these devices, Mr. Huxley?
Huxley: I should say that there are two main impersonal forces, …the first of them is not exceedingly important in the United States at the present time, though very important in other countries. This is the force which in general terms can be called overpopulation, the mounting pressure of population pressing upon existing resources. …This, of course, is an extraordinary thing; something is happening which has never happened in the world's history before. I mean, let's just take a simple fact that between the time of birth of Christ and the landing of the Mayflower, the population of the earth doubled. It rose from two hundred and fifty million to probably five hundred million. Today, the population of the earth is rising at such a rate that it will double in half a century.
Wallace: Well, why should overpopulation work to diminish our freedoms?
Huxley: Well, in a number of ways. I mean, the…the experts in the field like Harrison Brown, for example, pointed out that in the underdeveloped countries actually the standard of living is at present falling. The people have less to eat and less goods per capita than they had fifty years ago; and as the position of these countries, the economic position, becomes more and more precarious, obviously the central government has to take over more and more responsibility for keeping the ship-of-state on an even keel, and then of course you are likely to get social unrest under such conditions, with again an intervention of the central government. So that, I think that one sees here a pattern which seems to be pushing very strongly towards a totalitarian regime. And unfortunately, as in all these underdeveloped countries the only highly organized political party is the Communist Party, it looks rather as though they will be the heirs to this unfortunate process that they will step into the power…the position of power.
Wallace: Well then, ironically enough one of the greatest forces against communism in the world, the Catholic Church, according to your thesis would seem to be pushing us directly into the hands of the communists because they are against birth control.
Huxley: Well, I think this strange paradox probably is true. There is …it's an extraordinary situation actually. I mean, one has to look at it, of course, from the biological point of view: the whole essence of biological life on earth is a question of balance and what we have done is to practice death control in the most intensive manner without balancing this with birth control at the other end. Consequently, the birth rates remain as high as they were and death rates have fallen substantially. (Coughs)
Wallace: All right then, so much for the time being for overpopulation. Another force that is diminishing our freedoms?
Huxley: Well, another force which I think is very strongly operative in this country is the force of what may be called over-organization. …As technology becomes more and more complicated, it becomes necessary to have more and more elaborate organizations, more hierarchical organizations, and incidentally the advance of technology is being accompanied by an advance in the science of organization. It's now possible to make organizations on a larger scale than it was ever possible before, and so that you have more and more people living their lives out as subordinates in these hierarchical systems controlled by bureaucracies, either the bureaucracies of big business or the bureaucracies of big government.
Wallace: Uh-huh, uh-huh. Now the devices that you were talking about. Are there specific devices or …methods of communication which diminish our freedoms in addition to overpopulation and over-organization?
Huxley: Well, there are certainly devices which can be used in this way. I mean, let us ... take after all, a piece of very recent and very painful history is the propaganda used by Hitler, which was incredibly effective. I mean, what were Hitler's methods? Hitler used terror on the one kind, brute force on the one hand, but he also used a very efficient form of propaganda which …he was using every modern device at that time. He didn't have TV, but he had the radio which he used to the fullest extent, and was able to impose his will on an immense mass of people. I mean, the Germans were a highly educated people.
Wallace: Well, we're aware of all this, but how do we equate Hitler's use of propaganda with the way that propaganda, if you will, is used let us say here in the United States. Are you suggesting that there is a parallel?
Huxley: Needless to say it is not being used this way now, but …the point is, it seems to me, that there are methods at present available, methods superior in some respects to Hitler's methods, which could be used in a bad situation. I mean, what I feel very strongly is that we mustn't be caught by surprise by our own advancing technology. This has happened again and again in history with technology's advance and this changes social condition, and suddenly people have found themselves in a situation which they didn't foresee and doing all sorts of things they really didn't want to do.
Wallace: And well, what…what do you mean? We developed our television but we don't know how to use it correctly, is that the point that you're making?
Huxley: Well, at the present the television, I think, is being used quite harmlessly; it's being used, I think, I would feel, it's being used too much to distract everybody all the time. But, I mean, imagine which must be the situation in all communist countries where the television, where it exists, is always saying the same things the whole time; it's always driving along. It's not creating a wide front of distraction. It's creating a one-pointed, …drumming in of a single idea, all the time. It's obviously an immensely powerful instrument.
Wallace: Uh-huh. So you're talking about the potential misuse of the instrument.
Huxley: Exactly. We have, of course…all technology is in itself moral and neutral. These are just powers which can either be used well or ill; it is the same thing with atomic energy, we can either use it to blow ourselves up or we can use it as a substitute for the coal and the oil which are running out.
Wallace: You've even written about the use of drugs in this light.
Huxley: Well now, this is a very interesting subject. I mean, in this book that you mentioned, this book of mine, "Brave New World," …I postulated a substance called 'soma,' which was a very versatile drug. It would make people feel happy in small doses, it would make them see visions in medium doses, and it would send them to sleep in large doses. Well I don't think such a drug exists now, nor do I think it will ever exist. But we do have drugs which will do some of these things, and I think it's quite on the cards that we may have drugs which will profoundly change our mental states without doing us any harm. I mean, this is the pharmacological revolution which is taking place, that we have now powerful mind-changing drugs which physiologically speaking are almost costless. I mean they are not like opium or like coca…cocaine, which do change the state of the mind but leave terrible results physiologically and morally.
Wallace: Mr. Huxley, in your new essays you state that these various enemies of freedom are pushing us to a real-life "Brave New World," and you say that it's awaiting us just around the corner. First of all, can you detail for us, what life in this Brave New World that you would fear so much, or what life might be like?
Huxley: Well, to start with, I think this kind of dictatorship of the future, I think will be very unlike the dictatorships which we've been familiar with in the immediate past. I mean, take another book prophesying the future, which was a very remarkable book, George Orwell's "1984." Well this book was written at the height of the Stalinist regime, and just after the Hitler regime, and there he foresaw a dictatorship using entirely the methods of terror, the methods of physical violence. Now, I think what is going to happen in the future is that dictators will find, as the old saying goes, that you can do everything with bayonets except sit on them! That if you want to preserve your power indefinitely, you have to get the consent of the ruled, and this they will do partly by drugs as I foresaw in "Brave New World," partly by these new techniques of propaganda. They will do it by bypassing the sort of rational side of man and appealing to his subconscious and his deeper emotions, and his physiology even, and so making him actually love his slavery. I mean, I think, this is the danger that actually people may be, in some ways, happy under the new regime, but that they will be happy in situations where they oughtn't to be happy. Wallace: Well, let me ask you this. You're talking about a world that could take place within the confines of a totalitarian state. Let's become more immediate, more urgent about it. We believe, anyway, that we live in a democracy here in the United States. Do you believe that this Brave New World that you talk about, …could, let's say in the next quarter century, the next century, could come here to our shores?
Huxley: I think it could. I mean, …that's why I feel it so extremely important here and now, to start thinking about these problems. Not to let ourselves be taken by surprise by the…the new advances in technology. I mean the…for example, in the regard to the use of the…of the drugs. We know, there's enough evidence now for us to be able, on the basis of this evidence and using certain amount of creative imagination, to foresee the kind of uses which could be made by people of bad will with these things and to attempt to forestall this, and in the same way, I think with these other methods of propaganda we can foresee and we can do a good deal to forestall. I mean, after all, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.
Wallace: You write in "Enemies of Freedom," you write specifically about the United States. You say this, writing about American political campaigns. You say, "All that is needed is money and a candidate who can be coached to look sincere; political principles and plans for specific action have come to lose most of their importance. The personality of the candidate, the way he is projected by the advertising experts, are the things that really matter."
Huxley: Well, this is the…during the last campaign, there was a great deal of this kind of statement by the advertising managers of the campaign parties. This idea that the candidates had to be merchandised as though they were so-called two-faced and that you had to depend entirely on the personality. I mean, personality is important, but there are certainly people with an extremely amiable personality, particularly on TV, who might not necessarily be very good in political…positions of political trust.
Wallace: Well, do you feel that men like Eisenhower, Stevenson, Nixon, with knowledge aforethought were trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the American public?
Huxley: No, but they were being advised by powerful advertising agencies who were making campaigns of a quite different kind from what had been made before and I think we shall see probably, …all kinds of new devices coming into the picture. I mean, for example, this thing which got a good deal of publicity last autumn, subliminal projection. I mean, as it stands, this thing, I think is of no menace to us at the moment, but I was talking the other day to one of the people who has done most experimental work in the…psychological laboratory with this, was saying precisely this, that it is not at the moment a danger, but once you've established the principle that something works, you can be absolutely sure that the technology of it is going to improve steadily. And I mean his view of the subject was that, well, maybe they will use it up to some extent in the 1960 campaign, but they will probably use it a good deal and much more effectively in the 1964 campaign because this is the kind of rate at which technology advances.
Wallace: And we'll be persuaded to vote for a candidate that we do not know that we are being persuaded to vote for.
Huxley: Exactly. I mean this is the rather alarming picture that you're being persuaded below the level of choice and reason.
Wallace: In regard to advertising, which you mentioned just a little ago, in your writing, particularly in "Enemies of Freedom," you attack Madison Avenue which controls most of our television and radio advertising, newspaper advertising and so forth. Why do you consistently attack the advertising agencies?
Huxley: Well, no I…I think that, …advertisement plays a very necessary role, but the danger it seems to me in a democracy is this…I mean what does a democracy depend on? I democracy depends on the individual voter making an intelligent and rational choice for what he regards as his enlightened self-interest, in any given circumstance. But what these people are doing, I mean what both, for their particular purposes for selling goods and the dictatorial propagandists are doing, is to try to bypass the rational side of man and to appeal directly to these unconscious forces below the surface. So that you are, in a way, making nonsense of the whole democratic procedure, which is based on conscious choice on rational ground.
Wallace: Of course, well, maybe…I…you have just answered this next question because in your essay you write about television commercials, not just political commercials, but television commercials as such and how, as you put it, "Today's children walk around singing beer commercials and toothpaste commercials." And then you link this phenomenon in some way with the dangers of a dictatorship. Now, could you spell out the connection or, have…or do you feel you've done so sufficiently?
Huxley: Well, I mean here again this whole question of children, I think, is a terribly important one because children are quite clearly much more suggestible than the average grown up; and again, suppose that, …that for one reason or another all the propaganda was in the hands of one or very few agencies, you would have an extraordinarily powerful force playing on these children, who after all are going to grow up and be adults quite soon. I do not think that this is not an immediate threat, but it remains a possible threat, and…
Wallace: You said something to the effect in your essay that the children of Europe used to be called 'cannon fodder' and here in the United States they are 'television and radio fodder.'
Huxley: Well, after all, you can read in the trade journals the most lyrical accounts of how necessary it is, to get hold of the children because then they will be loyal brand buyers later on. But I mean, again you just translate this into political terms, the dictator says they all will be ideology buyers when they're grown up.
Wallace: We hear so much about brainwashing as used by the communists. Do you see any brainwashing, other than that which we've just been talking about, that is used here in the United States, other forms of brainwashing?
Huxley: Not in the form that has been used in China and in Russia because this is, essentially, the application of propaganda methods, the most violent kind to individuals. It's not a shotgun method, like the…the advertising method. It's a way of getting hold of the person and playing both on his physiology and his psychology until he really breaks down and then you can implant a new idea in his head. I mean the descriptions of the methods are really blood curdling when you read them, and not only methods applied to political prisoners but the methods applied, for example, to the training of the young communist administrators and missionaries. They receive an incredibly tough kind of training which causes maybe twenty-five percent of them to break down or commit suicide, but produces seventy-five percent of completely one-pointed fanatics.
Wallace: The question, of course, that keeps coming back to my mind is this: obviously politics in themselves are not evil, television is not in itself evil, atomic energy is not evil, and yet you seem to fear that it will be used in an evil way. Why is it that the right people will not, in your estimation, use them? Why is it that the wrong people will use these various devices and for the wrong motives?
Huxley: Well, I think one of the reasons is that these are all instruments for obtaining power, and obviously the passion for power is one of the most moving passions that exists in man; and after all, all democracies are based on the proposition that power is very dangerous and that it is extremely important not to let any one man or any one small group have too much power for too long a time. After all, what are the British and American Constitutions except devices for limiting power, and all these new devices are extremely efficient instruments for the imposition of power by small groups over larger masses.
Wallace: Well, you asked this question yourself in "Enemies of Freedom." I'll put your own question back to you. You ask this, "In an age of accelerating overpopulation, of accelerating over-organization, and ever more efficient means of mass communication, how can we preserve the integrity and reassert the value of the human individual?" You put the question, now here's your chance to answer it Mr. Huxley.
Huxley: Well, this is obviously…first of all, it is a question of education. …I think it's terribly important to insist on individual values, I mean what is a…there is a tendency as a…you probably read a book by White, the organization man, a very interesting, valuable book I think, where he speaks about the new type of group morality, group ethic, which speaks about the group as though the group were somehow more important than the individual. But this seems, as far as I'm concerned, to be in contradiction with what we know about the genetical makeup of human beings, that every human being is unique. And it is, of course, on this genetical basis that the whole idea of the whole idea of the value of freedom is based. And I think it's extremely important for us to stress this in all our educational life, and I would say it's also very important to teach people to be on their guard against the sort of verbal booby traps into which they are always being led, to analyze the kind of things that are said to them. Well, I think there is the whole educational side of…and I think there are many more things that one could do to strengthen people, and to make them more aware of what was being done.
Wallace: You're a prophet of decentralization?
Huxley: Well, the…yes…if it…it's feasible. It's one of these tragedies it seems to be. I mean, many people have been talking about the importance of decentralization in order to give back to the voter a sense of direct power. I mean…the voter in an enormous electorate feels quite impotent, and his vote seems to count for nothing which is not true where the electorate is small, and where he is dealing with a…group which he can manage and understand…and if one can, as Jefferson after all suggested, break up the units into smaller and smaller units and so, get a real, self-governing democracy.
Wallace: Well, that was all very well in Jefferson's day, but how can we revamp our economic system and decentralize, and at the same time meet militarily and economically the tough challenge of a country like Soviet Russia?
Huxley: Well, I think the answer to that is that there are…it seems to me that you…that production, industrial production is of two kinds. I mean, there are some kinds of industrial production which obviously need the most tremendously high centralization, like the making of automobiles for example. But there are many other kinds where you could decentralize quite easily and probably quite economically, and that you would then have this kind of decentralized life. After all, you begin to see it now if you travel through the south, this decentralized textile industry which is springing up there.
Wallace: Mr. Huxley, let me ask you this, quite seriously, is freedom necessary?
Huxley: As far as I'm concerned it is.
Wallace: Why? Is it necessary for a productive society?
Huxley: Yes, I should say it is. I mean, a genuinely productive society. I mean I think you could produce plenty of goods without much freedom, but I think the whole sort of creative life of man is ultimately impossible without a considerable measure of individual freedom of…that initiative, creation, all these things which we value, and I think value properly are impossible without a large measure of freedom.
Wallace: Well, Mr. Huxley, take a look again at the country which is in the stance of our opponent anyway, it would seem, anyway, it would seem to be there. Soviet Russia. It is strong, and getting stronger, economically militarily. At the same time it's developing its art forms pretty well, …it seems not unnecessarily to squelch the creative urge among its people. And yet it is not a free society.
Huxley: It's not a free society, but here is something very interesting that those members of the society, like the scientists, who are doing the creative work, are given far more freedom than anybody else. I mean, it is a privileged aristocratic society in which provided that they don't poke their noses into political affairs, these people are given a great deal of prestige, a considerable amount of freedom and a lot of money. I mean, this is a very interesting fact about the new Soviet regime, and I think that what we are going to see is …a people on the whole with very little freedom but with an oligarchy on top enjoying a considerable measure of freedom and a very high standard of living.
Wallace: And the people down below, the 'epsilons' down below…
Huxley: Enjoying very little.
Wallace: And you think that that kind of situation can long endure?
Huxley: I think it can certainly endure much longer than the situation in which everybody is kept out. I mean, they can certainly get their technological and scientific results on such a basis.
Wallace: Well, the next time that I talk to you then, perhaps we should investigate further the possibility of the establishment of that kind of a society where the drones work for the queen bees up above.
Huxley: Well, but yes, but I must say, I still believe in democracy. If we can make the best of the creative activities of the people on top plus those of the people on the bottom, so much the better.
Wallace: Mr. Huxley, I surely thank you for spending this half hour with us, and I wish you God speed sir.
Huxley: Thank you.
Wallace: Aldous Huxley finds himself these days in a peculiar and disturbing position; a quarter of a century after prophesying an authoritarian state in which people were reduced to ciphers, he can point at Soviet Russia and say "I told you so!" The crucial question, as he sees it now, is whether the so-called Free World is shortly going to give Mr. Huxley the further dubious satisfaction of saying the same thing about us.
Stay tuned for a preview of next week's interview. Till then, Mike Wallace. Good night.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.” - Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley Speech at UC Santa Barbarba (5 Videos)
"1984: An Interview with George Orwell"(Published in the February/March 1984 issue of Business Software Review. Copyright 1984 by International Computer Programs, Inc.)
The author of Nineteen Eighty-Four reveals how his bleak vision of 1984 compares to the real thing
Nineteen eighty-four: Finally, we've come to the year everyone's been waiting for. After George Orwell's novel became world-famous in 1949, references to "1984" became synonymous with warnings about totalitarian oppression and the loss of freedom and personal privacy.
Have we reached the nightmare world depicted by Orwell? The signs are mixed. On the Newspeak front, wars are now "police actions" and "rescue missions;" in economics, depressions have been replaced by "recessions" and "downturns;" new taxes are "revenue enhancements;" and prison convicts are "inmates." The Big Lie, developed into a fine art by the Nazis and the Soviet dictatorship, is practiced with abandon by governments all over the world.
Basic freedoms are also under the gun. The horrors of Soviet prison and slave labor camps are now well-known, but even governments in traditionally free countries are becoming increasingly impatient with "human rights." In Nebraska, churches are being prosecuted for refusing to comply with state regulations over religious schools. In Oregon, a man was recently arrested by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service for stating in public that the income tax is unconstitutional. Freedom of speech and religion might be guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, but such guarantees are now ignored with impunity.
Personal privacy has almost become a thing of the past. There are now over 2,000 computerized credit bureaus which together maintain files on almost 200 million Americans. Specialized bureaus collect information on individuals' medical histories, while others quiz neighbors, co-workers, and employers about individuals' habits, lifestyle, and "moral character." The U.S. government maintains over four billion files on individual citizens through 7,000 record systems. In spite of these rather ominous developments, there is considerable reason for hope. Alexander Solzhenitsyn emerged from the Soviet Gulag (a group of slave labor camps in Siberia) to show us that even torture and degradation cannot crush the human spirit. In the west, personal computers have given individuals great power to guide their own destinies. Perhaps most important of all, a growing awareness of the threats to freedom has spurred people into action against those dangers.
In the late 1940s, George Orwell (whose real name is Eric Blair) wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four, the most chilling modern account of how things might end up if we fail to preserve our freedom. But Orwell himself is not pessimistic at all. In an exclusive interview with Business Software Review -- his first in over 30 years -- Orwell reveals the motives that led him to write Nineteen Eighty-Four, and how his views have changed over the last three decades. He was interviewed at his home outside Cambridge, England by ICP editor Scott Palmer.
Palmer: Why don't we start off with a little about your life and how you came to write Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Orwell: That's a long story. It was published in 1949, and it was the last thing I wrote. Nineteen Eighty-Four is the literary summation of everything that I'd discovered about politics and the international political world up to that time. I went to school at Eton, and you might say I was set for an upper middle class career. But I always had a lot of guilt feelings about my social position, and I kept trying to "de-classify" myself, to get rid of my social standing in English society. My political views, well, those took shape when I fought on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Before that, I worked as a waiter and dishwasher in Paris, was a hobo for a while, and went on tramping expeditions. I shared the life of migrant laborers, and once deliberately got myself arrested just to see what it would be like to be in jail.
Palmer: Was there some political point to all that activity?
Orwell: No, that had no real political edge to it. I became a socialist only after I'd done all this plunging into the lower classes. And I undertook, at an early stage in my writing career, to go to the North of England during the Depression [a worldwide economic collapse that lasted for most of the 1930s] and write a book about the unemployed in Wigan, called The Road to Wigan Pier.
The book was one step on my journey into socialist politics, but I was never really converted to the socialist cause until I went to Spain. I went first as a journalist, but after a few days, I enlisted in the Republican army. I fought there for almost a year, until I was wounded in the throat by a bullet. My experiences in Barcelona, behind the lines, were enormously influential. I discovered that the Communists, who were running the Spanish government at the time, were waging a sort of internal warfare against their own left-wing critics in the Republican movement. And because I happened to fight for one of the political groupings which was labeled "Trotskyite," I suddenly found myself pursued by the Communists as a subversive. I was hunted by the police simply because I had the wrong party card.
This was a really eye-opening experience for me. You have to remember that Communism, at the time, was undergoing the Stalinist purges and show trials in Moscow, where the real enemy was not so much capitalism but Trotsky and others in the Communist movement who refused to accept the Stalinist line.
Palmer: How did that affect your career as a writer?
Orwell: After that, I wanted to do two things. First, I wanted to kill the "Russian myth:" the myth that the Soviet Union was a working model of what a socialist state would be like. That was nothing but a lie. I wrote a history of the Russian Revolution and called it Animal Farm. Of course, that book tells the story of how the animals rebel against the farmer who runs their farm -- the Russian imperial regime -- how they establish a revolution, and how the revolution is then gradually subverted into a new class system in which the pigs, who are the brains of the outfit, become a new, tyrannical ruling class. And the animals find themselves in just as bad a situation as they were in before.
I also wanted to write a book about a totalitarian future in the real world. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, I tried to dramatize how totalitarianism could take over, even in countries like England which have a long democratic tradition. A lot of people take it as my definitive statement on the matter, but in some ways, the book is a lot more pessimistic than I am, myself.
One question you haven't asked, by the way, is how I feel about all this attention being given to me and Nineteen Eighty-Four. Does the attention please me? Am I alarmed or disappointed by any of it?
Palmer: That's a good question indeed. How would you answer?
Orwell: I think that silence about the arrival of the year 1984 could have different meanings. It could mean that I wrote a book which has been utterly forgotten. I'm saddened, in a way, that my book is still read, because that means it's still politically relevant. The totalitarian possibility is still alive in the world, a fact which is confirmed by the geographic boundaries of all this Nineteen Eighty-Four discussion. I don't think we'll see a Soviet publisher bring out a commemorative edition -- although I was interested to read about a Western journalist's interview with a Chinese Communist Party leader who was reading Nineteen Eighty-Four and said it enjoyed it -- that it was just like the Cultural Revolution [ a period of political upheaval in mainland China in the 1960s and 1970s].
It's sad that totalitarianism isn't a historical curiosity by now, but I'm afraid that the "will to totalitarianism" is always going to be around. So in that sense, I'm sorry that Nineteen Eighty-Four is getting all this attention just because the calendar turned over a new leaf.
I have to admit one other thing about all this publicity: it does annoy me, in a way. I put a lot into Nineteen Eighty-Four at a time when my strength seemed to be coming to an end. Getting the book finished just about killed me, so I'm glad that it made an impact.
The trouble is, you'd judge by all the fuss this year that Nineteen Eighty-Four represents everything I ever tried to say, and that's just not so. It's particularly annoying to someone who believes passionately in democratic socialism, who wants to see collectivism combined with freedom, to hear himself described as a supporter of Western capitalism. I detest the Soviet system not because it is revolutionary, but because it claims to be revolutionary when it isn't: when it has, in fact, produced a more tyrannical state than ever before.
Yet a few months ago, a fellow was writing that if I were "alive today," I'd be a neo-conservative, which sounds a lot like what I used to call a "neo-pessimist." That's all a lot of patent nonsense.
Palmer: We stand corrected. Did you regard Nineteen Eighty-Four as a "prophetic" novel? Do you think it's turned out that way?
Orwell: That question came up when the book was first published, and I'll give you the same answer I gave then: the society I depict in Nineteen Eighty-Four will not necessarily come about. But allowing for the fact that the book is a satire, meaning that it's an exaggeration to make a point, something quite like [the society it depicts] could come about. I set the story in Britain to show that English-speaking countries are not above happenings of this kind: that totalitarianism, if not fought against, can triumph anywhere. It's a warning, not a prophecy.
As for how my "prophecies" have turned out, I suppose that's something on which we all keep our own scorecards. Since 1950, when I stopped writing, the spread of totalitarianism over the globe has accelerated. Totalitarianism is the basic pattern of society in many countries, yet our part of the world has not so far succumbed. The fact that the year 1984 is producing this interest in my book is an encouraging sign.
Another entry in the positive column is the alarm so many people feel when technological development threatens to increase the power of the government over the individual. Whenever we see a government of laws assert itself over a government of men, we have positive grounds to hope that the society in Nineteen Eighty-Four is not coming. In the book, of course, there are no laws but many crimes. On the whole, I think the world of 1984 is a little closer to the situation in the book than it was in 1950, but much less so than it could have been. However, the potential for a totalitarian world is large enough that people are worried about it.
Palmer: In the book, you presented the great powers of the world as de facto co-conspirators in a plot to "busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels." Perpetual war not only distracted the people from troubles at home, but provided an excuse for oppression and constant spying on the citizens. Do you see this happening today between the United States and the Soviet Union?
Orwell: There isn't yet a conspiracy, but as far as the people of the world are concerned, there might as well be one. We all contribute to support an enormous military establishment: and at present, there's no alternative. As imperfect as things might be in the West, they're still vastly superior to those in the East. However, our defense institutions have to be constantly watched to make sure they don't crush the freedoms they are supposed to protect. Your own President Eisenhower never did better than when he warned of the dangers in the growth of the military-industrial complex. The using of the world's resources for armaments is a great totalitarian technique for the subjugation of the people.
Palmer: But if both the U.S. and Soviet Union have enough nuclear missiles to destroy each other a hundred times over, why do they both keep pressing for more, more, and still more missiles? If it isn't just a game, why do we have to keep building more and more weapons?
Orwell: Well, the potential is for it to turn into a game, where the nations exist to support the military rather than the other way around. That's certainly a scary possibility. I suppose they worry that the other side might develop a new technology through which all their weapons would suddenly be neutralized. And then, with the aid of a couple of hand grenades, the other side would conquer the world.
It's rather like what happened in the city of Florence during the Middle Ages. The warring factions started building towers, and everybody had to have one. Then, everybody had to have one taller than anyone else's. At a certain point, it becomes ridiculous.
Palmer: It just seems that there's always a "threat." Currently, it's the Soviet Union that's going to come in and take us over, so our government has to have more power to crack down on dissenters and "subversives," on freedom of the press, and everyone has to take a lie detector test.
Orwell: Well, this is the great paradox, of course. What you don't want is to be taken over by a totalitarian power. The great danger is that in protecting yourself against a takeover, you might become totalitarian yourself -- at which point, as at the end of Animal Farm, the pigs become indistinguishable from the human beings. I think that Animal Farm was very good in showing the role of paranoia in establishing and maintaining power. But it's also true that even paranoiacs can have enemies.
Palmer: In the 1930s, we had an economic depression. Since then, however, we've had nothing more serious than "recessions" and "downturns." The last war we were in was World War II: since then, we've engaged in innocuous-sounding "police actions" and "rescue missions." Do you think that our language is being destroyed by a gradual infiltration of Newspeak?
Orwell: I'm rather embarrassed by this question on language. I now think that the model I gave of Newspeak and thought control could not really work. I would have said at the time, of course, that what I had written was a satire, an exaggeration. But it's certainly not true, as I suggested in Nineteen Eighty-Four, that you can control the way people think by controlling the way they speak.
So I think that Newspeak is a fine demonstration of what you might call "the totalitarian will," the desire to reshape society by tackling its most basic institution, language. As a model of how thought could be controlled, however, I think it was off the mark.
Palmer: In the book, Winston Smith, the protagonist, is defeated and ultimately destroyed by the totalitarian apparatus of the Party. Is there any hope for real-life Winston Smiths? Does the example of someone like Solzhenitsyn offer any hope that eventually the human spirit will rise up and smash totalitarian governments?
Orwell: It's true, we have seen shoots of hope spring up with people like Solzhenitsyn. In 1939, when I was reviewing a book about Soviet rule in Russia, I said that "the terrifying thing about the modern dictatorships is that they are something entirely unprecedented. In the past, every tyranny was sooner or later overthrown, or at least resisted, because of human nature which desired liberty. But we cannot be at all certain that 'human nature' is constant. It might be just as possible to produce a breed of men who do not wish for liberty as it is to produce a breed of hornless cows."
So far, no one seems to have seriously attempted this, although modern knowledge of psychology and genetics might make it possible. The present method of coping with such deviance is old-fashioned: repression. As the case of Solzhenitsyn should remind us, however, the Soviet Union has moderated its old-fashioned approaches just a bit. If Stalin had known at the time of Solzhenitsyn's arrest what his literary potential really was -- that is, his potential for making trouble -- he wouldn't have survived a day.
Palmer: For all practical purposes, computers had just been invented when you were writing Nineteen Eighty-Four. Do you think that the development of computer technology has had a positive or a negative impact on the prospects for freedom?
Orwell: Computer technology is just that: technology. It's just as morally neutral as any other technology, such as the ability to make fire, or the ability to print books. But because the computer specifically outpaces and outperforms human beings, it seems very scary. And because certain of its capabilities, such as collating information and searching files, have police applications, we can appreciate how useful the computer would be in limiting our freedom. In the hands of a tyranny, computer technology will be used for tyrannical purposes. But where the will is to expand freedom, there is no reason why the computer should not help.
The diffusion and availability of computer technology in the United States seems to me to be working that way. There are abuses, like the antics of the "hackers," but computers in many hands is a happy development. Totalitarian systems want, above all, to restrict access to information. No individual in the Soviet Union can own a duplicating machine or an Apple computer. There's a sort of cheerful anarchy in the United States computer picture. Totalitarian governments are, above all, orderly, at least in intention, and disorganization has a lot to do with freedom.
Palmer: Do you really think that's a significant factor in the totalitarian outlook -- almost a sort of neatness fetish?
Orwell: Yes, absolutely. What reason does O'Brien, an agent of the thought police in Nineteen Eighty-Four, have for re-shaping Winston Smith? The powers that be could simply kill him. But the totalitarian mind cannot stand the untidiness of having someone think differently, so it goes to the full length of producing in Winston Smith a genuine love of Big Brother. And that's what the government wants. They can then afford to bump him off, because he is no longer disorderly and untidy.
One finds this neatness obsession a little bit in the military mind. There is an American verb, peculiar to the military, "to police" -- meaning, to make the whole place look terribly neat. And the fact that "police" and neatness come together in the language is very revealing. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, nothing works except the police.
How the Central Intelligence Agency Played Dirty Tricks With Our Culture
By Laurence Zuckerman
03/18/02 "New York Times" -- -- Many people remember reading George Orwell's "Animal Farm" in high school or college, with its chilling finale in which the farm animals looked back and forth at the tyrannical pigs and the exploitative human farmers but found it "impossible to say which was which."
That ending was altered in the 1955 animated version, which removed the humans, leaving only the nasty pigs. Another example of Hollywood butchering great literature? Yes, but in this case the film's secret producer was the Central Intelligence Agency.
The C.I.A., it seems, was worried that the public might be too influenced by Orwell's pox-on-both-their-houses critique of the capitalist humans and Communist pigs. So after his death in 1950, agents were dispatched (by none other than E. Howard Hunt, later of Watergate fame) to buy the film rights to "Animal Farm" from his widow to make its message more overtly anti-Communist.
Rewriting the end of "Animal Farm" is just one example of the often absurd lengths to which the C.I.A. went, as recounted in a new book, "The Cultural Cold War: The C.I.A. and the World of Arts and Letters" (The New Press) by Frances Stonor Saunders, a British journalist. Published in Britain last summer, the book will appear here next month.
Much of what Ms. Stonor Saunders writes about, including the C.I.A.'s covert sponsorship of the Paris-based Congress for Cultural Freedom and the British opinion magazine Encounter, was exposed in the late 1960's, generating a wave of indignation. But by combing through archives and unpublished manuscripts and interviewing several of the principal actors, Ms. Stonor Saunders has uncovered many new details and gives the most comprehensive account yet of the agency's activities between 1947 and 1967.
This picture of the C.I.A.'s secret war of ideas has cameo appearances by scores of intellectual celebrities like the critics Dwight Macdonald and Lionel Trilling, the poets Ted Hughes and Derek Walcott and the novelists James Michener and Mary McCarthy, all of whom directly or indirectly benefited from the C.I.A.'s largesse. There are also bundles of cash that were funneled through C.I.A. fronts and several hilarious schemes that resemble a "Spy vs. Spy" cartoon more than a serious defense against Communism.
Traveling first class all the way, the C.I.A. and its counterparts in other Western European nations sponsored art exhibitions, intellectual conferences, concerts and magazines to press their larger anti-Soviet agenda. Ms. Stonor Saunders provides ample evidence, for example, that the editors at Encounter and other agency-sponsored magazines were ordered not to publish articles directly critical of Washington's foreign policy. She also shows how the C.I.A. bankrolled some of the earliest exhibitions of Abstract Expressionist painting outside of the United States to counter the Socialist Realism being advanced by Moscow.
In one memorable episode, the British Foreign Office subsidized the distribution of 50,000 copies of "Darkness at Noon," Arthur Koestler's anti-Communist classic. But at the same time, the French Communist Party ordered its operatives to buy up every copy of the book. Koestler received a windfall in royalties courtesy of his Communist adversaries.
As it turns out, "Animal Farm" was not the only instance of the C.I.A.'s dabbling in Hollywood. Ms. Stonor Saunders reports that one operative who was a producer and talent agent slipped affluent-looking African-Americans into several films as extras to try to counter Soviet criticism of the American race problem.
The agency also changed the ending of the movie version of "1984," disregarding Orwell's specific instructions that the story not be altered. In the book, the protagonist, Winston Smith, is entirely defeated by the nightmarish totalitarian regime. In the very last line, Orwell writes of Winston, "He loved Big Brother." In the movie, Winston and his lover, Julia, are gunned down after Winston defiantly shouts: "Down with Big Brother!"
Such changes came from the agency's obsession with snuffing out a notion then popular among many European intellectuals: that East and West were morally equivalent. But instead of illustrating the differences between the two competing systems by taking the high road, the agency justified its covert activities by referring to the unethical tactics of the Soviets.
"If the other side can use ideas that are camouflaged as being local rather than Soviet-supported or -stimulated, then we ought to be able to use ideas camouflaged as local ideas," Tom Braden, who ran the C.I.A.'s covert cultural division in the early 1950's, explained years later. (In one of the book's many amusing codas, Mr. Braden goes on in the 1980's to become the leftist foil to Patrick Buchanan on the CNN program "Crossfire.")
The cultural cold war began in postwar Europe, with the fraying of the wartime alliance between Washington and Moscow. Officials in the West believed they had to counter Soviet propaganda and undermine the wide sympathy for Communism in France and Italy.
An odd alliance was struck between the C.I.A. leaders, most of them wealthy Ivy League veterans of the wartime Office of Strategic Services and a corps of largely Jewish ex-Communists who had broken with Moscow to become virulently anti-Communist. Acting as intermediaries between the agency and the intellectual community were three colorful agents who included Vladimir Nabokov's much less talented cousin, Nicholas, a composer.
The C.I.A. recognized from the beginning that it could not openly sponsor artists and intellectuals in Europe because there was so much anti-American feeling there. Instead, it decided to woo intellectuals out of the Soviet orbit by secretly promoting a non-Communist left of democratic socialists disillusioned with Moscow.
Ms. Stonor Saunders describes how the C.I.A. cleverly skimmed hundreds of millions of dollars from the Marshall Plan to finance its activities, funneling the money through fake philanthropies it created or real ones like the Ford Foundation.
"We couldn't spend it all," Gilbert Greenway, a former C.I.A. agent, recalled. "There were no limits, and nobody had to account for it. It was amazing."
When some of the C.I.A.'s activities were exposed in the late 1960's, many artists and intellectuals claimed ignorance. But Ms. Stonor Saunders makes a strong case that several people, including the philosopher Isaiah Berlin and the poet Stephen Spender, who was co-editor of Encounter, knew about the C.I.A.'s role.
"She has made it very difficult now to deny that some of these things happened," said Norman Birnbaum, a professor at the Georgetown University Law School who was a university professor in Europe in the 1950's and early 1960's. "And she has placed a lot of people living and dead in embarrassing situations."
Still unresolved is what impact the campaign had and whether it was worth it. Some of the participants, like Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who was in the O.S.S. and knew about some of the C.I.A.'s cultural activities, argue that the agency's role was benign, even necessary. Compared with the coups the C.I.A. sponsored in Guatemala, Iran and elsewhere, he said, its support of the arts was some of its best work. "It enabled people to publish what they already believed," he added. "It didn't change anyone's course of action or thought."
But Diana Josselson, whose husband, Michael, ran the Congress for Cultural Freedom, told Ms. Stonor Saunders that there were real human costs among those around the world who innocently cooperated with the agency's front organizations only to be tarred with a C.I.A. affiliation when the truth came out. The author and other critics argue that by using government money covertly to promote such American ideals as democracy and freedom of expression, the agency ultimately stepped on its own message.
"Obviously it was an error, and a rather serious error, to allow intellectuals to be subsidized by the government," said Alan Brinkley, a history professor at Columbia University. "And when it was revealed, it did undermine their credibility seriously."
George Orwell - Animal Farm (8 videos)
As I Please
by George Orwell
Tribune, 1946 November 29

I think one must continue the political struggle, just as a doctor must try to save the life of a patient who is probably going to die. But I do suggest that we shall get nowhere unless we start by recognizing that political behaviour is largely non-rational, that the world is suffering from some kind of mental disease which must be diagnosed before it can be cured. The significant point is that nearly all the calamities that happen to us are quite unnecessary. It is commonly assumed that what human beings want is to be comfortable. Well, we now have it in our power to be comfortable, as our ancestors had not. Nature may occasionally hit back with an earthquake or a cyclone, but by and large she is beaten. And yet exactly at the moment when there is, or could be, plenty of everything for everybody, nearly our whole energies have to be taken up in trying to grab territories, markets and raw materials from one another. Exactly at the moment when wealth might be so generally diffused that no government need fear serious opposition, political liberty is declared to be impossible and half the world is ruled by secret police forces. Exactly at the moment when superstition crumbles and a rational attitude towards the universe becomes feasible, the right to think one’s own thoughts is denied as never before. The fact is that human beings only started fighting one another in earnest when there was no longer anything to fight about. It is not easy to find a direct economic explanation of the behaviour of the people who now rule the world. The desire for pure power seems to be much more dominant than the desire for wealth. This has often been pointed out, but curiously enough the desire for power seems to be taken for granted as a natural instinct, equally prevalent in all ages, like the desire for food. Actually it is no more natural, in the sense of being biologically necessary, than drunkenness or gambling. And if it has reached new levels of lunacy in our own age, as I think it has, then the question becomes: What is the special quality in modern life that makes a major human motive out of the impulse to bully others? If we could answer that question—seldom asked, never followed up—there might occasionally be a bit of good news on the front page of your morning paper.