1984 and Nationalism
Thesis Statement: In “1984” George Orwell portrays a society derived from several forms nationalism, which has one point – to isolate the individual citizen to achieve unwavering allegiance to the Party. However, Orwell reveals the mechanisms of nationalism are not just to forge submission to the Party but rather to eradicate any other allegiances that would distract from the Party’s agenda.
George Orwell, in his novel “1984”, invents an authoritarian future society that is controlled by a centralized government that exercises near total control over the freedom, will, and thought of the people. Orwell struggles to find the appropriate language essential to describe this political government, settling on variations of nationalism. From Orwell’s letters published in 1945, he attempts to describe nationalism as: “I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests” (Orwell, Letter). Orwell builds this fictional future by incorporating elements of both civic and ethnic nationalism to create a despotic state that divides and controls the populace based on allegiance to the ruler and the Party rather than to the state of Oceania. In “1984”, Orwell states “Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness” (Orwell, 1984, p. 48). Essentially, this is the true goal of the Party; it wants more than mere compliance, it wants obedience. The Party wants complete surrender of everything that makes a person a human being. The Party demanded of its members that they be pure not only in their actions, but also in their thoughts. This is the
regime that invented the notion of “thoughtcrime,” the idea that what one thinks, even if one does not act on whatever that thought may be. It is a thoughtcrime, though an unconscious one, that gets the conscientious Party member Parsons imprisoned. This unique form of nationalism depicted in “1984” can be attributed to Orwell’s own experience with the rise of totalitarianism and extreme nationalism during pre and post-World War II. In his letters, Orwell describes the rise of totalitarianism and specifically the phenomena of “leader worship” that he sees occurring in the world. When responding to the question of whether these trends were on the rise, Orwell replied, “I believe, or fear, that the world as a whole these things are on the increase” (Orwell, Letter). Orwell directly referenced Hitler, Stalin, Franco, and even Ghandi as a form of “superhuman furur”, which become the center of nationalistic movements. He argued that this trend goes along with the rise of centralized economies, which encourage the destruction of democracy and the creation of a caste system. Orwell goes on to say, “With this go the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible fuhrer” (Orwell, Letter). Orwell is actually developing the society for “1984” in these letters, he wrote five years prior to the novel. He sees the future of nationalism as being centered around an almost cult like devotion to one’s leader and total allegiance to the party. This “worship” of the Party and leader creates a government that has so much power that it can effectively control society and even history.
This power includes the control of information, which is a central theme in the novel and furthers “state-sponsored” nationalism. Orwell argues that history is false and
that any state can write its own history since history is written by those who have the power and control. “Already history has in a sense ceased to exist, i.e. there is no such thing as a history of our own times which could be universally accepted … Hitler can say that the Jews started the war, and if he survives that will become official...
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