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On "Nineteen Eighty-Four"

On "Nineteen Eighty-Four": Orwell and Our Future

Abbott Gleason
Jack Goldsmith
Martha C. Nussbaum
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    On "Nineteen Eighty-Four"
    Book Description:

    George Orwell'sNineteen Eighty-Fouris among the most widely read books in the world. For more than 50 years, it has been regarded as a morality tale for the possible future of modern society, a future involving nothing less than extinction of humanity itself. DoesNineteen Eighty-Fourremain relevant in our new century? The editors of this book assembled a distinguished group of philosophers, literary specialists, political commentators, historians, and lawyers and asked them to take a wide-ranging and uninhibited look at that question. The editors deliberately avoided Orwell scholars in an effort to call forth a fresh and diverse range of responses to the major work of one of the most durable literary figures among twentieth-century English writers.

    AsNineteen Eighty-Fourprotagonist Winston Smith has admirers on the right, in the center, and on the left, the contributors similarly represent a wide range of political, literary, and moral viewpoints. The Cold War that has so often been linked to Orwell's novel ended with more of a whimper than a bang, but most of the issues of concern to him remain alive in some form today: censorship, scientific surveillance, power worship, the autonomy of art, the meaning of democracy, relations between men and women, and many others. The contributors bring a variety of insightful and contemporary perspectives to bear on these questions.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2664-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Dedicatory Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)

    As bob’s wife of thirty-seven years, I am delighted that the organizers of the symposium that generated this volume offered to dedicate the book to him. I know that he would have felt honored to have his work in human rights recognized by colleagues whose own contributions to improving society he respected and admired. This passion of Bob’s permeated every aspect of his thinking and action; those who knew him personally recognize that he never refrained from expressing his views at appropriate moments. He had such broad intellectual interests and combined them to better the world, while maintaining a modesty...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    George orwell remains at the center of modern political life, just when we might have expected him to depart. In the popular mind, Orwell is the great dramatizer of Cold War values, as seen from an anti-Soviet viewpoint. Nineteen Eighty-Four, published in 1949, right at the start of the Cold War, has come to be regarded as one of the great exposés of the horrors of Stalinism. Countless American schoolchildren, required to read the novel in high school, identified with its depiction of the struggle of the lone individual against an omnipresent, omnivigilant state that conducts a systematic and relentless...


    • A Defense of Poesy (The Treatise of Julia)
      (pp. 13-28)

      Editor’s note: This treatise on poetry was found among the ashes of Oceania. The author is known to us only by the single name Julia. The treatise survives because it was etched in metal, specifically the metal casing of a small lipstick canister. It was found in a mound of soft ash where paper records were routinely incinerated. So microscopic is the writing that it at first appeared to archaeologists only as an ornate wreathing on the case. The fire of the incineration had reacted with the metal in such a way that these tiny marks became burnished and glowing,...

    • Doublespeak and the Minority of One
      (pp. 29-37)

      It is one of the curious comforts of our lives that we prefer those who are virtuous not to be virtuosos. It is unclear to me why “strength in goodness” should somehow seem oddly anomalous with the fluency and acclaim of genius. In the opinion of many literary critics and political essayists alike, George Orwell was a virtuous man, somewhat shy of genius. This description of Orwell as a virtuous man is central to Lionel Trilling’s essay inThe Opposing Self. Virtue makes Orwell no less significant than the great writers of his time; but hisnotbeing a “genius”...

    • Of Beasts and Men: Orwell on Beastliness
      (pp. 38-48)

      In the third scene of the act, you may recall, a mysterious third murderer joins the first two nameless murderers in the deed of murdering Banquo. This character has been variously supposed to be Macbeth himself, or Destiny, or some minor character from elsewhere in the play, but is most probably intended to be a suborned spy, introduced as an indication of Macbeth’s mistrust of his own henchmen, and, we may now say, as a foreshadowing of the tyrannical or twentieth-century totalitarian allseeing state.

      Macbeth’s puzzling catalog of dogs kept coming back into my head when I was thinking of...

    • Does Literature Work as Social Science? The Case of George Orwell
      (pp. 49-70)

      We live in a world that has, to say the least, a certain fascination with public intellectuals. Some public intellectuals are drawn from the academy, but many of the most influential members of this hardy if indefinable breed come from other pursuits. Because they have not undergone the rigors of preparing for a professional or Ph.D degree, they show little respect for the conventional boundaries that separate one field of inquiry from another. They can, and often do, move quickly from the humanities to the social sciences and back again, and are often not aware as to how, or even...


    • Puritanism and Power Politics during the Cold War: George Orwell and Historical Objectivity
      (pp. 73-85)

      It is one of Peter Novick’s significant points inThat Noble Dreamthat broadly speaking both the supporters of and believers in historical objectivity and their opponents invariably had other agendas, that the arguments between them never take place in a vacuum. They come, as he put it, in “wrapped packages.”³ Orwell’s era may be said to have begun with the outbreak of World War I, took on more coherent shape with the Russian Revolution and Mussolini’s March on Rome, entered a new phase with the Spanish civil war, and culminated in the long years of the Cold War. It...

    • Rorty and Orwell on Truth
      (pp. 86-111)

      I am going to discuss the political upshot of Richard Rorty’s epistemological doctrines. I shall do this by comparing Rorty’s and George Orwell’s respective conceptions of what it means to be a liberal—that is, their respective conceptions of the relation among preservation of freedom, prevention of cruelty, and regard for truth. In a chapter of his bookContingency, Irony and Solidarity, Rorty reads Orwell as espousing the variety of liberalism that Rorty himself seeks to champion.¹ The aim of this paper is to suggest, not only that what is offered in that chapter is a misreading of Orwell, but...

    • From Ingsoc and Newspeak to Amcap, Amerigood, and Marketspeak
      (pp. 112-124)

      AlthoughNineteen Eighty-Fourwas a Cold War document that dramatized the threat of the Soviet enemy, and has always been used mainly to serve Cold War political ends, it also contained the germs of a powerful critique of U.S. and Western practice. Orwell himself suggested such applications in his essay “Politics and the English Language” and even more explicitly in a neglected preface toAnimal Farm.¹ But doublespeak and thought control are far more important in theWest than Orwell indicated, often in subtle forms but sometimes as crudely as inNineteen Eighty-Four,and virtually everyNineteen Eighty-Fourillustration of Ingsoc,...


    • Mind Control in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: Fictional Concepts Become Operational Realities in Jim Jones’s Jungle Experiment
      (pp. 127-154)

      Imagine that your Enemy’s mission is to control your every thought, feeling, and action so that they become alienated from the core of your being. The State assumes their ownership as part of its master plan for the total domination of you and the wills of all your kin. Consider further how you feel when you discover that the goals of this omnipotent Enemy are boldly proclaimed thus: “to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought” (159); to eliminate the conditions that enable even one “erroneous thought [to] exist anywhere in the world” (210); to crush the...

    • Whom Do You Trust? What Do You Count On?
      (pp. 155-180)

      Winston Smith fails to resist torture. This failure is utter and complete. Fear grips the reader as he hopes, against all odds, that Winston Smith will be able to resist. But there is no redemption for either the reader or Winston Smith. He is, Orwell tells us in a peculiar Nietzschean language, the “last man.” Like the pink coral paperweight shattered at the time of his arrest, the pink flesh of a human being seems to be deeply vulnerable no matter how well encased it is in ideas. There is no protection in ideas. Ideas, like glass, are hard to...


    • Orwell versus Huxley: Economics, Technology, Privacy, and Satire
      (pp. 183-211)

      The editors asked me to discuss whatNineteen Eighty-Fourmay have bequeathed to us in the way of useful thinking about technology and privacy; for many people believe that the relentless advance of science and technology in recent decades has endangered privacy and brought us to the very brink of the Orwellian nightmare. With the editors’ permission, however, I enlarged my canvas to take in another famous English satiric novel from the era that producedNineteen Eighty-Four. Aldous Huxley’sBrave New World,published in 1932, has many parallels to Orwell’s novel, published in 1949—and Orwell borrowed extensively from the...

    • On the Internet and the Benign Invasions of Nineteen Eighty-Four
      (pp. 212-221)

      I went to and entered the search terms “Orwell” and “1984.” A book popped onto my screen. I was in a hurry, and, not paying much attention to what was displayed, I hit the “One-Click” button to purchase the book. A book arrived a couple of days later. It wasn’t Orwell’s text. It was instead a book by Peter Huber—a polymath and lawyer—titledOrwell’s Revenge.¹ It looked interesting enough, so I read it. And in Huber’s book I found an illustration of the point I want to make about Orwell’s book,Nineteen Eighty-Four.

      There is a view...

    • The Self-Preventing Prophecy; or, How a Dose of Nightmare Can Help Tame Tomorrow’s Perils
      (pp. 222-230)

      What will the future be like?

      The question is much on people’s minds, and not only because we’ve entered a new century. One of our most deeply human qualities keeps us both fascinated with and worried about tomorrow’s dangers. We all try to project our thoughts into the future, using special portions of our brains called theprefrontal lobesto mentally probe the murky realm ahead. These tiny neural organs let us envision, fantasize, and explore possible consequences of our actions, noticing some errors and avoiding some mistakes.

      Humans have possessed these mysterious nubs of gray matter—sometimes called the...


    • Sexual Freedom and Political Freedom
      (pp. 233-241)

      One of the most vivid passages inNineteen Eighty-Fourappears in the middle of the novel, where Winston experiences what is meant to be a moment of revelation. The passage can be found immediately after Winston tells Julia about “his married life”: as it happens Julia knew “the essential parts of it already.” Thus she describes “to him, almost as though she had seen or felt it, the stiffening of Katharine’s body as soon as he touched her.” This was “the frigid little ceremony that Katharine had forced him to go through on the same night every week.” Winston notes...

    • Sex, Law, Power, and Community
      (pp. 242-260)

      How should we think critically about—and then possibly reform—our laws regulating human sexuality? One possible way to do so is moralistic: by reference to a community’s shared and long-standing moral or religious beliefs, we could determine what sexual practices are morally good and what practices are morally bad, and then we could attempt to pass laws that encourage the good and deter the bad. We could then criticize our laws, including our laws of sexual regulation, by reference to how well or how poorly they achieve this end. Another possible way to do so might be called liberal:...

    • Nineteen Eighty-Four, Catholicism, and the Meaning of Human Sexuality
      (pp. 261-276)

      I aim, in this essay, to do three things. First, to say something about contrasting readings ofNineteen Eighty-Fourin respect of the themes of religion and sexuality. Second, to relate these readings to Roman Catholic understandings of those themes. Third, to relate those understandings to contemporary concerns about sexual liberty and regulation.

      Let me begin, then, with a quotation taken from a fairly recent study of Orwell’s text:

      Nineteen Eighty-Fouris about love in our time, its present status and future prospects . . . likeParadise Lostit is at once a love story and an account of...


    • The Death of Pity: Orwell and American Political Life
      (pp. 277-300)

      A gesture haunts this novel, as it haunts the mind of Winston Smith. Routine, daily, undeliberated, the gesture is also hopelessly distant, its radiance the stuff of dreams. No one can make this gesture any longer. Politics has destroyed it.

      It is a gesture of the arm: a mother encircles her children, protecting them from harm. This gesture is the first thing Winston writes about in his diary: in the middle of cheerful war films about the bombing in the Mediterranean, he sees a lifeboat full of children about to be bombed by a helicopter overhead—and in it a...

  12. Contributors
    (pp. 301-304)
  13. Index
    (pp. 305-312)