Wednesday, June 27, 2007

My literary incompetence

Fine. I'm a literary incompetent. It has just now hit me (thirty years after reading it for the first time) that George Orwell's 1984 is a straightforward religious allegory.

Big Brother is God, the Inner Party the priesthood, the Proletariat the unquestioning, uncritical sheep, and the Outer Party the visible expression of the innate sinfulness of humanity. "Reason is a whore" and the enemy of religious truth, and the perpetual job of the Inner Party/priesthood is to stamp out reason in favor of revealed truth.


  1. I don't think it's straightforward at all until you realize that religious organizations are just as authoritarian as totalitarian fascism or Communism. 1984 is of a piece with Orwell's other works of that time, which were profoundly influenced by the struggle against Nazi Germany and Stalinist Communism.

  2. What's also interesting—despite the superficial "atheism" of Soviet Communism—is how closely Fascist, Nazi and Communist ideologies and political institutions are modeled after Christian scripture and the Catholic Church.

  3. Well, Soviet Communism wasn't hostile to religion because it was atheistic. It was hostile to religion because it brooked no opposition for the proletariat's loyalty. Fascism/Communism attempt to subsume their subjects into an over-arching ideological, metaphysical (or, in Communism's case, dialectical), and nationalistic identity. Religious affiliation gets in the way of that.

  4. Interesting... but in 1984 'the truth' isn't something that's revealed in an immutable text - rather it's redefined as convenient for the Inner Party.

    It's as if the Vatican reissued a new Bible every so often to remind everyone how the Carthaginians crucified Jesus on the say-so of an Egyptian mob.

  5. Presumably IngSoc does have some central tenets, but you're right, that's not the focus of 1984. The key concept though is the power to define truth.

    Also, I see Winston Smith's torture not as an allegory for the repression of textual dissent, but as a metaphor for Hell, where the innate sinfulness of humanity is punished.

  6. A distinction without a difference. Religion and Statism are identical.

    1984 is about absolutism -- it matters not if it is of a religious or secular nature.


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