This is not the first time that I’ve read 1984. But now, the world of Oceania, of purge and Newspeak and Airstrip One and betrayal and IngSoc, doesn’t seem all that far off. It is April 5, 2017, and the clocks are just striking thirteen.
George Orwell elected to build his world carefully. Where this novel is superior to predecessors like We and Brave New World is not just in Orwell’s peerless writing. Writing in the late 1940s, and coming off the success of Animal Farm, Orwell was concerned with the future of Britain as a nation just getting over the trauma of the Second World War. Atomic weapons had been used against civilian targets to end the war in the Pacific, and pessimistically Orwell saw no reason to think that they wouldn’t be again. War seemed to be the new normal state of the world, so there was no reason why the Peace should not be lost in favour of constant combat. The logical outgrowth? How do you keep a formerly democratic society — albeit a flawed one — involved in a state of War for thirty, or fifty, or a hundred years? Obviously, that would require a corrosively powerful totalitarian state, one which would combine the very worst tactics of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia. In short, it would require a state like the fictional Oceania, once given over to a Socialist ideology, but soon converted into a totalitarian regime paying half-hearted lip-service to English Socialism, or IngSoc. With this basic foundation constructed, Orwell could proceed to details.