I always wondered how totalitarian systems function ; keeping millions of people subjugated could inevitably backfire in so many different ways. I knew why totalitarian rulers craved power, but I didn’t know how they preserved it. On that note, I feel reading the book “1984” enlightened me on “how” a totalitarian system might function , and continue to exist for decades.
“1984” is a dystopian social science fiction novel written by George Orwell. It’s a novel based on totalitarian rule in Oceania , one of the three totalitarian states ( other two were Eurasia and Eastasia). The state of Oceania was run by an organization known as “The Party” (led by Big Brother, the supreme ruler of Oceania) which constantly brainwashed its people with its propaganda, consequentially changing the way they look at the world. What fascinated me were the approaches they undertook in doing so.
For instance : “Newspeak“, a language invented by The Party that was adherent to “Ingsoc” (English Socialism) in Oceania. Every new version of the Newspeak dictionary contained lesser words than the previous one. Through eliminating certain unorthodox words from the dictionary , they limited the capability of a person to express unorthodox ideas in the first place. For example : all politically unorthodox thoughts were expressed by a single word : “Thoughtcrime”. As such , even if a person had rebellious thoughts , he wouldn’t be able to structure his thoughts or draw any conclusions because his ability to think was strangled by the language he spoke . Bad was replaced by “ungood”, very good was replaced by “plusgood” and wonderful by “doubleplusgood”. In this pattern , “Newspeak” limited the thought process , bolstering the Party’s influence over the people of Oceania in the bigger picture.
The Party also retained its influence by altering history, according to their own convenience. All the articles or artifacts that reflected how Oceania looked in the past were either vanished , or altered according to the convenience of the ruling class . Through altering history and preventing information from the outer world to enter , they erased all standards of comparison that may make people think that previous/foreign systems are/were better. The Proletariats (lowest social class in their society) who constituted the majority were constantly dehumanized and kept in ignorance . The Proletariats could never overthrow The Party , because they didn’t know how to. This reinstated George Orwell’s notion : In the long run, a hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. Through constant subjugation and exploitation , The Party kept the middle class and the Proletariats away from comfort ,convenience, and awareness(on top) , preventing them from united revolt.
An astonishing way The Party used in preserving “unity” was through reinforcing the slogan :
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
Through perpetrating the notion “War is Peace” among the general masses, The Party created a belief that Oceania was always at war with its surrounding nations , and that continuous war is necessary to attain peace. This thought always kept the citizens distracted towards the enemy. As the general mass were paralyzed in their ability to think or attain external information , everyone believed the state propaganda. Through uniting the nation against a common enemy outside the state, The Party preserved peace inside the state. The second notion, “Freedom is Slavery“, indicated that true freedom lies only in serving The Party , and that one will always be unsuccessful while operating in free will. It made people feel that the man subjected to collective will is free from adverse circumstances. Similar cases occurred in case of justifying the notion “Ignorance is strength”, which generated the belief that The Party’s judgements are always correct and informed, and anyone’s personal judgement would never be as correct as that of The Party. This made people consider their own thoughts to be baseless/invalid and thereby submit to the party, turning into collective strength. Through the aforementioned efforts, a totalitarian government generated a stable hierarchical system that exploited its people , ensuring that they never realized they were being exploited all along . And those who would ever want to vouch for a change , knew that regardless of what they do , Big Brother (the supreme ruler of Oceania) is always watching them!
It’s astonishing how the aforementioned slogans of The Party can be found relatable in modern life as well. However, let’s spare that train of thought for another day , shall we ?