The Right Wing and George Orwell - A fascinating and scary comparison!
It’s been stated many times that Fox News is little more than a modern day “ministry of truth”. This comment references a fictional government body from the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty –Four that, although apparently concerned with truth, is little more than a propaganda machine for the ruling party.
Although this is the most common comparison, there are many, many more themes and entities from Orwell’s book that have manifested themselves in the current U.S. political scene.
Let’s start our analysis by looking at Orwell’s ruling inner party, the upper class of leadership in Oceania’s governmental structure. Oceania, as explained in the story, is composed of North and South America, Great Britain and part of Southern Africa.
The Inner Party represents the top political class in Oceania, and has its membership restricted to 6 million individuals (about 2% of the population). Inner Party members enjoy a quality of life that is much better than that of the Outer Party members and the proles. Inner Party members also have access to spacious living quarters, personal servants (who could be prisoners of war), convenient transportation, and relatively pleasant food and drink (in contrast to the poor-quality and improperly manufactured Victory Gin, Victory Coffee and Victory Cigarettes of the Outer Party). Inner party members also have access to wine, as well as real coffee, tea and cigarettes with good tobacco. Inner party neighborhoods are kept clean and fancy, compared to the Outer Party neighborhoods.
Inner Party members are always identified by their black jumpsuits. Members are selected at a young age according to a battery of tests, not family heritage; any loyalty to anything other than Ingsoc and Big Brother, including the family, is strongly discouraged. Race is also of no importance in selecting members (Goldstein’s book states that the likes of “…jews, negroes and pure-blooded Indians…” are all represented in the Inner Party).
It is extremely important for the rest of the population to think that they live in good conditions compared to their relatives, and that everyone is equal. As a result, no Outer Party member or Prole may venture into the Inner Party neighborhoods without a good pretext.
Aside from the fact that Orwell’s party was not interested in racial discrimination, there are a lot of parallels between 1984 and not only today’s Right wing, but government and politics in general.
We start here with the description of the ruling “elites”. It’s well documented that the vast majority of power and money in the United States is controlled by a very tiny percentage of the population. In fact the top 1% of earners in the country control 25% of American wealth and the gap is increasing with each generation.
It’s the last paragraph in this that’s particularly relevant to current Right Wing ideology. The current political and media leaders of the Right Wing and the Republican Party have done a fantastic job of convincing many Americans of a few “facts”:
1) Wealthy people are struggling in this economy and hate the Government too (The first statement is an outright lie, the second is true in some cases)
2) Barack Obama specifically and “Liberals” in general are evil people who want to take all your money and give it to poor, lazy people
3) Equality is important and even a rich, entitled politician can be in touch with what’s happening on “main street”.
So you can see the overall theme here is “We may be rich and powerful but we care about you and we’re fighting for you!”. The reality may be quite the opposite, but in today’s American politics (especially on the right wing side), it’s far more about perception than reality.
Now let’s take at look at the “ministries” of Orwell’s party and how they parallel against the political activity of today:
Ministry of Peace (Newspeak: Minipax)
“The primary aim of modern warfare (in accordance with the principles of doublethink, this aim is simultaneously recognized and not recognized by the directing brains of the Inner Party) is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living. Ever since the end of the nineteenth century, the problem of what to do with the surplus of consumption goods has been latent in industrial society. At present, when few human beings even have enough to eat, this problem is obviously not urgent, and it might not have become so, even if no artificial processes of destruction had been at work”
Many right wing commentators and politicians espouse a strategy of maintaining high military and defense spending (Remember Rand Paul’s insane proposed budget?) while at the same time urging the cutting back or complete elimination of foreign aid and other international efforts. They obviously feel that conflict is good for business and politics (i.e. instilling a climate of fear in the populace is a good way to keep getting elected), a very Orwellian standpoint.
Ministry of Plenty (Newspeak: Miniplenty)
The Ministry of Plenty rations and controls food, goods, and domestic production; every fiscal quarter, the Miniplenty publishes false claims of having raised the standard of living, when it has, in fact, reduced rations, availability, and production. The Minitrue substantiates the Miniplenty claims by revising historical records to report numbers supporting the current, “increased rations”.
The Right Wing has done a fantastic job of convincing America that spending cuts and tax cuts (which disproportionately favor the wealthy) is the way to prosperity, when in reality this is seldom the case. Also, how often do we hear spending cuts spun in such a way that they are “beneficial to the greater good”? Right wing pundits and politicians have also gotten good at pointing to false claims or questionable information to back up their policy ideas.
Ministry of Truth (Newspeak: Minitrue)
The Ministry of Truth controls information: news, entertainment, education, and the arts. Winston Smith works in the Minitrue RecDep (Records Department), “rectifying” historical records to concord with Big Brother’s current pronouncements, thus everything the Party says is true.
As mentioned above, this is perhaps the most glaring example of how the Right Wing has adopted Orwellian ideas for their own ends. Fox News a lot of the time does function as a “ministry of truth” with incredibly biased and sometimes questionable content. Fox is more a political business than a true news outlet.
Also, look at that last bolded statement and then think about what the Right wingers have done to those Wikipedia articles after the Palin and Bachmann “gaffes”. You just can’t find a clearer example of Orwellian “engineering”.
Ministry of Love (Newspeak: Miniluv)
The Ministry of Love identifies, monitors, arrests, and converts real and imagined dissidents. In Winston’s experience, the dissident is beaten and tortured, then, when near-broken, is sent to Room 101 to face “the worst thing in the world”—until love for Big Brother and the Party replaces dissension.
How many times have you heard people on the Right, mainly on religious matters, say “this is about love.” It doesn’t matter how hateful or discriminatory the policy or pronouncement is, it’s always ultimately about good old fashioned “love”. Jesus did indeed speak often of love, but not in the way these people think He did.
We haven’t quite gotten to “Room 101” yet but don’t think that’s a huge stretch. Remember Bryan Fischer’s “Marines and missionaries” comment, or the comment he made stating Muslims should have to convert to Christianity in order to be allowed to emigrate to the U.S. Don’t kid yourself folks, they take these ideas seriously.
And then there were the three central party slogans. Let’s go through those one by one, shall we?
WAR IS PEACE
As mentioned in the section on the Ministry of Peace, the Right wing frequently espouses the idea that in order for America to remain peaceful, we must keep a strong military and react harshly to any incursion.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
Freedom is a popular topic on the Right. Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ron Paul and so forth love to talk about their idealized America which features vast individual liberty and “limited government”. However they also like to talk about their stated objectives of building a strong “free” Christian society with very strict laws relating to women, abortion, gay marriage and so forth. Hmm…
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
The best comes last. How often have dis-proven talking points popped up again and again on the right wing blogs and TV shows? How often have they talked about deceptive “Liberal mainstream media”. The topic could be climate change, evolution, the origin of the President, Islam, it doesn’t matter. They’ll stick to the talking points again and again and again no matter how evidence there is against them.
This analysis could of course go much deeper than what you see here. 1984 is a vast novel dealing with many social and political themes. It’s an important book in that so much of its fiction has been incorporate into reality (and continues to be an even faster rate) since its writing over 60 years ago.
Also, there are many clear differences between the Right Wing and Orwellian ruling party. They are clearly using the story simply as inspiration, not as a bona fide blueprint for the future.
Still though, the comparisons are staggering…and that should be worrisome to most of us.
After all, at the rate we’re going how much longer is “Room 101” going to stay fictional? We’re closer than you think.