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The Perfect Totalitarian Rule: Orwell

The security state is different than the constitutional state and is marked by the generalization of fear, de-politization and forms without substance. In 1984, Orwell warned of totalitarianism where the past was erased and the Party created a new language. The Party alone decided two plus two equals five, dissent was not allowed and children informed on their parents for thought crimes.

Elements of Totalitarianism according to Orwell's 1984

By Carl Sulz

[This reading sample of Carl Sulz' eBook "The Perfect Totalitarian Rule" is translated from the German on the Internet, www.grin.com.]


"What is really evil is our speechless horror when we cannot say anything but this should not have ever happened" [1]. This quotation from Hannah Arendt could be an introduction to this study on George Orwell's "1984" since Orwell's dystopia has the end as the beginning. The plot begins in a world ruled by three great super-states: Eurasia, Oceania and East Asia. These are most likely in a constant war for a few countries that could be described as a "no man's land." That this is limited to a few skirmishes with a few specialized troops is characteristic for this "war." A "conventional" war is no longer possible in this world. The three super-states are self-sufficient and equally strong. None can win definitively and none can lose definitively. This information should be only accepted cautiously since there is no objective, independent information in the world described by Orwell. The past was paraphrased and changed so that what "really" happened and what was the pure fantasy of the party were blurred. The present was not only defined by propaganda. "The past was wiped out, the obliterated forgotten and the lie became the truth" [2].

This uncertainty equal to a nightmare (one was never sure what was real and what was not) is characteristic for nearly all elements of the novel. Doubts are hardly allowed. The form for all three states was perfect totalitarianism. Orwell's dystopia is certainly one of the most important works of the 20th century because it shows what should never have happened. There is no way back, no hope for "better times" when a system like that described by Orwell becomes established. In the stage described by Orwell, a perfect totalitarianism system dominates the present and the past and - consequently - the future. "Whoever controls the past controls the future. Whoever controls the present controls the past." [3]

Dystopia itself inadequately answers the question how such a perfect system came about. Only the sporadic fragmentary memories of the protagonist Winston could preserve information about the world before 1984 since no notes from the past existed (at least no authentic notes). These memories were blurred and no concrete clues existed for the questions "how" or "why" (for example, the random shootings in the streets of London).

Thus "only" the questions remained - according to Orwell - how a perfect totalitarian system must act, what institutions and what persons it needs to ring in the end of history, to make all progress succumb and initiate people in their worst (and possibly last) chapter.

To analyze these questions, the Orwellian system was divided into its most characteristic elements viewed as pillars of a perfect totalitarianism. Analyses of Hannah Arendt and the Institute for Totalitarianism Research of the Technical University of Dresden produced themes for totalitarianism research. A summary of the themes will conclude this study. How far does the totalitarianism described by Orwell represent a real threat to contemporary civilization? Should Orwell's warning be taken seriously? The generic masculine is used in this study.

Elements of Perfect Totalitarian Rule

While the term ideology is blurred in political science, it is very suited to describe the actions "of the party" and the society terrorized by the Party. In this study, ideology is defined as a "system of thought that serves as a general orientation for interpreting social reality. Ideology legitimates power claims in political life and contains crypto-normative and false ideas alongside genuine insights, judgments, norms, and appeals to action. Its unjustified truth-claims and untruths are referred back to an interest-conditioned bias of its producers and defenders." [4]


That "genuine" and "counterfeit" truths mix in the ideology of the Party and a third "truth" results that is passed on to the people is typical. The mixture of the historically past and the past created by the Party is characteristic of this truth particle. Without documents and authentic evidence, the constructed truth of the Party becomes the only valid truth. A truth monopoly arises. "Whatever the Party considers truth is the truth." [5] This monopoly is important for a totalitarian system since it promises complete control and command and allows facts to be despised and lies to be converted into truth. [6]

This Party truth can seemingly even twist real natural science laws. This was clear during the torture of the protagonist Winston. For example, he was repeatedly ordered to see five extended fingers instead of four. "When the Party says there are five, not four - how many are there?" [7] Pretending to believe the Party reality is not possible. The "Inquisitor" O'Brien catches Winston in every lie and punishes him through even more dreadful tortures. Winston did not really know anymore how many fingers were held up in front of him. The first step of his "healing" was complete. [8]

These texts could serve as an example for another important facet of the perfect totalitarian ideology: the total destruction of opposition. By opposition, a resistance group like the Bruderschaft (the Brotherhood) is not meant. Rather the opposition is in the form of thoughts or not-believing Party doctrine. The destruction of such enemies occurred "classically" in the past history of humanity through their physical execution, one time with more and another time with fewer suffering. That oppositional thought cannot be killed is problematic. A martyr was created. The whole disgrace struck the Inquisitor." [9] Therefore the system in "1984" perfected the destruction system since no martyrs could be created anymore.

This destruction is accomplished by two methods: on one side, the complete breaking of a person, his complete "reprogramming," and on the other side through the complete erasure of his existence. The remembrance of one's nearest relatives is either automatically extinguished or at least repressed by execution or by fear and not only personal acts or articles of the extinguished person. The second method is only possible when a system successfully controls and constantly rewrites all times...

O'Brien declared: "All the confessions are genuine. We see to that." [10] Even if this may seem absurd, it is a horrible reality in "1984." Winston was "healed" or "released" after months of torture (both physical and psychic). He was completely socialized, waited for death and declared: "Now, it was good. Everything was in order. The struggle came to an end. He had overcome himself. He loved the Big Brother." [11] The total destruction was now really successful.

Constant War

The constant war is another important aspect of totalitarian ideology. In the novel, this war was made concrete by occasional missile strikes in residential areas, endless propaganda of important victories and conquests, changing alliances and public executions of alleged pacifists. That the war between the three powers had no material, territorial or ideological reason is significant. [12] The essence of the perfect totalitarian system is the complete control of people and what is better suited than a constant threat of war? This situation is embodied by the Party itself, particularly its slogan "war is peace." Concretely, this means constant war hysteria, acts like rape, pillaging, and tortures of prisoners of war. [13] The real aim of war is the constant shortage of consumer goods and "consuming products without raising the standard of living." [14]

The Party propaganda ensures that the hunger and fear of the population are directed against the imaginary) enemy, the pacifist or war enemy. "Hate Week" can be seen as a special manifestation of this orientation. The result is both insidious and efficient. People cling to their system that fights against the enemy and ensures "glorious times" can be expected in the future. That war is peace can be claimed since wars in their classical definition do not exist anymore.

The New Person

Totalitarianism research assumes totalitarian systems are subject to a constant evolution or permanent revolution. [15] and are not static.

"We assume totalitarian systems pass through a constant evolution that includes growth and degeneration and are not fixed and static structures." [16] This is clear in Orwell's dystopia. The Party tries to create a new person - perfect in its sense. Its goal is a person completely without engagements and capability for critical reflection or critical thinking. Two paths are followed: the new creation of a "perfect" language and the abolition of interpersonal bonds.

The new perfect language in "1984" is called "Newspeak" and has only one objective: "narrowing thought possibilities. Last but not least, thought crimes are made literally impossible because there are no words to express them anymore." A critical confrontation of individuals with reality is impossible since language is dominated by the thought patterns of the Party. Thought-models are prescribed in which the members must move. [17] Together with language and literature, the person and everything that makes ups his or her human nature - freedom, individuality, critical thinking, and imagination - is condemned to ruin." [18]

According to this ideology, the new - perfect - person has no interpersonal relations anymore that go beyond reproduction. This is true for the family itself. Through betrayal and eavesdropping, parents must fear their children. "Nothing is in the limelight as much as a betrayal. Who was not betrayed and who is not betrayed?" [19] During his imprisonment, Winston met Parson who was watched in his sleep by his daughter and now (thankfully) awaited his condemnation as a thought-criminal. [20] The love between a man and a woman was too dangerous to the Party for it to continue. So marriages were only allowed when both partners had no feelings for one another. Sex was restricted to mere reproduction. Extra-marital sex (with other Party members) entailed the most severe punishments. Not without reason, Winston declared:

"Today, there was neither pure love nor pure pleasure. No feeling was pure anymore since everything was mixed with fear and hatred. Julia's embrace had been a battle and orgasm a victory. It was a blow against the Party, a political act." [21]

The relation (or love) to another person mostly represented the last bastion of the private, a place of relaxation and reflection. A "revolutionary explosiveness" [22] is inherent in both that even the new person cannot control. [... ]


[1] S. Arendt, Hannah: Über das Böse. München: Piper Verlag, 2006. S. 45
[2] S. Bracher, Karl Dietrich: Die totalitäre Erfahrung. München: Pieper Verlag, 1987. S. 61.
[3] S. Orwell, George: 1984. München: Ullstein Verlag, 2003 (24. Auflage). S. 298.
[4] S. Nohlen, Dieter: Lexikon der Politik. Band 1. Berlin: Directmedia, 2003. S. 192.
[5] Vgl. Orwell, George: 1984. S. 300.
[6] Vgl. Arendt, Hannah: Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft. München: R. Pieper GmbH & Co. KG, 1986. S. 558.
[7] S. Orwell, George: 1984. S. 300.
[8] Vgl. Ebd. S. 304.
[9] Vgl. Orwell, George: 1984. S. 305.
[10] Vgl. Ebd.
[11] Vgl. Ebd. S. 357.
[12] Vgl. Ebd. S. 224.
[13] Vgl. Orwell, George: 1984. S. 224f.
[14] Verl. Ebd. S. 227.
[15] Vgl. Arendt, Hannah: Elemente und Ursprünge totaler Herrschaft. S. 610.
[16] Vgl. Friedrich, Carl Joachim; Brzezinski, Zbigniew: Die allgemeinen Merkmale der totalitären Diktatur. In: Jesse, Eckhard (Hrsg.): Totalitarismus im 20. Jahrhundert. Eine Bilanz der internationalen Forschung. Bonn: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 1996. S. 227.
[17] Zech, Stefanie: Warnung vor dem übermächtigen Staat. Die Zerstörung von Sprache und Literatur in Orwells „Nineteen Eighty-Four" und Bradburys „Fahrenheit 451". In: Schriftenreihe und Materialien der Phantastischen Bibliothek Wetzlar. Wetzlar: Förderkreis Phantastik in Wetzlar e.V., 1995. S. 51.
[18] Vgl. Ebd. S. 62.
[19] S. Plank, Robert: Orwells 1984. Eine psychologische Studie. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983. S. 98.
[20] Vgl. Orwell, George: 1984. S. 282.
[21] Vgl. Ebd. S. 155.
[22] Vgl. Henrich, Rolf: Der vormundschaftliche Staat. Vom Versagen des real existierenden Sozialismus. Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag GmbH, 1989. S. 267.

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