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  • Writer's pictureMadeleina Kay

"If public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted" - George Orwell

I've been reading a series of short essays on Fascism and Democracy by George Orwell for my research paper. It always stuns me how timeless Orwell's writings are - these essays are 8 decades old yet still contain so much wisdom and insight that can be applied to contemporary society.

Fascism and Democracy, February 1941 – George Orwell


‘The citizen of a democratic country is ‘conditioned’ from birth onwards, less rigidly but not much less effectively that he would be in a totalitarian state.’ (page 2)


‘Moreover, all government, democratic or totalitarian, rests ultimately on force. No government unless it intends to connive at its own overthrow, can or does show the smallest respect for democratic ‘rights’ when once it is seriously menaced.’ (page 3)


‘Jews are persecuted wherever fascism reigns; but what about the colour laws in South Africa? Intellectual honesty is a crime in any totalitarian country; but even in England it is not exactly profitable to speak and write the truth.’ (page 4)


‘And here one comes upon the best asset that Capitalist democracy has to show. It is the comparative feeling of security enjoyed by the citizens of democratic countries, the knowledge that when you talk politics with your friends there is no Gestapo earglued at the keyhole, the belief that ‘they’ cannot punish you unless you have broken the law, the belief that the law is above the State. It does not matter that this belief is partly an illusion – as it is, of course.’ (page 6)


‘Communism was from the first a lost cause in Western Europe, and the communist parties of the various countries early degenerated into mere publicity agents for the Russian regime … Instead of pointing out the Russia was a backward country which we might learn from but could not be expected to imitate, the Communists were obliged to pretend that the purges, ‘liquidations’, etc. were healthy symptoms which any right-minded person would like to see transferred to England. Naturally the people who could be attracted by such a creed, and remain faithful to it after they had grasped its nature, tended to be neurotic or malignant types, people fascinated by the spectacle of successful cruelty.’ (page 10)


‘When the real English Socialist movement appears… It will be both revolutionary and democratic. It will aim t the most fundamental challenges and be perfectly willing to use violence if necessary. But also it will recognise that not all cultures are the same, that national sentiments and traditions have to be respected if revolutions are not to fail, that England is not Russia – or China, or India.’ (page 11)


‘Bourgeois Democracy is not enough, but it is very much better than Fascism, and to work against it is to saw off the branch you are sitting on. The common people know this, even if the intellectuals do not. They will cling very firmly to the ‘illusion’ of Democracy and to the Western conception of honesty and common decency. It is no use appealing to them in terms of ‘realism’ and power politics, preaching the doctrines of Machiavelli in the jargon of Lawrence and Wishart. The most that that can achieve is confusion of the kind that Hitler wishes for.’ (pages 11-12)


Literature and Totalitarianism – May 1941, George Orwell


‘We live in an age in which the autonomous individual is ceasing to exist – or perhaps one ought to say, in which the individual is ceasing to have the illusion of being autonomous.’ (page 13)


‘Socialism was usually thought of as a sort of moralised Liberalism… Art could flourish just as it had done in the Liberal-capitalist age, only a little more so, because the artist would no longer be under economic compulsions.’ (page 15)


‘Totalitarianism has abolished freedom of thought to an extent unheard of in any previous age. And it is important to realise that its control of thought is not only negative, but positive. It not only forbids you to express – even to think – certain thought but dictates what you shall think, it creates an ideology for you, it tries to govern your emotional life as well as setting up a code of conduct. And s far as possible it isolates you from the outside world, it shuts you up in an artificial universe in which you have no standards of comparison. The Totalitarian state tries, at any rate, to control the thoughts and emotions of its subjects at least as completely as it controls their actions.’ (page 15)


‘I said earlier that liberal capitalism is obviously coming to an end , and therefore I may have seemed to suggest that freedom of thought is also inevitably doomed. But I don’t believe this to be so’ (page 18).


Freedom of the Park – December 1945, George Orwell


‘The point is that the relative freedom that we enjoy depends on public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper of the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if the laws exist to protect them. The decline in the desire for intellectual liberty has not been so sharp as I would have predicted six years ago, whe the war was starting, but there has still been a decline. The notion that certain opinions cannot safely be allowed a hearing is growing.’ (page 24)


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