Have you ever talked to a political person and have them cite Nineteen Eight-Four in an argument against the PATRIOT Act or about the terrorist surveillance program? What about someone quoting Brave New World while railing against the dangers of capitalism? Oh, how about having Fahrenheit 451 put together with hardcore Christians views on certain books? It happened. I used to do it in my younger days. Its quite simple, its very effective and its wholly dishonest in that it removes the context of the action from the universe the book is set in.
The Anti-Communist Socialist
Written by Eric Aurthur Blair (aka George Orwell) during the Second World War, Nineteen Eight-Four has become the icon of all political dystopia novels before and after it. Blair, a socialist, was a soldier in the Spanish Civil War, fighting for the leftist Republican faction against the monarchist-fascist Nationalist faction. It was there in the trenches with his comrades that he came face to face with the reality of what revolutionary communism and socialism has become. The Soviets had sent agents and arms to aid the leftists in the war. With the aid came Stalinist paranoia and purges. Blair's friends were gunned down by their own side because Stalin had deemed them too moderate or a threat to his rule of all communists worldwide. The author barely got out of Spain alive.
The book is about life in a futuristic Stalinist regime called Oceania that has taken over the Western Hemisphere and the English Isles. In this world, your only way to advance is to join the Party, otherwise you are relegated to the inhuman slums where the “proles” live. If you're in the Party, your life is regulated twenty-four hours by Big Brother, the ever watchful and ruthless face of the security apparatus. You are to believe whatever the state says, even if you know it to be wrong. If they say two plus two equals five, its five. Thought police kick down doors if you mutter anything against the Party or Big Brother. Children are recruited into the domestic intelligence agencies to spy on their parents. Even the much hated resistance leader and his band of ruffians are nothing more than a fiction created by the state to catch free thinkers so they can be tortured back into submission. The entire book is one big nightmare for any lover of liberty.
The left, most actively the student left, loves to point out how our interrogations are akin to the torture perpetrated in the book, but this is wrong on so many levels. First off, in the big picture, the United States is not a super-state Stalinist tyranny that enslaves the lower classes through ignorance, submits the middle class through brainwashing and has an upper class of Party members that are outside the law. The United States is a democratic republic with 50 unique states in a union held together by a federal government who leaders are elected every two, four and six years, depending on their position. Secondly, the interrogations of captured Islamist terrorists are not to break their ideological or religious beliefs, but to extract intelligence about their network, their associates and their plots to kill Americans. Our interrogations do not try to convince the terrorists two plus two is five or that Big Brother is their friend. All they need to do is give us actionable intelligence, and they have. Thousands of intelligence reports have been written based upon the vetted information given to us by these terrorists. Thirdly, the harsh interrogation were only used upon the high level terrorists in our custody. The harshest of methods, such as waterboarding, are not used on the foot soldiers. The Party, on the other hand, goes so far as to capture and torture loyal members who happen to mutter disloyal things in their sleep!
Blair was a democratic socialist. While he was disciple of Marxist economics, he wasn't for the tyrannical states that usually followed a socialist or communist coup. Blair would probably be quite content with the current status of most European nations, though the “neo-liberal” (corporatist) economics may have worried him. But, in no way, was Nineteen Eight-Four an allegory for all totalitarianism as some of the more ignorant like to profess. It was a fictionalized warning against Stalinist communism and its perversion of the ideals he held dear. There's a good reason Big Brother's face resembles Joseph's and not FDR's.
The Industrial Humanity
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World is a classic of dystopian literature. A reaction to the spreading mass industrial culture of the late 1920s and early 1930s, it sends us far into the future where mass industrialization, mass commercialization and societal collectivism have created the World State. Reproduction is no longer a individual choice, but the responsibility of the government. Most children, except for the Alphas and Betas the upper tiers of the State's caste system, are mass produced using the “Bokanovsky process” which allows an egg to create up to 96 different embryos. Through chemical manipulation, the lower castes are literally grown and then brainwashed into their jobs. There is no free will at all for those deemed to be Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons. Individuality is considered an egregious violation of the fabric of society. All citizens must interact with other citizens or be constantly looked down upon and ridiculed. Since reproduction is a state responsibility, sex has become a social and religious experience, with drug taking and orgies taking the place of prayer and Bible study. Parenthood, family, love; all the things that we hold dear today are considered evil tomorrow.
While the boons of capitalism have led to some very unhealthy things such as celebrity cults, mass advertising at children, and other things that have come to define our free market culture, Brave New World is not attacking capitalism and consumerism alone. Huxley's intention was to parody both the consumerism of America with the cold industrial fetish of the socialists and communists. Along with that, much of the future society of the World State is anti-traditional, anti-religion and anti-individualism; things hardly associated with conservatism and conservative values. The mass production of human beings is exactly what the conservative argument about cloning and embryonic stem-cell research is about. Despite the liberal myth, President Bush invested federal funds in stem-cell research, but refused to allow human embryos to be grown simply to be destroyed. The brainwashing of children isn't exactly what conservative presidents and Congresses do, especially not straight out of the womb (or the tube). But, it is a staple of communist and fascist governments to reform society from the infant up, creating fanatics by the time they've mastered riding a bike.
Huxley was an early hippie. Not the ones you see today who are one with nature, but also one with Marxist theory. Huxley was a believer in the mind and he took countless amounts of psychotropic drugs to prove it. He hated any kind to totalitarianism, either real like the USSR's anti-democratic governance or spiritual like American consumerism and American reliance on neurological medication. To use the book as a example of runaway capitalism, or of any other conservative cause, as many student revolutionaries do, just proves our education system needs revamping in the literary departments.
Books Are Hard
When some devout Christians questioned the Harry Potter books and some went so far as to burn it, constant allusions to the Ray Bradbury novel Fahrenheit 451 were made by social liberals, the media and other critics of these passionate religious folk. While I think its silly to believe that the Harry Potter series may incite children to take up the more dangerous and violent parts of witchcraft, I also think these people have every right to do what they want with the books. As for the citation of the classic novel about anti-intellectualism, those who use it use it wrong.
The world of Fahrenheit 451 is not one of theocracy or religious fervor, or of hyper-nationalism like the Nazis, but a pleasure-loving society who has deemed that learning is too hard, that any kind of lawful governance or cultural discipline is just not right. Teens drive into people and no one cares. People kill animals just to enjoy the gory death. The main character is a fireman: someone who burns the books found by the government. After a chance interaction with a free-thinking neighbor, he's set on a path of resistance to this destructive society. He's told years before his time, the people of this dytopian America decided rather than deal with minor backlashes from offended minorities, political correctness would flourish through the destruction of all books. Better for everyone to be equally unoffended by no literature than some people be offended by some literature.
Now where exactly in the book does it state that a cabal of Christian conservatives have deemed books to be blasphemous so they burn them all? Where exactly is the analogy (or allegory) to the zealotry of the faithful? Of course, it isn't there. Like the two previous examples, these famous novels of a world gone wrong are taken out of context so often its become common knowledge. Those who deem themselves political, liberal and well read, they would be aghast to know that the three books are, in fact, against what they believe. Usually, is hedonism associated with liberal or conservative ideology? How about the nanny state? How about genetic manipulation of embryos?
The classical dystopias of our literary cannon are not against a nation of free thinkers and humble faithful, nor are they against a separation of powers, a reasonable national defense, free markets or natural diversity. These horrors of our political imaginations are warnings against the very things we conservatives detest and the very thing many liberals, unwittingly, are for.
Volokh Conspiracy has moved from The Washington Post to Reason.com and it's not just about getting out from under the paywall. - It's also about wanting to be free of the censorship of "vulgarities." And the Volokh bloggers don't even use vulgarities in the own writing. They just wan...
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