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George Orwell > The Prevention of Literature > Essay

The Prevention of Literature


About a year ago I attended a meeting of the P.E.N. Club, the occasion
being the tercentenary of Milton's AEROPAGITICA--A pamphlet, it may be
remembered, in defense of freedom of the press. Milton's famous phrase
about the sin of "killing" a book was printed on the leaflets advertising
the meeting which had been circulated beforehand.

There were four speakers on the platform. One of them delivered a speech
which did deal with the freedom of the press, but only in relation to
India; another said, hesitantly, and in very general terms, that liberty
was a good thing; a third delivered an attack on the laws relating to
obscenity in literature. The fourth devoted most of his speech to a
defense of the Russian purges. Of the speeches from the body of the hall,
some reverted to the question of obscenity and the laws that deal with
it, others were simply eulogies of Soviet Russia. Moral liberty--the
liberty to discuss sex questions frankly in print--seemed to be
generally approved, but political liberty was not mentioned. Out of this
concourse of several hundred people, perhaps half of whom were directly
connected with the writing trade, there was not a single one who could
point out that freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means
the freedom to criticize and oppose. Significantly, no speaker quoted
from the pamphlet which was ostensibly being commemorated. Nor was there
any mention of the various books which have been "killed" in England and
the United States during the war. In its net effect the meeting was a
demonstration in favor of censorship. [Note: It is fair to say that the
P.E.N. club celebrations, which lasted a week or more, did not always
stick at quite the same level. I happened to strike a bad day. But an
examination of the speeches (printed under the title FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION)
shows that almost nobody in our own day is able to speak out as roundly in
favour of intellectual liberty as Milton could do 300 years ago--and this
in spite of the fact Milton was writing in a period of civil war.
(Author's footnote)]

There was nothing particularly surprising in this. In our age, the idea
of intellectual liberty is under attack from two directions. On the one
side are its theoretical enemies, the apologists of totalitarianism, and
on the other its immediate, practical enemies, monopoly and bureaucracy.
Any writer or journalist who wants to retain his integrity finds himself
thwarted by the general drift of society rather than by active
persecution. The sort of things that are working against him are the
concentration of the press in the hands of a few rich men, the grip of
monopoly on radio and the films, the unwillingness of the public to spend
money on books, making it necessary for nearly every writer to earn part
of his living by hackwork, the encroachment of official bodies like the
M.O.I. [Ministry of Information] and the British Council, which help the
writer to keep alive but also waste his time and dictate his opinions, and
the continuous war atmosphere of the past ten years, whose distorting
effects no one has been able to escape. Everything in our age conspires to
turn the writer, and every other kind of artist as well, into a minor
official, working on themes handed down from above and never telling what
seems to him the whole of the truth. But in struggling against this fate
he gets no help from his own side; that is, there is no large body of
opinion which will assure him that he's in the right. In the past, at any
rate throughout the Protestant centuries, the idea of rebellion and the
idea of intellectual integrity were mixed up. A heretic--political, moral,
religious, or aesthetic--was one who refused to outrage his own
conscience. His outlook was summed up in the words of the Revivalist hymn:

Dare to be a Daniel
Dare to stand alone
Dare to have a purpose firm
Dare to make it known

To bring this hymn up to date one would have to add a "Don't" at the
beginning of each line. For it is the peculiarity of our age that the
rebels against the existing order, at any rate the most numerous and
characteristic of them, are also rebelling against the idea of individual
integrity. "Daring to stand alone" is ideologically criminal as well as
practically dangerous. The independence of the writer and the artist is
eaten away by vague economic forces, and at the same time it is
undermined by those who should be its defenders. It is with the second
process that I am concerned here.

Freedom of thought and of the press are usually attacked by arguments
which are not worth bothering about. Anyone who has experience of
lecturing and debating knows them off backwards. Here I am not trying to
deal with the familiar claim that freedom is an illusion, or with the
claim that there is more freedom in totalitarian countries than in
democratic ones, but with the much more tenable and dangerous proposition
that freedom is undesirable and that intellectual honesty is a form of
anti-social selfishness. Although other aspects of the question are
usually in the foreground, the controversy over freedom of speech and of
the press is at bottom a controversy of the desirability, or otherwise,
of telling lies. What is really at issue is the right to report
contemporary events truthfully, or as truthfully as is consistent with
the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which every observer
necessarily suffers. In saying this I may seem to be saying that
straightforward "reportage" is the only branch of literature that
matters: but I will try to show later that at every literary level, and
probably in every one of the arts, the same issue arises in more or less
subtilized forms. Meanwhile, it is necessary to strip away the
irrelevancies in which this controversy is usually wrapped up.

The enemies of intellectual liberty always try to present their case as a
plea for discipline versus individualism. The issue truth-versus-untruth
is as far as possible kept in the background. Although the point of
emphasis may vary, the writer who refuses to sell his opinions is always
branded as a mere egoist. He is accused, that is, of either wanting to
shut himself up in an ivory tower, or of making an exhibitionist display
of his own personality, or of resisting the inevitable current of history
in an attempt to cling to unjustified privilege. The Catholic and the
Communist are alike in assuming that an opponent cannot be both honest
and intelligent. Each of them tacitly claims that "the truth" has already
been revealed, and that the heretic, if he is not simply a fool, is
secretly aware of "the truth" and merely resists it out of selfish
motives. In Communist literature the attack on intellectual liberty is
usually masked by oratory about "petty-bourgeois individualism", "the
illusions of nineteenth-century liberalism", etc., and backed up by words
of abuse such as "romantic" and "sentimental", which, since they do not
have any agreed meaning, are difficult to answer. In this way the
controversy is maneuvered away from its real issue. One can accept, and
most enlightened people would accept, the Communist thesis that pure
freedom will only exist in a classless society, and that one is most
nearly free when one is working to bring such a society about. But
slipped in with this is the quite unfounded claim that the Communist
Party is itself aiming at the establishment of the classless society, and
that in the U.S.S.R. this aim is actually on the way to being realized.
If the first claim is allowed to entail the second, there is almost no
assault on common sense and common decency that cannot be justified. But
meanwhile, the real point has been dodged. Freedom of the intellect means
the freedom to report what one has seen, heard, and felt, and not to be
obliged to fabricate imaginary facts and feelings. The familiar tirades
against "escapism" and "individualism", "romanticism", and so forth, are
merely a forensic device, the aim of which is to make the perversion of
history seem respectable.

Fifteen years ago, when one defended the freedom of the intellect, one
had to defend it against Conservatives, against Catholics, and to some
extent--for they were not of great importance in England--against
Fascists. Today one has to defend it against Communists and
"fellow-travelers". One ought not to exaggerate the direct influence of
the small English Communist Party, but there can be no question about the
poisonous effect of the Russian MYTHOS on English intellectual life.
Because of it known facts are suppressed and distorted to such an extent
as to make it doubtful whether a true history of our times can ever be
written. Let me give just one instance out of the hundreds that could be
cited. When Germany collapsed, it was found that very large numbers of
Soviet Russians--mostly, no doubt, from non-political motives--had
changed sides and were fighting for the Germans. Also, a small but not
negligible portion of the Russian prisoners and displaced persons refused
to go back to the U.S.S.R., and some of them, at least, were repatriated
against their will. These facts, known to many journalists on the spot,
went almost unmentioned in the British press, while at the same time
Russophile publicists in England continued to justify the purges and
deportations of 1936-38 by claiming that the U.S.S.R. "had no quislings".
The fog of lies and misinformation that surrounds such subjects as the
Ukraine famine, the Spanish civil war, Russian policy in Poland, and so
forth, is not due entirely to conscious dishonesty, but any writer or
journalist who is fully sympathetic for the U.S.S.R.--sympathetic, that
is, in the way the Russians themselves would want him to be--does have
to acquiesce in deliberate falsification on important issues. I have
before me what must be a very rare pamphlet, written by Maxim Litvinoff
in 1918 and outlining the recent events in the Russian Revolution. It
makes no mention of Stalin, but gives high praise to Trotsky, and also to
Zinoviev, Kamenev, and others. What could be the attitude of even the
most intellectually scrupulous Communist towards such a pamphlet? At
best, the obscurantist attitude of saying that it is an undesirable
document and better suppressed. And if for some reason it were decided to
issue a garbled version of the pamphlet, denigrating Trotsky and
inserting references to Stalin, no Communist who remained faithful to his
party could protest. Forgeries almost as gross as this have been
committed in recent years. But the significant thing is not that they
happen, but that, even when they are known about, they provoke no
reaction from the left-wing intelligentsia as a whole. The argument that
to tell the truth would be "inopportune" or would "play into the hands
of" somebody or other is felt to be unanswerable, and few people are
bothered by the prospect of the lies which they condone getting out of
the newspapers and into the history books.

The organized lying practiced by totalitarian states is not, as is
sometimes claimed, a temporary expedient of the same nature as military
deception. It is something integral to totalitarianism, something that
would still continue even if concentration camps and secret police forces
had ceased to be necessary. Among intelligent Communists there is an
underground legend to the effect that although the Russian government is
obliged now to deal in lying propaganda, frame-up trials, and so forth,
it is secretly recording the true facts and will publish them at some
future time. We can, I believe, be quite certain that this is not the
case, because the mentality implied by such an action is that of a
liberal historian who believes that the past cannot be altered and that a
correct knowledge of history is valuable as a matter of course. From the
totalitarian point of view history is something to be created rather than
learned. A totalitarian state is in effect a theocracy, and its ruling
caste, in order to keep its position, has to be thought of as infallible.
But since, in practice, no one is infallible, it is frequently necessary
to rearrange past events in order to show that this or that mistake was
not made, or that this or that imaginary triumph actually happened. Then
again, every major change in policy demands a corresponding change of
doctrine and a revelation of prominent historical figures. This kind of
thing happens everywhere, but is clearly likelier to lead to outright
falsification in societies where only one opinion is permissible at any
given moment. Totalitarianism demands, in fact, the continuous alteration
of the past, and in the long run probably demands a disbelief in the very
existence of objective truth. The friends of totalitarianism in this
country usually tend to argue that since absolute truth is not
attainable, a big lie is no worse than a little lie. It is pointed out
that all historical records are biased and inaccurate, or on the other
hand, that modern physics has proven that what seems to us the real world
is an illusion, so that to believe in the evidence of one's senses is
simply vulgar philistinism. A totalitarian society which succeeded in
perpetuating itself would probably set up a schizophrenic system of
thought, in which the laws of common sense held good in everyday life and
in certain exact sciences, but could be disregarded by the politician,
the historian, and the sociologist. Already there are countless people
who would think it scandalous to falsify a scientific textbook, but would
see nothing wrong in falsifying an historical fact. It is at the point
where literature and politics cross that totalitarianism exerts its
greatest pressure on the intellectual. The exact sciences are not, at
this date, menaced to anything like the same extent. This partly accounts
for the fact that in all countries it is easier for the scientists than
for the writers to line up behind their respective governments.

To keep the matter in perspective, let me repeat what I said at the
beginning of this essay: that in England the immediate enemies of
truthfulness, and hence of freedom of thought, are the press lords, the
film magnates, and the bureaucrats, but that on a long view the weakening
of the desire for liberty among the intellectuals themselves is the most
serious symptom of all. It may seem that all this time I have been
talking about the effects of censorship, not on literature as a whole,
but merely on one department of political journalism. Granted that Soviet
Russia constitutes a sort of forbidden area in the British press, granted
that issues like Poland, the Spanish civil war, the Russo-German pact,
and so forth, are debarred from serious discussion, and that if you
possess information that conflicts with the prevailing orthodoxy you are
expected to either distort it or keep quiet about it--granted all this,
why should literature in the wider sense be affected? Is every writer a
politician, and is every book necessarily a work of straightforward
"reportage"? Even under the tightest dictatorship, cannot the individual
writer remain free inside his own mind and distill or disguise his
unorthodox ideas in such a way that the authorities will be too stupid to
recognize them? And in any case, if the writer himself is in agreement
with the prevailing orthodoxy, why should it have a cramping effect on
him? Is not literature, or any of the arts, likeliest to flourish in
societies in which there are no major conflicts of opinion and no sharp
distinction between the artist and his audience? Does one have to assume
that every writer is a rebel, or even that a writer as such is an
exceptional person?

Whenever one attempts to defend intellectual liberty against the claims
of totalitarianism, one meets with these arguments in one form or
another. They are based on a complete misunderstanding of what literature
is, and how--one should perhaps say why--it comes into being. They
assume that a writer is either a mere entertainer or else a venal hack
who can switch from one line of propaganda to another as easily as an
organ grinder changing tunes. But after all, how is it that books ever
come to be written? Above a quite low level, literature is an attempt to
influence the viewpoint of one's contemporaries by recording experience.
And so far as freedom of expression is concerned, there is not much
difference between a mere journalist and the most "unpolitical"
imaginative writer. The journalist is unfree, and is conscious of
unfreedom, when he is forced to write lies or suppress what seems to him
important news; the imaginative writer is unfree when he has to falsify
his subjective feelings, which from his point of view are facts. He may
distort and caricature reality in order to make his meaning clearer, but
he cannot misrepresent the scenery of his own mind; he cannot say with
any conviction that he likes what he dislikes, or believes what he
disbelieves. If he is forced to do so, the only result is that his
creative faculties will dry up. Nor can he solve the problem by keeping
away from controversial topics. There is no such thing as a genuinely
non-political literature, and least of all in an age like our own, when
fears, hatreds, and loyalties of a directly political kind are near to
the surface of everyone's consciousness. Even a single taboo can have an
all-round crippling effect upon the mind, because there is always the
danger that any thought which is freely followed up may lead to the
forbidden thought. It follows that the atmosphere of totalitarianism is
deadly to any kind of prose writer, though a poet, at any rate a lyric
poet, might possibly find it breathable. And in any totalitarian society
that survives for more than a couple of generations, it is probable that
prose literature, of the kind that has existed during the past four
hundred years, must actually come to an end.

Literature has sometimes flourished under despotic regimes, but, as has
often been pointed out, the despotisms of the past were not totalitarian.
Their repressive apparatus was always inefficient, their ruling classes
were usually either corrupt or apathetic or half-liberal in outlook, and
the prevailing religious doctrines usually worked against perfectionism
and the notion of human infallibility. Even so it is broadly true that
prose literature has reached its highest levels in periods of democracy
and free speculation. What is new in totalitarianism is that its
doctrines are not only unchallengeable but also unstable. They have to be
accepted on pain of damnation, but on the other hand, they are always
liable to be altered on a moment's notice. Consider, for example, the
various attitudes, completely incompatible with one another, which an
English Communist or "fellow-traveler" has had to adopt toward the war
between Britain and Germany. For years before September, 1939, he was
expected to be in a continuous stew about "the horrors of Nazism" and to
twist everything he wrote into a denunciation of Hitler: after September,
1939, for twenty months, he had to believe that Germany was more sinned
against than sinning, and the word "Nazi", at least as far as print went,
had to drop right out of his vocabulary. Immediately after hearing the 8
o'clock news bulletin on the morning of June 22, 1941, he had to start
believing once again that Nazism was the most hideous evil the world had
ever seen. Now, it is easy for the politician to make such changes: for a
writer the case is somewhat different. If he is to switch his allegiance
at exactly the right moment, he must either tell lies about his
subjective feelings, or else suppress them altogether. In either case he
has destroyed his dynamo. Not only will ideas refuse to come to him, but
the very words he uses will seem to stiffen under his touch. Political
writing in our time consists almost entirely of prefabricated phrases
bolted together like the pieces of a child's Meccano set. It is the
unavoidable result of self-censorship. To write in plain, vigorous
language one has to think fearlessly, and if one thinks fearlessly one
cannot be politically orthodox. It might be otherwise in an "age of
faith", when the prevailing orthodoxy has long been established and is
not taken too seriously. In that case it would be possible, or might be
possible, for large areas of one's mind to remain unaffected by what one
officially believed. Even so, it is worth noticing that prose literature
almost disappeared during the only age of faith that Europe has ever
enjoyed. Throughout the whole of the Middle Ages there was almost no
imaginative prose literature and very little in the way of historical
writing; and the intellectual leaders of society expressed their most
serious thoughts in a dead language which barley altered during a
thousand years.

Totalitarianism, however, does not so much promise an age of faith as an
age of schizophrenia. A society becomes totalitarian when its structure
becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lost
its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud. Such a
society, no matter how long it persists, can never afford to become
either tolerant or intellectually stable. It can never permit either the
truthful recording of facts or the emotional sincerity that literary
creation demands. But to be corrupted by totalitarianism one does not
have to live in a totalitarian country. The mere prevalence of certain
ideas can spread a kind of poison that makes one subject after another
impossible for literary purposes. Wherever there is an enforced orthodoxy
--or even two orthodoxies, as often happens--good writing stops. This
was well illustrated by the Spanish civil war. To many English
intellectuals the war was a deeply moving experience, but not an
experience about which they could write sincerely. There were only two
things that you were allowed to say, and both of them were palpable lies:
as a result, the war produced acres of print but almost nothing worth

It is not certain whether the effects of totalitarianism upon verse need
be so deadly as its effects on prose. There is a whole series of
converging reasons why it is somewhat easier for a poet than a prose
writer to feel at home in an authoritarian society. To begin with,
bureaucrats and other "practical" men usually despise the poet too deeply
to be much interested in what he is saying. Secondly, what the poet is
saying--that is, what his poem "means" if translated into prose--is
relatively unimportant, even to himself. The thought contained in a poem
is always simple, and is no more the primary purpose of the poem than the
anecdote is the primary purpose of the picture. A poem is an arrangement
of sounds and associations, as a painting is an arrangement of
brushmarks. For short snatches, indeed, as in the refrain of a song,
poetry can even dispense with meaning altogether. It is therefore fairly
easy for a poet to keep away from dangerous subjects and avoid uttering
heresies; and even when he does utter them, they may escape notice. But
above all, good verse, unlike good prose, is not necessarily and
individual product. Certain kinds of poems, such as ballads, or, on the
other hand, very artificial verse forms, can be composed co-operatively
by groups of people. Whether the ancient English and Scottish ballads
were originally produced by individuals, or by the people at large, is
disputed; but at any rate they are non-individual in the sense that they
constantly change in passing from mouth to mouth. Even in print no two
versions of a ballad are ever quite the same. Many primitive peoples
compose verse communally. Someone begins to improvise, probably
accompanying himself on a musical instrument, somebody else chips in with
a line or a rhyme when the first singer breaks down, and so the process
continues until there exists a whole song or ballad which has no
identifiable author.

In prose, this kind of intimate collaboration is quite impossible.
Serious prose, in any case, has to be composed in solitude, whereas the
excitement of being part of a group is actually an aid to certain kinds
of versification. Verse--and perhaps good verse of its own kind, though
it would not be the highest kind--might survive under even the most
inquisitorial régime. Even in a society where liberty and individuality
had been extinguished, there would still be a need either for patriotic
songs and heroic ballads celebrating victories, or for elaborate
exercises in flattery; and these are the kinds of poems that can be
written to order, or composed communally, without necessarily lacking
artistic value. Prose is a different matter, since the prose writer
cannot narrow the range of his thoughts without killing his
inventiveness. But the history of totalitarian societies, or of groups of
people who have adopted the totalitarian outlook, suggests that loss of
liberty is inimical to all forms of literature. German literature almost
disappeared during the Hitler régime, and the case was not much better in
Italy. Russian literature, so far as one can judge by translations, has
deteriorated markedly since the early days of the revolution, though some
of the verse appears to be better than the prose. Few if any Russian
novels that it is possible to take seriously have been translated for
about fifteen years. In western Europe and America large sections of the
literary intelligentsia have either passed through the Communist Party or
have been warmly sympathetic to it, but this whole leftward movement has
produced extraordinarily few books worth reading. Orthodox Catholicism,
again, seems to have a crushing effect upon certain literary forms,
especially the novel. During a period of three hundred years, how many
people have been at once good novelists and good Catholics? The fact is
that certain themes cannot be celebrated in words, and tyranny is one of
them. No one ever wrote a good book in praise of the Inquisition. Poetry
might survive in a totalitarian age, and certain arts or half-arts, such
as architecture, might even find tyranny beneficial, but the prose writer
would have no choice between silence or death. Prose literature as we
know it is the product of rationalism, of the Protestant centuries, of
the autonomous individual. And the destruction of intellectual liberty
cripples the journalist, the sociological writer, the historian, the
novelist, the critic, and the poet, in that order. In the future it is
possible that a new kind of literature, not involving individual feeling
or truthful observation, may arise, but no such thing is at present
imaginable. It seems much likelier that if the liberal culture that we
have lived in since the Renaissance comes to an end, the literary art
will perish with it.

Of course, print will continue to be used, and it is interesting to
speculate what kinds of reading matter would survive in a rigidly
totalitarian society. Newspapers will presumably continue until
television technique reaches a higher level, but apart from newspapers it
is doubtful even now whether the great mass of people in the
industrialized countries feel the need for any kind of literature. They
are unwilling, at any rate, to spend anywhere near as much on reading
matter as they spend on several other recreations. Probably novels and
stories will be completely superseded by film and radio productions. Or
perhaps some kind of low grade sensational fiction will survive, produced
by a sort of conveyor-belt process that reduces human initiative to the

It would probably not be beyond human ingenuity to write books by
machinery. But a sort of mechanizing process can already be seen at work
in the film and radio, in publicity and propaganda, and in the lower
reaches of journalism. The Disney films, for instance, are produced by
what is essentially a factory process, the work being done partly
mechanically and partly by teams of artists who have to subordinate their
individual style. Radio features are commonly written by tired hacks to
whom the subject and the manner of treatment are dictated beforehand:
even so, what they write is merely a kind of raw material to be chopped
into shape by producers and censors. So also with the innumerable books
and pamphlets commissioned by government departments. Even more
machine-like is the production of short stories, serials, and poems for
the very cheap magazines. Papers such as the WRITER abound with
advertisements of literary schools, all of them offering you ready-made
plots at a few shillings a time. Some, together with the plot, supply the
opening and closing sentences of each chapter. Others furnish you with a
sort of algebraical formula by the use of which you can construct plots
for yourself. Others have packs of cards marked with characters and
situations, which have only to be shuffled and dealt in order to produce
ingenious stories automatically. It is probably in some such way that the
literature of a totalitarian society would be produced, if literature
were still felt to be necessary. Imagination--even consciousness, so far
as possible--would be eliminated from the process of writing. Books
would be planned in their broad lines by bureaucrats, and would pass
through so many hands that when finished they would be no more an
individual product than a Ford car at the end of the assembly line. It
goes without saying that anything so produced would be rubbish; but
anything that was not rubbish would endanger the structure of the state.
As for the surviving literature of the past, it would have to be
suppressed or at least elaborately rewritten.

Meanwhile, totalitarianism has not fully triumphed anywhere. Our own
society is still, broadly speaking, liberal. To exercise your right of
free speech you have to fight against economic pressure and against
strong sections of public opinion, but not, as yet, against a secret
police force. You can say or print almost anything so long as you are
willing to do it in a hole-and-corner way. But what is sinister, as I
said at the beginning of this essay, is that the conscious enemies of
liberty are those to whom liberty ought to mean most. The big public do
not care about the matter one way or the other. They are not in favour of
persecuting the heretic, and they will not exert themselves to defend
him. They are at once too sane and too stupid to acquire the totalitarian
outlook. The direct, conscious attack on intellectual decency comes from
the intellectuals themselves.

It is possible that the Russophile intelligentsia, if they had not
succumbed to that particular myth, would have succumbed to another of
much the same kind. But at any rate the Russian myth is there, and the
corruption it causes stinks. When one sees highly educated men looking on
indifferently at oppression and persecution, one wonders which to despise
more, their cynicism or their shortsightedness. Many scientists, for
example, are the uncritical admirers of the U.S.S.R. They appear to think
that the destruction of liberty is of no importance so long as their own
line of work is for the moment unaffected. The U.S.S.R. is a large,
rapidly developing country which has an acute need of scientific workers
and, consequently, treats them generously. Provided that they steer clear
of dangerous subjects such as psychology, scientists are privileged
persons. Writers, on the other hand, are viciously persecuted. It is true
that literary prostitutes like Ilya Ehrenburg or Alexei Tolstoy are paid
huge sums of money, but the only thing which is of any value to the
writer as such--his freedom of expression--is taken away from him.
Some, at least, of the English scientists who speak so enthusiastically
of the opportunities to be enjoyed by scientists in Russia are capable of
understanding this. But their reflection appears to be: "Writers are
persecuted in Russia. So what? I am not a writer." They do not see that
any attack on intellectual liberty, and on the concept of objective
truth, threatens in the long run every department of thought.

For the moment the totalitarian state tolerates the scientist because it
needs him. Even in Nazi Germany, scientists, other than Jews, were
relatively well treated and the German scientific community, as a whole,
offered no resistance to Hitler. At this stage of history, even the most
autocratic ruler is forced to take account of physical reality, partly
because of the lingering-on of liberal habits of thought, partly because
of the need to prepare for war. So long as physical reality cannot
altogether be ignored, so long as two and two have to make four when you
are, for example, drawing the blueprint of an aeroplane, the scientist
has his function, and can even be allowed a measure of liberty. His
awakening will come later, when the totalitarian state is firmly
established. Meanwhile, if he wants to safeguard the integrity of
science, it is his job to develop some kind of solidarity with his
literary colleagues and not disregard it as a matter of indifference when
writers are silenced or driven to suicide, and newspapers systematically

But however it may be with the physical sciences, or with music, painting
and architecture, it is--as I have tried to show--certain that
literature is doomed if liberty of thought perishes. Not only is it
doomed in any country which retains a totalitarian structure; but any
writer who adopts the totalitarian outlook, who finds excuses for
persecution and the falsification of reality, thereby destroys himself as
a writer. There is no way out of this. No tirades against "individualism"
and the "ivory tower", no pious platitudes to the effect that "true
individuality is only attained through identification with the
community", can get over the fact that a bought mind is a spoiled mind.
Unless spontaneity enters at some point or another, literary creation is
impossible, and language itself becomes something totally different from
what it is now, we may learn to separate literary creation from
intellectual honesty. At present we know only that the imagination, like
certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity. Any writer or
journalist who denies that fact--and nearly all the current praise of
the Soviet Union contains or implies such a denial--is, in effect,
demanding his own destruction.

Index Index

  • Other Authors:    
> Charles Darwin
> Charles Dickens
> Mark Twain
> William Shakespeare

George Orwell. Copyright 2003,
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