In 1984, Orwell Showed “Judgment, Courage and Clarity”

(p. C10) Mr. Taylor, a novelist, critic and biographer, more ably balances the cultural footprint of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” with the story of its writing.

. . .

Orwell used his newspaper columns to flesh out the ideas that his novel—tentatively titled “The Last Man in Europe”—would explore. In one article, writes Mr. Taylor, Orwell suggested that “totalitarianism’s most terrifying quality is not only that it instigates atrocities, but that it seeks to control ‘the concept of objective truth’ and thereby manipulates both past and future.” This theme would take form in “Nineteen Eighty-Four” when Oceania periodically shifted from fighting one of its two enemies to fighting the other. Past alliances and rivalries instantly disappeared: “Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.”

. . .

George Orwell possessed three signal virtues, each of them rare and almost unheard of in concert. They are judgment, courage and clarity. As Christopher Hitchens pointed out in “Why Orwell Matters,” Orwell’s judgment was right on the great political questions of the 20th century: imperialism, fascism and communism. He had the courage to say so, even when it meant breaking with his countrymen (imperialism) and his comrades (communism). And Orwell had the talent to make his arguments in prose as clear as a windowpane, with his biases and flaws on display for all to judge.

For the full review, see:

Michael O’Donnell. “An Enduring Vision of Tyranny.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, October 19, 2019): C10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date October 18, 2019, and has the title “‘The Ministry of Truth’ and ‘On Nineteen Eighty-Four’ Review: An Enduring Vision of Tyranny.”)

The book under review in the passages quoted above is:

Boucheron, Patrick. Machiavelli: The Art of Teaching People What to Fear. Translated by Willard Wood. New York: Other Press, 2020.

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