From George Orwell’s “1984”

Power & Tyranny—George Orwell (1903 – 1950)

Following World War II, persons on both sides of the Atlantic were doing a good bit of soul-searching. The “war to end all wars” (World War I) had been nothing of the sort, and in many ways set a trajectory for World War II. British intellectual George Orwell wrote poignantly about the nature of power, particularly the danger of centralized power.

In the following quotation, taken from Orwell’s classic novel, 1984, penned in 1949, the hero, Winston Smith, is being interrogated and tortured by the epitome of government power and tyranny, O’Brien. Throughout the book Winston has been able to avoid punishment, even though he has “come alive” and has realized that something is radically amiss with his culture and with the all-knowing and all-powerful “Big Brother.” He has sought to live a somewhat independent life, ignoring at least some of the dictates of the tyranny under which he lives. But he eventually is caught, and O’Brien, in the midst of torturing him, explains to Winston something of the nature of political tyranny and power. Though not a Christian, Orwell’s insights are bracing.

The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?1

Footnotes:
1 George Orwell, 1984 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1949; New York: New American Library, 1984), 217. Citations are to the New American Library edition.

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