A paradox of George Orwell’s legacy is that the term Orwellian has come to mean a cynical manipulation of language. Of course, Orwell’s own prose fought constantly against such deceit. He was a carpenter of the English language, and his paragraphs are simple, unvarnished attempts at nailing together the truth.
His inventions, most notably the pigs of Animal Farm and the oppressive Party and Big Brother in his dystopian novel 1984, were the true masters of doublespeak. While a character in 1984 may say, “It is the beautiful thing, the destruction of words,” Orwell himself had a stubborn conviction that clear language could expose tyranny, failed logic, and lies. Orwell’s writing, ironically, is not Orwellian.
Orwell opposed totalitarianism in all of its guises, whether British imperialism, European fascism, or Soviet communism. His plain language can help us think through the “Orwellian” arguments we hear in our time, such as those in favor of benevolent dictators; the right of police to gun down citizens in the name of protecting them; the swallowing up of immense seas of metadata by government agencies in collusion with major corporations; the need for journalists and satirists to self-censor for their own safety; and the idea that “job-creators” deserve more influence than workers. Decades after Orwell screwed the words below together, the ideas they shape stand firm.
Below are some of the most memorable Orwell quotes on power and politics:
Want to learn more about Orwell? Check out this fantastic BBC docudrama depicting his life through his writing and remaining photos:
Images in this gallery are sourced from Wikimedia Commons and Flickr users ‘stephan’, Matt Paish, Roman Harak, Shih Tung Ngiam, Kieran Guckian, Hleb Makarevich, Rex Hammock, James Morley, and Jason Pratt.