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.
Below are some of the most memorable George Orwell quotes on power and politics:
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To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
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Being in a minority, even in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.
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There is something wrong with a regime that requires a pyramid of corpses every few years.
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If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- forever.
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Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.
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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.
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Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect, and unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen.
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By preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except the steel and concrete, one merely makes it a little surer that human beings will have no outlet for their surplus energy except in hatred and leader worship.
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A society becomes totalitarian when its structure becomes flagrantly artificial: that is, when its ruling class has lots its function but succeeds in clinging to power by force or fraud.
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Looking at the whole world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery.
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We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.
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The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.
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It is not possible for any thinking person to live in such a society as our own without wanting to change it.
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The existing social order is a swindle and its cherished beliefs mostly delusions.
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Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from conservatives to anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidarity to pure wind.
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It appears to me that one defeats the fanatic precisely by not being a fanatic oneself, but on the contrary by using one's intelligence.
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People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and mostly grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.
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A world in which it is wrong to murder an individual civilian and right to drop a thousand tons of high explosive on a residential area sometimes make me wonder whether this earth of ours is not a loony bin made use of by some other planet.
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Think of life as it really is, think of the details of life; and then think that there is no meaning in it, no purpose, no goal except the grave. Surely only fools or self-deceivers, or those whose lives are exceptionally fortunate, can face that thought without flinching.
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Bully-worship, under various disguises, has become a universalr eligion, and such truisms as that a machine-gun is still a machine-gun even when a 'good' man is squeezing the trigger... have turned into heresies which it is actually becoming dangerous to utter.
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A I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.
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Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. This is an illusion.
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The really frightening thing about totalitarianism is not that it commits 'atrocities' but that it attacks the concept of objective truth; it claims to control the past as well as the future.
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The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later, a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on the battlefield.
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If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
25 Incredible George Orwell Quotes On Power And Politics
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.
Want to learn more about Orwell? Check out this fantastic BBC docudrama depicting his life through his writing and remaining photos:
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.