Public ideas

No, Orwell wasn’t thinking of Trump or Morrison when he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four

Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four was about how dictatorial regimes use language as an instrument of authoritarian control. All that counts is what the regime dictates. If the regime states that steel production reached 30 million tonnes or that everyone has 2500 daily calories of nutrition, then those are so because the regime has said so. There is no objective reality against which such statements can be tested.

Trump, and others on the far right, also disregard the authority of an objective reality, or “the truth”, but writing in The Conversation Chris Fleming and Jane Goodall of Western Sydney University suggest that their behaviour does not fit with Orwell’s description: George Orwell is everywhere, but Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a reliable guide to contemporary politics. In Nineteen Eighty-Four it was Winston Smith’s job, as a minor bureaucrat, to ensure that the propaganda held together. But to Trump and his ilk, inconsistency does not matter. Their world is the postmodernist world where there is no truth, just different viewpoints.

It’s a carefully-argued essay. We might ask, however, if the consequences of the two types of disregard for the truth are very different. Trump’s has a certain administrative efficiency in that there is no need to invest in an internal propaganda machine. Whether the truth doesn’t exist (Nineteen Eighty-Four), or exists but is just another “opinion” (Trump) the consequences are the same.

Britain’s 45-day experiment with neoliberal madness – a warning for democracy

George Monbiot (writing before UK Prime Minister Truss’s downfall) has an article Malignant Growth, a title referring to Truss’s notion that almost everyone except for a core of Conservative voters was in an “anti-growth coalition”.

The article is really about Truss’s agenda of extreme neoliberalism, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Reagan and Thatcher. Privatization, small government and trickle-down economics, were all there in her economics, the only missing element being globalization, because she embraces the Conservative’s “little England” shibboleth.

It’s not hard to expose the idiocy of this economic philosophy. It failed on macroeconomics because it involved fiscal recklessness, and it failed on microeconomics because it dismissed the economic function of government working for the public good where the market fails.

But as Truss rightly said in her defence, she was representing the views of her supporters, namely those who had voted for her in the ballot of Conservative Party members.

From the vantage point of the other side of the planet, in a country less encumbered by a rigid class structure, we can laugh at the parochialism and small-mindedness of the Tory core, but Britain’s 45-day excursion has a general lesson about democracy. On the ABC’s Saturday Extra program last week there was a general discussion about British politics – Leadership race in the UK – again – in which political journalist Julia Langdon pointed out that Truss’s electoral base was the 150 000 members of the Conservative Party, in a national electorate of 46 million. Not a majority of Conservative voters, and certainly not a majority of Conservative parliamentarians, just 0.3 percent of the nation’s voters.

Even though there has been a welcome growth of independents in our Parliament, political parties are a feature of democracies. When they shrink to an extreme core – nativist, fascist, isolationist, neoliberal, Leninist or whateverist – they become a source of society-wide divisions and polarization. Political parties, if they are to endure, need structures that are open to all citizens and not just to zealots.