Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Iron Heel and 1984-Part Five

The narrator of The Iron Heel writes:
The condition of the people of the abyss was pitiable . . . . All their liberties were gone . . . . Choice of work was denied them . . . . Likewise was denied them the right to move from place to place, or the right to bear or possess arms. (p. 205)
So who is it who wishes to strip people of their liberties? To deny them a so-called "right to work"? To keep them from moving from one place to another, including out of the country, and for various reasons, not least of which is to escape onerous taxation? And who is it who wishes to deny people the right to keep and bear arms, a right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution? You know the answer. Jack London was half right.

The mob was no more than twenty-five feet away when the machine-guns opened up; but before that flaming sheet of death nothing could live. The mob came on, but it could not advance. It piled up in a heap, a mound, a huge and growing wave of dead and dying. Those behind urged on, and the column, from gutter to gutter, telescoped upon itself. Wounded creatures, men and women, were vomited over the top of that awful wave and fell squirming down the face of it till they threshed about under the automobiles and against the legs of the soldiers. The latter bayonetted the struggling wretches, though one I saw who gained his feet and flew at a soldier's throat with his teeth. Together they went down, soldier and slave, into the welter. (p. 229)
That passage was written more than a century ago, yet it must sound startlingly familiar to current fans of fantasy and horror, for it seems a perfect description of an attack by a wave of zombies. Last year, I wrote a long series about the monster of the twenty-first century. I concluded that the zombie, as a symbol of the mob or the mass man or the dehumanized other, is that monster. The belief of the Leftist or Statist is that there is no such thing as the individual, only the masses, or at the very least that the individual is insignificant compared to the masses. Jack London seems to have known that and deserves some credit for it.

So, Jack London, knowing something about power and the people who chase after power, foresaw some of the events of a century that was still young when he wrote his novel The Iron Heel. You might say that he was a visionary. His vision failed, however, when it came to the ideology or political orientation of the people he warned would seize power and establish a dystopian state. I think we can excuse that. There was not yet in existence a totalitarian state when London's novel was published. He would not have borne witness to it. I believe the world, having just emerged from the nineteenth century, had not yet incubated long enough to hatch out such a creature. But in a comparatively brief period of time, the totalitarian monster matured and, burning across the world like a firebird, laid waste to half a hemisphere. George Orwell was there to witness the catastrophe and by firsthand experience wrote a more powerful book than his predecessor Jack London. The book was of course 1984.

To be continued . . .

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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