Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Quotes for Today from 1984 (and Before)-No. 3

Chapter 1.


    Throughout recorded time [. . .] there have been three kinds of people in the world, the High, the Middle, and the Low. [. . .]

    The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable. The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim [. . .] is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal. Thus throughout history a struggle which is the same in its main outlines recurs over and over again. For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they either lose their belief in themselves, or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both. They are then overthrown by the Middle, who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have reached their objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High. [. . .]

The Middle, so long as it was struggling for power, had always made use of such terms as freedom, justice, and fraternity. [. . .] In the past the Middle had made revolutions under the banner of equality, and then had established fresh tyranny as soon as the old one was overthrown. The new Middle groups in effect proclaimed their tyranny beforehand. [. . .] But in each variation of Socialism that appeared from about 1900 onwards the aim of establishing liberty and equality was more and more openly abandoned. The new movements which appeared in the middle years of the century [. . .] had the conscious aim of perpetuating unfreedom and inequality. [Italics in the original.] These new movements, of course, grew out of the old ones and tended to keep their names and pay lip-service to their ideology. But the purpose of all of them was to arrest progress and freeze history at a chosen moment. [Emphasis added.] The familiar pendulum swing was to happen once more, and then stop. As usual, the High were to be turned out by the Middle, who would then become the High; but this time, by conscious strategy, the High would be able to maintain their position permanently.

--From The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism by Emmanuel Goldstein as quoted in Chapter Two, Section IX, of 1984 by George Orwell (Signet, pp. 166-168).

* * *

    [D-503 speaks:] "It is inconceivable! It is absurd! Is it not clear to you that what you are planning is a revolution? Absurd because a revolution is impossible! Because our--I speak for myself and for you--our revolution was the last one. No other revolutions may occur. Everybody knows that."

    A mocking, sharp triangle of brows.

    [I-330 replies:] "My dear, you are a mathematician, are you not? More than that, a philosopher-mathematician? Well, then, name the last number."

    "What is . . . I . . . I cannot understand, which last?"

    "The last one, the highest, the largest."

    "But I-330, that's absurd! Since the number of numbers is infinite, how can there be a last one?"

    "And why then do you think there is a last revolution . . . their number is infinite . . . The 'last one' is a child's story. Children are afraid of the infinite, and it is necessary that children should not be frightened, so that they may sleep through the night."

--Italics and ellipses in the original. From Record Thirty of We by Eugene Zamiatin [sic] (Dutton, paperback edition, p. 162).

* * *

Now I speak. I have been away, but even in coming back, I have stayed away. I haven't been up to writing very much myself, but maybe I can ease back into it by quoting the writings of others.

It seems to me that there is an idea that the history of the future is already set--that there is a knowable and foreordained endpoint of history after which nothing can or will change. It's the permanent revolution in Emmanuel Goldstein's description of it, the last revolution in D-503's formulation, or, as I-330 derisively calls it, "psychological entropy." (p. 163) There are those among us who believe in and seek that endpoint, those in pursuit of the permanent revolution. They will soon come to power without realizing that they are ridiculous and their power temporal and fleeting--that the grand edifice which they seek to build can be raised only upon a foundation of slime.

The idea of an end to or endpoint of history is, I think, a liberal idea, but also a Marxist and deconstructionist idea--as well as a Marxist and deconstructionist critique of the liberal idea. Liberals always fail to understand that leftists and socialists are not their allies--that they in actuality despise them and are against them; fail, that is, until the left, having outflanked them, arrive in their rear, soon to rout and destroy them. The outflanking is in fact happening in this country as we speak. Whether leftists and socialists have the power to carry out their revolution--whether they can do in their own versions of Robespierre or Condorcet--is another matter.

Life is against entropy and is not fixed. (I-330 asks: "Don't you as a mathematician know that only differences--only differences--in temperature, only thermic contrasts make for life?") There can be no fixed or permanent endpoint of history, for nothing made by men is permanent. There will always be struggle, turmoil, and convulsions, ebbs and flows, winds and flames, waves and masses, washing from us and moving over the earth, because those things are in us and can't be gotten out by anything we might do. Children may be afraid of the infinite, but the infinite is before us.

A final quote for today, words of the Grand Inquisitor, whose spirit lives in the tyrants and aspiring tyrants of today:

"We shall show them that they are weak, that they are only pitiful children, but that childlike happiness is the sweetest of all. They will become timid and look to us and huddle close to us in fear, as chicks to the hen. They will marvel at us and be awe-stricken before us, and will be proud at our being so powerful and clever [. . . .]" 

--From The Grand Inquisitor and the Nature of Man by Fyodor Dostoevski (Bobbs-Merrill, 1948), p. 39.

More quotes are on the way.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

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