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Totalitarianism's Denial Of The Truth

When English journalist and author George Orwell (1903-1950) fought as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), he was disturbed to encounter totalitarian leanings on both sides of the conflict. He wrote the following passage while still in Spain. Throughout his literary career, Orwell remained preoccupied with the dangers of totalitarianism and fascism, and later took up this theme in Animal Farm and 1984, the two novels for which he is best known.

If you look up the history of the last war in, for instance,  the Encyclopaedia Britannica, you will find that a respectable amount of the material is drawn from German sources.  A British and a German historian would disagree deeply on many things,  even on fundamentals,  but there would still be that body of,  as it were,  neutral facts on which neither would seriously challenge the other.  It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal,  that totalitarianism destroys.   Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as "the truth"  exists.  There is,  for instance,  no such thing as "Science." There is only "German Science,"  "Jewish Science," etc.  The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader,  or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, "It never happened,"  well, it never happened.  If he says that two and two are five,  well,  two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs,  and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.

But is it perhaps childish or morbid to terrify oneself with visions of a totalitarian future? Before writing off the totalitarian world as a nightmare that can't come true,  just remember that in 1925 the world of today would have seemed a nightmare that couldn't come true.  Against that shifting phantasmagoric world in which black may be white tomorrow and yesterday's weather can be changed by decree,  there are in reality only two safeguards.  One is that however much you deny the truth, the truth goes on existing,  as it were,  behind your back,  and you consequently can't violate it in ways that impair military efficiency. The other is that so long as some parts of the earth remain unconquered,  the liberal tradition can be kept alive.

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