Warner Bros.With social media platforms seemingly unable to distinguish Russian trolls from red-blooded Americans, the last two years have felt like a Deckardian purgatory. The frequency with which intellectual elites accuse their detractors of laboring on behalf of an always-approaching-never-arriving foreign power, meanwhile, smacks of Orwell. And if the proliferation of opioids in the American heartland doesn't sound like "delicious soma," what does? (Marijuana? Alcohol? Twitter?)
"We live in Philip K. Dick's future, not George Orwell's or Aldous Huxley's," George Washington University's Henry Farrell recently argued in the Boston Review. Despite being a poor prognosticator of what future technologies would look like and do, Dick, Farrell writes, "captured with genius the ontological unease of a world in which the human and the abhuman, the real and the fake, blur together."
But the universe of possibilities is much larger than just Orwell, Huxley, or Dick. Below, Reason's editorial staffers make the case for nearly a dozen other Nostradamii of the right now, ranging from Edgar Allan Poe to Monty Python's Terry Gilliam. As for why we're debating dystopias, and not utopias: Because there is no bad in a utopia, and because no dystopia could persist for long without at least a little good, it's safe to assume that if you're living in an imperfect world—and you very much are—it's a dystopian one.
Dick wasn't wrong, but Edgar Allan Poe got there first, writes Nick Gillespie:
CreateSpaceAt the core of Philip K. Dick's work is a profound anxiety about whether we are autonomous individuals or being programmed by someone or something else. In Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, are the characters human or Nexus-6 androids? In The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and A Scanner Darkly, you're never quite sure what's real and what's the product of too much "Chew-Z" and "Substance D," hallucinogenic, mind-bending drugs that erode the already-thin line between reality and insanity.
Which is to say that Dick's alternately funny and terrifying galaxy is a subset of the universe created by Edgar Allan Poe a century earlier. Poe's protagonists—not really the right word for them, but close enough—are constantly struggling with basic questions of what is real and what is the product of their own demented minds.
This dilemma is front and center in Poe's only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), which tells the story of a stowaway who ships out on the Grampus and endures mutiny, shipwreck, cannibalism, and worse. It becomes harder and harder for Pym to trust his senses about the most basic facts, such as what side of a piece of paper has writing on it. The conclusion—not really the right word for the book's end, but close enough—dumps Pym's epistemological problem into the reader's lap in violent and hysterical fashion. A friend told me he threw the book across the room in disbelief when he read its final page, which anticipates the frustration so many of us feel while following the news these days. Just when you think reality can't get any stranger or less believable, it does exactly that, in both Poe's fictional world and our real one.
2018's turn toward hamfisted authoritarianism echoes Terry Gilliam'sBrazil,says Christian Britschgi:
Embassy International PicturesNo-knock raids by masked, militarized, police officers. A ludicrously inefficient bureaucracy. Crackdowns on unlicensed repairmen. If all this sounds eerily familiar, you may have seen it coming in 1985's Brazil.
Set in a repressive near-future Britain, the film tells the story of lowly civil servant Samuel Lowry, who wants nothing more than to hide in the comically inefficient bureaucratic machine that employs him, all while doing his level best to quietly resist both a narcissistic culture demanding he rise higher, and a brutish security apparatus looking to punish anyone who steps out of line.
Directed by Monty Python alum Terry Gilliam, Brazil is surreal, ridiculous, and often just plain silly. Yet there is something chilling about the film's depiction of the state as a bumbling, byzantine bureaucracy that can't help but convert every aspect of life into an endless series of permission slips, reinforced by a system of surveillance, disappearance, and torture.
Evil and inefficiency are intimately intertwined in Brazil—with the whole plot set in motion by a literal bug in the system that sends jackbooted thugs to raid the wrong house and arrest the wrong man. While the regime in Brazil lacks a central, dictatorial figure at the top of the pyramid, there is definitely something distinctly current about the world it depicts, with every application of force complemented by an equal element of farce. Trump's first crack at imposing a travel ban, for instance, proved incredibly draconian and cruel precisely because of how rushed, sloppy, and incoherent the actual policy was.
Fortunately, our own world does manage to be far less authoritarian than the one depicted in Brazil and has mercifully better functioning technology as well. The parallels can still give one pause, however, when you consider what direction we might be headed in.
The current moment definitely tilts toward Ray Bradbury'sFahrenheit 451, says Eric Boehm:
World History Archive/NewscomWe are not living in a world where government agents raid homes to set books ablaze, but "there is more than one way to burn a book, and the world is full of people running about with lit matches," as Ray Bradbury warned in a coda appended to post-1979 editions of his 1953 classic.
Specifically, Bradbury was warning about the dangers of authoritarian political correctness. In that coda, he relates anecdotes about an undergrad at Vassar College asking if he'd consider revising The Martian Chronicles to include more female characters, and a publishing house asking him to remove references to the Christian god in a short story they sought to reprint.
More generally, though, Bradbury was commenting on the common misunderstanding of Fahrenheit 451 as a story about an authoritarian government burning books. It is that, of course, but it's really about how cultural decay allows authoritarianism to flourish. It was only after people had decided for themselves that books were dangerous that the government stepped in to enforce the consensus, Guy Montag's boss tells him in one of the novel's best scenes. "Technology, mass exploitation, and minority pressure carried the trick," Captain Beatty explains. "Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Whirl man's mind around so fast...that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary, time-wasting thought!"
In place of literature and high culture, Bradbury's dystopia has an eerily accurate portrayal of reality television. Montag's wife is obsessed with the "parlor family" who inhabit the wall-sized television screens in the living room, and clearly has a closer attachment to them than to her husband. The ubiquity of those screens—and how the government exploits them—is on full display near the end of the story, when Montag is on the lam for revolting against orders to burn books, and messages are flashed across every parlor screen in the city telling people to look for the dangerous runaway fireman.
We might not live in Montag's specific version of Bradbury's dystopia, but we exist somewhere on the timeline that leads there—which is exactly what Bradbury, and Captain Beatty, are trying to tell us.
Wrong book! We're really living in Neal Stephenson'sSnow Crash, says Katherine Mangu-Ward:
Bantam BooksIt's 1992. Computers are running Windows 3.1. Mobile phones are rare and must be carried in a suitcase. A few nerds in Illinois are getting pretty close to inventing the first web browser, but they're not quite there yet.
This is the year Neal Stephenson publishes Snow Crash, a novel whose action centers around a global fiber optic network, which can be accessed wirelessly via tiny computers and wearables. On this network, users are identifiable by their avatars, a Sanskrit word that Stephenson's novel popularized; those avatars may or may not be reliable indications of what they are like in real life. Many of the characters work as freelancers, coding, delivering goods, or collecting information piecemeal. They are compensated in frictionless micropayments, some of which take place in encrypted online digital currency. Intellectual property is the most valuable kind of property, but knowledge is stored in vast digital libraries that function as fully searchable encyclopedias and compendia. Plus there's this really cool digital map where you can zoom in and see anywhere on the planet.
Basically what I'm saying here is that every other entry in the feature is baloney. We are living in the world Neal Stephenson hallucinated after spending too much time in the library in the early 1990s. End of story.
Is it a dystopia? Sure, if you want to get technical about it: Our antihero, Hiro Protagonist (!), is beset by all manner of typical Blade Runner–esque future deprivations, including sub-optimal housing, sinister corporate villains, and a runaway virus that threatens to destroy all of humanity.
But in addition to the this-guy-must-have-a-secret-time-machine prescience of the tech, the book offers a gritty/pretty vision of anarcho-capitalism that's supremely compelling—when they're in meatspace, characters pop in and out of interestingly diverse autonomous quasi-state entities, and the remnants of the U.S. government is just one of the governance options.
Stephenson's semi-stateless cyberpunk vision is no utopia, that's for darn sure. But the ways in which it anticipated our technological world is astonishing, and I wouldn't mind if our political reality inched a little closer to Snow Crash's imagined future as well.
Katherine is off by three years. 1989'sBack to the Future: Part IIis actually the key to understanding 2018, says Robby Soave:
Universal PicturesBack to the Future: Part II has always been the least-appreciated entry in the series: It's the most confusing and kid-unfriendly, lacking both the originality of the first film and the emotional beats of the third. But almost 30 years after its release, the middle installment of Robert Zemeckis's timeless time-travel epic is newly relevant: not for accurately depicting the future, but for warning us what life would be like with a buffoonish, bullying billionaire in charge.
2015, the furthest point in the future visited by Marty McFly and "Doc" Emmett Brown has come and gone, and we still don't have flying cars, hover boards, or jackets that dry themselves. But we do have a president who seems ripped from the film's alternate, hellish version of Hill Valley in 1985, where the loathsome Biff Tannen has become a powerful mogul after traveling into the past and using his knowledge of the future to rig a series of events in his favor.
The similarities between Trump and alternate-reality Biff are so numerous that Back to the Future writer Bob Gale has retroactively (and spuriously) claimed the 45th president as inspiration for the character. Biff buys Hill Valley's courthouse and turns it into a casino hotel. Biff is a crony capitalist who weaponizes patriotism for personal enrichment ("I just want to say one thing: God bless America"). Biff is a paunchy playboy with two supermodel ex-wives, a bad temper, and even worse hair. There's no escaping Biff: He's a media figure, a businessman, a civic leader, and even a member of the family.
"Biff is corrupt, and powerful, and married to your mother!" Doc Brown laments to Marty. Millions of Americans no doubt feel the same way about a man who similarly possesses the uncanny ability to commandeer our attention and insert himself into every facet of modern life. Sometimes it's hard to avoid the feeling that we're simply living through the wrong timeline—thanks, McFly.
We may not have hoverboards, but America is teeming with the legal "Orb" from Woody Allen'sSleeper, observes Todd Krainin:
MGMThe world never recovered after Albert Shanker, president of the United Federation of Teachers, acquired a nuclear warhead. Two hundred years later, in the year 2173, the territory once known as the United States is ruled by The Leader, the avuncular figurehead of a police state that brainwashes, surveils, and pacifies every citizen.
Every citizen except for our hero, Miles Monroe. Cryogenically frozen in the late 20th century, Monroe is thawed out in the 22nd. As the only person alive with no biometric record, Monroe is essentially an undocumented immigrant from the past, making him the ideal secret weapon for an underground revolutionary movement.
"What kind of government you guys got here?" asks a bewildered Monroe, after learning the state will restructure his brain. "This is worse than California!"
Monroe's quest to take down the worse-than-Sacramento government takes him through a world that's amazingly prescient for a film that aims for slapstick comedy. He gets high on the orb (space age marijuana), crunches on a 15-foot long stalk of techno-celery produced on an artificial farm (GMOs), impersonates a domestic assistant (Alexa), and joins a crunchy underground (#Resist), in order to defeat The Leader (guess who).
Sleeper's most memorable invention is the Orgasmatron, a computerized safe space that provides instant climaxes for a frigid and frightened populace. It's basically the internet porn and sex robot for today's intimacy-averse millennials.
In the highpoint of the film, Monroe attempts to clone The Leader from his nose. This in a film released 23 years before real doctors cloned Dolly the sheep from the cell of a mammary gland.
By the film's end, Monroe is faced with the prospect of replacing The Leader with a revolutionary band of eco-Marxists. But some things never change.
"Political solutions don't work," he prophesies. "It doesn't matter who's up there. They're all terrible."
For a journalism outlet, we've been embarrassingly slow to recognize that Orson Scott Card'sEnder's Gameexplains the media world we live in, argues Peter Suderman:
TorIn a 2004 feature for Time, Lev Grossman explored of a new form of web-based journalism that was then radically reshaping both the political and media landscapes: blogs. Grossman profiled several bloggers, most of whom were young and relatively unknown, with little experience in or connection to mainstream journalism. Yet "blogs showcase some of the smartest, sharpest writing being published," Grossman wrote. In particular, bloggers were influencing some pretty big national conversations about U.S. military actions and politics.
From the vantage of 2018, all this might seem like old news: The mainstream media has adopted and amplified many blogging practices. But even in 2004, the idea of user-produced, semi-anonymous journalism, posted directly to the net with no editorial filter, had been in circulation for years as a sci-fi conceit—perhaps most prominently in Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel, Ender's Game.
In the book, a child genius named Ender Wiggin is sent to an orbiting military academy to prepare for a military invasion. While he's away, his adolescent siblings—themselves unusually gifted—hatch a plan to manipulate world politics by posting psuedononymous political arguments on "the nets." These essays are read by citizens and politicians alike, and both siblings develop powerful followings. Eventually, they help prevent the world from exploding into planetary war, and pave the way for mankind's colonial expansion into space.
Card's narrative was too compact, its assumptions about the influence of online writing too simplistic. But it previewed the ways in which the internet would expand the reach and influence of little-known writers—especially political pundits—who lack conventional journalistic training or credentials. Today's internet-based media landscape is neither a utopia nor a dystopia, but a lively, raucous, fascinating, and occasionally frustrating extrapolation of what Scott Card imagined before any of it existed in the real world.
This year is definitely one of Heinlein's "crazy years," says Brian Doherty:
AceRobert Heinlein was one of the first science fiction writers to create a fictional structure that seemed to privilege prediction, with his "Future History" sequence, collected in the volume The Past Through Tomorrow.
Prediction was not Heinlein's purpose—storytelling was. But his "Future History" chart started off with the "Crazy Years": "Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions, terminating in mass psychoses in the sixth decade, and the interregnum." Heinlein made this prediction in 1941, so the "sixth decade" meant the 1950s.
Did he really predict the Trump era? Heinlein fans have seen in wild ideological excesses on both left and right a clear sign that we are, collectively, losing our minds. Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds thinks we are certainly in Heinlein's Crazy Years, noting it's become a cliché among Heinlein fans to notice. He sees as evidence totemic but useless responses to policy crisis, and a social networking age that allows for tighter epistemic bubbles for information consumers and producers. Factually, the internet makes it stunningly easier for anyone to have opinions about politics and policy far better informed by accurate facts and trends than in any previous era. That so many might choose not to do so shows why predictions of "crazy years" can seem so eternally prescient: People can just be crazy (colloquially).
A lot of the "crazy" news these days that might lead to the never-witty declaration that it's "not The Onion" come from unusual personal qualities of our president; some come from excesses of the desire to control others' thought and expression. But if "crazy" means dangerous, then recent trends in crime domestically and wealth and health worldwide indicate we are mucking along well enough.
Indeed, as per the title of Heinlein's anthology, the past is tomorrow and probably always will be. That times of technologic advance will be followed by "gradual deterioration" (read: changes) in mores, orientation, and social institutions is the kind of golden prediction of the dystopia we eternally are moving in (and always moving through) with which it's hard to lose.
Loing beforethe 2016 Flyover Takeover, Walker Percy predicted a frayed nation would disassemble itself, writes Mike Riggs:
Farrar, Straus & GirouxIt's the 1980s, and liberals have taken "In God We Trust" off the penny, while "knotheads"—conservatives—have mired the U.S. in a 15-year war with Ecuador. Liberals love "dirty movies from Sweden," knotheads gravitate toward "clean" films, like The Sound of Music, Flubber, and Ice Capades of 1981. America's big cities, meanwhile, are shells of themselves. "Wolves have been seen in downtown Cleveland, like Rome during the black plague." Political polarization has even led to a change in international relations: "Some southern states have established diplomatic ties with Rhodesia. Minnesota and Oregon have their own consulates in Sweden."
Our guide through the social hellscape of Love in the Ruins is Thomas More, a descendant of Sir Thomas More (author of 1516's Utopia) and a lecherous Catholic psychiatrist with an albumin allergy who nevertheless chugs egg-white gin fizzes like water. A stand-in for Percy, More is a keen social taxonomist and a neutral party in the culture war. He notes that liberals tend to favor science and secularism; conservatives, business and God. But "though the two make much of their differences, I do not notice a great deal of difference between the two." In the bustling Louisiana town of Paradise, wealthy knotheads and wealthy leftists live side by side, in nice houses, with new cars parked in their driveways, just as they currently do in Manhattan, Georgetown, and Palm Beach. One group may go to church on Sundays, the other bird watching, but they are more like each other than they are the "dropouts from, castoffs of, and rebels against our society" who live in the swamp on the edge of town.
Yet even the wealthy must bear the brunt of social frisson. A local golf course magnate alternates between depression and indignation as the poor of Paradise challenge his decision to automate the jobs at his country club.
Love in the Ruins is the most radical timeline extending from the King assassination, Kent State, and the Tate Murders, three historical moments that helped undo the World War II–era fantasy—ever more childish in hindsight—of America as a cohesive unit. We were not one then, and are not now. Percy saw 2018 coming from a four-decade mile.
You are all wrong, says Jesse Walker:
USA FilmsIdentity has never been as fluid, fungible, and multiple as it is today. That guy you're arguing with on Twitter might actually be a crowd of people. That crowd of people you're arguing with might actually be just one guy. Trolls try on a persona for an hour, then discard it for something new. Bots adopt a persona and stick with it, but without an actual mind in command. Your identity might be stolen altogether, leaving you to learn that an entity that looks like you has been spending money, sending messages, or otherwise borrowing your life. You might even wake one day to discover that someone has inserted your head onto someone else's body, all so a stranger can live out a fantasy.
You can decide for yourself how much of that is a utopia and how much is a dystopia. All I know is that at some point we started living in Being John Malkovich.
George Orwell (25 June1903 – 21 January1950) was the pen name of British novelist, essayist, and journalist Eric Arthur Blair.
- See also:
- The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)
- Animal Farm (1945)
- Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
- Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984 film based on the novel)
- Spending the night out of doors has nothing attractive about it in London, especially for a poor, ragged, undernourished wretch. Moreover sleeping in the open is only allowed in one thoroughfare in London. If the policeman on his beat finds you asleep, it is his duty to wake you up. That is because it has been found that a sleeping man succumbs to the cold more easily than a man who is awake, and England could not let one of her sons die in the street. So you are at liberty to spend the night in the street, providing it is a sleepless night. But there is one road where the homeless are allowed to sleep. Strangely, it is the Thames Embankment, not far from the Houses of Parliament. We advise all those visitors to England who would like to see the reverse side of our apparent prosperity to go and look at those who habitually sleep on the Embankment, with their filthy tattered clothes, their bodies wasted by disease, a living reprimand to the Parliament in whose shadow they lie.
- "Beggars in London", in Le Progrès Civique (12 January 1929), translated into English by Janet Percival and Ian Willison
- To the well-fed it seems cowardly to complain of tight boots, because the well-fed live in a different world-a world where, if your boots are tight, you can change them; their minds are not warped by petty discomfort. But below a certain income the petty crowds the large out of existence; one's preoccupation is not with art or religion, but with bad food, hard beds, drudgery and the sack. Serenity is impossible to a poor man in a cold country and even his active thoughts will go in more or less sterile complaint.
- Review of Hunger and Love by Lionel Britton, in The Adelphi (April 1931)
- In England, a century of strong government has developed what O. Henry called the stern and rugged fear of the police to a point where any public protest seems an indecency. But in France everyone can remember a certain amount of civil disturbance, and even the workmen in the bistros talk of la revolution — meaning the next revolution, not the last one. The highly socialised modern mind, which makes a kind of composite god out of the rich, the government, the police and the larger newspapers, has not been developed — at least not yet.
- Review of The Civilization of France by Ernst Robert Curtius; translated by Olive Wyon, in The Adelphi (May 1932)
- Man is not a Yahoo, but he is rather like a Yahoo and needs to be reminded of it from time to time.
- 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?
- It is a mysterious thing, the loss of faith-as mysterious as faith itself. Like faith, it is ultimately not rooted in logic; it is a change in the climate of the mind.
- A Clergyman's Daughter, Ch. 5
- There is a geographical element in all belief-saying what seem profound truths in India have a way of seeming enormous platitudes in England, and vice versa. Perhaps the fundamental difference is that beneath a tropical sun individuality seems less distinct and the loss of it less important.
- Review of Indian Mosaic by Mark Channing, in The Listener (15 July 1936)
- I am struck again by the fact that as soon as a working man gets an official post in the Trade Union or goes into Labour politics, he becomes middle-class whether he will or no. ie. by fighting against the bourgeoisie he becomes a bourgeois. The fact is that you cannot help living in the manner appropriate and developing the ideology appropriate to your income.
- The Road to Wigan Pier Diary 6-10 February (1936)
- In addition to this there is the horrible — the really disquieting — prevalence of cranks wherever Socialists are gathered together. One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words 'Socialism' and 'Communism' draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, 'Nature Cure' quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.
- War against a foreign country only happens when the moneyed classes think they are going to profit from it.
- Every war, when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defence against a homicidal maniac.
- The essential job is to get people to recognise war propaganda when they see it, especially when it is disguised as peace propaganda.
- Review of The Men I Killed by Brigadier-General F. P. Crozier, CB, CMG, DSO, in New Statesman and Nation (28 August 1937)
- One is almost driven to the cynical conclusion that men are only decent when they are powerless.
- Review of The Freedom of the Streets by Jack Common, June 1938, pp. 335-6
- If there are certain pages of Mr Bertrand Russell's book, Power, which seem rather empty, that is merely to say that we have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men. It is not merely that at present the rule of naked force obtains almost everywhere. Probably that has always been the case. Where this age differs from those immediately preceding it is that a liberal intelligentsia is lacking. Bully-worship, under various disguises, has become a universal religion, and such truisms as that a machine-gun is still a machine-gun even when a "good" man is squeezing the trigger — and that in effect is what Mr Russell is saying — have turned into heresies which it is actually becoming dangerous to utter.
- Review of Power: A New Social Analysis by Bertrand Russell in The Adelphi (January 1939); Paraphrased variant: Sometimes the first duty of intelligent men is the restatement of the obvious.
- Acceptance of the Catholic position implies a certain willingness to see the present injustices of society continue... Individual salvation implies liberty, which is always extended by Catholic writers to include the right to private property. But in the stage of industrial development which we have now reached, the right to private property means the right to exploit and torture millions of one's fellow creatures. The Socialist would argue, therefore, that one can only defend property if one is more or less indifferent to economic justice.
- Review of Communism and Man by F. J. Sheed in Peace News (27 January 1939)
- The past is a curious thing. It's with you all the time. I suppose an hour never passes without your thinking of things that happened ten or twenty years ago, and yet most of the time it's got no reality, it's just a set of facts that you've learned, like a lot of stuff in a history book. Then some chance sight or sound or smell, especially smell, sets you going, and the past doesn't merely come back to you, you're actually in the past.
- Perhaps a man really dies when his brain stops, when he loses the power to take in a new idea.
- Coming Up for Air, Part 3, Ch. 1
- It is not possible for any thinking person to live in such a society as our own without wanting to change it.
- "Why I Joined the Independent Labour Party", New Leader (24 June 1939)
- So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot.
- Inside the Whale (1940) 
- Men are only as good as their technical development allows them to be.
- Dickens's attitude is easily intelligible to an Englishman, because it is part of the English puritan tradition, which is not dead even at this day. The class Dickens belonged to, at least by adoption, was growing suddenly rich after a couple of centuries of obscurity. It had grown up mainly in the big towns, out of contact with agriculture, and politically impotent; government, in its experience, was something which either interfered or persecuted. Consequently it was a class with no tradition of public service and not much tradition of usefulness. What now strikes us as remarkable about the new moneyed class of the nineteenth century is their complete irresponsibility; they see everything in terms of individual success, with hardly any consciousness that the community exists.
- The thing that drove Dickens forward into a form of art for which he was not really suited, and at the same time caused us to remember him, was simply the fact that he was a moralist, the consciousness of ‘having something to say’. He is always preaching a sermon, and that is the final secret of his inventiveness. For you can only create if you can care. Types like Squeers and Micawber could not have been produced by a hack writer looking for something to be funny about. A joke worth laughing at always has an idea behind it, and usually a subversive idea. Dickens is able to go on being funny because he is in revolt against authority, and authority is always there to be laughed at.
- When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page. It is not necessarily the actual face of the writer. I feel this very strongly with Swift, with Defoe, with Fielding, Stendhal, Thackeray, Flaubert, though in several cases I do not know what these people looked like and do not want to know. What one sees is the face that the writer ought to have. Well, in the case of Dickens I see a face that is not quite the face of Dickens's photographs, though it resembles it. It is the face of a man of about forty, with a small beard and a high colour. He is laughing, with a touch of anger in his laughter, but no triumph, no malignity. It is the face of a man who is always fighting against something, but who fights in the open and is not frightened, the face of a man who is generously angry — in other words, of a nineteenth-century liberal, a free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.
- The truth is that Dickens's criticism of society is almost exclusively moral. Hence the utter lack of any constructive suggestion anywhere in his work. He attacks the law, parliamentary government, the educational system and so forth, without ever clearly suggesting what he would put in their places. Of course it is not necessarily the business of a novelist, or a satirist, to make constructive suggestions, but the point is that Dickens's attitude is at bottom not even destructive. There is no clear sign that he wants the existing order to be overthrown, or that he believes it would make very much difference if it were overthrown. For in reality his target is not so much society as ‘human nature’. It would be difficult to point anywhere in his books to a passage suggesting that the economic system is wrong as a system.
- I have been discussing Dickens simply in terms of his ‘message’, and almost ignoring his literary qualities. But every writer, especially every novelist, has a ‘message’, whether he admits it or not, and the minutest details of his work are influenced by it. All art is propaganda. Neither Dickens himself nor the majority of Victorian novelists would have thought of denying this. On the other hand, not all propaganda is art. As I said earlier, Dickens is one of those writers who are felt to be worth stealing. He has been stolen by Marxists, by Catholics and, above all, by Conservatives. The question is, What is there to steal? Why does anyone care about Dickens? Why do I care about Dickens?
- The outstanding, unmistakable mark of Dickens's writing is the unnecessary detail.
- [Hitler] has grasped the falsity of the hedonistic attitude to life. Nearly all western thought since the last war, certainly all "progressive" thought, has assumed tacitly that human beings desire nothing beyond ease, security, and avoidance of pain. In such a view of life there is no room, for instance, for patriotism and the military virtues. The Socialist who finds his children playing with soldiers is usually upset, but he is never able to think of a substitute for the tin soldiers; tin pacifists somehow won’t do. Hitler, because in his own joyless mind he feels it with exceptional strength, knows that human beings don’t only want comfort, safety, short working-hours, hygiene, birth-control and, in general, common sense; they also, at least intermittently, want struggle and self-sacrifice, not to mention drums, flag and loyalty-parades. However they may be as economic theories, Fascism and Nazism are psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life. The same is probably true of Stalin’s militarised version of Socialism. All three of the great dictators have enhanced their power by imposing intolerable burdens on their peoples. Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a grudging way, have said to people "I offer you a good time," Hitler has said to them "I offer you struggle, danger and death," and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet.
- It is all very well to be "advanced" and "enlightened," to snigger at Colonel Blimp and proclaim your emancipation from all traditional loyalties, but a time comes when the sand of the desert is sodden red and what have I done for thee, England, my England? As I was brought up in this tradition myself I can recognise it under strange disguises, and also sympathise with it, for even at its stupidest and most sentimental it is a comelier thing than the shallow self-righteousness of the left-wing intelligentsia.
- There is something wrong with a regime that requires a pyramid of corpses every few years.
- About the "current Russian regime" (11 April 1940) p. 532 in The Collected Essays, Journalism, & Letters, George Orwell: An age like this, 1920-1940, Editors: Sonia Orwell, Ian Angus
- We are in a strange period of history in which a revolutionary has to be a patriot and a patriot has to be a revolutionary.
- Letter to The Tribune (20 December 1940), later published in A Patriot After All, 1940-1941 (1999)
- Even as it stands, the Home Guard could only exist in a country where men feel themselves free. The totalitarian states can do great things, but there is one thing they cannot do: they cannot give the factory-worker a rifle and tell him to take it home and keep it in his bedroom. THAT RIFLE HANGING ON THE WALL OF THE WORKING-CLASS FLAT OR LABOURER'S COTTAGE, IS THE SYMBOL OF DEMOCRACY. IT IS OUR JOB TO SEE THAT IT STAYS THERE.
- "Don't Let Colonel Blimp Ruin the Home Guard" article for the Evening Standard, 8 January 1941
- Society has always to demand a little more from human beings than it will get in practice.
- Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively the pacifist is pro-Nazi.
- "No, Not One," The Adelphi (October 1941)
- See his later thoughts on this statement below from "As I Please," Tribune (8 December 1944)
- The choice before human beings, is not, as a rule, between good and evil but between two evils. You can let the Nazis rule the world: that is evil; or you can overthrow them by war, which is also evil. There is no other choice before you, and whichever you choose you will not come out with clean hands.
- "No, Not One," The Adelphi (October 1941), p. 7-8
- You and I both know that there can be no real solution of the Indian problem which does not also benefit Britain. Either we all live in a decent world, or nobody does. It is so obvious, is it not, that the British worker as well as the Indian peasant stands to gain by the ending of capitalist exploitation, and that Indian independence is a lost cause if the Fascist nations are allowed to dominate the world.
- From a review of Letters on India by Mulk Raj Anand, Tribune (19 March 1943)
- Both men were the spiritual children of Voltaire, both had an ironical, sceptical view of life, and a native pessimism overlaid by gaiety; both knew that the existing social order is a swindle and its cherished beliefs mostly delusions.
- On Mark Twain and Anatole France, in "Mark Twain - The Licensed Jester" in Tribune (26 November 1943); reprinted in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell (1968)
- Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache. They wanted to produce a perfect society by an endless continuation of something that had only been valuable because it was temporary. The wider course would be to say that there are certain lines along which humanity must move, the grand strategy is mapped out, but detailed prophecy is not our business. Whoever tries to imagine perfection simply reveals his own emptiness.
- From Carlyle onwards, but especially in the last generation, the British intelligentsia have tended to take their ideas from Europe and have been infected by habits of thought that derive ultimately from Machiavelli. All the cults that have been fashionable in the last dozen years, Communism, Fascism, and pacifism, are in the last analysis forms of power worship.
- "The English People" (written Spring 1944, published 1947)
- Between them these two books sum up our present predicament. Capitalism leads to dole queues, the scramble for markets, and war. Collectivism leads to concentration camps, leader worship, and war. There is no way out of this unless a planned economy can somehow be combined with the freedom of the intellect, which can only happen if the concept of right and wrong is restored to politics.
- Review of The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek and The Mirror of the Past by K. Zilliacus, reviewed in The Observer (9 April 1944).
- Secondly there is the fact that the intellectuals are more totalitarian in outlook than the common people. On the whole the English intelligentsia have opposed Hitler, but only at the price of accepting Stalin. Most of them are perfectly ready for dictatorial methods, secret police, systematic falsification of history etc. so long as they feel that it is on ‘our’ side.
- Letter to H. J. Wilmett (18 May 1944), published in The Collected Essays, Journalism, & Letters, George Orwell: As I Please, 1943-1945 (2000), edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus
- Of course, fanatical Communists and Russophiles generally can be respected, even if they are mistaken. But for people like ourselves, who suspect that something has gone very wrong with the Soviet Union, I consider that willingness to criticize Russia and Stalin is the test of intellectual honesty. It is the only thing that from a literary intellectual's point of view is really dangerous.
- Letter to John Middleton Murry (5 August 1944), published in The Collected Essays, Journalism, & Letters, George Orwell: As I Please, 1943-1945 (2000), edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus
- Particularly on the Left, political thought is a sort of masturbation fantasy in which the world of facts hardly matters.
- "London Letter" in Partisan Review (Winter 1945)
- Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.
- "Benefit Of Clergy: Some Notes On Salvador Dalí," Dickens, Dali & Others: Studies in Popular Culture (1944) 
- So far as I can see, all political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.
- "London Letter" (December 1944), in Partisan Review (Winter 1945)
- At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was 'not done' to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.
- "The Freedom of the Press", unused preface to Animal Farm (1945), published in Times Literary Supplement (15 September 1972)
- Thus, for example, tanks, battleships and bombing planes are inherently tyrannical weapons, while rifles, muskets, long-bows, and hand-grenades are inherently democratic weapons. A complex weapon makes the strong stronger, while a simple weapon — so long as there is no answer to it — gives claws to the weak.
- Looking at the world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery. We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James Burnham's theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications — that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of "cold war" with its neighbors.
Had the atomic bomb turned out to be something as cheap and easily manufactured as a bicycle or an alarm clock, it might well have plunged us back into barbarism, but it might, on the other hand, have meant the end of national sovereignty and of the highly-centralised police state. If, as seems to be the case, it is a rare and costly object as difficult to produce as a battleship, it is likelier to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a "peace that is no peace."
- Commonly cited as the first documented use of the phrase "cold war", in "You and the Atom Bomb"], Tribune (19 October 1945); also in George Orwell: The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, Volume 4: In Front of Your Nose 1946–1950 (2000) by Sonia Orwell, Ian Angus, p. 9
- Scientific education for the masses will do little good, and probably a lot of harm, if it simply boils down to more physics, more chemistry, more biology, etc to the detriment of literature and history. Its probable effect on the average human being would be to narrow the range of his thoughts and make him more than ever contemptuous of such knowledge as he did not possess.
- The whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish day-dream. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also.
- Actually there is little acute hatred of Germany left in this country, and even less, I should expect to find, in the army of occupation. Only the minority of sadists, who must have their "atrocities" from one source or another, take a keen interest in the hunting-down of war criminals and quislings.
- "Revenge is Sour", Tribune (9 November 1945)
- The relative freedom which we enjoy depends of public opinion. The law is no protection. Governments make laws, but whether they are carried out, and how the police behave, depends on the general temper in the country. If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech, there will be freedom of speech, even if the law forbids it; if public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted, even if laws exist to protect them.
- "Freedom of the Park", Tribune (7 December 1945)
- Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.
- 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, and one should recognise it as such, but one ought also to stick to one's own world-view, even at the price of seeming old-fashioned: for that world-view springs out of experiences that the younger generation has not had, and to abandon it is to kill one's intellectual roots.
- Review of A Coat of Many Colours: Occasional Essays by Herbert Read, Poetry Quarterly (Winter 1945)
- Decline of the English Murder
- Essay title, Tribune (15 February 1946)
- Anyone who cares to examine my work will see that even when it is downright propaganda it contains much that a full-time politician would consider irrelevant. I am not able, and do not want, completely to abandon the world view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the Earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.
It is not easy. It raises problems of construction and of language, and it raises in a new way the problem of truthfulness.
- The Spanish war and other events in 1936-7 turned the scale and thereafter I knew where I stood. Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.
- "Why I Write," Gangrel (Summer 1946)
- Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.
- "Why I Write," Gangrel (Summer 1946)
- If I had to make a list of six books which were to be preserved when all others were destroyed, I would certainly put Gulliver's Travels among them.
- "Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver's Travels" (1946)
- In my opinion, nothing has contributed so much to the corruption of the original idea of socialism as the belief that Russia is a socialist country and that every act of its rulers must be excused, if not imitated. And so for the last ten years, I have been convinced that the destruction of the Soviet myth was essential if we wanted a revival of the socialist movement.
- The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.
- Letter to Malcolm Muggeridge (4 December 1948), quoted in Malcolm Muggeridge: A Life (1980) by Ian Hunter
- If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves.
- I have never visited Russia and my knowledge of it consists only of what can be learned by reading books and newspapers. Even if I had the power, I would not wish to interfere in Soviet domestic affairs: I would not condemn Stalin and his associates merely for their barbaric and undemocratic methods. It is quite possible that, even with the best intentions, they could not have acted otherwise under the conditions prevailing there.
But on the other hand it was of the utmost importance to me that people in western Europe should see the Soviet regime for what it really was. Since 1930 I had seen little evidence that the USSR was progressing towards anything that one could truly call Socialism. On the contrary, I was struck by clear signs of its transformation into a hierarchical society, in which the rulers have no more reason to give up their power than any other ruling class. Moreover, the workers and intelligentsia in a country like England cannot understand that the USSR of today is altogether different from what it was in 1917. It is partly that they do not want to understand (i.e. they want to believe that, somewhere, a really Socialist country does actually exist), and partly that, being accustomed to comparative freedom and moderation in public life, totalitarianism is completely incomprehensible to them.
- Original preface to Animal Farm; as published in George Orwell: Some Materials for a Bibliography (1953) by Ian R. Willison
- I am well acquainted with all the arguments against freedom of thought and speech — the arguments which claim that it cannot exist, and the arguments which claim that it ought not to. I answer simply that they don't convince me and that our civilization over a period of four hundred years has been founded on the opposite notice. For quite a decade past I have believed that the existing Russian régime is a mainly evil thing, and I claim the right to say so, in spite of the fact that we are allies with the USSR in a war which I want to see won. If I had to choose a text to justify myself, I should choose the line from Milton:
- By the known rules of ancient liberty.
- The word ancient emphasizes the fact that intellectual freedom is a deep-rooted tradition without which our characteristic western culture could only doubtfully exist. From that tradition many of our intellectuals are visibly turning away. They have accepted the principle that a book should be published or suppressed, praised or damned, not on its merits but according to political expediency. And others who do not actually hold this view assent to it from sheer cowardice.
- Original preface to Animal Farm; as published in George Orwell: Some Materials for a Bibliography (1953) by Ian R. Willison
- If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
- Sometimes paraphrased as "Liberty is telling people what they do not want to hear."
- 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 a battlefield.
- To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
- "In Front of Your Nose," Tribune (22 March 1946)
- Certainly we ought to be discontented, we ought not simply to find out ways of making the best of a bad job, and yet if we kill all pleasure in the actual process of life, what sort of future are we preparing for ourselves? If a man cannot enjoy the return of spring, why should he be happy in a labour-saving Utopia? What will he do with the leisure that the machine will give him?
- By preaching the doctrine that nothing is to be admired except 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.
- "Some Thoughts on the Common Toad," Tribune (12 April 1946)
- The atom bombs are piling up in the factories, the police are prowling through the cities, the lies are streaming from the loudspeakers, but earth is still going round the sun, and neither the dictators nor the bureaucrats, deeply as they disapprove of the process, are able to prevent it.
- It was only after the Soviet régime became unmistakably totalitarian that English intellectuals, in large numbers, began to show an interest in it. Burnham, although the English russophile intelligentsia would repudiate him, is really voicing their secret wish: the wish to destroy the old, equalitarian version of Socialism and usher in a hierarchical society where the intellectual can at last get his hands on the whip.
- "Second Thoughts on James Burnham," Polemic (summer 1946)
- In a Society in which there is no law, and in theory no compulsion, the only arbiter of behaviour is public opinion. But public opinion, because of the tremendous urge to conformity in gregarious animals, is less tolerant than any system of law. When human beings are governed by "thou shalt not", the individual can practise a certain amount of eccentricity: when they are supposedly governed by "love" or "reason", he is under continuous pressure to make him behave and think in exactly the same way as everyone else.
- People talk about the horrors of war, but what weapon has man invented that even approaches in cruelty to some of the commoner diseases? "Natural" death, almost by definition, means something slow, smelly and painful.
- A tragic situation exists precisely when virtue does not triumph but when it is still felt that man is nobler than the forces which destroy him.
- Shakespeare starts by assuming that to make yourself powerless is to invite an attack. This does not mean that everyone will turn against you (Kent and the Fool stand by Lear from first to last), but in all probability someone will. If you throw away your weapons, some less scrupulous person will pick them up. If you turn the other cheek, you will get a harder blow on it than you got on the first one. This does not always happen, but it is to be expected, and you ought not to complain if it does happen. The second blow is, so to speak, part of the act of turning the other cheek. First of all, therefore, there is the vulgar, common-sense moral drawn by the Fool: "Don't relinquish power, don't give away your lands." But there is also another moral. Shakespeare never utters it in so many words, and it does not very much matter whether he was fully aware of it. It is contained in the story, which, after all, he made up, or altered to suit his purposes. It is: "Give away your lands if you want to, but don't expect to gain happiness by doing so. Probably you won't gain happiness. If you live for others, you must live for others, and not as a roundabout way of getting an advantage for yourself."
- "Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool," Polemic (March 1947)
- A normal human being does not want the Kingdom of Heaven: he wants life on earth to continue. This is not solely because he is "weak," "sinful" and anxious for a "good time." Most people get a fair amount of fun out of their lives, but on balance life is suffering, and only the very young or the very foolish imagine otherwise. Ultimately it is the Christian attitude which is self-interested and hedonistic, since the aim is always to get away from the painful struggle of earthly life and find eternal peace in some kind of Heaven or Nirvana. The humanist attitude is that the struggle must continue and that death is the price of life.
- "Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool," Polemic (March 1947)
- There are people who are convinced of the wickedness both of armies and of police forces, but who are nevertheless much more intolerant and inquisitorial in outlook than the normal person who believes that it is necessary to use violence in certain circumstances. They will not say to somebody else, ‘Do this, that and the other or you will go to prison’, but they will, if they can, get inside his brain and dictate his thoughts for him in the minutest particulars. Creeds like pacifism and anarchism, which seem on the surface to imply a complete renunciation of power, rather encourage this habit of mind. For if you have embraced a creed which appears to be free from the ordinary dirtiness of politics — a creed from which you yourself cannot expect to draw any material advantage — surely that proves that you are in the right? And the more you are in the right, the more natural that everyone else should be bullied into thinking likewise.
- "Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool," Polemic (March 1947)
- No one can look back on his schooldays and say with truth that they were altogether unhappy.
- 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.
- "The Freedom Defence Committee" in "The Socialist Leader (18 September 1948); also in The Collected Essays, Journalism, & Letters, George Orwell; Vol. IV: In front of your nose, 1945-1950 (2000), p. 447
- I always disagree, however, when people end up saying that we can only combat Communism, Fascism or what not if we develop an equal fanaticism. 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.
- Letter to Richard Rees (3 March 1949), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Vol. 4: In front of your nose, 1945-1950 (1968), ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus, p. 478
- It is difficult for a statesman who still has a political future to reveal everything that he knows: and in a profession in which one is a baby at 50 and middle-aged at seventy-five, it is natural that anyone who has not actually been disgraced should feel that he still has a future.
- One cannot really be Catholic & grown-up.
- "Extracts from a Manuscript Notebook" (1949), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 4 (1968)
- At 50, everyone has the face he deserves.
- "Extracts from a Manuscript Notebook" (1949), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 4 (1968)
Down and out in Paris and London (1933)
- Full text online
- The Paris slums are a gathering-place for eccentric people — people who have fallen into solitary, half-mad grooves of life and given up trying to be normal or decent. Poverty frees them from normal standards of behaviour, just as money frees people from work. Some of the lodgers in our hotel lived lives that were curious beyond words.
- I am trying to describe the people in our quarter, not for the mere curiosity, but because they are all part of the story. Poverty is what I am writing about, and I had my first contact with poverty in this slum. The slum, with its dirt and its queer lives, was first an object-lesson in poverty, and then the background of my own experiences. It is for that reason that I try to give some idea of what life was like there.
- "Ah, the poverty, the shortness the disappointment of human joy! For in reality car en realite, what is the duration of the supreme moment of love? It is nothing, an instant, a second perhaps. A second of ecstasy, and after that- dust, ashes, nothingness."
- For, when you are approaching poverty, you make one discovery which outweighs some of the others. You discover boredom and mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but you also discover the great redeeming feature of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future. Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry. When you have a hundred francs in the world you are liable to the most craven panics. When you have only three francs you are quite indifferent; for three francs will feed you till tomorrow, and you cannot think further than that. You are bored, but you are not afraid. You think vaguely, 'I shall be starving in a day or two--shocking, isn't it?' And then the mind wanders to other topics. A bread and margarine diet does, to some extent, provide its own anodyne. And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs--and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.
- There is only one way to make money at writing, and that is to marry a publisher's daughter.
- Ch. 4; a record of a remark by Orwell's fellow tramp Boris
- For, when you are approaching poverty, you make one discovery which outweighs some of the others. You discover boredom and mean complications and the beginnings of hunger, but you also discover the great redeeming feature of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future. Within certain limits, it is actually true that the less money you have, the less you worry.
- Hunger reduces one to an utterly spineless, brainless condition, more like the after-effects of influenza than anything else. It is as though all one's blood had been pumped out and lukewarm water substituted.
- One always abandons something in retreat. Look at Napoleon at the Beresina! He abandoned his whole army.
- Fate seemed to be playing a series of extraordinarily unamusing jokes.
- It is fatal to look hungry. It makes people want to kick you.
- I only realized during my last week that I was being cheated, and, as I could prove nothing, only twenty-five francs were refunded. The doorkeeper played similar tricks on any employee who was fool enough to be taken in. He called himself a Greek, but in reality he was an Armenian. After knowing him I saw the force of the proverb "Trust a snake before a Jew and a Jew before a Greek, but don't trust an Armenian."
- Roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it. … Dirtiness is inherent in hotels and restaurants, because sound food is sacrificed to punctuality and smartness... The only food at the Hotel X which was ever prepared cleanly was the staff's.
- We crawled up to bed, tumbled down half dressed, and stayed there ten hours. Most of my Saturday nights went like this. On the whole, the two hours when one was perfectly and wildly happy seemed worth the subsequent headache. For many men in the quarter, unmarried and with no future to think of, the weekly drinking-bout was the one thing that made life worth living.
- Looking round that filthy room, with raw meat lying among the refuse on the floor, and cold, clotted saucepans sprawling everywhere, and the sink blocked and coated with grease, I used to wonder whether there could be a restaurant in the world as bad as ours. But the other three all said they had been in dirtier places.
- Ch. 21; on the state of the kitchen at the newly opened Auberge.
- How sweet the air does smell — even the air of a back-street in the suburbs — after the shut-in, subfaecal stench of the spike!
- Ch. 27, on the morning after Orwell is let out of his first tramps' accommodation, or 'spike'.
- He had two subjects of conversation, the shame and come-down of being a tramp, and the best way of getting a free meal.
- Ch. 28, on Paddy the tramp
- Paddy and I had scarcely a wink of sleep, for there was a man near us who had some nervous trouble, shell-shock perhaps, which made him cry out 'Pip!' at irregular intervals. It was a loud, startling noise, something like the toot of a small motor-horn. You never knew when it was coming, and it was a sure preventer of sleep. ...he must have kept ten or twenty people awake every night. He was an example of the kind of thing that prevents one from ever getting enough sleep when men are herded as they are in these lodging houses.'
- Being a beggar, he said, was not his fault, and he refused either to have any compunction about it or to let it trouble him. He was the enemy of society, and quite ready to take to crime if he saw a good opportunity. He refused on principle to be thrifty. In the summer he saved nothing, spending his surplus earnings on drink, as he did not care about women. If he was penniless when winter came on, then society must look after him. He was ready to extract every penny he could from charity, provided that he was not expected to say thank you for it. He avoided religious charities, however, for he said it stuck in his throat to sing hymns for buns. He had various other points of honour; for instance, it was his boast that never in his life, even when starving, had he picked up a cigarette end. He considered himself in a class above the ordinary run of beggars, who, he said, were an abject lot, without even the decency to be ungrateful.
- He was an embittered atheist (the sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike Him), and took a sort of pleasure in thinking that human affairs would never improve. Sometimes, he said, when sleeping on the Embankment, it had consoled him to look up at Mars or Jupiter and think that there were probably Embankment sleepers there. He had a curious theory about this. Life on earth, he said, is harsh because the planet is poor in the necessities of existence. Mars, with its cold climate and scanty water, must be far poorer, and life correspondingly harsher. Whereas on earth you are merely imprisoned for stealing sixpence, on Mars you are probably boiled alive. This thought cheered Bozo, I do not know why. He was a very exceptional man.
- Beggars do not work, it is said; but then, what is work? A navvy works by swinging a pick. An accountant works by adding up figures. A beggar works by standing out of doors in all weathers and getting varicose veins, bronchitis etc. It is a trade like any other; quite useless, of course — but, then, many reputable trades are quite useless. And as a social type a beggar compares well with scores of others. He is honest compared with the sellers of most patent medicines, high-minded compared with a Sunday newspaper proprietor, amiable compared with a hire-purchase tout-in short, a parasite, but a fairly harmless parasite. He seldom extracts more than a bare living from the community, and, what should justify him according to our ethical ideas, he pays for it over and over in suffering.
- The most bitter insult one can offer to a Londoner is "bastard" — which, taken for what it means, is hardly an insult at all.
- The whole business of swearing, especially English swearing, is mysterious. Of its very nature swearing is as irrational as magic-- indeed, it is a species of magic. But there is also a paradox about it, namely this: Our intention in swearing is to shock and wound, which we do by mentioning something that should be kept secret--usually something to do with the sexual functions. But the strange thing is that when a word is well established as a swear word, it seems to lose its original meaning; that is, it loses the thing that made it into a swear word. A word becomes an oath because it means a certain thing, and, because it has become an oath, it ceases to mean that thing.
- It is curious how people take it for granted that they have a right to preach at you and pray over you as soon as your income falls below a certain level.
- My story ends here. It is a fairly trivial story, and I can only hope that it has been interesting in the same way as a trivial diary is interesting. … At present I do not feel I have seen more than the fringe of poverty.