Were Ayn Rand and George Orwell on the same page?


Victor Pross

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Great writers! Was Ayn Rand and George Orwell on the same page?

NOTE FROM MSK: A portion of this post was deleted for a while when the plagiarism issue exploded, but was restored on August 13, 2007 with identification of plagiary for the record.

Atlas Shrugged and 1984 are two of 20th century's greatest novels about the individual against the state. It has been said that George Orwell and Ayn Rand were of one mind when it came to satirizing and maligning the very idea of a totalitarian state.

But were these two writers really on the same page? If not, why not? If so, how so?

Let’s take a fast Cole’s Notes review of these writer's novels and ask the question: which writer more effectively accomplished the task of lampooning collectivism?

GEORGE ORWELL and 1984:

1. It is the nature of the state to be at a continual state of war; if there is no enemy, the state will make one.

2. Increasing development of technology lends itself to better control by the government, i.e., Big Brother.

3. Revision of history is very effective in controlling the minds of the people.

4. Another method of control is through the monitoring and scheduling of sexual intercourse.

5. Giving the people something on which to focus their hate distracting them from what the government's doing to them.

6. When all other methods of control fail, brainwashing through pain and mind-altering drugs is always an easy option.

7. Utopian societies aren't always idealistic, and even in supposedly perfect socialistic societies, there are divisions in classes: top order, middle class, proletariat.

AYN RAND and Atlas Shrugged:

1. The independent mind -- through the freedom of the society in which it resides -- is responsible for all human progress and prosperity.

2. State control of the economy leads to corruption and greater taxes.

3. Also, the purpose of government is to protect the sovereign rights of an individual (see US Declaration of Independence).

4. Man increases knowledge through reason, and reason alone.

5. Capitalism is an idea which must be strived for, through a laissez-faire economy.

6. Man and his mind should be free from the control of any outside party, especially the state; natural rights and laws do exist: a man has a right to live his own life.

7. In a last-ditch attempt to be free, independent minds will withdraw from society and become secluded, therefore no longer contributing--shown through the metaphor of the strike.

8. Self-sacrifice (altruism) is evil and improper for mankind as an ethical ideal.*(1)

*** *** ***

Who do you think more effectively conveyed the theme of the individual against the state? Was it Ayn Rand’s magnum opus or George Orwell’s panicle oeuvre? What do YOU have to say? Please, speak freely. (While you can).

George-Orwel_byVictorProssl.gif

Yes, Big Brother is eye-balling YOU!

-

NOTE FROM ADMINISTRATOR:

Plagiary first identified here.

*(1) Plagiarized from Post on Beaver and Steve forum by "pcj, Randy Bonobo" (pseudonym). The original passage reads as follows:

(1)

I'll start with the one I like and am thus more familiar with.

1984 discusses:

1. It is the nature of the state to be at a perpetual state of war; if there is no enemy, the state will make one.

2. The proletariat/individual and its well-being is more important than the government/collective and its well-being.

3. Increasing development of technology lends itself to better control by the government, i.e., Big Brother.

4. Revision of history is very effective in controlling the minds of the people.

5. Another method of control is through the monitoring and scheduling of sexual intercourse.

6. Giving the people something on which to focus their hate away from the government is also useful in distracting them from what the government's doing to them.

7. When all other methods of control fail, brainwashing through pain and mind-altering drugs is always an easy option.

8. Utopian societies aren't always idealistic, and

9. even in supposedly perfect socialistic societies, there are divisions in classes: top order, middle class, proletariat.

Rand's usual points are:

1. Even when all odds are against the happenstance, an individual can overcome a state, and

2. The independent mind through the freedom of the society in which it resides is responsible for all human progress and prosperity;

3. State control of the economy leads to corruption and greater taxes, shown through an end to American prosperity.

4. Also, the purpose of government is to protect the sovereign rights of an individual (see US Declaration of Independence as well as some of Montesquieu's works).

5. Man gains knowledge through reason, and reason alone.

6. Capitalism is an idea which must be strived for, through a laissez-faire economy.

7. Man and his mind should be free from the control of any outside party, especially the state; natural rights and laws do exist: a man has a right to live his own life.

8. In a last-ditch attempt to be free, independent minds will withdraw from society and become secluded, therefore no longer contributing, shown through the extended metaphor of the strike.

9. Self-sacrifice is useless.

OL extends its deepest apologies to the person using the pseudonym of "pcj, Randy Bonobo."

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Ive actually been intending to do an article on the subject for a long time.

Rand and Orwell had different political views. Rand's Classical Liberalism was opposed to Orwell's democratic socialism.

Both, however, have some strikingly similar philosophical points.

1. Both trace political collectivism to a desire to control reality (or at least, people's perceptions of it).

2. Both consider a rational epistemology to be the enemy of totalitarianism. As Winston writes, "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows."

3. Both agree on the link between collectivism and altruism. In 1984, the Superstate Eastasia practices an ideology called "Obliteration of the Self" which is described as essentially identical to Ingsoc and Neo-Bolshevism.

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Ayn Rand did not like Orwell. See the letters She did not like Animal Farm. Her book Anthem is like 1984 a dystopia. I wish Miss Rand had read some of Orwell's other writings. I think she would have found ideas she liked.

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>>Both, however, have some strikingly similar philosophical points.

studiodekadent,

That sounds very interesting. Would you care to elaborate?

-Victor

Victor,

As I said, there are three broad agreements that Rand and Orwell share philosophically.

The first is in ethics. Both agree that collectivism is based on a morality of self-destruction. Lets start with Orwell. In 1984, the world is carved up into three superstates: Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia. All three practice an ideology, being Insoc (English Socialism), Neo-Bolshevism and (colloquially) "Death-Worship" (although the proper translation is Obliteration Of The Self) respectively. In Goldstein's Book (kind of the "Galt's Speech" of 1984), it is said that all three ideologies are essentially the same. So hence, Orwell is saying that collectivism (at least totalitarian collectivism (being a democratic socialist, he believed socialism is not inevitably totalitarian)) boils down to "Obliteration Of The Self" and "Death Worship." The paralell in Rand is obvious: Galt's speech shows that the moral standard of collectivism is altruism, which works out to self-destruction. The standard of value of collectivists is one of death. Value is sacrificed to non-value as the successful are parasitically enslaved to the "zeroes." Orwell uses the phrase "Death Worship" in a similar way to Rand's phrase "Zero Worship."

The second is that reason and freedom are corrolaries to eachother. In Winston's diary, Winston writes "freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four, if that is granted, all the rest follows." In short, freedom is the freedom to think. This implies freedom to think as an individual. As for Rand, freedom to think for oneself eventually results in freedom to act on the basis of ones thoughts (assuming one doesnt use force/fraud of course). Orwell doesnt explain this link between freedom of thought and action (possibly due to Orwell, as a democratic socialist, potentially having a very different idea of freedom) but he at least partially made the connection.

The third similarity is that totalitarianism is based on a revolt against objective reality. In Rand, it is argued that the whole syndrome of anti-reason boils down to a desire to make whim effacious (and/or to take the effort and activity out of reason and replace it with automatic, diaphanous knowlege)(personally, I think this is true in some cases but I doubt it is the complete answer... there are more potential causes). The revolt is against the fact that reality is what it is and it requires a conscious process to understand it. In Orwell, the government practices a policy of 'reality control' designed to control the beliefs and thoughts of the populace. In essence, the government knows it cannot control reality in itself so it substitutes the next best thing: controlling how people perceive reality. To quote O'Brien (the villain), "Reality exists in the human mind Winston, nowhere else." Since they cannot make reality itself conform to their wishes, they make the populace believe their wishes are true.

I think that there needs to be more Rand-Orwell scholarship, just as I think there needs to be more Rand-Hayek scholarship. Rand and Orwell are at least on these points shockingly alike.

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Comparing Ayn Rand and George Orwell is an interesting topic. I have compared them with my friend and I called them both anti-totalitarian. That is, of course, a non-specific classification, but it's about as specific as Orwell's book gets.

I would disagree with your first paragraph there about Orwell believing that collectivism leads to self-destruction. He was a socialist after all. I would guess it was more along the lines of totalitarianism is death worship. The people in the books were not only supposed to sacrifice themselves in the economic sense, but also in the identity sense. They were supposed to be completely identical. So at least in the last paragraph I think you had it.

The statement about 2+2=4 is more a declaration of reality than it is a declaration of the necessity of reason. I say this because later Winston was forced to see 2+2 as equalling 5 which is when he was able to be controlled by the state. So I think that is better fitting in your third paragraph.

As for the third paragraph I would say that they both recognized that totalitarianism could not function without the denial, on some level, of objective reality.

By the way, Rand was ten times the writer Orwell was.

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1984 is basically a vision of the future where the world has been divided in to three superpower nations, all of which are totalitarian regimes and are at constantly at war with one another.

In his novel, Orwell envisioned a world where our lives at regularly monitored by the regime. There is a devise called a "telescreen" which works as both a television and camera. There is one on very room, every corridor, every street, every corner, every home constantly monitoring every person. It is a law that they must be left on all the time and there is only one channel which broadcasts propaganda from the regime. If nothing is being broadcast then they simply show a portrait of the dictator's face, which is known as "Big Brother". In most dictatorships, they use posters but here they use the telescreens. Hence the slogan-- "Big Brother is watching you".

The novel describes the citizens as living clockwork, mechanical-like existence full of conformity where everyone wears uniforms and addresses each other as “comrade.” The novel basically tries to describe the horrors of a totalitarian and statism regime, where there is no freedom whatsoever. However, many argue that Orwell’s novel is really only anti-Stalinism, not anti-communism. What do you think?

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However, many argue that Orwell’s novel is really only anti-Stalinism, not anti-communism. What do you think?

The issue comes down to whether or not Communism is inevitably totalitarian. Orwell himself was not a Communist; he was a democratic socialist. Democratic socialism was always at loggerheads with communism, at least ideologically. So Orwell may have been anticommunist in spite of his socialism. Personally Im inclined towards this conclusion.

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Thank you Dragon. The wording has been driving me crazy too. My earlier comments about Rand reading Orwell is about his writing on language which I find quite brillant. I must confess I have read more of them than the ficition.

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Following up on #12: I agree that you'll find more similarities in these authors' essays than in their novels. Compare "On the Use and Abuse of Language" with "'Extremism' or The Art of Smearing," which are both about how political corruption stems from cognitive corruption, though I think Rand goes deeper. They seem simply to have thought along similar lines; I doubt that either influenced the other intellectually (though Orwell might have read Anthem; it came out in England in 1938, and We the Living had done much better there than in the US. Both are books in line with his interests. Anything beyond this is speculation.)

Following up on #8: Democratic socialism was not "always" at loggerheads with communism. To the contrary, Orwell, Sidney Hook and a very few others were rare exceptions. For the most part, from the 1920s on, anywhere in the world, they couldn't get enough of communism and repudiated viciously against enyone who tried to get the truth out. If by "intellectually" you mean "in principle if not always in practice," Objectivists shouldn't have to be told that this is just where they had the most in common.

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Reidy is right. My reading suggests during the 30ths there was something called the Popular Front. The Communists always advanced their own agenda during this period. The cooperation by the Communists on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War was in addition to their killing of anarchist and syndicalist who were also fighting against Franco.

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  • 3 months later...

Victor Pross, Great writers! Was Ayn Rand and George Orwell on the same page?

"GEORGE ORWELL and 1984:

1. It is the nature of the state to be at a continual state of war; if there is no enemy, the state will make one.

2. Increasing development of technology lends itself to better control by the government, i.e., Big Brother.

3. Revision of history is very effective in controlling the minds of the people.

4. Another method of control is through the monitoring and scheduling of sexual intercourse.

5. Giving the people something on which to focus their hate distracting them from what the government's doing to them.

6. When all other methods of control fail, brainwashing through pain and mind-altering drugs is always an easy option.

7. Utopian societies aren't always idealistic, and even in supposedly perfect socialistic societies, there are divisions in classes: top order, middle class, proletariat.

AYN RAND and Atlas Shrugged:

1. The independent mind -- through the freedom of the society in which it resides -- is responsible for all human progress and prosperity.

2. State control of the economy leads to corruption and greater taxes.

3. Also, the purpose of government is to protect the sovereign rights of an individual (see US Declaration of Independence).

4. Man increases knowledge through reason, and reason alone.

5. Capitalism is an idea which must be strived for, through a laissez-faire economy.

6. Man and his mind should be free from the control of any outside party, especially the state; natural rights and laws do exist: a man has a right to live his own life.

7. In a last-ditch attempt to be free, independent minds will withdraw from society and become secluded, therefore no longer contributing--shown through the metaphor of the strike.

8. Self-sacrifice (altruism) is evil and improper for mankind as an ethical ideal. "

"pcj", forum comment on Beaver and Stone

"I'll start with the one I like and am thus more familiar with.

1984 discusses:

1. It is the nature of the state to be at a perpetual state of war; if there is no enemy, the state will make one.

2. The proletariat/individual and its well-being is more important than the government/collective and its well-being.

3. Increasing development of technology lends itself to better control by the government, i.e., Big Brother.

4. Revision of history is very effective in controlling the minds of the people.

5. Another method of control is through the monitoring and scheduling of sexual intercourse.

6. Giving the people something on which to focus their hate away from the government is also useful in distracting them from what the government's doing to them.

7. When all other methods of control fail, brainwashing through pain and mind-altering drugs is always an easy option.

8. Utopian societies aren't always idealistic, and

9. even in supposedly perfect socialistic societies, there are divisions in classes: top order, middle class, proletariat.

Rand's usual points are:

1. Even when all odds are against the happenstance, an individual can overcome a state, and

2. The independent mind through the freedom of the society in which it resides is responsible for all human progress and prosperity;

3. State control of the economy leads to corruption and greater taxes, shown through an end to American prosperity.

4. Also, the purpose of government is to protect the sovereign rights of an individual (see US Declaration of Independence as well as some of Montesquieu's works).

5. Man gains knowledge through reason, and reason alone.

6. Capitalism is an idea which must be strived for, through a laissez-faire economy.

7. Man and his mind should be free from the control of any outside party, especially the state; natural rights and laws do exist: a man has a right to live his own life.

8. In a last-ditch attempt to be free, independent minds will withdraw from society and become secluded, therefore no longer contributing, shown through the extended metaphor of the strike.

9. Self-sacrifice is useless. "

-----------------------

--Dan Edge

(Note from MSK: Thank you, Dan. Duly edited.)

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