“Everything in the state, nothing outside the state.”
– Benito Mussolini
Though we read it to learn about the totalitarian state known as the Party, 1984 is about a man. His name is Winston Smith. He longs for freedom. He battles a state that aims to divert human interest away from humans and toward itself and he is forgotten.
Smith is our protagonist because he alone despises the Party. Despite their subjugation Smith’s contemporaries appear content. With sex outlawed and the family unit antiquated they have formed bonds with the state’s symbolic figurehead, Big Brother.
Like any big brother, he watches over them.
Everywhere. Every second. Even while they sleep. Those who object disappear but for most it’s perfectly fine. The Party has convinced them that its complete control over their will is a familial act.
But our protagonist isn’t feeling the love. In what subversive manner he can he tries to identify others who share his hatred for the oppressor.
“To die hating them, that was freedom,” he thinks to himself.
But after a woman sneaks him a love letter we see his resolve waver. He realizes in one of the most literary passages in the book that he fears death, because he wants to be with her. How reassuring to the reader that this human bond forms where humans cannot touch and that, where the state promises warmth, one organism seeks another and the two huddle close.
But Big Brother catches Smith. Agents storm into the secret hiding place where he and his love rendezvous. They beat them and take them away separately. Smith wakes up in a cell and awaits reconditioning.
It makes sense that with an authoritarian coming to power in the United States Amazon would sell out of 1984. Like the Party, President Donald Trump is a fear monger who leverages external threats to expand power and he promotes his own version of the truth. Plus, the Party’s heavy policing is reminiscent of the Republican style of governance.
But while some appear more aggressive than others all governments back their sovereignty with the same force Big Brother does. Democrats and Republicans disagree on certain policies but they agree on how to enforce them.
And similarities between the Democratic party and the Party of 1984 go beyond force. The Party took the place of parent and sibling and Democrats have convinced their supporters that the state is the instrument by which one human cares for another. Liberals today believe anything that may ail their fellow man can be remedied if entrusted to the state: inequality, hatred, poverty, gun violence, poor schools, bad words. Even where government regulation makes things worse liberals call for increased government regulation to fix it.
This mentality was on display two weeks ago when Ted Cruz and Bernie Sanders debated the Affordable Care Act.
Wherever the debate took the two men it always returned to the fundamental difference in their respective approaches to economics. Cruz believes in minimal state interference. He believes competition among private health insurance companies will create many coverage options for people to choose from based on their needs and finances. He said in the debate that government is an unnecessary middleman; the ACA has created costs that have made healthcare more expensive and the FDA’s reluctance to approve medicines has kept people from quality treatment.
Sanders on the other hand believes that universal healthcare is the only way to make sure everyone has coverage. He cited countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom where a higher percentage of people are covered in comparison with the U.S. where private entities are allowed to provide insurance. Cruz enumerated the shortcomings of those systems, saying that healthcare is rationed so that despite coverage the elderly are often shunned and people in need of important operations join long waitlists, and rather than argue Sanders simply continued to insist that universal healthcare is the only solution.
Beyond its being the solution, Sanders believes universal healthcare equals compassion. During Tom Price’s confirmation hearing last month Sanders said the U.S. is not a compassionate society compared to those that have more social programs. He maintained his feeling despite Rand Paul’s argument that Americans donate hundreds of billions of dollars – more than the GDP of many socialist countries – to charities and churches every year and that American doctors volunteer countless hours in third-world countries.
SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't read 1984 consider skipping the following paragraph.
Reading 1984 I feared for Smith’s death. But what’s another dead guy going to do for the state? They don’t want to kill him; they want his loyalty. So they break his loyalty to a warm-blooded being. They tie him down and torture him until he begs them to punish her instead (they already are). Then they let him go. Having betrayed her Smith realizes the love between them was false. Later the two meet and feel nothing and the book ends with Smith professing his love for Big Brother.
The most chilling part for me was when Smith’s tormentor asks him if he knows why the Party does what it does.
“You are ruling over us for our own good,” Smith says. “You believe human beings are not fit to govern themselves and therefore-”
His tormenter shuts him up and says:
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness; only power, pure power….We are different from all the oligarchies of the past in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means; it is an end.”