Most people think that George Orwell was writing about, and against, totalitarianism – especially when they encounter him through the prism of his great dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four.
This view of Orwell is not wrong, but it can miss something. For Orwell was concerned above all about the particular threat posed by totalitarianism to words and language. He was concerned about the threat it posed to our ability to think and speak freely and truthfully. About the threat it posed to our freedom.
He saw, clearly and vividly, that to lose control of words is to lose control of meaning. That is what frightened him about the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia – these regimes wanted to control the very linguistic substance of thought itself.
And that is why Orwell continues to speak to us so powerfully today. Because words, language and meaning are under threat once