Posted by: captainfalcon | April 27, 2010

Fromm on Orwell

As odd as it sounds, Erich Fromm’s Afterword to the Signet edition of 1984 is an enjoyable read. I found some of his examples of real-world doublethink to be shit-stirring:

The position which Orwell attributes…to the power elite can be said to be an extreme form of philosophical idealism, but it is more to the point to recognize that the concept of truth and reality which exists in 1984 is an extreme form of pragmatism in which truth becomes subordinated to the Party. An American writer, Alan Harrington, who in Life in the Crystal Palace gives a subtle and penetrating picture of life in a big American corporation, has coined an excellent expression for the contemporary concept of truth: “mobile truth.” If I work for a big corporation which claims that its product is better than that of all competitors, the question whether this claim is justified or not in terms of ascertainable reality becomes irrelevant. What matters is that as long as I serve this particular corporation, this claim becomes “my” truth, and I decline to examine whether it is an objectively valid truth. In fact, if I change my job and move over to the corporation which was until now “my” competitor , I shall accept the new truth, that its product is the best, and subjectively speaking, this new truth will be as true as the old one. It is one of the most characteristic and destructive developments of our own society that man, becoming more and more of an instrument, transforms reality more and more into something relative to his own interests and functions. Truth is proven by the consensus of millions; to the slogan “how can millions be wrong” is added “and how can a minority of one be right.”

And:

[T]he Party ‘rejects and vilifies every principle for which the socialist movement originally stood, and it chooses to do this in the name of socialism.’ Its content is reversed into its opposite, and yet people believe that the ideology means what it says. In this respect Orwell quite obviously refers to the falsification of socialism by Russian communism, but it must be added that the West is also guilty of a similar falsification. We present our society as being one of free initiative, individualism and idealism, when in reality these are mostly words. We are a centralized managerial industrial society, of an essentially bureaucratic nature, and motivated by a materialism which is only slightly mitigated by truly spiritual or religious concerns.

Finally:

We in the West speak of the ‘free world,’ in which we include not only systems like those of the United States and England, which are based on free elections and freedom of expression, but we include also South American dictatorships…we also include various forms of dictatorship like those of Franco and Salazar, and those in South Africa, Pakistan, and Abyssinia. While we speak about the free world, we actually mean all those states which are against Russia and China and not at all, as the words would indicate, states which have political freedom.

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Responses

  1. I think the first quote is very interesting, though I wonder to what extent this has always been the case. Fromm seems to suggest that this is a wholy new thing, brought about by large scale advertising by corporations and propogandizing by ideological governments, all of which are novel creations of the twenty-first century. But it seems to me that man has always subverted the truth to practical concerns. Wasn’t this the case, for example, with the divine right of monarchs?

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  3. Actually, I believe this afterword was written in the sixties. In any case it’s not very modern. But you’re right. It seems that it’s been going on for a while, but that is just all the more reason to be upset about it.

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