Welcome to Episode Twenty of the dystopian classic Nineteen Eighty-Four, a far too timely tale in our series Tales for Our Time.
Yesterday we had complaints from New South Wales and Indiana about my voices for Orwell's characters, both central and peripheral. Donald Kilmer, an Idaho member of The Mark Steyn Club, begs to differ:
The voicing — of all the characters — is spot on. But I read Nineteen Eighty-Four so long ago, hearing it read by Mark is like experiencing the novel for the first time. Love the format. Love the experience. Worried about the parallels with reality.
That's very kind of you, Donald. Alas, for the next couple of evenings the voices and the characters and the dialogue and the internal monologues and the descriptions of the streets and the weather and the furniture and all the other elements that make up a novel are largely on hold - as George Orwell, in a bit of experiment with form, features extensive excerpts from Emmanuel Goldstein's political tract, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism.
As we were recording this section, our audio engineer told me that it was his least favorite part of Nineteen Eighty-Four. On the other hand, we have more than a few Steyn Clubbers who reject Tales for Our Time because they don't bother with fiction and prefer to read political books. Setting aside the reality that many of the most influential political books have been fiction (this one and Brave New World, and everything from Uncle Tom's Cabin to Atlas Shrugged), I hope this section will attract a few of those novel naysayers - and not just because "oligarchical collectivism" is the perfect description for our new ruling coalition of China-funded shills and woke billionaires.
As you know, I often tell interviewers that, when I watch movies about futuristic dystopias, I'm always more interested in the unseen backstory: how we got from here to there. In tonight's episode, Orwell starts to fill that in - and you won't be listening for long before you start to notice that we're on the same continuum:
War, however, is no longer the desperate, annihilating struggle that it was in the early decades of the twentieth century... In a physical sense war involves very small numbers of people, mostly highly-trained specialists, and causes comparatively few casualties. The fighting, when there is any, takes place on the vague frontiers whose whereabouts the average man can only guess at, or round the Floating Fortresses which guard strategic spots on the sea lanes. In the centres of civilization war means no more than a continuous shortage of consumption goods, and the occasional crash of a rocket bomb which may cause a few scores of deaths. War has in fact changed its character.
Orwell - in the guise of Emmanuel Goldstein - accurately foresees the unending wars of the twenty-first century, waged not by conscripted millions battling for Paris and Berlin but by "small numbers" of "highly-trained specialists" out there on the "vague frontiers": Helmand province, the Sunni Triangle, the outskirts of Benghazi and other places most citizens of the principal combatant couldn't find on a map. The conflicts are never won or lost but just chug along enough to make war a permanent feature of life, as we're reminded not by "the occasional crash of a rocket bomb" but by the occasional rogue rental car at a French Christmas market or on a Manhattan bike path, or a crude explosive device on the London Tube or at an Ariana Grande concert.
Orwell did not get all the details right but he saw pretty clearly the underlying psychology. If you're a member of The Mark Steyn Club you can hear Part Twenty of our serialization of Nineteen Eighty-Four simply by clicking here and logging-in. All previous episodes can be found here.
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