George Orwell's 1984 banned for contradictory reasons?

  • The book 1984, being about suppression of information itself, was banned in the USSR for being anti-communist, but it also was banned in the USA for being pro-communist.

    Is there any analysis where this apparent contradiction is explained?

    It's not a contradiction. It's _doublethink_.

  • user80

    user80 Correct answer

    5 years ago

    The reality is that, from the perspective of a pro-government stance, 1984 promotes the idea that the government shouldn't be involved in your private lives, and that it's a quick step from government monitoring to government abuse and overreach. It promotes civil disobedience, and fighting for human rights and liberties in your own personal way. It promotes skepticism of government action: that the things governments do to purportedly help you actually hurt you in subtle ways. It promotes the idea that wars are simply fought because frivolous wars are good for social order, structure, and economy. It promotes the idea that the government not only wants to, but does, control and influence what you see and hear.

    No pro-government ideology wants to promote those ideas within its own culture. It's no surprise they were banned - in Russia and certain places in the US for roughly the same reasons.

    For Russia, the "anti-communist" reason makes a whole lot of sense. 1984 is really less about capitalism and communism, and more about totalitarianism. Russia, at the time, held many of the structural and cultural problems that 1984 hyperbolized and fought against. Russia, logically, banned imports of the book for roughly this reason.

    However, importantly, the US did not ban these books in the same way Russia did. It wasn't sweeping, national, and unilateral: it was usually very local to specific school districts, and affected far fewer people.

    1984 was published in the US at about the time of the second world war, in the year 1949. This was around the time when the US was at war with and/or gearing up for war with communist nations. The red scare was still very real, and proxy wars with communist nations were about to become the new hit fad. This was a time when "commie" was an insult and McCarthyism was alive and well. If you wanted to get a book banned, all you really had to do was suggest that it was a) going to have some serious influence, and b) promoted communism.

    In the case of the US, it was usually individuals or small groups of individuals responsible for local bans. These bans were often raised, for example, by parents against school districts. The US itself can't ban books (with love: the First Amendment), and frequently overturns school boards on this point (it's a blog, but it's a case law blog). Instead of a national law, specific school boards, like the one in Jackson County, FL, banned the consumption of these books. (It's also on the ALA's frequently-challenged books list.) So it was on a far more individual, county-to-county basis.

    Do you have any evidence that this was indeed the reasoning for those who banned the book in US? Especially considering that the book was pretty much a critique of communism.

    @DVK I just had to get up and leave. I remember reading a handful of sources about this after re-reading 1984, though. I'll edit them in when I get a chance.

    (I'm still working on those references. It's on on my task list - it'll get done. I just got a bit distracted - sorry about the wait!)

    No rush. I care about end state of posts, not how fast it takes to get there (rand is STILL waiting for my epic answer promised like 1 year ago)

    @DVK I've gotten around to editing the answer, and added a few more references and clarity. Turns out, the way I had written it before was somewhat incomplete. I tried digging around for case law, but couldn't seem to find it - if anyone knows where I might get it, I'd really appreciate it!

    The second link doesn't seem to state how often 1984 was banned by school boards and more importantly, for what reason (or when, so whether that was McCarthy era is not clear). I'm kinda holding this answer to Skeptics standards, which is probably not fair, but I'm really interested in the topic, so being nitpicky.

    Could you describe more about what those governments thought the book represented? In the interest of fairness both sides of the story deserve equal representation. I'm not saying your answer is bad, rather I am saying I'd like to know more about why it was banned.

    @TheBitByte I'll look into it, for sure. It's hard to find specific information about it; the lawsuits may not be public in the US, and Soviet Russia was an authoritarian state. There may also not be clear writings on the topic, but I'll do what I can.

    I stumbled at the passage "at about the time of the second world war (1949), when the US was fighting communist nations" - I can understand that there's a parse where this is true (enough), but it's at least a confusing structure.

    @MichaelHomer Thanks, I agree that was a bit confusing. I've hopefully clarified that sentence structure.

    Nice answer "with love: the First Amendment". That merits a +1 *and* a LOL.

License under CC-BY-SA with attribution

Content dated before 7/24/2021 11:53 AM