GEORGE ORWELL CHANGED HIS MIND
by Comandante Chispas
Belartandstyle posted two covers of George Orwell´s classic 1984 dystopian novel.
What is generally not known is that Orwell later had a seismic change of heart.
The indefatigable fighter of official censorship came to an astonishing conclusion. The most serious censor is not official, governmental.
Orwell wrote in a proposed preface to his novel Animal Farm:
“Obviously it is not desirable that a government department should have any power of censorship (except security censorship, which no one objects to in war time) over books which are not officially sponsored. But the chief danger to freedom of thought and speech at this moment is not the direct interference of…any official body. If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion. In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves [my emphasis]…
The sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news - things which on their own merits would get the big headlines - being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that 'it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralized, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is 'not done' to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was 'not done' to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”
True to form, Orwell´s proposed preface was censored. It did not come to light until 1972.
The more serious and subtle form of censorship Orwell denounced is old hat in America. In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that when it comes to censorship, America is on the far side of the Spanish Inquisition:
"I know of no nation where there reigns, in general, less independence of spirit and true liberty of discussion than in the United States …The Inquisition never could stop numerous anti-religion books from circulating in Spain. In the United States, the tyranny of the majority has taken away even the thought of publishing them."
"Je ne connais pas de pays où il règne, en général, moins d'indépendance d'esprit et de véritable liberté de discussion qu'en Amérique ... L'Inquisition n'a jamais pu empêcher qu'il ne circulât en Espagne des livres contraires à la religion du plus grand nombre. L'empire de la majorité fait mieux aux États-Unis: elle a ôté jusqu'à la pensée d'en publier.” Alexis de Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique I (deuxième partie), in Œuvres, Volume II, Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, Gallimard, Paris, 1992. pp. 84-5. (“Du pouvoir qu´exerce la majorité en Amérique sur la pensée”). [My translation].
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