Nowadays we are all too familiar with this university-educated ruling caste, and its desire to control words and meaning. Just think, for example, of the way in which our cultural and educational elites have turned ‘fascism’ from a historically specific phenomenon into a pejorative that has lost all meaning, to be used to describe anything from Brexit to Boris Johnson’s Tory government – a process Orwell saw beginning with the Stalinist practice of calling Spanish democratic revolutionaries ‘Trotsky-fascists’ (which he documented in Homage to Catalonia (1938)).
Or think of the way in which our cultural and educational elites have transformed the very meanings of the words ‘man’ and ‘woman’, divesting them of any connection to biological reality. Orwell would not have been surprised by this development. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, he shows how the totalitarian state and its intellectuals will try to suppress real facts, and even natural laws, if they diverge from their worldview. Through exerting power over ideas, they seek to shape reality. ‘Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together in new shapes of your own choosing’, says O’Brien, the sinister party intellectual. ‘We control matter because we control the mind. Reality is inside the skull… You must get rid of these 19th-century ideas about the laws of nature.’
In Nineteen Eighty-Four, the totalitarian regime tries to subject history to similar manipulation. As anti-hero Winston Smith tells his lover, Julia:
‘Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book has been rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street and building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And that process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.’