Historical Context of 1984 Research Paper

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1984 is one of the most visionary, compelling novels of the 20th Century. It still holds tremendous influence today among a broad swath of the liberally educated. 1984 resonates with fiction writers, politicians, and journalists alike. Fiction writers are drawn to its visceral, compelling image of a dystopian future, politicians to its various political messages, and journalists to its focus on the state's control of information.

The least visible fanbase for 1984, however, are historians. A discussion of history is often included in evaluations of the novel, especially by journalists and politicians. However, 1984 deserves an evaluation focused primarily on its historical context. Thesis: 1984, inspired by Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, illustrates the most disturbing political trends of its time, the forces that dominate our conception of world history. 1984's greatest value, though, is in its penetration to the forces shaping history, the corruption of human reason in pursuit of a perfect world.


World War II

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World War II demonstrated the catastrophic danger of industrialized nations empowered by technology in their pursuit of power and profit. Europe's wars were caused by Nationalism, the extreme advocacy for the interests of one's own nation over all other nations. Nationalism often expressed itself through the maneuvering of each European nation for power, a struggle which expressed itself first through economic competition and often ended in military conflict. Peace between these nations was maintained precariously through a complex set of treaties and alliances meant to establish a balance of power. (Mowat, 121-22)

Research Paper on Historical Context of 1984 Assignment

The German nation outgrew the balance of power in the early 20th Century and the breakdown of this system led to World War I. (Mowat, 153). Germany's eventual defeat in World War I caused much popular resentment among Germans, promoting the rise of the highly nationalistic, right-wing, and Facist Nazi party in Germany the 1920's and 1930's. (Mowat, 486-87). The Nazi party eventually embroiled Germany in World War II, causing the allied nations, including the U.K. France, the U.S., and even Communist Russia, to fight Germany once again. (Mowat,492-94). Nazi Germany was not alone, however, as it was joined by other Axis powers, mainly a Fascist Italy under Mussolini, pursuing a New Roman Empire, and an ever-authoritarian Imperial Japan pursuing hegemony in Asia. (Mowat, 502; 691;709).

Nazi Germany was, as were the other Axis powers, effective at controlling and channeling the attention and energy of the German populace through authoritarian rule, generally termed as Totalitarianism. Totalitarian rule in Nazi Germany relied particularly on state-guided propaganda and suppression of political rivals. (Mowat, 496-497). Fascist Spain, under Francisco, also implemented a Totalitarian system of governance. Some actually delighted at the efficiency of Totalitarian rule in Italy, giving rise to the popular observation that "When Mussolini was in power, the trains always ran on time." (Mowat, 495)

The deadly efficiency of Totalitarian rule, however, was unable to cover the huge promises that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy made to their populaces in their respective rise to power. These promises of national elevation, exemplified by the Nazi rhetoric of Germany's long-deserved and long-denied "place in the sun," required the Germans to conquer or perish. (Mowat, 497). The Nazis knew that they steal global hegemony from Great Britain, though it sought to delay British entry into the war for as long as possible.

Great Britain supported its waning hegemony with strong friendships developed during World War I. Its major World War I ally, France, was ever eager to secure military support from Great Britain because it was Germany's most hated political adversary. (Mowat, 687; 709). Its other major ally, the United States, was distant, isolationist, and out of Germany's military reach, meaning it had little to lose from non-involvement and little to gain from involvement. (Mowat, 802). From the perspective of the Nazis, educated in realist political theory, this made it doubtful that the U.S. would enter the war.

Germany knew that direct U.S. involvement in the War would make a German victory virtually impossible and hoped that the U.S. would stay out of the war, which it did for the entire first half of the war. (Mowat, 801). Even when the U.S. decided to enter the war in 1942 in order to preserve the current global power structure, the Nazis chose to have Germany fight a futile battle, rather than admitting its inability to fulfill its promises of German hegemony. (Mowat,780; 802). Such an admission would have resulted in the Nazi's fall from power in Germany.

The Aftermath of World War II

Although the Allied powers defeated the Totalitarian Axis powers in World War II, this did not spell the end of Totalitarianism. In the after math of World War II, Totalitarianism survived through one of the major Allied powers itself, Russia. (Mowat, 818). The Communist party in Russia did not intend to gain power under Lenin through Totalitarian rule as Fascist Germany and Italy did. (Mowat, 433-34). Rather, in its implementation of Communism in a hostile diplomatic environment, Russia, under Stalin, adopted Totalitarian rule as an aid to achieving Communist rule. (Mowat, 445-46; 454).

The Totalitarian Potential of Communism and Socialism

The ideological founder of Communism, Karl Marx, believed that society evolved through a progression of 4 discrete stages. First is the Tribal stage, where property is owned and tilled communally by extended family units. This is followed by the Feudal stage, where property is owned by a few individuals who compel the property-less to till the land for them. This is followed by the Capitalist stage, where the property-owners (those possessing the means of production, e.g. A factory) compelled the property-less (those without the means of production) to work for wages. This is followed by the final stage, the Communist stage, where all property, and its bounty, is collectively owned by all individuals and administered through the state. (Singer, 12)

With his theory of social evolution established, Marx predicted intense class struggle and revolution resulting in the collapse of the capitalistic system through society's abandonment of individual property ownership. (Singer, 12). The new political order and source of authority would be People's Committees. However, the potential for People's Committees to become Totalitarian through concentration of power in certain offices. Such a dynamic was not sufficiently provided for at the time Lenin started his Communist revolution in Russia in 1919.

The aforementioned potential for Totalitarian rule is indicative of Communalist social organization in general, including non-Communist forms of Socialism. The replacement of the old, self-interested Capitalist political authority with a Communalist structure of political authority, entrusted to watch over and make decisions for the welfare of society at large, produces an overreliance on the sole source of political authority and also leaves a lack of avenues for dissent. This is the reason that so many Socialist and Communist political authorities who take power as representatives of society at large devolve into Totalitarian regimes, where the decisions are made among secret power circles at the top. (Mowat, 446; 453-44).

The Rationalization of Individuals and the Bureaucratization of Modern Society

Unlike Marx, Weber believed that money, or "class" as he defined it, was just one of three factors, along with status and power, which determine social relationships and authority within a society. (Merton, R. 195) Weber predicted that the modern society, even Capitalist society, would promote increasing rationalization in the individual's experience with her environment. (Merton, R. 202). This was a result of the decline of the traditional channels of social authority, such as religious institutions, and their replacement by reason, or more accurately, rationalization, in guiding the individual's actions.

In modern society, the individual's behavior is increasingly motivated by rational goals influenced by organizational interests, such as efficiency, over traditional factors such as kinship (familial authority) or moral conventions (religious authority). (Merton, R. 203) Weber believed that this rationalization would lead to a bureaucratization of society, where individuals guide their actions through the rational calculation of objectives and the means to achieve those objectives. Weber believed that the institutions that such individuals tend to form will embody their own rationalist perspectives, producing a bureaucratization of society.

The bureaucratization of society produces new types of institutions, such as corporations and government bureaucracies, which maintain authority because they are perceived as the optimal means of achieving the societal objectives of economic growth and law and order. This can be seen in the proliferation and expansion of government bureaucracies, exemplified by the alphabet soup agencies of the New Deal and the various national security bureaucracies, such as the C.I.A. And the N.S.A. created immediately after World War II.

This tendency towards rationalization is also demonstrated in the selection of the "Best and the Brightest" leadership class and their idolatry of statistics. The Nation's "Best and the Brightest" were selected according to their academic and professional achievements and were appointed to key leadership positions in the growing government bureaucracies of the time. (Halberstam, Chapter 19-20) Such a tendency towards rationalization led to the appointment of a successful auto executive, Robert McNamara, as the U.S. Secretary of Defense. (Halberstam,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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