Chomsky on Orwell’s introduction to Animal farm

Posted on f


Such facts as these open a question about freedom of speech that arises when we consider longer-term objectives. The question I have in mind is by no means new. One person who raised it was George Orwell, who is best known for his critique of totalitarian enemies, but was no less acid in addressing the ills of his own society. One pertinent example is an essay on what he called ”literary censorship in England.” The essay was written as the introduction to Animal Farm, his biting satire of Stalinist crimes. In this introductory essay Orwell instructs his British audience that they should not feel too complacent about his exposure of the crimes of Stalinism. In free England, he writes, ideas can be suppressed without the use of force. He gives some examples, and only a few sentences of explanation, but they capture important truths. ”The sinister fact about literary censorship in England,” Orwell wrote, ”is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for any official ban.” One reason is the centralization of the press in the hands of ”wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.” Another, and I think more important reason, is a good education and immersion in the dominant intellectual culture, which instills in us a ”general tacit agreement that `it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact.”

The introductory essay is not well-known, unlike the book itself, a bitter condemnation of Soviet tyranny that is famous and read everywhere. The reason is that it was not published, perhaps confirming his thesis about literary censorship in free England. It was found many years later in his unpublished writings. The essential point is that even in some future time when rights are established and the rights on paper truly observed, new and crucial questions arise.