What Would Orwell Think ?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Global financier and philanthropist George Soros joins Patricia Williams, professor of law at Columbia University, and Farnaz Fassihi, senior Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, to discuss what George Orwell would think about the state of political discourse in 2007.

What Orwell Didn't Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics is available for purchase at

Thanks to for finding this 1996 Rudy Giuliani and George Soros link.


Farnaz Fassihi, George Soros and Professor Patricia Williams

Comments [29]

T-Mobile from T-Mobile HQ

What were the two sides of this debate and what evidence was given to support their sides? What evidence supports that our world is not turning into an Orwellian society?

Nov. 13 2007 05:27 PM
Darren from Park Slope


Despite your bizarre attempts at smearing and obfuscation, I still think there is a point in trying to engage in reasonable discourse with you. You are the left-wing equivalent of the conservatives you are attacking.

I'm glad you think Dabney's statement was erroneous, and I did argue against its actual points. You claim I "set up another straw man."

Bu frankly "the people he was actually talking about: Christian fundamentalists" are the straw men. Who are these people? What are their actual beliefes? What power do they have? Whihc politican wants to implement their alleged goals? Which Presedntial candidate does? Which candidate is a conservative if Huckabee is the moderate?

Nov. 05 2007 12:41 PM
Dabney Braggart

I didn't say that Giuliani and Huckabee were Reconstructionist, though (unsurprisingly) the Reconstructionists would do all the nasty things you list except for the beheadings, as they're pure "stoning" partisans. Reconstructionists are also against forced conversions, merely wanting to make not being a Christian [by their lights] intolerable.

I was trying to compare these foreign loonies to some of our own for the sake of better perspective. They're not 600-foot tall warriors, they're pitiable fanatics who can hurt us a lot but can't win.

As far as the accuracy of "Islamofascm" goes, al-Qa'eda, for example:

1.) are internationalist---Fascism is
2.) are not totalitarian---they are very authoritarian, but believe that their right to govern is inherently constrained by the Quran and hadith and sunna. Of course, once you have power, it's easier to get the opinions you want---I mean, in America some Christians have been convinced that Jesus wanted people to be rich---but that's very different from the Fuhrerprinzip and Mussolini's organic state, which are both about the death of any kind of law inhibiting those in charge.

"Islamofascist" is more useful for turning off rational thought than as an accurate description.

Nov. 05 2007 12:38 PM
Paul from NJ

Darren, what in this discussion or the show do you view as "extremist Bush-bashing" as opposed to simple dissent with Bush administration policies without the pejorative connotation?

How would you define the difference between the two and why?

Nov. 05 2007 12:34 PM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey


There really seems to be no point in trying to engage in reasonable discourse with you. You are the right-wing equivalent of the liberals you are attacking.

I think Dabney's statement was erroneous, but you didn't argue against its actual points. You set up another straw man. You selected three moderates from the Republic party rather than addressing the people he was actually talking about: Christian fundamentalists. Giuliani, Romney and Huckabee, for example, would all publically condemn hate crimes against gays such as what happened to Matthew Shepard, but there are many Christian fundamentalists who praised his slaying and said he was condemned to hell for his lifestyle.

You use of terms like "Bush-bashing" and "whitewashing Islamist extremism" which are highly charged emotional statements that seemed to be applied in a blanket fashion to any criticism of this administration's policies. There are degrees of such criticism. Some are mindless, as you say, and some have merit. You've chosen to disregard any of the more moderate views and strictly focus on the more outlandish claims. So what makes you any different than them?

Nov. 05 2007 12:23 PM
Darren from Park Slope

Dabney - you ARE right that Dems are more authoratative than Repubs

and there are good arguments for Dems in '08
but Bush-hating rhetoric & whitewashing Islamist threats and global terror is not the way to win.

There has to be a way to be an honest about the Islamist threat without creating phony fear of all Muslims etc...or creating a fascist state in the US --- & the 08 Republicans will do so to the dteriment of those who want Dems in the Whote House -- unless the Dems do it better.

Nov. 05 2007 12:22 PM
Dabney Braggart

Republicans and Democrats:

I still think the Republicans are, today, more authoritarian than the Democrats. I find it hard to believe that a Democrat would claim that the President has, in effect, the right to have any person seized and held indefinitely without trial, or the other unrestrictable powers purported for the Unitary Executive in (permanent) war-time. Either principle or the cold political calculation that both left Democrats and right Republicans would squawk too much to make it worth-while would lower the odds.

Democrats may err on the side of the Nanny State, but that translates into a million petty little nannies dogging our heels. Republicans tend to err on the side of the Butch Man---not the effective one, or the sane one, or even the manly one, but one great at projecting the _image_ of masculinity. Bullying swagger can substitute for competence, your war-time film career can substitute for actual experience of the horror of war, talking tough about torturing people in our power can substitute for bearing down and telling us, "Look, we can't protect all of you all the time and stay free. Sorry."

I can easily believe that both parties are good and bad, sane and crazy, useful and useless and downright-dangerous...but in different ways that make them more or less so according to the times.

To pick up an earlier thread, to say "They're all like THAT," is dangerous for any value of THAT less trivial than "they breathe".

Nov. 05 2007 12:14 PM
Darren from Park Slope

lol --- saying the responses weren't weak - doesn't make it so

I was very clear in my previous posts that extremist Bush-bashing and coddling/whitewashing Islamist extremism is a losing strategy.

Feel free to respond :>

nice failed spin attempt, though...

Nov. 05 2007 12:08 PM


Saying they are "weak responses" doesn't make it so,lol

As another poster said, you seem to take one statement, strip it of it's meaning, distort it and then set up a straw man argument. Ineffective at best and easily dismissed.

Nov. 05 2007 12:03 PM
Darren from Park Slope

pretty weak responses to what I wrote --- "Dabney's" bizzare suggestion that Islamist extremists "would be anti-nationalist and about as authoritarian and theocratic as the state our own Christian Reconstructionists want for us"
is the problem with a lot of clueless Dems.

really. so Guilani & Romney & even Huckabee want public beheadings, hanging of gay teens, mass forced conversion to Christianity, public stoning of women who have unathorized sex, honor killings etc...???

get a clue -- the Orwellian spin will continue to be a dismal failure when you

1. whitewash and deny legitimate criticism of Islamist dreams for global domination which are not conspiracy theories - but proud and openly screamed each week at Friday sermons in the Middel East and the Midwest and Virginia (wherever extremist mosques & madrassas are).

2. over exxagerate the Bush/GOP hatred.

wake and smell the turkish cofee...

Nov. 05 2007 11:55 AM
dc from nyc

I agree with poster #6, why does NPR use the propagandistic terms? Akin to this, I've noticed that BBC uses the names "Burma" and "Rangoon" whereas NPR uses the names given to the nation by the junta "Myanmar" and "Yangon." Why is this?

Nov. 05 2007 11:50 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey


I think you've just epitomized the problem. You've defended your people by picking the weakest argument of your opponents, trimmed it down, clipped off the connotation and served it up as a wonderful straw man, and then made broad, blanket generalizations without example or foundation as proof of the wicked intentions of your enemies.

This is not to say that I don't think the Democrats are very guilty of many of the same things the Republicans have done. They latch onto meaningless hot-button topics to try to cause a stir without addressing real issues or caving in to Republican demands in spite of having the votes in order to prevent unpopular consequences of challenging a veto. They know the Republicans have a rhetorical leg up on them, and they know that any action they take will be spun to make it look like the President has been put into an impossible position by Congress rather than that he has created the impossible position himself and forced Congress to go along with it.

Nov. 05 2007 11:47 AM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

To Darren:
Practice what you preach.

Nov. 05 2007 11:46 AM
Dabney Braggart

I find it kind of neat that Chrissy Hitchens and Andy Sullivan both claim a bit of the mantle of ORwell, and that both love to use the term "Islamofascism", a beautiful bit of doublespeak that means something wonderfully specific ("We are faced with an Islamic threat directly comparable to that posed by Fascism in the '30's.") even as it obfuscates itself (the Caliphate would not be Fascist, it would be anti-nationalist and about as authoritarian and theocratic as the state our own Christian Reconstructionists want for us; the term has been used for Usama ibn-Ladin, Saddam Hussein...but oddly not for the Turkman Basha back when he was alive and an ally).

Oh, I like the point just made about the illness of saying that all politicians are alike: the man I knew with the greatest tolerance for gross corruption in elected officials was also the most vigourous proponent I've known of the proposition that all politicans are corrupt. This is the sort of thinking that tolerates cops' acting as hit-men for the Mob because pretty much all cops will take a free meal or coffee now-and-then (or often).

Nov. 05 2007 11:45 AM


Did anyone say after 8 years that was all we could come up with? I don't remember that. I don't see that either.

I'm just agreeing with that ONE point that the guest made and think that NPR is guilty of doing the same thing.

Of course both sides do it. Do you think that is some big revelation???????

Pay attention and wake up yourself.

Nov. 05 2007 11:43 AM
Darren from Park Slope

So after 8 years all you can come up with is that "surge" is being used instead of "increase"

The Dems & the Bush-haters use & abuse propaganda techniques, word manipulation, spinning etc.... too.

Denying that is nonsense & hurts the Dem cause.

Instead of making phony accusations that the fascist Republicans have destroyed all our civil rights etc... why not focus on the issues

there's a reason why the DEM Congress has dismal approval ratings - even lower than their hated BUSH - and there's a reason why Bush won re-election even after starting an unpopular war --

and it may just be that most Americans would rather have Republicans in power than Dems.

Wake up...

Nov. 05 2007 11:38 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

Nov. 05 2007 11:37 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

whats wrong with revolution?

Nov. 05 2007 11:35 AM
MichaelB from UWS of Manhattan

I agree with the points that the guests make about the uses of language, double talk, obliquness, and fear mongering.

Except I believe that both sides of the politcal debate do it when it suits them. They just use different issues and catch words to do so.

Thinking only one side does this is naive and perpetuates the politcal mess we are in.


Nov. 05 2007 11:35 AM
jamie from brooklyn

I think it is most important that Orwell calls on us all, not just politicians, to watch the way we write and speak.

Nov. 05 2007 11:34 AM
Joe Corrao from Brooklyn

We have been in trouble for the last 7 years and we have allowed it to happen...then distract us with the latest gadget or celebrity scandal...people don't care that they are being "run"...

Nov. 05 2007 11:29 AM
Richard Walker from San Francisco

Miss Scarlett goes to Washington

"Rhett, I must go to Washington to stop the war on Tara! It's ALL I HAVE!" (southern drawl)

"Franky, my dear, ..."

Then she makes a red gown out of her drapes and sets off to D.C. top stop the madness.

Nov. 05 2007 11:27 AM
nat from brooklyn

It is interesting to look at the political thought about the rise of despotism and totalitarianism in the years right after WWII. Writers such as Orwell, using their own experiences of watching Stalinist Russia rise, Nazi Germany rise and fall, and their fears about it happening again.

In the last 60 years we have lost that fundamental fear, we are not looking to our current system to see if any form of despotism is on the rise.

I recently stumbled up a video in the Prelinger Archives, from 1946. Its a school educational film about how to identify a despotic government (you can find it here: ). The humorous educational film elements aside, I was shocked at how much I kept linking this to our current situation.

Orwell's 1984 gets bandied about as being the obvious analogy towards what is happening in the US, but Orwell was not alone among his contemporaries in fearing the casual breakdown of democracy into something like totalitarianism and despotism.

Nov. 05 2007 11:24 AM

"Surge" is a good example...instead of calling it what it is...increase.

But it's not "us" accepting's the mass media shoving the terms down our throat.

I wonder why exactly NPR participates in this manipulative deceptive language? So about you from here on in call it a troop increase as opposed to using the deceptive propogandistic term "surge" yourself?

Nov. 05 2007 11:21 AM
Derek from Brooklyn

"When I came back to the United States, I decided that if you could use propaganda for war, you could certainly use it for peace. And 'propaganda' got to be a bad word because of the Germans using it, so what I did was to try and find some other words so we found the words 'public relations'."

- Edward Bernays

Nov. 05 2007 11:21 AM
John Eischeid from New York, NY

I like the examples, such as "war on terror" and surge," that your guests have been citing. Can we hear more?

Nov. 05 2007 11:18 AM
Paulo from Paterson, New Jersey

Any government will use fear as a weapon against its people. In some cases, they use the threat of attack from another source as a means to justify their actions, and in other cases, they use the threat of violence against those who oppose them and abandoning justification.

I don't think the administration has trampled all over the civil rights of the country's citizens, but I think only one more domino, the first amendment, has to fall before things get terrifyingly bad for everyone. Right now, we can still say what we want even if we're heavily criticized by the blockheads in society, and even if private companies opt out of giving us a platform for that speech.

Nov. 05 2007 11:13 AM
Derek from Brooklyn

The BBc covers her point in depth.

Nov. 05 2007 11:13 AM
Peter from Room 101, Miniluv

I am not one who believes that our government was involved in 9/11, but whenever the government wants us to be afraid they bring up the specter of terrorism.
-AL Qaeda and Bin Laden have become the new Brotherhood and Goldstein. (in fact my friends and I refer to new terror treats as coming from Al-Goldstein {not the pornographer}.)
-Who needs a 2 minute hate when we have Fox News on the 24 hour news cycle?
-I bet Orwell never thought we would pay for our version of the telescreen, now that our cell phones can be turned into listening devices for our government.
There is so much more, it’s scary (I won't even talk about the sexual repression). What happened to "we have nothing to fear but fear itself?" Now the government seems to sow the fear and degrade our rights.

Nov. 05 2007 10:25 AM

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