If you’ve been paying attention to how Russian President Vladimir Putin talks about the war in Ukraine, you may have noticed a pattern. Putin often uses words to mean the exact opposite of his usual words.
He labels it acts of war”peacekeeping duty,
He claims to be involved in it”DisclaimerWhile trying to overthrow or even kill the Jewish President of Ukraine, who is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor.
The brazen manipulation of Putin’s language is grabbing attention. Kira Rudik, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, lately said Of Putin in a CNN interview:
“When he says, ‘I want peace,’ it means, ‘I am gathering my troops to kill you.’ If he says, ‘This is not my army,’ he means ‘This is my army and I am gathering them.’ And if he says, ‘Okay, I’m retreating,’ it means ‘I’m going to regroup and gather more soldiers to kill you.'”
As a Professor of Philosophy who studies British author George OrwellI am reminded of another set of comments Rudik made about Putin: “War is peace. freedom is Slavery. ignorance is power.” These are the words carved into the side of the building for a government agency called “Ministry of Truth” in Orwell’s dystopian novel.1984”, published in 1949.
Orwell uses this feature of the novel to draw attention to how authoritarian regimes—like the book’s fictional kingdom of oceania – Perversely distorting language in order to gain and maintain political power. Orwell’s deep understanding of this phenomenon was the result of seeing it himself.
a lie worse than a bomb
In battling Putin’s lies and spin, it is helpful to see what past thinkers and writers like Orwell have said about the relationship between language and political power.
orwellAn Englishman who lived from 1903 to 1950 experienced war, imperialism and poverty in the first part of his life. These experiences identified Orwell as a socialist and member of the British political left.
Then, it may seem inevitable that Orwell would have viewed favorably Soviet CommunismAt that time, the political left was a dominant force in Europe. But it was not so.
Instead, Orwell believed that Soviet communism shared the same flaw as Nazi Germany. both were totalitarian states Where the desire for absolute power and control closed any room for truth, individuality or freedom. Orwell did not think that Soviet communism was in fact socialist, but that it had only a socialist facade.
At 33, Orwell served As a Volunteer Soldier in the Spanish Civil War, He fought as part of a larger left-leaning coalition with a small militia that was trying to stop a rebellion from Spain’s nationalist right. This left-leaning coalition was getting military support from the Soviet Union.
But the smaller militias fighting with Orwell eventually became the target of Soviet propagandists, who leveled Various allegations against the militia, including that its members were spies on the other side. It was a byproduct of the Soviet Union’s efforts to use its involvement in Spain as a way to gain political power.
Orwell saw how the militia he had fought in the European press as part of this Soviet smear campaign was discredited. He explained in his book “Tribute to CataloniaThat this smear campaign involved telling outright lies about concrete facts. This experience greatly upset Orwell.
She reflect on this experience later, writing that he was “feeling that the concept of objective truth was disappearing from the world.” He claimed that prospect scared him “much more than the bomb.”
Language shapes politics – and vice versa
In that essay, Orwell reflects on The relationship between language, thought and politics, For Orwell, language influences thought, which in turn influences politics. But politics also affects thought, which in turn affects language. Thus, Orwell – like Putin – saw how language shapes politics and vice versa.
Orwell argues in the essay that if one writes well, “one can think more clearly,” and in turn “to think clearly is a necessary first step towards a political revival,” which I think for him is a political The system can recover from disastrous political influences such as totalitarianism . This makes good writing a political act.
Orwell’s desire to avoid bad writing is not a desire to defend rigid rules of grammar. Instead, Orwell aims for language users to “let the meaning choose the word, not the other way around.” Communicating clearly and accurately requires conscious thought. It takes work.
But just as language can illuminate thought and revive politics, so language can be used to obscure thought and degrade politics.
Putin sees this clearly and wants to use it to his advantage.
Orwell warned against Putin’s misuse of language, writing that “If thought corrupts language, language can corrupt thought,
Orwell discovered the mutual corruption of language and politics in a totalitarian regime Looks like your dystopian”1984In the world of “1984”, the only crime is “thought crime.” Which would undermine the party’s authoritarian control. Limit the language and you limit the idea, or so the theory goes. Thus, Russian parliament passed, and Putin signedA law that could result in criminal charges for using the Russian word for “war” to describe the Ukraine war.
Orwell also uses “1984” to explore what happens when communication conforms to the wishes of political power rather than demonstrable fact.
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the result is “doublethink,” which occurs when a fragmented mind simultaneously accepts two conflicting beliefs as true, The slogans “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery” and “Ignorance is Strength” are perfect examples. This Orwellian idea gave rise to the concept of double entendreWhich is when someone uses language to obscure meaning in order to manipulate others.
Doublespeak is a tool in the arsenal of torture. It is one of Putin’s weapons of choice, as it is for many authoritarians and authoritarians around the world. As Orwell warned: “The power lies in tearing the human mind to pieces and putting them together again in the new shape of our choice.”
Mark Satta does not work for, consult, own shares or receive funding for any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and does not disclose any relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment has done.