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December 30, 2016Scott Alexander Calls Out the New York Times
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Frequently Asked Questions
There really ought to be a paper on George Orwell and Public Choice. Thanks to Loyola University senior Michael Makovi, there finally is. He's done a great job - "George Orwell as Public Choice Economist," forthcoming in The American Economist, is history of thought you can really sink your teeth into. Here are some highlights.
George Orwell is famous for his two final fictions, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. These two works are sometimes understood to defend capitalism against socialism. But as Orwell was a committed socialist, this could not have been his intention. Orwell's criticisms were directed not against socialism per se but against the Soviet Union and similarly totalitarian regimes. Instead, these fictions were intended as Public Choice-style investigations into which political systems furnished suitable incentive structures to prevent the abuse of power.Fleshed-out version:
Orwell was totally a socialist:
Unlike most contemporary socialists, however, Orwell abhorred intellectual victory by definition. He freely admitted that Nazism, like Communism, was socialist:
Some amusing ridicule by Makovi:
One would defend the conservative interpretation of Orwell's fictions as anti-socialist by arguing that Orwell was no longer a socialist anymore when he wrote them. And it would be difficult to refute the claim that Orwell had a change of heart prior to writing his last two major works for the same reason that it is difficult to challenge a claim that someone had made a deathbed recantation or confession.My main suggestion for improvement: Makovi should have heavily emphasized the parallels between Orwell's 1984 and the late great Gordon Tullock's work on dictatorship and revolution. Listen to Tullock speak:
Another obvious area for empirical investigation concerns the expectations of the revolutionaries. My impression is that they generally expect to have a good position in the new state which is to be established by the revolution. Further, my impression is that the leaders of revolutions continuously encourage their followers in such views. In other words, they hold out private gains to them. It is certainly true that those people that I have known who have talked in terms of revolutionary activity have always fairly obviously thought that they themselves would have a good position in the "new Jerusalem." Normally, of course, it is necessary to do a little careful questioning of them to bring out this point. They will normally begin by telling you that they favor the revolution solely because it is right, virtuous, and preordained by history.Now hear the words of O'Brien in 1984:
The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were- cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship.P.S. I'm writing an all-new dystopian role-playing game for Capla-Con 2015, June 20-21 - and you're invited! Join the Facebook group for details.
P.P.S. Makovi's paper was written under the direction of Prof. William T. Cotton in his honors English literature course, "George Orwell and the Disasters of the 20th Century" at Loyola University, New Orleans.