Orwell: Social Orthodoxy And The Silencing Of Unpopular Opinions

At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.

George Orwell | “The Freedom of the Press,” unused preface to Animal Farm published in the Times Literary Supplement | September 15, 1972 (HT: Stephen Hayward)



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  1. Wow, that Orwell passage struck a nerve with me. Or better still, pushed my buttons. I’ve had a saying for decades that hasn’t endeared me to many of my friends and acquaintances: “At any given moment, most people are cowards.” This, unfortunately, holds true within the church (“evangelical” and confessional Reformed) as well as the public square. Rather than face being silenced, it seems that the majority of “good” men and women bow to the prevailing orthodoxy without a fight, or even a visible witness. Church leaders cower in silence or collapse in a heap at the first criticism of their “tone,” whether or not such criticism is just. Time after time, PCA judicial decisions can push back hard against some relatively minor process violation, all the while ineffective- one might say neutered – in the face of grievous departures from our doctrinal standards. After more than five decades of careful observation, I’m sad to report that “Go along to get along” is still alive and well among us.

    Am I a grumpy old men, or a sober realist? Perhaps a bit of both. (Of course I should repent of the former.) Yet I’m encouraged, for example, when I read the Psalms, by their utter honesty and complete confidence in God’s covenant promises. Arise, O Lord! Make us strong in your service, and vindicate your holy name, for the sake of Christ and His kingdom.

    • I was not a Commissioner to 2021 and 2022 PCA GA, nor did I attend in person. I followed the proceedings closely, though, and watched much of 2022 via livestream. My sources (the “good guys”) were much encouraged, as was I, in spite of my natural tendency to see the downside. No Christian should despise the day of small beginnings.

      Thinking of that passage from Orwell, we rejoice in the emergence of many young men in the PCA, who are gracious and bold, loving and firm, spiritually mature and committed to the Reformed faith in belief AND practice, and fearless in action. This is quite wonderful. May their tribe increase!

      • Amen! He will build His Church, (notice big “C”), and the gates of hell shall not prevail against her.

  2. The various applications of these tactics in our present day are troubling…. Shaping public opinion and manufacturing consent…. You’ll know who is in power based on what you can’t talk about it. I’m not big on cognitive dissonance myself. I’ve even had fellow Reformed Christians show me the door. But is their ignorance, in a particular area, my fault? Some things can be conveyed without offense, no matter how charitably we try. ….. Eventually we’ll all be on the outside…. Or joining em.

    “Alinsky would find an external antagonist to turn into a “common enemy”….

    Direct action created conflict situations that further established the unity of the community and promoted the accomplishment of achieving the community’s goal of defeating their common enemy.[3] It also brought issues the community was battling to the public eye. Alinsky encouraged over-the-top public demonstrations throughout Rules for Radicals that could not be ignored, and these tactics enabled his organization to progress their goals faster than through normal bureaucratic processes.

    The Rules

    “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
    “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
    “Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
    “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
    “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. There is no defense. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.”
    “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
    “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
    “Keep the pressure on.”
    “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself. ”
    “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”
    “If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside; this is based on the principle that every positive has its negative.”
    “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
    “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it. ”

    “ Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history (and who is to know where mythology leaves off and history begins— or which is which), the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom — Lucifer” – Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals is a 1971 book by community activist and writer Saul D. Alinsky.
    “ The book.. informed the rhetorical strategy of the white supremecist Andrew Anglin.”

    • I’m trying hard to make sense of Alinksy’s rule “If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside; this is based on the principle that every positive has its negative.”

      Can anyone help or point me to something that explains this? thanks

  3. George Santayana had something useful to say on this matter but I can’t remember what he said.

  4. “ This is the kind of linguistic pretension that, as Orwell warns, obscures meaning, corrupts thought, and renders language a minefield in the political landscape. Why a minefield? As Orwell illustrated in Nineteen Eighty-Four, language-engineering is an attempt to shame or punish those who disagree with the ascribed linguistic orthodoxy. And, again, to what end? As Chicago-based community activist Saul Alinsky famously wrote in his manifesto Rules for Radicals (1971), “He who controls the language controls the masses.” (Note his use of “sexist language” by way of the universal singular pronoun he.) Alinsky, an enthusiastic advocate of manipulating language for political purposes, agrees with Orwell: It’s all about thought control; it’s about superimposing a sociopolitical ideology on the masses; it’s about altering our understanding of the world; it’s about customizing the language to effect whimsical social change. It’s ultimately about altering reality so that, as Orwell dramatized in Nineteen Eighty-Four, we come to accept that “war is peace,” that “freedom is slavery,” and that two plus two equals five.

    Orwell, as evidenced by “Politics and the English Language,” believes that language should reflect reality. If it doesn’t, what possible limits could be placed on misleading, manipulative language, whether in grade-school textbooks, government documents, or political campaign literature? If language is “always evolving,” as many commentators have reasoned in their recent support of so-called nonbinary, gender-inclusive language (including the singular they), what is stopping anyone from using this as an excuse to effect any change in any language for any reason at any time?” – The New Oxford Review

  5. From stream.org

    “Alinsky’s leftist-populist politics combined a utopian critique of inequality as an evil we can eradicate with a ruthless quest for raw power. (Sound familiar? See 70 years of Soviet history.) …

    Former Marxist-turned-patriot David Horowitz has a short book explaining in detail the divisive political strategies which Alinsky taught his followers. Here are six of his Rules for Radicals:

    1. “Politics is all about power relations, but to advance one’s power, one must couch ones’ positions in the language of morality.” For Alinsky, objective morality is irrelevant to politics, except as impressive rhetoric designed to hide what really matters: a struggle for the power to coerce and dominate our fellow men.

    2. “There are only three kinds of people in the world: rich and powerful oppressors, the poor and disenfranchised oppressed, and the middle-class whose apathy perpetuates the status quo.” Here Alinsky accepts and perpetuates Karl Marx’s ideology of envy that demonizes people for working hard, succeeding, and saving their money to invest in job-creating businesses. Plug in “Jews” for “the rich” and this could pass for Nazi rhetoric. (Well they were socialists too!)

    3. “Change is brought about through relentless agitation and ‘trouble making’ of a kind that radically disrupts society as it is.” Alinsky doesn’t bother asking whether the “change” sought is proportionate all the turmoil created by such disruption, or to think about how fragile “society” might turn out to be, and the damage inflicted by social chaos on our most vulnerable citizens. (Think of the price paid by poor single mothers for the Sexual Revolution.)

    4. “There can be no conversation between the organizer and his opponents. The latter must be depicted as being evil.” So instead of seeing them as fellow-citizens who differ over policy, we must slander our opponents and try to destroy them. No wonder faithful Christians are constantly fighting off groundless charges of fascist sympathies.

    5. “The organizer can never focus on just a single issue. He must move inexhaustibly from one issue to the next.” In other words, never give people time to adjust to the relentless change you’re bullying them into making; keep prodding them forward like prisoners in a gulag being marched to their next menial task. (Gay marriage — check! Next month, let’s demand “transgender” bathrooms.)

    6. “Taunt one’s opponents to the point that they label you a ‘dangerous enemy’ of ‘the establishment.’” Instead of seeking common ground in shared rational premises, Alinsky urges activists to bring out the worst in their opponents, so that reasonable compromise becomes impossible and the knives come out. Lenin couldn’t have said it any better.

    Alinsky Infiltrates the Catholic Church

    Alinsky engaged in outreach to other idealists. Churchmen with little understanding of economics but high-minded visions of “change” have been boosters of the rabidly secular Alinksy and his methods. As Benko notes in his Forbes article, Alinsky maintained a decades-long correspondence with Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, whose lucid Thomistic thinking was sometimes marred by a daft optimism about fallen human nature, an outlook that aligned him politically most of the time with the Church’s leftist enemies.

    Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernadin — the man who nearly smothered the pro-life movement with a “Seamless Garment” that effectively equated abortion with Reagan’s welfare program budget cuts — jump-started the political career of an obscure but promising young activist named Barack Obama.

    As George Neumayr and Phyllis Schlafly show in their book No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom:

    In the 1980s, the Catholic archdiocese of Chicago contributed to the training of Obama in the very Alinskyite radicalism that would culminate in such anti-religious measures as the HHS mandate [requiring the Little Sisters of the Poor to pay for contraceptive and abortifacient drugs]. In fact, in the course of writing this book, we met a source who once had access to copies of documents from the archives of the Chicago archdiocese. This source supplied us with never-before-published copies of invoices, checks and letters that confirm the Church’s support for the man who would one day seek to destroy its religious freedom. … In a series of appendices, we have reproduced the check and invoice showing that the archdiocese of Chicago paid for Obama’s plane trip to a conference in Los Angeles run by the Industrial Areas Foundation, the community organizing group founded by Alinsky.

    Alinsky had always targeted churches for radical infiltration, and to a certain degree he succeeded. The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) was the Alinskyite branch of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which had offices in dioceses across the country. It was founded in 1969 by priests and bishops close to Saul Alinsky, such as Monsignor John Egan, who sat on Alinsky’s Industrial Areas Foundation board. The group was originally called the Campaign for Human Development, with “Catholic” added later as its socialist work began to draw criticism.”

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