Friday, April 28, 2017

No Place for Humanity: Our Free-Chosen Dystopia by Daniel McCarthy

By the time of Donald Trump’s inauguration, George Orwell was at the top of’s best-seller list.  Readers had developed a sudden passion for antitotalitarian literature, it seemed—not only for Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Fourbut for Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism as well.  And with the surge of interest in Orwell came a sales revival for other works of dystopian fiction, including Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, and Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale.  A fad was born, though as fads go, this one may be healthier than most, if readers pay heed to the words before their eyes.
Dystopian literature is a moral genre, a critique not only of power but, in its most outstanding classics, of progressivism.  Without being conservative or right wing, it is often antileft.  This is so even though the early canonical authors of the genre—Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell—were men of the left themselves.  Who better to show the horror of how enlightened ideals and progressive politics go astray?
That, of course, is not what the anti-Trump book club is looking for.  The point of disappointed Democrats’ reaching for Nineteen Eighty-Four is that Orwellian totalitarianism has been reduced to a cliché; it’s now one of the very limited stock of concepts by which political disapproval can be expressed.  (Another is the argumentum ad Hitlerum, represented by the vogue for Arendt.)  If Donald Trump is powerful and morally objectionable, then he must be like Big Brother, or Hitler, or both.  History is only one story, that of good versus evil.  To be good is to be enlightened, liberal, progressive, on the side of science, the right side of history.
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