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Dr. Larry Arnn Concludes the 1984 Part of His Totalitarianism Series of Hillsdale Dialogues

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HH: It is the last radio hour of the week, and although I am in Cleveland, the Hillsdale Dialogue must go forward, because as I have journeyed across this vast country from Florida through North Carolina up to Virginia over to Philadelphia now through Ohio on my way to Denver and Los Angeles with Jon Voight and Sheriff Clarke and Dennis Prager and Mike Gallagher, at every stop, I probably talked individually with a thousand people and collectively to tens of thousands of people. I have been stopped by people who say they love the Hillsdale Dialogue and what Dr. Larry Arnn and I do each week, sometimes his colleagues when he is away, but usually, Dr. Larry Arnn. All of the Hillsdale Dialogues that we’ve had for four years now available at Some people binge listen on cross-country drives. Some people read or listen to one a week and then read the book or the author that we’re discussing. is where you can get all things Hillsdale, including Imprimis, the free speech digest, which many of my listeners get automatically, and you just go and sign up. It doesn’t cost a thing. Hillsdale gives everything away. And all the online courses are there – Constitution 101 the most watched by millions of people, Dr. Larry Arnn, it’s astonishing how many people think you treat me so poorly on this show, and yet you keep coming back, and I seem to laugh at it. They, they’re just shocked at how awful you are to lawyers generally.

LA: Justice is beautiful, even when you can’t call it by its name.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: And I keep telling people that I’ve had so much fun doing this, because I know I’m going to get shellacked each week, but it’s like going to a good seminar, like your totalitarian…

LA: Oh, come on. So the audience probably knows, but they should know Hugh Hewitt and I have been, I think we’ve been friends now for 84 years. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) It doesn’t, we can’t count under the new Orwellian approach to things. So we can’t really remember when we became friends. I’ve got to say, I said, I’m on this bus with Jon Voight and Sheriff Clarke, and I look over the other night, we’re going around, and I said to Jon Voight, I have not read 1984, I’m getting almost to the end of it now, since, for 42 years. I read it when I was 18 years old in Advanced English in high school with Fred Hoover at my teacher. I haven’t read it since. It’s today, Larry Arnn. I keep looking up and saying you won’t believe what I just read. Is that your reaction on rereading it closely?

LA: We just had, in, I’m in Washington, and we just had our Constitution Day celebrations, which we have every year, and we had a conference and a panel discussion. And I think it might be, it’s one of the very best things I have ever participated in. And one of the things was a speech by a man named Todd Huizinga on Saturday. There were many great things. I had a discussion with Jonah Goldberg about whether Donald Trump was a conservative.

HH: Oh.

LA: But he gave, this man, Huizinga, who’s from Grand Rapids, works for Calvin College. He’s written a book called Sovereignty. And he read out several passages. This speech was, it maybe was one of the grimmest things ever said by this genial, intelligent man, former diplomat in the State Department. And he read out several EU regulations. And I swear, they sound just like this stuff. They call for a perfect world, and they are explicit, by the way, that in the new rights, which have to do with sex so much, that no tradition, custom or religious commitment may stand in their way.

HH: Wow.

LA: And then he pointed out, and this is one of the main points at the end of 1984, he points out that a regime built upon the explicit rejection of any objective truth makes the one objective truth these new things that they have created, which is exactly what 1984 is about.

HH: In fact, I am looking at one of the lines I wanted to discuss with you. Winston Smith writes in his diary, which of course, is a forbidden act and would subject him to execution. “Freedom is the freedom to say that 2 + 2 make 4. If that is granted, all else follows, and I underscored that, because it’s true. You can say 2 + 2 equals 4, all else follows. By contrast, if you begin to strike at the ability to say anything, freedom begins to erode, and that’s what that EU regulation does.

LA: It, that’s it. So what is a human being? This is, we are addressing ourselves to the question. What is a human being? And a human being is a thing with a rational faculty. And what it sees, and first of all, what it sees it makes us able to have this discussion is common nouns. We explained that. But the second thing is it proceeds as it thinks according to a rule. And the rule is the law of contradiction. It’s how we make sense of things. So if Joe is taller than Sue, and Sue is taller than Fred, then Joe is taller than Fred. And if that weren’t true, that’s like 2 + 2 makes 4. So that law of contradiction is the specific thing that the party repeals, and it repeals it in two ways. The two main ways that it’s illustrated in the book are 2 + 2 makes 4, and also the past is changeable, but also at the same moment unchangeable, because we change it all, all the time. And that means that a thing can both not have been and have been at the same time, which means that the law of contradiction is repealed. And if you get the power of that, claims the party, claims O’Brien, the great tormentor, and tempter of Winston, he’s the Devil, if you get that power, he claims, then you have become immortal, and you have become God.

HH: I was writing to Dr. Arnn offline today about a very, very disappointing or disturbing passage in 1984, and I want to go there. “The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed in the future – Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron, they’ll exist only in new speak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Orthodoxy means not thinking, not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” And the guy telling him this, he’s absolutely just saying to Smith this is what’s going to happen. We’re going to rewrite everything into contradiction. And the power of contradiction, and what you just said, Larry, the principal contradiction has to be repealed. It has to go. Otherwise, free people will eventually reason themselves to freedom.

LA: And yeah, that’s right. And it’s, there’s a practical reason why the party has to do this. The party wishes to be infallible, and which the whole point of 1984, we’re talking about, I think we were going to try to finish 1984, so we should get out the final propositions early.

HH: Yeah.

LA: So the whole point is that they are replacing God with themselves. And that means that they, and see, God can, the listeners should think for a minute why does God have to be unchangeable? Because you can’t imagine God except unchangeable. And the reason is, if a being changes, it means that its previous state was not perfect. And so why would the party undertake this, it doesn’t just eliminate. It doesn’t just destroy everything in the past. It doesn’t just burn all the books of Chaucer and Milton and Shakespeare and the people you just named. It has to rewrite them.

HH: Yeah.

LA: And every time the party changes its mind, every time the enemy in the war changes, every time the party makes a prediction, and then makes a different one later, they don’t just destroy all record of the previous prediction. They rewrite and republish everything with the new truth in it. And in that way, they claim, they can be divine, and because that’s what God is like, right? And then the party, O’Brien says very powerfully, you, Winston, do not exist. I do not exist, O’Brien. The party exists, and Big Brother, who doesn’t actually exist, becomes the only thing that does exist, because the party is immortal.

HH: And I was reminded of what you’ve often cited, the White Ants of Winston Churchill.

LA: Yeah, that’s right.

HH: Explain the White Ants for people. We only have a minute to the break, but that’s what Churchill was afraid.

LA: Okay, this is an excellent lead-in to the point we’ll make after the break, which is the final main point. So yeah, Winston Churchill says that the Bolsheviks in Russia have perfected a kind of society that is not like the bee, because it can’t make any honey. It’s like the white ant. There’s no innovation in the Bolshevik revolution that wasn’t made a million years ago by an insect. That’s his point. We are to become insects.

HH: And that’s O’Brien’s point, insects without consciousness.

LA: That’s O’Brien’s point.

HH: I’ll be right back. Dr. Larry Arnn is my guest. It is the Hillsdale Dialogue. We are concluding our conversations about 1984 today, the brilliant novel by George Orwell. If you haven’t read it like I hadn’t read it in 42 years, go pick it up. It’s actually kind of scary to read now. It’s scary to read now, because when you read it in the 70s, you didn’t believe it, even though it was ten years away from 1984. People said oh, that’ll never happen. And now, it’s everywhere, and not just North Korea, but everywhere. Orwell was a prophet.

— – – —

HH: Dr. Arnn, I want to go back, but first, we don’t do politics here. Hillsdale doesn’t endorse candidates. You and I will talk about this some other time. But we do talk about rhetoric. Donald Trump in Michigan yesterday gave one of those perfect lines like where’s the beef or Osama’s dead and GM’s alive, you know, little concrete summations of rhetoric. Here’s what he said. I want your reaction to the rhetorical power or non-power of this statement.

DT: It used to be cars were made in Flint, and you couldn’t drink the water in Mexico. Now, cars are made in Mexico, and you can’t drink the water in Flint.

HH: Now Dr. Arnn, he made that in the Economic Club of New York today before he’d been in Flint. And prior in the speech, he had talked about how Ford had announced it was moving its small car division to Mexico to produce cars. What do you make of that line, rhetorically?

LA: (laughing) I’m laughing. I hadn’t heard it before, Hugh. I was busy yesterday.

HH: Isn’t it perfect?

LA: Yeah, it’s, so a friend of mine wrote a column that said that Trump, compared to many people, doesn’t have knowledge like policy details. But he appears to have common sense. So (laughing)

HH: (laughing) Yeah, well, Jon Voight on the campaign trail keeps saying, on the bus trail with me, Trump has an awkward way of saying very important true things.

LA: (laughing) That’s a good line.

HH: He also said, I’ve got to tell you this very quickly. Voight says, you know, Hugh, I listened to that conversation with you and Trump where you say, Trump says Obama founded ISIS, and you say well, I know what you mean. You mean he pulled out the troops. And he said no, Obama founded ISIS. And he said, and then he played you, because then two days later after he got everyone’s attention, the whole country, which you know, busy pulling up its socks and doesn’t pay much attention said what, what, what? And then two days later, he explains what he means, and he means exactly what I said, but he had used the rhetorical device of focus in order to execute the messaging. I hadn’t thought about that.

LA: Yeah. Well…

HH: I hadn’t thought about that.

LA: It’s actually true the best interview I’ve read with Trump is yours, because you got him in the course of the interview, because you were pressing him, right? You see, because you and I, Hugh, we’re experts, right? And so we’ve just, we know so much better. It’s just that we haven’t been nominated by a party for the presidency of the United States. And so you were saying why don’t you just say it this way about ten times, you said it to him. And his response was people are paying attention to the way I say it. (laughing)

HH: Yeah, that’s exactly, in other words, you low-rated third-rated host, I happen to have (laughing)

LA: (laughing)

HH: And so I got another Trump tattoo. But Voight has finally explained it to me, and of course, it takes an Academy Award winner and a guy who’s nominated for an Emmy this weekend for, he plays a very dark guy. I don’t suppose you’ve ever seen Ray Donovan, have you?

LA: No, I have not.

HH: He plays Mickey Donovan, a gangster. And I’m talking to him about this role in the course of this week, and he said oh, it’s so great to have a great role, you know? And it’s, you know, he’s just a great guy. You should have him to the college. Let’s go back to 1984. Major points of the narrative, what the party is up to, O’Brien is the Devil, the party must become God. What are the other key points your kids are taking away? And how are they reacting to the book?

LA: So I want to, I’ll read, well, you know, it’s, of course, it’s a very solemn thing, and it’s exciting and thrilling and grim to read this book. And I want you to understand that it’s, I want the audience, I want to encourage them to read it, and all of the books we’re reading in this class. I want you to understand that that’s one of the things that tragedy is like, according to Aristotle. Tragedy, in the end, he says it makes you pity and fear both, right? This book makes you pity and fear. But that is good for you, because you see how the world is, and you can better accept it. In fact, there’s a…

HH: He also said, and we’re going to go, I don’t want you to read anything, because we’re going to go to break, and we have a long 13 minute segment after this, and I don’t want to break it up. But he says that tragedy is not possible. Orwell writes tragedy is not possible under the party, because all the human interconnection…

LA: Yeah, there’s an irony, because he’s writing a tragedy.

HH: He’s writing a tragedy, and tragedy won’t be possible in the future. Dr. Larry Arnn is my guest. Hillsdale Dialogue underway.

— — — –

HH: I don’t know how often you see Tony, Larry, probably at the Heritage Foundation board meetings, but what a great American.

LA: He just visited Hillsdale with his kid, Anthony, and we’re recruiting that kid.

HH: Oh, good. That is a terrific move. And he should go there. I tell all my young people that I run across when I do one of these things, go to Hillsdale, go to Hillsdale. Then I realize, you haven’t got enough beds at Hillsdale for all the people I’m sending to Hillsdale. I want folks to be understanding that if they’re disappointed, because the applications are soaring there, it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get in to Hillsdale. It isn’t. But it is a good place to try to get into. Is that the good message? Is that the right message? To aspire to be there is good?

LA: Yeah, and I’m happy to learn by this visit that just happened that Papa, Tony, is a great man. His son, Anthony, is very smart. And so…

HH: Oh, excellent.

LA: So he might just get in.

HH: (laughing) Papa, and by the way, that was a very delicate cut. I liked that one. All right, back to 1984. The students, they know it’s a serious and a sober thing, a serious and a sober thing. But do they understand it’s about today as much as it was about a mythical communist state?

LA: Yeah. If you understand, you know, if you can understand, as Lincoln said in the House Divided speech, where are and whether we are tending, then we can know what to do and how to do it. And I want to read a passage that I think summarizes the whole book.

HH: Okay.

LA: And I’m going to say that we have to remember here that George Orwell, born Eric Blair, was a democratic socialist, and as far as we can tell, not a Christian, far as I can tell, anyway. C.S. Lewis was of course the great Christian apologist of the 20th Century, a deeply learned man. And the passage that I’m going to read means the same thing as the central idea of Abolition of Man and That Hideous Strength, two books by Lewis that we’re going to read in this course that I’m teaching. And so this point summarizes everything. O’Brien, amidst of torturing Winston, says this to Winston. He says, “It is time for you,” and it’s important to note, by the way, that the torture is horrific and concludes with a devastating thing which we’ll talk about toward the end of this program. But it’s a teaching thing. He has to reeducate Winston. And the reason for that is contained in this statement. “It is time for you, Winston, to gather some idea of what power means. The first thing you must realize is that power is collective. The individual only has power insofar as he ceases to be an individual. You know the party’s slogan. Freedom is slavery. Has it ever occurred to you that this is reversible? Slavery is freedom. Alone, free, the human being is always defeated. It must be so, because every human being is doomed to die, which is the greatest of all failures. But if he can make complete, utter submission, if he can escape from his identity, if he can merge himself into the party so that he is the party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. The second thing for you to realize is that power is power over human beings, over the body, but above all, over the mind. Power over matter. External reality, as you would call it, is not important. Already, our control over matter is absolute.” So you see, the human condition is that we are the things that have knowledge of God, and we are not divine in one respect, in an important respect, but not the only respect. We die. And so religious posits as a solution to that problem that the only immortality is connection to God. That is to say in Christianity, being with Him, seeing Him. In Greek philosophy, being is like him as possible. And Aristotle even argues it doesn’t make sense to think of the soul as not having immortality, because it has it now, because we see eternity even if we’re not eternal beings in our present state now. So the party’s solution to that is to remove the contradiction. We do not exist anymore. We now only exist in a collective. And I’ll tell you the way C.S. Lewis puts the point, and maybe we’ll read it in the Dialogues, in Abolition of Man. In the last stage, he explains, that book, by the way, which people should start reading if they want to. It’s a beautiful book. It starts, by the way, about parsing out an English grammar book meant for high school students. And one phrase in it, and what he finds in that phrase, it’s amazing how he does it, is the whole destruction of humanity. That, the Abolition of Man is an extended essay or a short book that takes one sentence in a grammar book and proves the abolition of man is latent in it. And his point is that finally, we can only conquer nature by destroying our own nature. And that means that we become like, in Churchill’s image, the insect. But of course, the insect is entirely a creature of nature. It only does what nature commands. The way that happens to us is what O’Brien is saying to Winston here, is that you won’t have any promptings of your own anymore. And in that way, you can be immortal like the ant.

HH: Like the ant.

LA: But of course, this conquest of nature means that nature takes entire control of you. There’s only power left, only responding to your basic promptings, because there aren’t any other things. Like the glory of human beings, and the pity of human beings, is that we have to do things just like ants all the time. But we have a conscience about them. Something stands outside what we do sitting in constant judgment over whether that was good or not, what we did. That is the thing that has to be removed. And then, says O’Brien to Winston, and C.S. Lewis to all of us, only then can we be like God, but also, we will be just like an insect.

HH: It’s chilling. I want to spend a couple of minutes in this segment and make sure we cover this as well, because it’s so absolutely central to 1984. The way to advance this, you mentioned already, you have to constantly rewrite history. We see that always going on right now. And you must separate children from their parents in profound emotional as well as physical ways. And you must make them cruel, and you must make them spies. And remove from them all natural instincts of affection and love for the family, which can’t be done overnight, but you can do it if you’re given their control eight hours a day over many years. It’s actually kind of spooky. And if there was a ministry of sports, they should just name it the NCAA and put it in there. But it is actually spooky how determined Orwell is to make sure people know what’s going on with the kids in his bleak vision.

LA: It, and think about how insidious that is. I have some understanding of young people at the point of maturity. And what they do, what the party does, is extremely clever, because first of all, they place everyone, adult and child, in a condition where everything is told them all the time. And that means that the parents are not sources of authority. Big Brother is always in the room. They watch the parents obey the telescreen like slaves. And so that destroys the parents’ dignity. Second, there’s no goods. That is to say they live in a dingy condition, everything is dirty. The parents don’t have anything to offer them. And then the party comes along, and all of a sudden, they get to be what children are striving for by their very biological nature. They get to be people with authority. They get to participate in the big things. They get to look in keyholes. They get to give reports. They get to have consequences in life. But the only way to do that is through the party. And the obvious target of opportunity is the parents, their own parents. And so Winston makes the point that the children hold their parents in complete contempt. What they love is Big Brother, because Big Brother treats them like a grown-up.

HH: Yeah, and it’s also, there are some sub-themes in this about the Proles, which is the great mass. If you’ve ever seen Blade Runner, I doubt, you’re not much of a movie guy. Did you ever see Blade Runner, Larry?

LA: Oh, of course, yeah. Yeah. I’m a movie guy.

HH: Don’t you think that Blade Runner has some amazing overlays with dingy London, populated 85%, I believe is the number, by the Proles?

LA: Yeah.

HH: They’re just living.

LA: And they’re all down low in the fog, right?

HH: Yeah.

LA: And the important people get to go up high. And that’s, you know, there you go. It’s a physical hierarchy.

HH: So you’re reading this with students, and I am just fascinated. We move on, I think, to Darkness At Noon next week, correct?

LA: Right.

HH: And so Darkness At Noon, for those of you who are reading ahead in the syllabus, which I have posted over at You have to Google around and read back, scroll back a little bit at for the syllabus of Dr. Arnn’s totalitarianism seminar. We go to Darkness At Noon next week, the great play. What is their reaction to this? What have they asked you about? We’ve got a minute here, and then we’ll come back and finish today in Orwell. And people should go off and read it.

LA: Well, these kids are, of course, very good at reading books. And they are understanding the book, right? What does this mean, right? And of course, the question on their mind is the final question that’s answered in 1984, which is why, why? That question, why, is a tease throughout the book. Why does…

HH: Well, I think I paraphrase here. At one point, Winston puts in his diary, I can’t remember it exactly, I understand the how, I don’t understand the why.

LA: That’s right. He writes that in his diary, right?

HH: Yeah.

LA: And then later, just before his arrest, O’Brien has given Winston a copy of Goldstein. Goldstein is the great leader of the brotherhood, and a hated figure in this society who’s always at war with Big Brother. Big Brother appears to last forever, although his providence or his age are never mentioned. Big Brother is like God. And Goldstein appears to last forever, hated by everyone, derided every day, and yet his providence or age are never mentioned. He’s like the Devil. And so O’Brien, when he’s tempting Winston by pretending to be on his side, he gives him a copy of Goldstein’s book, the most secret document.

HH: Okay, hold right there. We’ll come back with that. Hold right there, we’ll come right back with why does he do that. I found the exact quote. “I understand how. I do not understand why.” I’ll be right back. That’s what Winston Smith puts in his diary.

— – – – –

HH: Dr. Arnn, you were saying when we went to break, the students get this. They’re alarmed by it. It’s forbidding, actually, or it creates foreboding in people.

LA: It, and see, you have to see, like there’s a comfort, too. So maybe in this short segment, I’ll try to make three points, if that’s all right.

HH: Please.

LA: One of them is O’Brien explains why, he explains why you’re really only obeying for sure when you’re in pain. He says if you think of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, because you’re only obeying, we can only be sure you’re obeying, if you’re in pain, because you wouldn’t choose that, right? That’s perfect obedience. The second thing is he has this conversation, Winston does, at the end with Julia, his lover, and he explains, they explain to each other how they were broken. And they had said, because there’s these teases running throughout the book, right? And you pick up the same theme again, and they had said to each other, of course they will torture us, and of course, we will confess. Everyone does. But they can’t make us fail to love each other, he says, they say to each other. That’s right, they can’t get inside you to that extent. And they both agree on that, right? And that’s a lovely scene, but it’s, of course, that’s the only occasion in the book in which anyone lives a fully human life. They in their little secret hiding place making coffee for each other and making love, right? But they take them in Room 101, and what they do in there is what O’Brien calls the worst thing in the world. Julia speaks. Sometimes, she said they threaten you with something, something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about. And then you say, and see, they don’t ask you to say it. They don’t tell you in Room 101 what you have to do to save yourself. You have to think it up. And with Winston, they’re going to release rats onto his face to eat him, and he has a little boy memory of rats eating something. And he fears them terribly. And then you say, says Julia, don’t do it to me. Do it to somebody else. Do it to so and so. And you might pretend afterwards that it was only a trick, and that you just said it to make them stop, and didn’t really mean it, but that isn’t true. At the time when it happens to you, you do mean it. Winston says when they put the rats in front of him, do it to Julia, don’t do it to me. I’ll watch you do it to her. And then you see all you care about is yourself. And that takes away the last shred of privacy, because even in yourself, you have no love that can overcome fear and pain. And that is dehumanizing, right? And so that’s how they break them, see? They take, in Room 101, you are confronted with your worst fear, and you sacrifice to avoid it your greatest love, and then there’s nothing of you left after that.

HH: Yup. Yup.

LA: Now that’s about as gloomy a thing as there can be. But I think we should end on the hopeful note. First of all, what is the, you have to now step back from mall of that, because I think it is probably true, by the way, that you could reengineer human society in this way. Certainly, there are societies that have gone very far. Certainly, in my opinion, our society is somewhere along the way in that direction. I mean, already claims are made to stifle people’s faith. Somebody from the Civil Rights Commission, an official of the U.S. government said last week that the people who are hiding behind their faith on certain subjects are just using their faith as a veil for discrimination, right?

HH: Yup.

LA: So we’re going down that road. But the final lesson of the book, and of all of these books that we’re reading in my class, is that you might be able to do that, but you can’t do that and have it be a human society at the same time.

HH: Correct.

LA: In 1984, the Inner Party members are the most zealous, the most giving up of their individuality. In other words, the higher you go, the more they’re like actual beasts, or ants, right?

HH: And that is what, it’s looking ahead, That Hideous Strength. It’s a brilliant reading list, because you end up at the same place every time.

LA: Yeah.

HH: It’s pretty amazing.

LA: And see, think of this. It means that if that can be done, but only at the cost of sacrificing humanity itself, it means that the law of contradiction still applies.

HH: Huh.

LA: You can’t be one thing and the other thing at the same time.

HH: At the same time, which means that there are true things. There are true things. Dr. Larry Arnn, always a pleasure. We move on to Darkness At Noon next week. Go get it. Get it read. We’ll spend two weeks on it as the Hillsdale Dialogues continue to reflect on totalitarianism as Dr. Arnn teaches it this semester. Thank you, Larry Arnn.

End of interview.


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