George Orwell’s Final Warning: Don’t Let This Nightmare Situation Happen. It Depends on You!

More than 60 years after his death and the close­ly pre­ced­ing pub­li­ca­tion of his best-known nov­el 1984, we look to George Orwell as a kind of prophet of the ills of cor­po­ratism, social­ism, author­i­tar­i­an­ism, total­i­tar­i­an­ism — any pow­er­ful ‑ism, essen­tial­ly, in which we can find nasty, free­dom-destroy­ing impli­ca­tions. The BBC doc­u­men­tary Orwell: A Life in Pic­tures, which we fea­tured a few years back, makes a point of high­light­ing Orwell’s “warn­ing” to what he saw as a fast corporatizing/socializing/authoriatarianizing/totalitarianizing world. In the film’s final dra­ma­tized scene above (watch the com­plete film here), the re-cre­at­ed Orwell him­self makes the fol­low­ing omi­nous pre­dic­tion:

Allow­ing for the book, after all, being a par­o­dy, some­thing like 1984 could actu­al­ly hap­pen. This is the direc­tion the world is going in at the present time. In our world, there will be no emo­tions except fear, rage, tri­umph, and self-abase­ment. The sex instinct will be erad­i­cat­ed. We shall abol­ish the orgasm. There will be no loy­al­ty except loy­al­ty to the Par­ty. But always there will be the intox­i­ca­tion of pow­er. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of vic­to­ry, the sen­sa­tion of tram­pling on an ene­my who’s help­less. If you want a pic­ture of the future, imag­ine a boot stamp­ing on a human face, for­ev­er. The moral to be drawn from this dan­ger­ous night­mare sit­u­a­tion is a sim­ple one: don’t let it hap­pen. It depends on you.

This fic­tion­al­ized Orwell — much like the real Orwell — does­n’t mince words. But as with most unminced words, these mask a more com­pli­cat­ed real­i­ty. Though Orwell fans may find each indi­vid­ual piece of this speech rec­og­niz­able, espe­cial­ly the bit about the boot and the face, the man him­self nev­er spoke it — not in this form, any­way.

It mix­es doc­u­ment­ed state­ments of Orwell’s with words from the text of 1984, and its dra­mat­ic clos­er [“Don’t let it hap­pen. It depends on you!”] comes, as writes Barnes and Noble’s Steve King, from a post-pub­li­ca­tion press release direct­ed by pub­lish­er Fredric War­burg toward read­ers who “had mis­in­ter­pret­ed [Orwell’s] aim, tak­ing the nov­el as a crit­i­cism of the cur­rent British Labour Par­ty, or of con­tem­po­rary social­ism in gen­er­al.” The quo­ta­tion from the press release was “soon giv­en the sta­tus of a last state­ment or deathbed appeal, giv­en that Orwell was hos­pi­tal­ized at the time and dead six months lat­er.”

You can read more at, which pro­vides a great deal of con­text on this press release, which runs, in full, as fol­lows:

It has been sug­gest­ed by some of the review­ers of Nine­teen Eighty-Four that it is the author’s view that this, or some­thing like this, is what will hap­pen inside the next forty years in the West­ern world. This is not cor­rect. I think that, allow­ing for the book being after all a par­o­dy, some­thing like Nine­teen Eighty-Four could hap­pen. This is the direc­tion in which the world is going at the present time, and the trend lies deep in the polit­i­cal, social and eco­nom­ic foun­da­tions of the con­tem­po­rary world sit­u­a­tion.

Specif­i­cal­ly the dan­ger lies in the struc­ture imposed on Social­ist and on Lib­er­al cap­i­tal­ist com­mu­ni­ties by the neces­si­ty to pre­pare for total war with the U.S.S.R. and the new weapons, of which of course the atom­ic bomb is the most pow­er­ful and the most pub­li­cized. But dan­ger lies also in the accep­tance of a total­i­tar­i­an out­look by intel­lec­tu­als of all colours.

The moral to be drawn from this dan­ger­ous night­mare sit­u­a­tion is a sim­ple one: Don’t let it hap­pen. It depends on you.

George Orwell assumes that if such soci­eties as he describes in Nine­teen Eighty-Four come into being there will be sev­er­al super states. This is ful­ly dealt with in the rel­e­vant chap­ters of Nine­teen Eighty-Four. It is also dis­cussed from a dif­fer­ent angle by James Burn­ham in The Man­age­r­i­al Rev­o­lu­tion. These super states will nat­u­ral­ly be in oppo­si­tion to each oth­er or (a nov­el point) will pre­tend to be much more in oppo­si­tion than in fact they are. Two of the prin­ci­pal super states will obvi­ous­ly be the Anglo-Amer­i­can world and Eura­sia. If these two great blocks line up as mor­tal ene­mies it is obvi­ous that the Anglo-Amer­i­cans will not take the name of their oppo­nents and will not dra­ma­tize them­selves on the scene of his­to­ry as Com­mu­nists. Thus they will have to find a new name for them­selves. The name sug­gest­ed in Nine­teen Eighty-Four is of course Ing­soc, but in prac­tice a wide range of choic­es is open. In the U.S.A. the phrase “Amer­i­can­ism” or “hun­dred per cent Amer­i­can­ism” is suit­able and the qual­i­fy­ing adjec­tive is as total­i­tar­i­an as any­one could wish.

If there is a fail­ure of nerve and the Labour par­ty breaks down in its attempt to deal with the hard prob­lems with which it will be faced, tougher types than the present Labour lead­ers will inevitably take over, drawn prob­a­bly from the ranks of the Left, but not shar­ing the Lib­er­al aspi­ra­tions of those now in pow­er. Mem­bers of the present British gov­ern­ment, from Mr. Attlee and Sir Stafford Cripps down to Aneurin Bevan will nev­er will­ing­ly sell the pass to the ene­my, and in gen­er­al the old­er men, nur­tured in a Lib­er­al tra­di­tion, are safe, but the younger gen­er­a­tion is sus­pect and the seeds of total­i­tar­i­an thought are prob­a­bly wide­spread among them. It is invid­i­ous to men­tion names, but every­one could with­out dif­fi­cul­ty think for him­self of promi­nent Eng­lish and Amer­i­can per­son­al­i­ties whom the cap would fit.

Read­ers can still find plen­ty to quib­ble with in Orwell, but sure­ly that counts as a point toward his sta­tus as an endur­ing­ly fas­ci­nat­ing writer. The les­son, how­ev­er much we may mis­in­ter­pret its deliv­ery — and indeed, how much Orwell him­self may some­times seem to mis­de­liv­er it — holds steady: don’t let it hap­pen. How not to let it hap­pen, of course, remains a mat­ter of active inquiry.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

For 95 Min­utes, the BBC Brings George Orwell to Life

The Only Known Footage of George Orwell (Cir­ca 1921)

George Orwell and Dou­glas Adams Explain How to Make a Prop­er Cup of Tea

George Orwell’s Five Great­est Essays (as Select­ed by Pulitzer-Prize Win­ning Colum­nist Michael Hiltzik)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (5)
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  • Pog says:

    That boot stamp­ing on a human face sure­ly owes itself to Jack Lon­don’s The Iron Heel.

  • John says:


  • Allan Campbell says:

    Who is the inter­view­er?

  • Victor S says:

    Gorge Orwell’s name was men­tioned sev­er­al times
    in com­ments sec­tion of Fox News with many thumbs up likes
    dur­ing the Great­est protests in Cana­da his­to­ry by hun­dreds of
    Truck­ers amid covid vac­cine man­dates dur­ing covid 19 omi­cron
    vari­ant virus .

  • Mark Stephens says:

    The fact that this author is writ­ing an arti­cle on an inter­view of George Orwell pre­dict­ing this boot on the face sce­nario could hap­pen, even includ­ing the video where he says this but then writes that Orwell nev­er actu­al­ly said if, maybe the most orwellian moment yet, resem­bling the film’s adap­ta­tion of the nov­el.

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