Dalhousie Law Journal


Julian Symons


Orwell's Prophecies, Limits of Liberty, Limits of Law, increasing relevancy


Let me say something first about the scope of this talk. As we approach 1984, George Orwell's book with that title seems to have increasing relevancy. It was not intended as a prophetic work - the very title came simply from the fact that the final version was completed in 1948, so that the last two numerals were reversed. And it was concerned less with conjectural futures than with the world Orwell saw around him. It was, he said, a projection of what might happen if totalitarian tendencies in several countries developed as they had been doing in the years since 1939. So one aspect of the work was concerned with the social politics of the time, especially those of the Soviet Union and its allies. But he was interested also in the problems of freedom and liberty considered as ideas, and it is over this aspect of his work that I shall start. What is the nature of freedom, what are our attitudes towards it, at the end of 1983? Do people ask for wrong kinds of freedoms at times? Is it possible that freedom in some contexts works against social good? In the course of asking such questions, and discussing modern examples of freedom demanded by minority groups, I shall be referring back often to Orwell, for the absolute directness of his opinions and his refusal to take any orthodox view for granted constitute a large part of his value for our time as well as his own. If freedom of the press means anything important, he once said, it must mean freedom for people to say things we do not wish to hear. That is a phrase to which I shall return. Some of you may even find it exemplified in this lecture.