22 September 2016

Prof. Douglas Kerr, School of English, HKU

George Orwell and the Police



Police states are "Orwellian". This paper reads George Orwell to ask what the police meant to him. It traces continuities in his representation of the police, from the imperial force with which he served in Burma in the 1920s, to the Spanish police from whom he escaped in Barcelona in 1937, to the Thought Police in Nineteen Eighty-Four. British police had a benign image in his lifetime, but unusually among writers, Orwell had seen the disciplinary regime elsewhere, and from both sides. The British Empire's claim to moral legitimacy rested specifically on the rule of law, yet as is uncomfortably clear from Orwell's novel Burmese Days and elsewhere, in colonial Burma a racial oligarchy dealt the law and could over-rule it, sometimes with violence. In Homage to Catalonia, the police scarcely pretend to serve the law, and are an instrument of the Stalinist communists. Barcelona is thus the essential link from Burmese Days to Nineteen Eighty-Four where the law has actually disappeared but the police have not.



Last updated: 15 September 2016