Your World Today: Unpopular governments can learn from ‘1984’
by Timothy J.A. Passmore
Jan 18, 2013 | 430 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Having never met French President François Hollande, I don’t know if he has ever read George Orwell’s groundbreaking novel, “1984.”

It’s not the kind of detail one reveals about oneself on the campaign trail. If, indeed, this was not part of his reading list in previous years, it appears he is inadvertently applying one of the great political schemes found in the story to reaffirm his position as France’s leader.

Published in 1949, Orwell’s monumental work follows a society under strict control by a totalitarian government known as “The Party.” Any government with such domination inevitably faces opposition at some point in time which usually takes the form of revolution. This has been evident in countless cases throughout history.

However, The Party employs one particular method of preventing a popular uprising which is to create the illusion that the country is perpetually at war with one of its counterparts: Eurasia or Eastasia. This scheme is brilliant. Support for the party feeds off the hate of the people toward this external enemy, which is nurtured by regular bouts of collective “hate” directed at pictures of enemy leaders, the singing of hate songs and military parades. As long as the people fester with hatred toward the enemy, their sense of nationalism and allegiance to the government remain strong.

François Hollande may have caught onto this technique just in time. Struggling for popularity since his election last May, Hollande would happily welcome some respite from criticism right about now. The French economy has struggled more than many would have hoped and leadership over the ailing Eurozone appears lacking. Hollande has imposed crippling tax reforms for small businesses while he recently failed to deliver a 75 percent “supertax” on the wealthy (the threat of which led actor Gérard Depardieu to renounce his citizenship).

Hollande has also come under fire for dragging his feet over same-sex marriage reform with large numbers of protests taking to the streets. If ever there was a time to generate a sense of nationalism and distract French people from their domestic woes, it is now.

Perhaps this is the best way to explain why Hollande would order an intervention in the struggling nation of Mali, once a French colony. France has been reluctant with regard to military intervention in recent years, most notably with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as the withdrawal of French troops from Afghanistan as promised by Hollande. Furthermore, France has refused to intervene in a number of other cases, including the Ivory Coast and the Central African Republic.

While France has a commitment to human rights around the world, it is understandable that military intervention is costly and can get overly complicated while the French government would seek to avoid any hint of meddling in the affairs of former French colonies.

Of course, one cannot assume that Hollande ordered an intervention in Mali simply to gain popular support. Nor is this example entirely comparable to that of Orwell’s “1984,” as Mali is not a direct threat to France, nor what it would consider an enemy (nor am I suggesting the French government is anywhere close to being totalitarian). However, deliberate or not, this move has done wonders for Hollande’s reputation. Practically overnight, his approval ratings have shot up, from around 40 percent to 63 percent. The people state that they are finally seeing some strong leadership from the otherwise “soft” president. This new appearance of being decisive and bold is resonating with the people, and may just distract from the other problems for a short while.

Hollande is, of course, not the first example of popularity through external distraction. The technique has been used countless times in the last century while it is very much evident today in countries such as North Korea. There, living conditions are so bad as to suggest revolution is always around the corner, yet the constant direction of hatred toward the United States and South Korea deludes the citizens into believing their government is protecting them from much worse. How else could such an intense collective sense of nationalism exist where people suffer so much?

George Orwell could not have known how prescient “1984” would be for the future world order, and how true it may yet still come in the next few decades. But if the success of The Party is anything to judge by, as well as Françoise Hollande’s newfound popularity, governments might well heed the lessons from what may end up becoming a self-fulfilling literary prophecy.

For those who have read the novel, this is not something to look forward to, but that dose of dystopia is best left for another article.