IS SENATOR HAWLEY’S BOOK CANCELLATION TRULY ORWELLIAN?

Political division, public intrigue & Publishing Giants: Worlds apart?


By JADE PEREZ: LITERATURE COLUMNIST


Following the insurrection of the United States Capitol on January 6th, Senator Josh Hawley was dropped by his publisher, Simon & Schuster, after receiving a massive backlash regarding his strong challenging of the Electoral College and his arm of solidarity to the forming mob in Washington that day.

Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter to post the snapshot of Hawley, fist in air, and stated, “none of today’s violence happens without the seditious actions of @HawleyMO.”

Former Republican National Committee Chair Michael Steele also tweeted his condemnation, labelling Hawley as Donald Trump’s “symbol of this sedition.” Publisher Simon & Schuster received myriad complaints about its upcoming publication with Hawley and so, two days later on January 8th, they took to social media with a statement that detailed the cancellation of Hawley’s book, The Tyranny of Big Tech.

“As a publisher it will always be our mission to amplify a variety of voices and viewpoints; at the same time we take seriously our larger public responsibility as citizens, and cannot support Senator Hawley after his role in what became a dangerous threat to our democracy and freedom,” the statement read. This move from the publisher was met with more controversy, with replies ranging from words of gratitude to calls of boycotting the company. TIME magazine remarks how the situation “underscores tensions around Trump-era book deals”. Indeed, the strong political divide that has been at the centre of the USA since 2016 is apparent here and is used by Senator Hawley himself in his response to Simon & Schuster’s decision.

Hawley took to twitter that same day and posted his own statement, captioned “my statement on the woke mob at @simonschuster”. Interestingly, Hawley starts of by claiming the situation “could not be more Orwellian,” a preface echoed by Donald Trump Junior not even 24 hours later, where he declared “we are living in Orwell’s 1984 […] free speech no longer exists in America,” after the suspension of his father’s twitter account.

Both Senator Hawley and Donald Trump Junior are of course referring to the 20th century author George Orwell, better known for his books Animal Farm and 1984. His novels are thought of as anti-totalitarian and the term ‘Orwellian’ is often used as a synonym for ‘authoritarian’. Yet, as Noah Tavlin warns in a Ted-Ed video back in 2015, “using it in this way not only fails to fully convey Orwell’s message, it actually risks doing precisely what he tried to warn against.”

Orwell’s masterpiece 1984 is usually the book being incited. This dystopian novel follows its protagonist Winston Smith, who lives in a world ruled by the ominous and mysterious Big Brother and is governed by the continuous propaganda which permeates the lives of its citizens. Winston works in the Ministry of Truth, where history is manipulated by the destruction of the past and the implementation of News Speak, a variant of the dead English Language which has a constricted vocabulary in order to control the thoughts of the public – “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?”, the Inner Circle member O’Brien tells Winston.

The theme of language and its influence on power is a running motif throughout all of Orwell’s literature, particularly political language. In his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1946), Orwell discerns how political language “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Indeed, we see examples of this throughout 1984, not only with News Speak, but with other devices.


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MACKAYAN: SENATOR HAWLEY’S CANCELLATION


These include Double Speak, words used not to convey but undermine their meaning – “War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.” The world of Oceania also sees the use of Double Think, where independent thought is disregarded and replaced with entire dependence on the government’s version of reality. Going against this version of reality is regarded as Thought Crime, and offenders are arrested, tortured and brainwashed back to a state of complete and unquestioning compliance.

Orwell’s short story Animal Farm also sees a manipulation of language for political gain, as the party’s slogan “All Animals Are Equal” is adjusted by the end of the book to include, “But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others”, in order to allow the leaders to justify their breaking of the rules and mistreatment of the other members of the farm.

It is clear that something ‘Orwellian’ must be a reference to this calculating and devious use of language. How does this definition give context to Senator Hawley’s statement? At first glance, the cancellation of his book does suggest a diminishment of free speech and a purposeful limiting of ideas. However, it is not the content of Hawley’s book that was deemed inappropriate – it was his actions which have been deemed seditious by the media, the public and his fellow politicians. It is ironic how in his statement, Hawley carefully chooses to convey that Simon & Schuster “have now decided to redefine [his actions] as sedition,” despite the common consensus that this is the case.  He is making a conscious effort to link back to his first proclamation that the publishing house is ‘Orwellian’, by portraying their actions as changing the meaning of his own. He draws on the manipulation of speech used in Orwell’s books and spins it to his own convenience by inciting the violation of the First Amendment, despite his clear opportunity to voice his opinions and concerns across social media platforms and world-wide television. In this way, Hawley effectively turns the attention away from his part in inciting the riots and disguises the underlying problem with one of free speech; “only approved speech can now be published”, he states. Yet even here, Hawley’s claim is baseless, since Simon & Schuster, a private company, are removing his ability to work with them – not his voice. Ironically, his book is already looking to be picked up by the conservative publisher Regenery.


Literary Division

Hawley’s use of the term ‘Orwellian’ appears to be a tactic to further fuel the divide in America. This is supported by his direct mention and blame of “the Left” in regard to his book cancellation, and his promise to “fight this cancel culture”. This phrase is often brandished by Republicans to critique the desire of accountability by their opposition. It is popularly used across platforms like YouTube and Twitch, following multiple influencers having their platforms removed, or receiving a large drop in followers, after the resurfacing of old posts or videos which were not politically correct. Twitter users are certainly polarized on the topic, and Hawley follows the political tactics of the waring states in 1984 as well as those of the former President, that of divide and conquer, in order to facilitate his own race to Presidency in 2024, an ambition he has already admitted to. It is unnerving to see the Senator use these familiar devices of language manipulation and societal division. As Tavlin concludes in his Ted Talk, “If they use [Orwellian] as an all-purpose word for any ideas they dislike, it’s possible their statements are more Orwellian than whatever it is their criticizing.” This situation is perhaps not so black-and-white, but it is definitely imperative to note how Hawley is using the term, and for what means – it is certainly a statement to be analysed, rather than taken at face value.

Political strategist and commentator Ana Violeta Navarro-Cárdenas stated on Daytime TV show The View that Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley “have blood on their hands […] They have been feeding their supporters lies, for no other purpose than their own political ambition…there is nothing stopping Josh Hawley from self-publishing…it doesn’t have to be a Simon & Schuster book to be read…they have no obligation to give you their platform.” Yet there are those who disagree with this idea. The director of George Washington University’s MPS in Publishing program, John Warren, voiced his concerns with publishers’ focus on potential backlash, stating “if groups on the right and on the left succeed in banning controversial books from libraries, schools and bookstores, ultimately our society will suffer.” This is indeed true, and something Simon & Schuster addressed in their initial statement. Of course it is important to be exposed to a variety of voices and opinions, but it is equally important to be able to make your own judgements from these differing perspectives. It is the latter which Simon & Schuster appear to be striving to achieve, rather than the stifling of the former, and it is the ability to take different approaches and challenge others which helps diminish the possibility of an actual ‘Orwellian’ society.


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