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Why Did Orwell Choose "Freedom Is Slavery" Instead of "Slavery Is Freedom" as the Second Slogan in "1984"?

Natalie Frank has a Ph.D. in Clinical psychology. She specializes in Pediatric Psychology and Behavioral Medicine.


Brainwashing Society

At first glance, it would seem that the slogan "Freedom is Slavery" is inconsistent with the other two slogans. Taking each of these separately, both “War is Peace,” and “Ignorance is Strength,” start with the negative term and then equate it with its positive opposite. “Freedom is Slavery,” however, starts with the positive term and equates it with its negative opposite. It isn’t clear whether this choice is deliberate or not, but when you examine the slogans more carefully you can see why they might have been ordered the way in which they are.

Consistent with Ingsoc's technique of brainwashing the citizens of Oceania to believe what the Party wants them to believe, each of these slogans imparts a particular message. Essentially, they are being used to reverse the people's thoughts about certain things. Specifically, Ingsoc is trying to convince the people that something good is really something bad or something bad is really something good.

The full motto of the English Socialism Party, or Ingsoc, that rules Oceania in the novel Nineteen Eighty Four, is:

“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery and Ignorance is Strength.”

— George Orwell, "Nineteen Eighty-Four"


"War is Peace" in 1984: Bad is Good

This slogan suggests that war, which is bad, leads to peace, which is good; therefore, while the horrors of war are undesirable and it requires constant sacrifice, overall the ultimate effects of war are positive. The Party is attempting to covertly convince the people that war is positive because it puts everyone on the same page, allows them to show allegiance to their country through sacrifice, and has everyone looking to a greater good. The willingness to give up privacy, independence, rights, and liberty is worth the ability to remain safe and to have a peaceful nation.


"Ignorance is Strength" in 1984: Bad is Good

The third slogan suggests that while ignorance may be seen as negative, it leads to strength which is positive. Therefore, the association would mean that ignorance is actually positive. This is akin to the idea of having faith. When you have faith in someone or something you trust them without the need to question what they are doing or why they are doing it. When it is the government, it takes the strength of faith to not question the government’s motives or intentions. In Oceania, this faith or ignorance leads the people to accept, without dissonance, contradictions and reversals of conditions such as which nation their country is at war with or the regular revision of history. So while we would usually consider ignorance bad, the message from Ingsoc is that it is "strength" so it is good.


"Freedom is Slavery" in 1984: Good is Bad but also Bad is Good

The first and third slogans take something that is negative, war and ignorance, and send the message that while it may be hard to see, they are in fact positive, represented by peace and strength, respectively. The second slogan, "Freedom is Slavery," is interesting as it is intended to go in both directions.

First, in keeping with the formula previously presented, it is saying that freedom, usually thought of as good, actually results in slavery which is bad. This message suggests that any person attempting to exercise freedom by seeking independence by not following the Party’s dictates or society's mores, which are obviously also imparted by Ingsoc, will become enslaved.

Freedom usually is thought of as an individual's ability to have freedom of movement, even to leave the nation of their birth if they choose, and the ability to make their own decisions and determine their own life course. However, the paternalistic overseer in the form of Big Brother is always watching to make sure the citizens don't stray, and always do what they are told. This indicates that the people need to let themselves depend entirely on the Party or else something bad will happen.

The message communicated by this slogan is that Ingsoc is there to take away the stressful requirements of decision-making and the consequences that people who are self-determined must face on their own. Therefore, trying to free oneself from the need to follow the rules of the Party leads to becoming enslaved by that freedom. This enslavement is defined by the responsibility people would be required to take for every aspect of their lives. So in this case, something that is seemingly good, freedom, indicates something bad, slavery.

The book also suggests that this slogan can be reversed such that slavery is freedom. In this society, the people are not allowed to do, say, or even think what they want unless it is in accord with Ingsoc's wishes. When our actions and words are dictated and any deviance results in severe punishment, this feels like we have been imprisoned.

But when even our thoughts are dictated such that we can't have our own ideas, opinions, or beliefs then we have truly been enslaved. Our thoughts and the free expression and circulation of ideas are what allow us to develop into the people we want to become. However, in Oceania the message is that it is better to let the Party tell you what to think, say, and do.

We see through Julia, that It takes enormous effort to go outside the lines of the society's regulations in order to feel as if you can exercise even a small degree of individuality. In public, she has to always be extra careful about everything she does down to her facial expressions and body language to appear to be conforming with Big Brother.

Despite the fact that it is against what she truly wants, Julia is an outspoken member of the anti-sex league. She follows every minute rule to the letter publicly though behind closed doors she pursues her own interests. However, in order to appear to be conforming, she must truly conform to a certain degree or she won't be believable which would result in her being caught.

Julia willingly accepts history being erased and rewritten whenever Ingsoc deems it necessary to meet their new position. She doesn't care who Oceania is at war with. Perhaps she,

"dimly recalls that at one time Eastasia and not Eurasia had been the enemy, but the issue still struck her as unimportant. 'Who cares,' she said impatiently, 'It's always one bloody war after another, and one knows the news is all lies anyway'" (p. 128).

So even though Julia knows that the news is nothing but Party propaganda, not only doesn't she care, she is able to accept the contradictions, for example, the change in enemy which can occur suddenly. This can be seen in the description of a week-long rally intended to instill hatred of Eurasia, their despised enemy. In the middle of whipping up hatred for Eurasia, the speaker suddenly announces that Oceania is no longer at war with Eurasia. Now they are at war with Eastasia, once an ally but now a reviled enemy. Eurasia, only a moment earlier the target of the entire hate rally, is now a trusted ally. Julia has no trouble immediately changing her attitude, now hating Eastasia along with the rest of the population.

Untruth is Power

The contradictions and seeming equating of opposites in the slogans “War is Peace”, “Ignorance is Strength” and “Slavery is Freedom” in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four can be understood by examining the message that Ingsoc is attempting to send. These messages are instilled in order to further control the people of Oceania.

In the dystopian society that Orwell created, ignorance and war—historically negative—are transformed into strength and peace. War against an external enemy, any external enemy, unites the population and stabilizes the society. It provides something other than the Party for the people to blame their problems on. This brings a type of peace to Oceania.

Since ignorance requires less crimestop, (the faculty of stopping one’s thoughts the instant they seem to be approaching something dangerous, defined as anything not in line with Party rhetoric) than knowledge, it is a type of "protective stupidity." It is viewed as strength, both in terms of the Oceania citizen who is able to embrace it, as well as to the Party who gains the strength of power through the ignorance of the masses.

Freedom, historically thought of as positive, is implied to actually be negative by the Party. A goodthinker (someone who successfully uses crimestop), in this society will reject the freedom that comes with independence and individuality. Instead, they will fully accept everything the Party demands of them and believe what they are told, even when this is an obvious contradiction.

These individuals accept the necessity and suggested benefits of Ingsocs control over every aspect of their lives based on faith, without asking questions or requesting even small liberties. These goodthinkers treat each new reality and altered historical account pronounced by the Party as gospel.

Free will, free movement, knowledge, reason, the right to choose and make decisions—all elements of freedom—are believed to be as addictive and dangerous as a powerful, illicit drug.

In the end, it isn't enough for Winston to become obedient through torture to the point he knows he does not have the freedom to say or even believe that 2 + 2 = 4 if the party says it equals five. He must be totally broken down by being exposed to the thing that terrifies him the most such that he loses even his own internal freedom to feel what he wants for Julia. This ultimately occurs and he relinquishes his love for Julia, instead learning to love only Big Brother.

Using doublethink to consider this outcome, Winston has been liberated from his enslavement to freedom and is now truly free because he can love Big Brother. He has developed the faith to believe everything Big Brother and the Party wants him to believe. He will accept the party's propaganda as truth and see it as reasonable, even when logic would say that it isn't.

The overall purpose of the slogans, “War is Peace,” “Ignorance is Strength,” and “Freedom is Slavery,” in the novel 1984 is to enable the reader to understand the nature of the control Ingsoc has over the people in Oceania. In the society George Orwell created in Nineteen Eighty-Four, the methods of brainwashing used by the Party are so powerful that positives can be viewed as negatives and negatives as positives. This reflects a major goal of the Party, namely to get the people to rely on their ability to use doublethink to follow the dictates of Ingsoc leadership faithfully, no matter how many times history and reality change in their world.

In conclusion, the government of Oceania is attempting to take something that is assumed bad and equate it with good and something naturally assumed good and equate it with something bad. If it had been written as slavery is freedom it would take something naturally bad and make it seem good. Yet making slavery seem good without first making freedom seem bad would likely be too big of a jump. Once they’ve gotten the people to begin believing that independence of any kind is bad and to rely on the state to tell them what to think, then they take the next step making slavery seem like a necessary part of receiving the benefits of a paternalistic government.

So while the other two parts of the motto, "War is Peace" and "Ignorance is Strength" only go in one direction, taking bad and making it seem good, the motto "Freedom is Slavery" goes in both directions. First, the government gets the people to believe that freedom is a bad thing and once they believe that they then can reverse the direction of the statement to send the message that slavery is a good thing. The ultimate message is that it is only by letting themselves become enslaved to the government of Oceania, that the people can truly become free, an untruth that allows the leaders to retain power and control.

What is Doublethink in 1984?

Doublethink refers to the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s head at the same time while believing in both. Doublethink requires using logic against logic or the willing suspension of disbelief related to the contradiction. This ability is necessary for the people of Oceania to be able to accept the Party's continuous changes to reality through obvious contradictions and the revision of history to reflect new positions.

What is Crimethink in 1984?

Crimethink refers to any thought outside of what Ingsoc advocates as acceptable. It includes doubting any of the principles of the Party. Ingsoc understands that all crimes begin with thought. So by controlling the people’s thoughts they control crime and the people themselves.

What is Crimestop in 1984?

Crimestop is the ability to stop a thought the instant it is perceived to be heading in a dangerous direction. A dangerous thought would be defined as any thought that runs counter to Party Doctrine. Orwell also refers to crimestop as “protective stupidity.” According to Orwell, “It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction."

What is Bellyfeel in 1984?

Bellyfeel is blind, enthusiastic acceptance of a concept without having any information about it. The people of Oceania take information on faith, believing the government’s propaganda wholeheartedly. They use crimestop and doublethink to enable them to accept contradictions and irrationality.

What is Newspeak in 1984?

Newspeak is the official language of Oceania. It is politically correct, positive speech taken to the extreme. Newspeak is based on standard English, but any words used to describe something counter to Ingsoc's policies have been removed. Words representing unorthodox political ideas have also been deleted from the language. This process of shortening the language has been conducted due to the belief that if there are no words for concepts representing political opposition then it will limit crime. It is believed that if the people don’t have words for certain things they can’t think about them and thus, they will be unable to betray Ingsoc.

What is a Goodthinker in 1984?

This is someone who can use crimestop to prevent themselves from thinking in ways that are counter to Party doctrine. Goodthinkers genuinely want to think “correct” thoughts and hope to develop into someone who never has dangerous thoughts. A Goodthinker abides by all the principles of Ingsoc as represented in Newspeak.

What is a Memory Hole in 1984?

This is a system of pipes, similar to pneumatic tubes, used to destroy documents. When the Party changes reality by declaring a new version of the present and the past, they destroy all documents that in any way, indicated that the new version hadn’t always existed. In this way, they dispose of all evidence that history has been tampered with.

What is Ingsoc in 1984?

Ingsoc stands for the English Socialism Party, the ruling Party in Oceania.

What is Thinkpol in 1984?

Thinkpol is short for ThoughtPolice. These are the officers in charge of eliminating crimethink. The thought police surveil the public through spies (narcs), helicopters, and telescreens.

What is Blackwhite in 1984?

Blackwhite is being able to accept whatever "truth" the party presents, no matter how irrational or contradictory it may be. Orwell described it as "...loyal willingness to say black is white when party discipline demands this. It also means the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know black is white, and forget that one has ever believed the contrary."

What is Oceania in 1984?

Oceania is one of the three superstates, the other two being Eurasia and Eastasia. It is made up of North and South America, Britain, Australia, and southern portions of Africa. This is where the story takes place.

What is Eastasia in 1984?

Eastasia is the smallest of the three superstates. It is made up of China and the countries to the south of it, Japan, and a large but constantly changing section of Manchuria, Mongolia, and Tibet. Eastasia is the ally of Oceania at the beginning of the book. By the end of the book, Eastasia is said to have always been Oceania's bitter enemy.

What is Eurasia in 1984?

Eurasia is one of the three superstates along with Eastasia and Oceania. It consists of the northern section of the European and Asiatic land-mass, from Portugal to the Bering Strait. Eurasia was the enemy of Oceania at the beginning of the book. By the end of the book, Eurasia has always been Oceania's ally and great friend.


Orwell, G. (2009). Nineteen eighty-four. Everyman's Library.

© 2018 Natalie Frank


Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on October 31, 2018:

Tim - thanks for all the positive feedback. Your response is interesting and certainly valid. Without an educated populace we end up with - well, pretty much what we've got today. Fake news, alternative facts, word games, propaganda and rhetoric - all of these types of ridiculous falsehoods are allowed to stand with perhaps a bit of yelling about them but no real effort to eradicate them from out system. Until we respond with action and not just words we will continue to have a system that keeps us in the dark through the ability to effect our beliefs in ways we aren't even aware about. I'm glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks for the comments.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on October 18, 2018:

This article is great, Natalie. I remember reading this book back in high school, and even then, we discussed the powerful similarities to what was happening then.

The book is still relevant, especially when we begin to accept concepts about what are "fine people," or that certain historical power deplete groups can be considered the "elite." Word games used to continue to erode power of the weaker groups in order to control the levers of influence.

This is true of all of the political parties today. That's why George Washington was specific when he said our republic, for example, needed an educated population. We need education so such word games don't mess with our heads. So, of course, keep attacking education. Hmm.

That George who wrote 1984 was on to something.

Great article.

Loved it.



Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on September 19, 2018:

Hi Flourish - yes you could replace the names of countries in the book with real ones and it would look pretty accurate. Thanks for the compliment. I appreciate your taking the time to read and comment.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on September 19, 2018:

Hi Liz - Yes, it's definitely worth another read. I keep seeing things in it I didn't remember being there. Thanks for stopping by and for commenting.

Natalie Frank (author) from Chicago, IL on September 19, 2018:

Miebakagh - Yes, unfortunately governments can, have and do sometimes brain wash the people. It's up to us to be alert and when we believe some kind of propaganda is being forced on us to speak out against it and identify it for what it is. The problem comes when it is subtle enough or that we don't have enough information to be able to recognize it. Thanks for the comment.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 01, 2018:

You could almost replace the fictional names of countries with actual ones, like North Korea and Russia. This analysis is thorough and thoughtful, as well as exceedingly timely.

Liz Westwood from UK on September 01, 2018:

This article encourages me to read 1984 again.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on September 01, 2018:

Hi, Natalie, the "mind is a terrible thing." Green is white and not blue. Such a thinking baffle others. But party politics or government being what it is, do at times brainwash its peoples. During the second world war, Adolf Hitler used the trick, and nearly runs down the world. But being human, he fails. Thank you.