Orwell’s Despair: Nineteen Eighty-four and the Critique of the Teleocratic State

This paper, I examine aspects of Orwell’s political thought as expressed in Nineteen Eighty-four. I focus on the novel as an exploration of the logic of the conception of the modern state as a teleocracy or managerial enterprise, a concept which was elaborated by the political philosopher Michael Oakeshott. I first provide a summary of Oakeshott’s historical account of the emergence of two competing visions of modern morality and the modern state, the individualistic and nomocratic versus the collectivist and teleocratic. I then offer an interpretation of Nineteen Eighty-four within the context of Oakeshott’s historical claims. I suggest that Orwell’s despair is the result of the inherent contradiction between his explicit commitment to moral individualism on the one hand and his more ambiguous commitment to understanding the state as a teleocracy on the other.