In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell, the Thought Police (Thinkpol) are the secret police of the superstate Oceania, who discover and punish thoughtcrime, personal and political thoughts unapproved by the Party. The Thinkpol use criminal psychology and omnipresent surveillance (telescreens, microphones, informers) to search for and find, monitor and arrest all citizens of Oceania who would commit thoughtcrime in challenge to the status quo authority of the Party and the regime of Big Brother. In the story, the Thinkpol conduct false-flag operations (e.g. The Brotherhood) to lure non-conformist members of the Party to expose themselves as politically subversive.
Orwell's concept of "thought policing" derived from the intellectual self-honesty shown by a person's "power of facing unpleasant facts"; thus, criticising the prevailing ideas of British society often placed Orwell in conflict with ideologues, people advocating "smelly little orthodoxies".
In Nineteen Eighty-Four
In the year 1984, the government of Oceania, dominated by the Inner Party, use the Newspeak language to control the speech, actions, and thought of the population, by defining "unapproved thoughts" as thoughtcrime and crimethink; for such actions, the Thinkpol arrest Winston Smith, the protagonist of the story, and Julia, his girlfriend, as enemies of the state. Among the means for maintaining social control, the Thought Police are said by O'Brien, an inner Party member and agent of the Thinkpol, to operate a false flag resistance movement to lure ideologically disloyal members of the Party to identify themselves for arrest.
Acting as an "agent provacateur", O'Brien gives Smith a copy of the forbidden book, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, authored by the opposition’s leader, Emmanuel Goldstein; yet the factual reality of The Brotherhood in Oceania remains uncertain because O'Brien refuses to reveal to Winston whether it does, in fact, exist.
Every member of the Outer Party has a two-way telescreen in his or her quarters, by which the Thinkpol audio-visually police the behaviour of the populace; listening for unorthodox opinions and spying for visible indications of stress that the observed person is suffering an inner struggle (ownlife), such as the words spoken whilst asleep. The Thinkpol also spy upon and eliminate intelligent people, such as the Newspeak lexicographer Syme, who is disappeared and rendered an unperson, despite being an Ingsoc true-believer of fierce loyalty to Big Brother and the Party.
To eliminate possible martyrs, men and women of whom popular memory might provoke anti–Party resistance, at the Miniluv (Ministry of Love), the Thinkpol break thought-criminals with conversation, degradation (moral and physical), and torture in Room 101. Breaking the prisoner persuades him or her to sincerely accept the Ingsoc worldview, and so love Big Brother without reservation, conscious or unconscious. Afterwards, the Thinkpol release the politically rehabilitated prisoners to the social mainstream of Oceania, for a while, before re-arresting them to reprise torture and interrogation that conclude with execution and vaporisation into an unperson.
Every member of the Inner Party and of the Outer Party who ever knew, was acquainted with, or knew of the political prisoners must forget them, lest they commit the Thoughtcrime of remembering the existence of an unperson. Such ideological self-discipline, of not thinking such thoughts, is crimestop, an indication of the cultural success of Newspeak as a means of social control. Moreover, at Minitru (Ministry of Truth), the records of the unpersons are destroyed and replaced with false records.
The Thinkpol usually do not interfere with the lives of the Proles, the working classes of Oceania, although Thinkpol agents provocateur continually operate amongst them, planting rumours to identify and eliminate any proletarian man or woman who shows intelligence and the capacity for independent thought, which might lead to rebellion against the Party's cultural hegemony.
In other usages
In the early twentieth century, before the publication of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Empire of Japan (1868–1947), in 1911, established the Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu ('Special Higher Police'), a political police force also known as Shisō Keisatsu, the Thought Police, who investigated and controlled native political-groups whose ideologies were considered a threat to the public order of the countries colonised by Japan. In contemporary usage, the term Thought Police often refers to the actual or perceived enforcement of ideological orthodoxy in the political life of a society.
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- Taylor, Kathleen. Brainwashing: The Science of Thought Control p. 21. Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-920478-0 and ISBN 978-0-19-920478-6.
- Orwell, George; Orwell, Sonia; Angus, Ian; The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, p. 460. David R. Godine Publisher, 2000; ISBN 1-56792-133-7, ISBN 978-1-56792-133-5
- Hoyt, Edwin P., Japan's War, p 113 ISBN 0-07-030612-5
- Beasley, W. G. The Rise of Modern Japan, p 184 ISBN 0-312-04077-6