Thought Police

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For the State Political Directorate, USSR, see Operation Trust. For the pre–WWII Japanese Special Higher Police, see Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu. For the enforcement of PC language, see Political correctness.

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 régime of Big Brother.[1]

George 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.”[2]

In the story, the Party conduct false-flag operations (e.g. The Brotherhood) to lure non-conformist members of the Party to expose themselves as politically subversive. An example of such false-flag subversion was that of the USSR (1917–91), wherein the State Political Directorate (GPU) ran the counter-intelligence Operation Trust (1921–26), which created a fake anti–Bolshevik organization in Western Europe, the Monarchist Union of Central Russia, that lured Romanoff monarchists and anti–Communists to return to Russia and there fight the Bolshevik régime; once captured, the GPU killed them as enemies of the Soviet state.[3][4]

In Nineteen Eighty-Four[edit]

A passport photograph of Eric Arthur Blair (George Orwell), the type of official image used to illustrate a political dossier of the Ministry of Truth.
During a public execution of enemies of the state, Big Brother looms from a public telescreen, viewing the viewers. (Nineteen Eighty-Four, directed by Michael Radford)

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 operate a false flag resistance movement, to lure ideologically disloyal members of the Party to identify themselves for arrest.

One such agent of the Thinkpol is O'Brien, a member of the inner Party and an agent provocateur, who identifies himself to Winston Smith as a member of The Brotherhood, the fake opposition to the Party's régime. 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.

Every member of the 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 rumors 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; nonetheless, every citizen of Oceania presumes him- and herself under continuous surveillance of the Thought Police.

In other usages[edit]

In contemporary usage, by extension of the functions of the Thinkpol of Oceania, the term Thought Police refers to the actual enforcement and to the perceived enforcement of ideological orthodoxy in the political life of a society. The praxis of a Thought Police is the pre-emptive control of a person, whom the police apprehended in anticipation that he or she might commit a crime.

In the early twentieth century, before the publication, in 1949, of George Orwell's political novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Empire of Japan (1846–1947), in 1911, established the Special Higher Police (Tokubetsu Kōtō Keisatsu), a political police known as the Shiso Keisho, 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.[5][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ Andrew, Christopher and Mitrokhin, Vasili. The The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West, Gardners Books (2000), ISBN 0-14-028487-7, pp.00–00?.
  4. ^ Simpkins, Pamela K. and Dyer, K. Leigh. The Trust, The Security and Intelligence Foundation Reprint Series, July 1989. p. 33.
  5. ^ Hoyt, Edwin P., Japan's War, p 113 ISBN 0-07-030612-5
  6. ^ Beasley, W. G. The Rise of Modern Japan, p 184 ISBN 0-312-04077-6