Doublethink is a process of indoctrination whereby the subject is expected to accept as true that which is clearly false, or to simultaneously accept two mutually contradictory beliefs as correct, often in contravention to one’s own memories or sense of reality. Doublethink is related to, but differs from, hypocrisy.
George Orwell invented the word doublethink (as part of Newspeak) in his 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, its origins within the citizenry is unclear; while it could be partly a product of Big Brother‘s formal brainwashing programs, the novel explicitly shows people learning doublethink and Newspeak due to peer pressure and a desire to “fit in”, or gain status within the Party—to be seen as a loyal Party Member. In the novel, for someone to even recognize—let alone mention—any contradiction within the context of the Party line is akin to blasphemy, and could subject that person to disciplinary action and the instant social disapproval of fellow Party Members.
Like many aspects of the dystopian societies reflected in Orwell’s writings, Orwell considered doublethink to be a feature of Soviet-style totalitarianism, as reflected in this statement from a speech by Joseph Stalin:
We are for the withering away of the state, and at the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship, which represents the most powerful and mighty of all forms of the state which have existed up to the present day. The highest development of the power of the state, with the object of preparing the conditions of the withering away of the state: that is the Marxist formula. Is it “contradictory”? Yes, it is “contradictory.” But this contradiction is a living thing and wholly reflects the Marxist dialectic.
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