At some point In 1984 by George Orwell, O'Brien gives a copy of Emmanuel Goldstein's book to the protagonist Winston. In the book the official political ideology of the Eastasian Government is called "Death Worship" or "Obliteration of Self".

Many eastern Religions/philosophies - Buddhist and Taoist in particular - talk about releasing attachment to our identities. The language Orwell chose doesn't appear accidental and seems to suggest that government of Eastasia deliberately chose to use those philosophies as the context for their brand of oligarchical collectivism.

Because many Eastasian citizens already practice Buddhism, it could be smart to utilize corrupted versions of their existing beliefs as a vehicle for party propaganda.

Does anyone know if Orwell has spoken about this?

  • Edited a bit, feel free to roll back.
    – user68762
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 11:17
  • What is the question here? It feels quite broad at the moment. Are you looking for expanded "back story" in-universe? An explanation of real-world phenomena being referenced?
    – IMSoP
    Commented Nov 15, 2016 at 16:32
  • @IMSoP - what the question is is clear ( has Orwell spoken on this ?). However - I'd accept anything expanding on the implied reference, so long as it isn't just unsupported speculation.
    – dgo
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 0:31
  • @R.Skeeter - it was good - spurred me to edit it more
    – dgo
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 0:48

4 Answers 4


I can't find anything Orwell said about this. Sorry!

But here's some more data:

What we know in-universe to 1984:

  • O'Brien doesn't say whether Emmanuel Goldstein actually exists or not!
  • Goldstein, if he existed, may have been part of the Party

This makes accepting the "reality" of anything in "The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism" kind of dicey!

As for influences: in our universe:


  • was raised Anglican
  • had a pretty low opinion of religion in general
  • lived for a few years in Burma, a Buddhist country. As you probably know, Buddhism has a different notion of what the "self" or "ego" is than, for example, English Socialism.

Additionally, when Orwell was writing, Showa-era Japan gave rise to the "Kyoto School", a philosophy which included the idea of "absolute nothingness" and had a lot of Nationalistic elements. This movement was adapted by the Japanese military, in some ways like the Nazis adapted Nietzsche.

So I would guess Orwell took a stab at making a name for a movement that was evocative of some of this. What do you think?

  • 1
    I think this is a great answer. I think this is likely the best I'm gonna get as well, so I hereby declare you the winner.
    – dgo
    Commented Apr 10, 2017 at 17:11

I think it's a reference to both Buddhism and modern materialism, in that both regard the self as an illusionary construct created by the mind/brain, and therefore the 'obliteration of the self could be used to enable extreme subservience to the state, possibly even using elements of Buddhist belief and practice to these ends.

  • 1
    Whilst a nice theory it is worth noting the question is asking if Orwell himself has spoken about the influences.
    – TheLethalCarrot
    Commented Oct 13, 2019 at 12:31

Any authorial pronouncement from Orwell about what was "actually" going on in Nineteen Eighty-Four or explaining elements that are only alluded to in the text would be antithetical to one of the most important themes of the book. As I said here:

Anything that Winston Smith does not witness with his own eyes is suspect. Is Big Brother a real person? Is there really a war? Does the Brotherhood exist? Does Oceania really exist as a global empire? There is no way to know.

Explaining the "true" origin and nature of the political philosophy espoused by the megastate of East Asia would run contrary to the point that Orwell was trying to make—that when the government is the only source of information, a person can never know for certain whether anything they read or see on the news is truthful.


Orwell said there was no difference between all three philosophies of Oceania.. eurasia and east asia . .. which to me is implying an already established globalised oligarchicsl world.

  • 1
    Welcome to SFF.SE! You may want to take the tour, to better understand how the site works. I'm not sure I'm reading your answer correctly. If I am, you're saying that, since Orwell says there was no difference between the three philosophies, none could be based on a specific region's existing religious beliefs? If so - is it clear that Orwell meant there was literally no difference, or couold he simply have meant that in practice, there was no difference (allowing apparent regional differences, that result in no operational distinctions)?
    – RDFozz
    Commented Oct 16, 2018 at 0:07

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