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A thoughtcrime is an Orwellian neologism used to describe an illegal thought. The term was popularized in the dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, first published in 1949, wherein thoughtcrime is the criminal act of holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that oppose or question Ingsoc, the ruling party. In the book, the government attempts to control not only the speech and actions, but also the thoughts of its subjects. To entertain unacceptable thoughts is known as crimethink (or wrongthink) in Newspeak, the ideologically purified dialect of the party.[1]Crimestop is a way to avoid crimethink by immediately purging dangerous thoughts from the mind.

The term has been adopted into the English language to describe beliefs contrary to accepted norms and has retrospectively been used to describe some theological concepts such as disbelief or idolatry,[2] or a rejection of strong philosophical or social principles.[3]

Nineteen Eighty-Four

The Thought Police (thinkpol in Newspeak) are the secret police of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is their job to uncover and punish thoughtcrime. The Thought Police use surveillance and psychological monitoring to find and eliminate members of society who challenge the party's authority and ideology.[4]

The Thought Police of Orwell and their pursuit of thoughtcrime were inspired by the methods used by the totalitarian states and ideologies of the 20th century.

The term "Thought Police", by extension, has come to refer to real or perceived enforcement of ideological correctness.

Technology and thoughtcrime

Technology played a significant part in the detection of thoughtcrime in Nineteen Eighty-Four--with the ubiquitous telescreens which could inform the government and misinform and monitor the population. The citizens of Oceania are watched by the Thought Police through the telescreens. Every movement, reflex, facial expression, and reaction is measured by this system, monitored by the Ministry of Love.

Any sound that Winston made, above the level of a very low whisper, would be picked up by it; moreover, so long as he remained within the field of vision which the metal plaque commanded, he could be seen as well as heard. There was of course no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given moment. How often, or on what system, the Thought Police plugged in on any individual wire was guesswork.

-- Part I, Chapter I, Nineteen Eighty-Four

At times, it seems as if the telescreen is constantly watching each citizen. Winston Smith recognises that he has no idea who is behind the technology, watching him or anyone else.

If you made unexpected movements they yelled at you from the telescreen.

-- Part III, Chapter I, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Because of this system of surveillance, the Thought Police and the Ministry of Love become universally feared by any member of the Outer Party or any one of the 'Proles' who is capable (or felt by the Party to be capable) of thoughtcrime.


"Crimestop" means to rid oneself of unwanted thoughts immediately, i.e., thoughts that interfere or disagree with the ideology of the Party. This way, a person avoids committing thoughtcrime.

In the novel, we hear about crimestop through the eyes of protagonist Winston Smith:

The mind should develop a blind spot whenever a dangerous thought presented itself. The process should be automatic, instinctive. Crimestop, they called it in Newspeak.

He set to work to exercise himself in crimestop. He presented himself with propositions--'the Party says the earth is flat', 'the party says that ice is heavier than water'--and trained himself in not seeing or not understanding the arguments that contradicted them.

Orwell also describes crimestop from the perspective of Emmanuel Goldstein in the book The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism:

Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction. Crimestop, in short, means protective stupidity.[5]

Adoption and modern usage

Some modern writers[who?] have described people who were prosecuted and burned at the stake for heresy in various countries that followed Abrahamic religions, as having been the victims of thoughtcrime laws; such victims would sometimes be offered the chance to repent for their thoughtcrimes.[6][page needed]

Similarly people have been executed, or imprisoned in concentration camps, during the 20th century under totalitarian regimes, such as Adolf Hitler's Third Reich (Nazi Germany), Stalinist Soviet Union,[7]Maoist China,[8][9] and Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

See also


  1. ^ Orwell, George; Rovere, Richard Halworth (1984) [1956], The Orwell Reader: Fiction, Essays, and Reportage, San Diego: Harcourt, Brace, p. 409, ISBN 978-0-15-670176-1.
  2. ^ Papers in Ethics and Social Philosophy: - Volume 3 - Page 107, David Lewis - 2000
  3. ^ Evidence, Policy and Practice: Critical Perspectives in Health and Social Care, Jon Glasby - 2011, p 22
  4. ^ McCormick, Donald (1980), Approaching 1984, Newton Abbot, Devon, England: David & Charles, p. 21, ISBN 978-0-7153-7654-6.
  5. ^ Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd, London, pp 220-1
  6. ^ Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, Stephen Greenblatt - 2012
  7. ^ Cohen, Jerome A. (September 28, 2016). "Maoist thought police". South China Morning Post (International). Retrieved 2017.
  8. ^ Ruth, Jennifer. "Justice to a Small Potato: Thoughtcrime at the Museum of Cultural Revolution". Propeller Magazine. Retrieved 2017.

Further reading

  • Kretzmer, David (2000), Kershman, Hazan Francine, ed., Freedom of Speech and Incitement Against Democracy, The Hague, Netherlands: Kluwer Law International, ISBN 978-90-411-1341-2 Missing |last1= in Editors list (help).

External links

  This article uses material from the Wikipedia page available here. It is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.



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