“The choice before human beings, is not, as a rule, between good and evil but between two evils.”

– George Orwell

Meaning of the quote

Here is Orwell’s quote in full context (bold emphasis added):

The choice before human beings, is not, as a rule, between good and evil but between two evils. You can let the Nazis rule the world: that is evil; or you can overthrow them by war, which is also evil. There is no other choice before you, and whichever you choose you will not come out with clean hands.”

Orwell’s quote is applicable to numerous situations in life. It is certainly often the case when it comes to choices in politics, as some would assert occurring as recently as the 2016 US presidential election.

It is also true in technology. While new technologies bring benefits, there are almost always consequences, sometimes unintended, that bring unwanted harm. This is certainly the case with the Internet, as we see in ever-increasing theft of data and personal information, abuse of such information by companies, and monetary theft through hacking.

Origin of the quote

This quote from George Orwell comes from the English literary journal The Adelphi, and a magazine piece entitled “No, Not One,” (October 1941), pages 7-8.

About George Orwell

Eric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name of George Orwell (1903-1950), was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic. He is one of the most well-known writers in history, and his work reflected in awareness and stance against social injustice and opposition to totalitarianism. His best-known works are animal Farm (1945), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949).

The latter book was so influential, that the term “Orwellian” arose in the English lexicon to describe totalitarian or authoritarian social practices. Many other terms derived from Orwell’s work became neologisms, including “big brother,” “thought police,” “newspeak,” “doublethink,” “thought crime,” “memory hole,” “unperson,” “memory hole,” and “proles.”