Law and Literature Weekend Seminar: George Orwell's "1984" November 7-8, 2014

Last fall, the W&L Law School hosted its 21st annual alumni seminar focusing on topics in law and literature. The program featured a prize-winning contemporary American novel, Snow Falling on Cedars. Within the framework of a courtroom drama, David Guterson's novel helped us explore a variety of themes: memory and guilt, racism, justice and betrayal, and small-town relationships. Teaching in the program were W&L Law professors Brian Murchison and Margaret Hu, former colleague Dave Caudill, and associate provost Marc Conner. The weekend program, running from late Friday afternoon through midday Saturday, again earned high praise from participants. The Law School co-sponsors the program each fall with the W&L Alumni College.

In its 22nd year—the longest-running program of its kind in the country—W&L's Law and Literature Seminar will turn to George Orwell's 1984. Orwell's classic novel has become the very model of a dystopian vision. His portrayal of a future world oppressed by omnipresent surveillance ("Big Brother is watching") and by an omnipotent State intent on suppressing individual liberty while it wages constant yet controlled warfare has haunted our notions of big government since its original publication in 1949. Today it remains one of the most thought-provoking and challenging interrogations of the promises of western culture. All our sacred truths-democracy, individualism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press-are not only erased in the novel, Orwell even questions whether we really believed in these ideals to begin with. In 1944, as the Second World War moved towards its conclusion, Orwell observed that "all the national movements everywhere, even those that originate in resistance to German domination, seem to take non-democratic forms, to group themselves round some superhuman fuhrer . . . and to adopt the theory that the end justifies the means." Today, in a world polarized by fear of terrorism on the one hand and superpower domination on the other, Orwell's vision seems remarkably prescient. In this program, we will examine Orwell's novel and discuss its many implications for our current ideas of law, freedom, privacy, centralized power, democracy, and, yes, the power of literature.

The program will again be led by Brian Murchison, Margaret Hu, Dave Caudill, and Marc Conner. As a bonus to practicing attorneys, the program will again seek approval for two hours of Continuing Legal Education ethics credit. The program is open to anyone interested in literature—you don't need to be an attorney to attend.