There are no laws in Oceania from 1984. Why, then, is it such a terrifying and repressing place?

Oceania is a terrifying and repressive society precisely because the Party is not subject to the rule of law. A legal framework would make the rights of citizens clear and limit the absolute power of the Party. Societies which lack laws are likely to be subject to the rule of power alone, meaning that the government can behave exactly as it likes.

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To imagine that a society with no laws would be less terrifying and oppressive than one governed by law is fundamentally to misunderstand the nature of civil society. The alternative to the rule of law is not perfect freedom. It is the rule of power in some form or another....

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To imagine that a society with no laws would be less terrifying and oppressive than one governed by law is fundamentally to misunderstand the nature of civil society. The alternative to the rule of law is not perfect freedom. It is the rule of power in some form or another. If you look at global societies, you will find that they can be placed in three groups (with, as always, some scope for disagreement at the margins). There are societies governed by the rule of law, which are generally also relatively democratic societies. These include the US, Canada, and most European countries. Then there are countries which are relatively lawless, such as Afghanistan or South Sudan. These countries are subject to power struggles between warlords and are generally unsafe. Finally, there are authoritarian countries such as China, Russia and North Korea. These are the states which most resemble Orwell's Oceania, and they are subject to the rule of power.

The two great virtues of the rule of law are that the laws are relatively clear and that they apply to everyone, even the state. In a totalitarian country, subject only to the rule of power, the government can decide to punish citizens without any accountability. It is instructive to imagine what an average American, accustomed to the rule of law, would do in Winston's situation after he is taken to the Ministry of Love. They would almost certainly demand to see a lawyer, who would inquire why they were being held. The lawyer would try to persuade a judge to order the prisoner's release. It is precisely the lack of such legal checks and balances on the absolute power of the Party that renders Oceania so terrifying and oppressive.

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There are no laws in Oceania, only conventions. People behave the way they do, both towards each other and to the organs of the state, not because it's legal, but because it's expected of them. Conventions dictate every aspect of life in Oceania; they shape and mold each individual to be a certain way. Winston and Julia's behavior isn't subversive because it's illegal, but rather because they've both broken the mold created by time-honored conventions handed down by successive generations.

However, just because social life in Oceania is regulated by conventions and not laws, it doesn't mean those conventions are any less repressive. In fact, the established conventions that govern this totalitarian society are even more repressive than the laws passed down by similar one-party dictatorships in the real world, and the consequences of breaking these conventions are even more frightening. Anyone who acts contrary to their allotted position in 1984's society runs the serious risk of being tortured, brainwashed, or vaporized for their transgressions.

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Simply put, there are no laws in Oceania because the Party has so much control over the citizens that it does not need any. To understand this, think about how the Party pervades the lives of its constituents. It watches over every single one of its citizens with the telescreen, for example, and monitors all conversations through hidden microphones.

The Party also determines the content and flow of information to the citizens of Oceania, meaning that the Party dictates what is true and what is not.

The Party is also responsible for keeping its members fed, clothed, and housed. Even razor blades and chocolate are controlled by the Party.

The Party is also developing its own language, called Newspeak, in order to make it impossible for citizens to have any negative thoughts about the Party and the way that it governs the country.

The Party, therefore, has no need for laws because it makes it virtually impossible for any citizen to do anything wrong. Through a system of emotional, psychological, and physical control, the Party has brainwashed its members to do exactly as it dictates, without question and without complaint.

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The answer to this question lies in the dual nature of laws - on the one hand, they exist so that people will know how to behave, and on the other hand, they exist to protect people from arbitrary accusation and persecution. For example, if there is a law that says that everyone must stop at red lights, drivers know that if they do not do this, they will likely receive a consequence, in the form of a ticket. Conversely, if a driver is given a ticket for not stopping at a red light when, in fact, the light had just turned yellow, that driver can defend himself by showing, through witnesses or other evidence, that he did not break the law that says he is to stop at red lights, because the light was not red when he passed through. Laws delineate the boundaries of behavior so that everyone is on the same page.

In Oceania, as stated in Chapter 1 of 1984, "nothing was illegal, since there were no longer any laws," but if Winston was caught writing in his diary, "it was reasonably certain that it would be punished by death, or at least by twenty-five years in a forced-labor camp." It might be argued that the law against writing in a diary actually exists in a sense, because everyone knows that it is forbidden to write in a diary, but since the law is unwritten - technically, there are no laws - a person would have no recourse if he feels he is being punished unfairly. The government has unlimited and ultimate control in Oceania, which is why it is such a terrifying and repressive place. A person can be vaporized just because the government believes that he has violated one of its unwritten laws, or really, for any reason whatsoever. In the absence of a clearly delineated code of conduct to which both the accuser and accused must adhere, there is nothing that the victimized party or anyone else can do about it.

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