Here, from John Le Carré's first novel Call for the Dead (1961), is a description of the sickness of how states "think" about people. The speaker is Elsa Fennan, a survivor of the Holocaust, whose Foreign Office husband Samuel has seemingly killed himself after being vetted by George Smiley as a possible security risk.
It's an old illness you suffer from, Mr. Smiley . . . and I have seen many victims of it. The mind becomes separated from the body; it thinks without reality, rules a paper kingdom and devises without emotion the ruin of its paper victims. But sometimes the division between your world and ours is incomplete; the files grow heads and arms and legs, and that's a terrible moment isn't it? The names have families as well as records, and human motives to explain the sad little dossiers and their make-believe sins . . .
It's like the State and the People. The State is a dream too, a symbol of nothing at all, an emptiness, a mind without a body, a game played with clouds in the sky. But States make war, don't they, and imprison people? To dream in doctrines--how tidy! . . .
You call yourself the State, Mr. Smiley; you have no place among real people. You dropped a bomb from the sky: don't come down here and look at the blood . . .
However, we're meant to know that Smiley isn't really one of those bodiless bureaucrats. Hopelessly in love with his compulsively faithless wife Ann, he's happiest in the world of seventeenth-century German poetry. Told to abandon his investigation of Fennan's death when he presents his boss with an unwelcome hypothesis, he instead resigns his post, like an English Philip Marlowe (of course Raymond Chandler was English too). He hated the Press as he hated advertising and television, he hated mass-media, the relentless persuasion of the twentieth century. Everything he admired or loved had been the product of intense individualism. But Smiley then turns to consider his former student Dieter, fifteen years ago a heroic spy and saboteur against the Nazis, now an East German spymaster: That was why he hated Dieter now, hated what he stood for more strongly than ever before: it was the fabulous impertinence of renouncing the individual in favour of the mass. . . Dieter cared nothing for human life: dreamed only of armies of faceless men bound by their lowest common denominators; he wanted to shape the world as if it were a tree, cutting off what did not fit the regular image; for this he fashioned blank, soulless automatons . . .
Can John Le Carré really mean this to represent the inner voice of the Smiley we've come to know, the voice that spurs him to action? It has the off-the-rack certainty of all ideological speech. Those bombastic adjectives: intense, fabulous, faceless, soulless; those boilerplate abstractions: hate, individual, mass, lowest common denominators, armies of faceless men, automatons; nobody uses language like that unless he's trying to sell you something. And what indeed was the Nazi program if not the mirror image of Dieter's, renouncing the good of the masses in favour of the [Nietzschean] individual? Of course Le Carré isn't Joseph Conrad, nor even Graham Greene: he's writing spy stories, not political novels, and his writerly craft is better-suited to narrative than to serious fiction's other aims. Even Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, his finest novel, is written in the middlebrow vernacular of a thoughtful thriller, although its complex examination of the varieties of betrayal transcends the genre. It's possible that Le Carré doesn't have quite enough subtlety as a writer for the fineness of his conception of the noir hero. But it's possible too that he means us to infer that Smiley in using such language is trying to sell himself something--to find a "Deus volt" for himself-- as he prepares to go gunning for his old friend Dieter.
While Call for the Dead is less ambitious in scope than the later novels, its use of different styles of rhetoric is not untouched by irony. For example, the widow Elsa Fennan is not quite so uncomplicated as she seems, and what she says oughtn't in the end to be taken unsalted. Nevertheless, as Smiley's progress through Le Carré's later novels shows, his real tragedy is that she's telling the truth about him: he faithfully serves a State that is no less driven by abstractions than its enemy States and that freely offers individual people up as sacrifice for Its own inhuman purposes. And perhaps it is impossible to work for a "dream" like a State without sometimes finding on one's own tongue that anti-specific rhetoric peculiar to dreams. Speaking of Henry James's passionate respect for individuals rather than types, T. S. Eliot famously said that he had "a mind so fine no idea could violate it." But men like that are rare indeed, and so are writers.