04 January 2008

Transposing Orwell

Some quick thoughts on the Penguin edition of George Orwell’s essays, including “Why I Write” and “The Lion and the Unicorn”. I’m amazed at some of his statements and how true they seem to be today, given that they were published in 1947 and 1941 respectively. Despite his belief at the time of writing that socialism would cure the woes of Britain, a number of statements can be taken from the text and transposed onto the current scene. I don’t have the perspective to say if Orwell’s descriptions have come to be apt again or if things have not changed in the last 65-odd years. I suspect the former.

So here for your consideration are some bits of brain food.

˽ “They [the British ruling class before Churchill] could not struggle against Nazism or Fascism, because they could not understand them.”

˽ “After years of aggression and massacres, they had grasped only one fact, that Hitler and Mussolini were hostile to Communism. Therefore, it was argued, they must be friendly to the British dividend-drawer.” (Emphasis in the original.)

˽ “Since the [eighteen] fifties every war in which England has engaged has started off with a series of disasters, after which the situation has been saved by people comparatively low in the social scale.”

˽ “It should be noted that there is now no intelligentsia that is not in some sense ‘left’.”

˽ “The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power.”

˽ “It is important not to misunderstand [the English ruling class’s] motives, or one cannot predict their actions. What is to be expected of them is not treachery, or physical cowardice, but stupidity, unconscious sabotage, an infallible instinct for doing the wrong thing. They are not wicked, or not altogether wicked; they are merely unteachable. Only when their money and power are gone will the younger among them begin to grasp what century they are living in.”

One of his opening statements on English civilization seems especially relevant: “And above all, it is your civilization, it is you. However much you hate it or laugh at it, you will never be happy away from it for any length of time.” (Emphasis in the original.) It reminds me that, after all, the culture and society that we belong to is ours. It is our responsibility to shape it in ways that we choose. Abdicating that responsibility to others will result, without doubt, in a culture, a society in which we feel foreign.

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